The Orphanage (working title)
The Orphanage is a "distortive horror action novel" I was planning, inspired by visual novels like 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors, and action games like Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia. The story follows a handful of nameless young orphans living in a run-down facility operated by the mysterious Headmaster, under oppressive conditions, in a tiny country village called Hope set in the middle of a vast, empty prairie.
- 1 The nature of the Orphanage
- 2 Cast
- 3 Distortion
- 4 Headmaster's Secret
- 5 Gameplay
- 6 Outline of the story
The nature of the Orphanage
On the outside, the orphanage seems to be styled after a traditional Colonial lodge, with wrought-iron fences, brick paths, and wooden accents. The inside of the orphanage is somewhat dilapidated, with certain rooms being permanently closed due to the weakness of the floors (previous Registrants have reportedly died falling through them). Some evidence of fires still remains in some rooms, with walls being charred but otherwise undamaged. It is revealed late in the game that the Orphanage itself is not an actual, physical building, but a manifestation created by Headmaster. Should Headmaster cease to function for any reason, both the Orphanage and the town of Hope will stop existing.
When a new child is brought into the orphanage, they are Registered. A tattoo is added to the front of their left wrist with a number. Names are completely omitted; children are instead assigned a Number, starting with One and going as far as is needed (though as of the story, there has never been a Ten). When a child turns 18, assuming they haven't died or escaped, they are Graduated and sent into the real world with a minimal amount of personal effects. If a child has broken too many of the Rules, they are Expelled and kept in a basement room that is inaccessible through any physical means.
The Rules are simple.
- Respect must be shown at all times for fellow Registrants and to Headmaster and Staff.
- The Staff must be obeyed at all times.
- Reading is only permitted within curriculum.
- Headmaster's wishes are final.
- Exit of the Orphanage is permitted only in company of the Staff.
- When outside of the Orphanage, speaking to non-Registrants is forbidden.
- Displaying or disclosing your Number to non-Registrants is forbidden.
- Evenings are lights-out, sound-free, no exceptions. Noise and light during evening hours is punishable by the whims of the Staff or Headmaster.
- Headmaster and Staff may reinterpret these rules as situations require.
Expelled residents of the Orphanage do not simply disappear. One of two things will happen to an expelled child: either their body will rot and be tucked away into the Storage, leaving a soul behind, or their soul will be destroyed, leaving behind a husk. Souls tend to retain some knowledge and personality from their living forms, but with noted exceptions (i.e. Two), they cannot easily communicate with a living person or interact with most objects. They generally do not leave the area of Hope (except in the Greater Dust ending). Husks, on the other hand, do not retain any personality or knowledge. Most distinguishing characteristics of their source body are mutated away during distortion, leaving an ageless, sexless, culturally-ambigious mass of pale flesh. Husks, having nothing more than a limited primal function, tend to become violent towards whatever is in front of them, whether it be a door, a person, or another husk. They will shamble forward until they run into something, then they will attack it, then they will move on.
I managed to write a few paragraphs of actual game script for this project.
- Headmaster - The self-made moniker of the being that created the Orphanage. His physical form is that of a wrinkled and overgrown old man in a Victorian-ish wheelchair, covered in frazzled white hair that obscures most of his features. He is never seen to leave his office, nor speak or act by any physical means. However, he does apparently leave his office once in a while, as Eight can enter and find no sign of Headmaster within. Headmaster is, in fact, an extremely powerful mental presence; through his phenomenal mental powers, he not only "creates" the town of Hope and the Orphanage itself, but also the Staff, and convinces many residents of Hope of their identities. As Headmaster becomes angered by his children's behavior, he becomes unhinged, resulting in the distortion and rearrangement of the Orphanage and the town of Hope.
