Weird and Unfortunate Things Are Happening is an RPG Maker game by developer Unity. Full of hilarious and grotesque creatures, loveable characters, and a story of interdimensional proportions, it follows Alicia as she goes to the town of Daybreak to rescue her niece, Dottie, dealing with beings from another plane that call themselves “Evocations.” I had a blast playing it and was lucky enough to be able to ask Unity a few questions about the game.
Lor Gislason: First off, I loved the game from start to finish! It truly feels like a labor of love and it must be a huge relief in some ways to have it done. (Although I’m sure it never feels like it’s 100% done.)
Unity: Oh definitely! Getting the game done feels amazing, especially since these last five years had a lot of personal ups and downs for me. Taking the idea of the game from a loose outline to a prototype to all the way to the end really feels rewarding, and yeah, while I’m sure bugs and typos will keep cropping up, it is such a relief to have the game complete and out there for people to play!
LG: You’ve said on your Twitter you’re passionate about creating games with WLW (women who love women) and I find this inspiring. There’s a severe lack of this in games and horror in general. Is part of this wanting to see yourself in these stories?
U: Yes, that certainly factors into it a lot! While my own orientation feels a bit complicated (I feel like I could love anyone I have a strong emotional bond with), WLW romance is what resonates with me and inspires me, and I really want to see more of it in games (and everywhere else too, if I’m being honest)!
If you’re interested in a previous WLW game I made, I finished Luxaren Allure several years back. It’s very much styled with taking a bunch of standard JRPG tropes but with all party members being queer women with romance and a few twists thrown into the mix. It suffers a bit from a slow start, big dungeons and a lot of enemy encounters, but I think it still mostly holds up, haha.
LG: Cosmic horror obviously takes a huge role in the game. I appreciate that not only is there the fleshy body horror but also strange geometry and twisted storybooks. Are there any stories or movies you took particular inspiration from?
U: I grew up fascinated by weird and surreal landscapes. As a kid, I watched the VHS tape of Disney’s Alice and Wonderland over and over, really intrigued with its strange world and dream logic. I watched a lot of reruns of the original Twilight Zone and liked the creepy feeling of being somewhere that was like reality but… just kind of “off” somehow. My brothers and I watched the old Ghostbusters cartoon that featured a whole bizarre interconnected world that the boogeyman used to travel from kids’ closets. These sorts of not-quite-real places always seemed amazing to me.
When playing video games, I really enjoy exploring really strange and dreamlike environments. The popular indie RPG Maker game Yume Nikki features large interconnected dreamscapes for the player to explore, and for years I’ve thought “how could you incorporate something that gives that surreal experience but tie it to a more structured RPG?” You can see the Yume Nikki influence probably the strongest in the optional Fool’s Spaces, where the combat is put on hold for short bursts of weird exploration. OFF and Ib were also indie RPG inspirations that had decidedly weird worlds and areas to explore.
Earthbound (and Mother 3) were also big obvious influences: I liked the contrast of the cartoony child characters and some of the weird (and sometimes horrifying) places they explored. The original Silent Hill was also a big inspiration, for not only a big (mostly) empty town but also some of the bizarre and twisted areas you explore.
LG: Throughout the game are uniquely scary and hilarious enemy designs. Do you have a favourite? I think mine are Thomas the Pain Engine and the evil talky tutor that says DIE.
U: Yeah, the Talky Tutor is probably my favorite too, it was a lot of fun to make and find and assemble sound bites for its attacks. The Mystic Book enemy design is also another favorite: nothing really special or unique, but I love a book with a big eye in it and wings and appendages coming out, haha.
LG: In addition, the enemies all have types (like Pokemon, I guess) including Creep, Spectral, Oddity, and Nightmare. Was it hard to fit some of the enemies in these categories? Some of them make obvious sense like the Machine types, but I’m wondering if it was difficult to decide “is this an Oddity? A Nightmare?” Or were they all designed to fit into their respective types?
U: I’m a person who likes to doodle a lot, and while many enemies were straight-up designed to fit into their creature types, there were others that I just came up with in the spur of the moment. It still was usually pretty easy to fit them into a type: Gross creepy-crawlies are generally Creep, weird humanoid designs are Oddities, etc.
