Cults are very much a thing in the gaming world right now, what with the popularity of Far Cry 5. So it was with glee that we learned of a game in development currently where you can build your own. Meet "Honey, I Joined A Cult"
Altchar is not often stopped in its slovenly, meandering tracks by a game idea - but that's exactly what happened at the recent Insomnia 62 games festival in the UK.
And the cause of this sudden veneration? A banner reading "Honey, I Joined A Cult" in the indie games zone.
It has long been an ambition of ours to found a cult. Primarily because we despise good, honest labour. The thought of collecting many thousands of schmekels for doing nothing is appealing, as is that of our every utterance being taken as a revelation by weak-minded fools. In this ideal world, even one of our discarded socks could become a holy fragment.
Alas, cowardice and fear of incarceration has blocked us thus far from living our dream by making the lives of others a nightmare. Enter then "Honey, I Joined A Cult".
The game is being developed for PC in true indie tradition by the two man team of solesurvivorgames, Ed Illsley and Simon Reynolds. They quit a couple of successful careers outside game development last year to, as they put it "try and make something different".
"There's multiple games where you're making hospitals, prisons, theme parks and so on. So we took that and added the idea of making a cult, where you can be horrible, where you can choose what your people worship, where you can make money," Reynolds told altchar at Insomnia.
"When we researched it, we couldn't really find a game that took the cult route. Far Cry 5 has recently come out of course, which obviously has a cult element. But it's a first person shooter and more it's about the other side of it - attacking cultists. We're the tycoon version of Far Cry."
The guys were quick to explain that their game is entirely a work of imagination:
"Neither of us have been in cults, if you're wondering. We've read a lot into them, but this game isn't based on any specific cult, more the general ideas behind them."
At first glance, the graphical appearance of Honey, I Joined A Cult closely resembles that of the excellent Prison Architect. The guys make no apologies for this, both being fans of the game. They adopted the style as it fitted what they were trying to do - and also for the sake of actually producing their own title in a reasonable timeframe.
Honey, I Joined A Cult is both cynical and darkly humorous. The gameplay we saw was fairly simple in principle - set up your cult, start recruiting members, make money from them, add new buildings with that money. With new buildings - or rooms - comes the ability to attract more powerful new cultists, and in those specialised rooms more useful information and traits can be gathered from them.
The developers have already had to field a few nervous questions from people wondering what their game is actually about.
"So we have to explain, this is not trying to advertise a cult, it's not pro-cult. This is a very cynical take on cults. If you play this game, and you want to join a cult at the end of it - then we have failed massively," said Reynolds.
The game's current strapline is "Become the leader of your own 1970s cult". Now, obviously the 1970s was the boom age for cults - from those poor benighted fools following Rolls Royce-driving Indian gurus, to the Forever Family, to the much more grim events of the Jonestown Massacre .
Given that darkness, both faint and not so faint, the guys wanted to steer clear of approaching cults too seriously - while at the same time depicting some of their more common behaviours. Direct violence was certainly out. Nevertheless, people have offered up some pretty unpleasant ideas to them.
"We've had a mass suicide suggested to us as an end goal but that feels like a rather strange thing to pursue throughout the game. But it might be that you have to dedicate a lot of resources to summoning a demon, or making a giant robot - it certainly won't be completely sandbox."
In terms of realism, well there is some - and here art mimics life.
"To start out with, you'll be recruiting desperate people, the destitute, those with social problems. Which, when you look into cults, that's how they often start," said Reynolds. "All the members have character traits, some of these are useful to you but hidden at the start."
"You also have a Public Relations rating, so when you start you don't have the publicity or the clout to recruit people with a lot of money. You need to churn through the less useful people as you build up your cult's strength. The upside of that is that they don't create a lot of trouble for you when you discard them."
At heart though, Honey I Joined A Cult is a building game. The cult creation screen is fun - just naming your cult puts a smile on the face - then assigning your own leader and their title, choosing different outfits for the cultists, deciding what will be your most powerful relic and so on.
Illsley explained: "Symbols, clothing, relics, names, titles et cetera are all customisable. Even though that doesn't affect the gameplay, we wanted it so the player could personalise as much as possible."
Then there's the tried and tested gaming pleasure of constructing your base. And never underestimate the pleasure of base building. The developers have been surprised by just how much people like building - even how much fun test players get from adding simply cosmetic items such as tables or chairs.
There are also consequences for your actions. "Dispose" of too many followers and you'll attract attention. Avoid negative publicity if you don't want the cops knocking on the door, or angry family picketing you.
"So, if for example you do things that are particularly heinous - such as you make some of your members 'disappear" for example, there are consequences. You generate a rating called 'Heat' and if your Heat level builds up too much, then government agencies start to sniff around your cult, journalists will try and infiltrate it and so on. You'll have to beef up your security and start to vet people in that case," added Illsley.
"Your cultists can also abandon you in particular circumstances. So, all your members have a family rating, if they've got strong family ties, then there's a chance they'll leave.
Honey, I've Joined A Cult has an ambitious deadline of November 2018 for some kind of early access. We wish them well.
The guys are still working on the endgame, and are buzzing with ideas, such as struggling with rival cults for superiority. Another idea mentioned was having an ultimate aim of getting formally recognised as a religion, "so you don't have to pay tax". Oh how we laughed.
Look out for it on Steam Early Access.