- The Staff - The Staff, as they are referred to by Headmaster, are strange figures in nuns' robes, with veils pulled over their faces. They never speak to the children, and have ways of communicating with Headmaster that the children cannot fathom. Often involved in enforcing the Rules. Because the Staff are mental creations of Headmaster, they do not have any will of their own, and while they can be destroyed, are not technically killed in the process, as Headmaster can simply conjure more. Staff essentially serve as Headmaster's clairvoyant eyes and ears and do not necessarily need to physically exist in a location to be able to relay goings-on to Headmaster.
- Eight - Player character, 17 years old. Eight's wild ambition keeps him sane enough that he may yet make it to 18, and thus be able to leave the orphanage of his own volition. Headmaster assigns him the name "Eight," but he has vague memories of once being called Charlie. He hangs on to that name, despite the Staff's displeasure at the children giving themselves proper names. Probably the only child "registered" that can fit the clothes given to him. He's lived at the orphanage for nearly as long as he can remember; his memories of the outside world are as vague as the memories of his real name. Eight is timid and does not like to break the Rules. Most decisions that would break Rules wind up being the handiwork of Nine.
- Nine - She is "registered" shortly after the start of the story at the age of 15, following an accident that killed her family. Though she clearly knows her real name, Staff quickly discourage her from using it (as it is the same name as Headmaster's late wife), and she eventually tolerates being called "Nine" by Eight's insistence. Her left hand is burned beyond recognition from trying to force open her parents' bedroom door during the incident. While it still functions as a hand, her nerves were almost completely destroyed, rendering her unable to feel pain with her left hand. On the path to the "dust" ending, Nine kills a member of the Staff with her left hand, wielding a red-hot dinner fork that fell into the fireplace.
- One - 4 years old. One was left on the orphanage's doorstep by his birth mother, who supposedly severed all ties with the town of Hope and ran off in no apparent direction. One is not the first One that the orphanage has had; his number was reassigned from another previous resident that still lives in Hope and works a general store. One doesn't say much, has difficulty reading, and was never potty-trained. His development has been slow for his age, though Eight has tried to help with it.
- Two - 9 years old. Two is a red-headed girl that has a unique talent for prescient knowledge, and she helps detect when the Staff are nearby. She does not realize that she tends to speak in riddles, since she tends to talk about things that haven't happened yet and make no sense out of context. She tends to answer questions a sentence or two before they're asked, making her conversations very disjointed. Two has an unusual empathic link to Headmaster, feeling the emotions that Headmaster feels. When Two becomes irrationally angry, it serves as a warning to Eight and Nine that a Distortion is imminent or that Staff are on their way.
- Three - There was previously a Three at the orphanage; the only thing known about them is that they are so far the only "registrant" to escape prior to turning 18. It is not even known if they were male or female. No trace exists of them in Registration records. There has not been a Three since. Scraps of paper containing Three's journals begin to surface throughout the Orphanage once it begins distorting, which contain theories and observations about the nature of the Orphanage. Three is the only registrant to correctly guess exactly what Headmaster is, and as such, Headmaster does not like to remember them, thus, they are nowhere to be found in the orphanage, and all of their notes are hidden throughout, being discoverable only during Distortion when Headmaster is less able to hide them.
- Four - 26 years old. Four is a "gentle giant" that cannot string two words together. Rumor has it that Four was quite brilliant as a child, before being beaten into imbecility. He spends his days sitting in the same chair by the fireplace, whether it is lit or not. He draws pictures on occasion, but they appear to be complete messes with no form or function; they are, nonetheless, hanging throughout the corridors and in major rooms of the Orphanage. During distortions, the pictures become more coherent and wind up being maps of certain locations within the distorted Orphanage.
- Five - 18 years old at the start of the story, Five is the only child to be seen "graduating" during the events of the story. She is not heard from again.
- Six - A ten year old boy who decides that there is no more need for clothing or rules, as civilization will never take the registrants anyway. Because of his constant indecency and disobeyance of the orders of the Staff, he is eventually "expelled," which Eight initially believes means he has been sent into the outside world, but later finds Six's remains when the orphanage begins its mutations.