Nightmare is probably the most nebulous and arbitrary. “Would this unsettle me as a kid?” was the main criteria, and they were often based on feelings and gut emotions. For example, Dream of Drowning was literally based on dreams I’ve had, not about evil dolphins but the experience of having a nightmare about not being able to reach the surface of the water to breathe and translating that feeling into a monster.
LG: Just also want to give a big Hallejulah for the “A boss is up ahead!” alert. Every game needs this.
U: Thanks! In Luxaren Allure I had little signs with skulls and crossbones before boss encounters, but I feel like the direct approach that W&U used was very effective (and more appropriate for a setting with psychic powers).
As a player, I often want to explore a level to my heart’s content before fighting the boss and moving on. I have this urge to expand even further, if I can figure out a way to do it subtly. To communicate to the player “this is the way to go to advance the plot, these other paths are optional exploration” without outright telling them… I think that’d be really cool. There’d still be an obvious boss warning of some kind even then, though, as I just feel like it adds something.
LG: Lamar is the only playable male character, and he’s far from the typical “manly man.” He’s a prim and proper teacher that literally uses a book as a weapon. What went into this choice?
U: The idea for Lamar was originally an amalgam of two teachers from my own past, a History teacher in middle school and an English teacher in high school. Both men were obviously passionate about their subjects despite everything, and one in particular had a cool, rational, prim and proper manner that stuck with me.
You don’t often see teachers as heroes in media as far as I’ve seen, and the idea of having him worry about his class during a seeming apocalypse was an intriguing idea to me, and it also gave him a tie to Dottie as well.
LG: Miriam is such a well-rounded character, and I love that she’s both parts tough and emotional. Could you talk about what brought her to life?
U: Miriam was a lot of fun. I wanted someone with an immediate connection to the Mayor, who instigates a lot of the plot. A lot of Miriam’s charm is thanks to Sooz, my editor and co-writer, who essentially took my script and rewrote it, adding her own touches. Sooz massively expanded on Miriam’s emotional side, and I can’t thank her enough for those wonderful additions, and it’s been so gratifying seeing people enjoying her character, even some who thought they’d hate her from when they first met her, who love her by the end!
LG: I’d also like to mention this wasn’t a single person endeavor, with work from MakioKuta, Sooz, Roden, and several others. Did any significant changes come about while working with other people? Something you had in mind that ended up going in a different direction?
U: While nothing majorly altered the course of the story or anything, I’d like to majorly thank Roden for helping to so strongly define the look of Vedim Space. One of my favorite elements, the super weird eyeball tree, originated from a canceled project he worked on, and I contacted him and asked if I could buy the design because I loved it so, and that ended up with him designing not only the Red Vedim Space, but the UFO area, the Fairytale Area, and the outside parts of the toybox playground! I feel like this was a huge boon to the game that I couldn’t have found anywhere else!
Everyone else was wonderful to work with! Sooz and MakioKuta were absolute sweethearts, putting up with me having extra last-minute additions to the script and asking for additional character emotion art. Geoff Moore composed the title track and several battle themes, and Lewmoth did an amazing job composing the final boss music. Housekeeping, of Jimmy and the Pulsating Mass fame, also gifted me a music track as part of a secret Santa gift exchange, and it became the main battle theme, and it’s just so perfect for the game that I want to thank him again for such an awesome composition!
LG: Now that the game is “done” after 5 years of development, besides general patches and bug fixes, do you have any plans for future games? Was there anything that surprised you after the game launched?
U: I’m honestly not exactly sure what I’m going to do next, now that Weird and Unfortunate is done. I so often found myself daydreaming about what I’d do once this huge project was done, but now that the time has actually come, I’m having a hard time deciding what to do next.
Ultimately, I’d like to finish up a short game I put on hold and never finished, but from there, it’s hard to say. I’d really like to make another WLW JRPG fantasy, so that’s most likely, but what form it takes is another matter, as I have like four different ideas for it, so we’ll have to see!
What surprised me the most after the game launched was how well received it was! I’m very passionate about making games, but it’s still ultimately a hobby, and I’ve never had quite the reaction with one of my games as W&U has gotten. I’ve gotten so many people messaging me about the game, and seeing several Let’s Players tackle it and really enjoy it has been an amazing experience.
I want to really thank everyone who has played and shared the word! That means so much to me and I’m so glad this game has been so enjoyable for so many people!!!