- Tom - The previous "One" before his release from the orphanage, Tom runs a general store just outside the orphanage grounds in the middle of the town of Hope. Despite only being in his thirties, he does not remember much of the orphanage's inner workings, thinking of its children as "sweet young things" and the headmaster as "an upstanding citizen." He does not seem to recognize any of the current children even after meeting them; traumatic amnesia is a possibility.
As the orphanage is not an ordinary colonial house, but a bizarre projection of Headmaster's, it is not always subject to the same rules and consistencies as a normal building. While its layout remains the same during the day, hallways and corridors tend to twist and rearrange themselves at night, especially when Headmaster is upset or is not sleeping soundly. As a general rule, Distortion only occurs at night, but in certain circumstances (i.e. if Headmaster is especially angry), Distortion can also take place in mid-day, though this is rare. During Distortion, the Staff tend to patrol the most frequently used corridors (especially the ones outside Headmaster's office and the common room, to prevent the children from trying to leave either one), and corridors that are more out of the way tend to be where Husks appear. Detached spirits tend to be found in the rooms, and whether they are hostile or not largely depends on the person to whom the soul belonged originally.
The fact that Headmaster is a powerful psychic force is discovered relatively early in the game. Headmaster's true nature, however, is revealed close to the end. Many years before the story occurs, the man who became Headmaster was an old widower, who wanted nothing more than to raise a family. He lost his wife not long after learning that both he and she were incapable of bearing children.
Over several years, the man begins to lose his sense of self, eventually dying, though his soul refuses to leave the earth. Angry that his desires went unfulfilled, he creates the orphanage through sheer force of will. But with no children to inhabit it, the Headmaster uses his spiritual force to seek out children who have died, and takes them at the moment they leave the mortal coil. With no bodies, the children's identities are only what Headmaster can envision of their lives prior to their deaths, hence the numbers, as Headmaster cannot remember names. The longer a child inhabits the orphanage, the less Headmaster can remember about them, either distorting them over time, or completely forgetting about them (when they "graduate"). Those who Headmaster does not want to remember, are "expelled."
Headmaster also cannot remember many details of his own life. He remembers the important part - his wife, his orphanage, and his death - but has forgotten his name, his face, and his love for family. He keeps the children around only because he remembers that he wanted to, but not why he wanted to. His face is shrouded because he doesn't remember himself, and does not want to waste his memories on himself.
As only the spirits are kept of Headmaster and the children, Headmaster envisions bodies to which all the children are bound, both giving them life and trapping their spirits on the mortal coil. Headmaster inherits some of the memories of the children he has bound, but as his recall is not perfect, they often wind up as twisted caricatures, growing more bizarre and broken over time as Headmaster begins to forget and fills in the blanks with projections of himself. Distortion alters the way they appear and behave. Of the children, only Eight has his real body intact (as his circumstances for entering the orphanage did not involve his death). Nine is either alive or dead depending on the ending path.
Taking a page from the Zero Escape trilogy, the game flow is split between Novel and Action segments. In Novel segments, the player may save at any time. Bookmarks are automatically left at the beginning of each scene. Things found during Action segments are permanent to your save file; rewinding to a previous Bookmark will not remove your upgrades or secrets.
By definition, Novel segments have no action to them. The player may advance the text at their own pace, or scroll back if they so desire, especially if they wish to see the effect of certain choices. In normal circumstances, Novel segments do not take place during Distortion. Certain choices during Novel segments may be locked or flat-out missing until the player locates certain items during Action segments and rewinds to those bookmarks.
Action segments are presented from a side view, similar to Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia, with only mild platforming and an emphasis on careful combat. As the story dictates, a given Action segment will have the player controlling Eight, Nine, or both at once (a la Portrait of Ruin). Certain segments will require the two to split up.
As it is an orphanage and not a medieval castle owned by a vampire warlord, weapons are essentially non-existent. However, Eight and Nine level up separately and will become stronger over time, gaining health, attack damage, damage resistance, and speed. If either character must attack from a distance, it is possible to pick up small objects from the background to throw, but these tend to be destroyed after a few uses (though they respawn if the player re-enters the room).
Eight's primary attacks involve his fists. He is by no means an experienced fighter, but his punches are at least enough to knock down an enemy, stunning them long enough for him to bypass them. Over the course of the game, Eight learns passive effects that improve his fighting technique or improve his mobility by enabling him to sprint momentarily, throw an enemy that has grabbed him, tackle his way through enemies to knock them down without stopping, and vault off low obstacles (or knocked-down enemies) to jump higher than normal.
Nine has fewer offensive options available to her at first, but as her nerves have been all but destroyed, she is much less sensitive to pain. Things that will knock down or stagger Eight may have little effect on Nine. Because of this, Nine is able to grab items that Eight physically cannot, such as burning firewood, which can have a more permanent effect on enemies like Staff, but as a drawback, overusing these attacks on common Husks can affect the ending.
Outline of the story
The first quarter of the game is free of plot branches and serves to introduce the player to Eight and his fellow Registrants. Eight's life in the Orphanage is nearing an end, as he is near Graduation. However, his concern for fellow Registrants is growing, especially when it seems like Six may be Expelled (which happens shortly after Nine is Registered).
Shocked by the news of Six's fate, Eight is determined to figure out what happened. He sneaks into Headmaster's office in the middle of the night and finds the Registration Book, where he finds the Numbers of his fellow registrants, except that Five and Six do not appear in the book. An entry for Three is listed, and despite the relatively recent date of Registration, Eight does not remember there ever being a Three. He is then caught by the Staff, and sent to a spartan bedroom in the upstairs floors as a punishment for violation of the Rules.
Eight hears through the corridors that the Registrants are preparing to visit Hope. However, upon trying to glimpse them through his window, he finds that he cannot see anything but empty desert. He attempts to shatter the unopenable window, and eventually succeeds, but the room is flooded with darkness. Eight eventually finds a source of light, and finds that the window from his upstairs bedroom now actually leads through a strange underground tunnel, eventually ending up in a room filled with severed body parts, and the fresh corpse of Six, his skin drained of color and turned completely grey. When Eight turns around to go back, he finds that the tunnel no longer exists, but then suddenly finds that he is back in his bedroom with the window now intact and displaying the desert again.
Eight is reintegrated with his fellow registrants, until - much later - he again disobeys a Rule, this time being an order by the Staff to eat his food (his appetite has been gone for a while, having seen Six's husk). When two of the Staff make to cart him upstairs again, Nine throws the contents of the dinner table into the fireplace and begins shouting at the Staff. The Staff release their grip on Eight and make towards Nine, when she grabs a dinner fork from the fireplace (now red hot) and stabs one of them in the chest, setting them on fire and eventually crumbling them into a pile of ash, no sign of humanoid skin or body to be found. As Nine makes to attack the other Staff, and Eight tries to get up and away from his assailant, a sudden blast of indescribable energy stuns everyone and knocks Eight and Nine to the ground. The one remaining Staff is completely unaffected. More Staff enter the dining room and seize both Eight and Nine, and confine them to separate rooms.
Eight, now alone, begins trying to observe the window in his room. Once again, the window displays an empty desert, and does not open. Eight breaks the glass again, and watches the light flood out the window, but having done so, he begins hearing distant muffled banging and screaming noises. The hallways are not the same as they were, but eventually, he finds one intact door that is the source of the banging and screaming. It turns out to be Nine. Eight tries to break into the door, but is assailed by Six's husk. Unable to fight it off, Eight is forced to run until he finds himself back in his bedroom, this time with no window.
(Some other stuff happens.)
The Headmaster is made aware of the children's plans to escape, and Distortion effectively becomes permanent. The entire layout of the orphanage is completely scrambled, with new rooms to fill in the empty spaces between them. It is implied that most previous Registrants that didn't graduate found themselves here, especially the ones that had been Expelled. Many of them have died in ghastly ways. The only way to revert the Orphanage to the way it was, is by the whim of the Headmaster himself (itself?) - Nine suggests that the Headmaster must die. Finding him, however, is certainly a task, considering that the Staff roam the corridors all over the place with intent to stop the children, as well as the empty husks of previous registrants whose souls were destroyed in their attempts to escape.
PATH #1: AVOIDANCE
Eight and Nine team up to find a way out of the now-distorted orphanage. Eight suggests that they may be able to find a way to do so without finding the Headmaster. After avoiding the Staff and the husks, they locate the front door, but it is sealed. The way they came in is also sealed, and the floor of the common room collapses beneath them as they fall into the Storage, doomed to the same fate as the Husks.
PATH #2: ESCAPE...?
Eight and Nine find the now-empty Headmaster's office, and are able to locate the Registration Log as well as an ornate letter-opener in his desk. Nine is shocked (for the first time this game) to discover that their Numbers are listed as having been Expelled. They take the log and the letter-opener with them, using it to fight off the Staff and the husks, until they find the front entrance and pry the door open with the letter-opener, not bothering to find the Headmaster. They find themselves back outside in the town of Hope, but something is amiss. When they check around town, they find that most of the town's population is dead of stab wounds, as if stabbed with the letter-opener they carry. Although the Log might be damning evidence if interpreted correctly, it in itself is not enough for anything to happen at all to the Headmaster, and Eight and Nine are both killed on the spot by the remaining townspeople.
PATH #2.5: NO ESCAPE
During the Escape path, if every Husk is killed, Hope is completely devoid of people, but is still bordered on every side by endless desert. Eight, Nine, and any children they've located are stuck where they are, until Staff appear and haul everybody off.
PATH #3: EXPULSION
Could be considered the non-standard game-over, as it could in theory be triggered before the side-scrolling action bit really kicks in. Violating enough of the Rules by disobeying the Staff gets Eight sent to the upstairs bedroom a few times, and eventually he is forgotten about, slowly goes insane due to the lack of contact, and his soul destroys itself, leaving only his body as a husk.
PATH #4: LESSER DUST
Eight and Nine find the registration log and the letter-opener, using it to kill Staff, husks, and the Headmaster. Headmaster's death triggers the collapse of the entire orphanage, as it crumbles into a fine dust, and Eight and Nine (and any children they rescued along the way) find themselves lying on the ground in the middle of the town of Hope, but it is a strange time of day where the sky is red and everything in town is darkened. Not a single soul can be found in Hope, except for the corpses of the townspeople (that correspond to any husks that Eight and Nine happened to kill with the letter-opener). A search of the premises reveals that there is nothing to be found for miles around, and the town of Hope seems to be affected by the same Distortion as the orphanage - nobody can readily explain where they are, exactly, but it isn't their plane of existence. Eight, Nine, and the rescued children are forced to live the rest of their days in the distorted Hope.
PATH #5: GREATER DUST
Eight and Nine find the log and the blade, kill only Staff with it, and find the rest of the children around the distorted orphanage. Headmaster is defeated with the letter-opener, which destroys the orphanage in a similar fashion to LESSER DUST, but the rescued children find themselves not in Hope, but in the middle of a vast, empty wheat field. Some investigation reveals that Hope might have stood here at some point, but all that remains of the town is the outlines of the buildings in the wheat. They find most of the town residents unconscious amid the wheat, but none of them have any recollection of the orphanage or the Headmaster. None of them recognize the children, either. Nothing can be readily explained, but the children and townspeople are now safe and free from the Headmaster's clutches. Now just to find civilization.