Kowloon's Curse

Kowloon’s Curse: Studio [notes.] Tears Down the Walls to Expose New Details About Their Upcoming Atmospheric Adventure

The idea of navigating a surreal city is nothing new in the world of gaming, from Silent Hill to LSD: Dream Emulator, people have been walking around weird cities for ages. What drew me to Kowloon’s Curse, and its standalone prequel Lost Report, was that it took an already surreal place, the Kowloon Walled City, and added an additional layer of intrigue and oddity to the already unconventional cityscape. The game takes gameplay mechanics typically seen in dungeon crawler games, and adds a level of exploration often associated with adventure games. All in all, between the real world inspiration and the intentionally obscure entities within its walls, I wanted to learn more about the world of Kowloon’s Curse.

Getting to the bottom of the mystery the best way that I know how, I reached out to the team directly to see if they were able to meet with me to discuss the project. Thankfully, the lead developer, who is typically known as Mr. Kowloon online, agreed to take time from his schedule to speak with me. Thankfully I did not need to infiltrate a walled city, or survive a Yakuza initiation to get the answers I was looking for. After meeting up on Discord and thanking Mr. Kowloon for his time, I began my line of questioning regarding the weird web of crime and mystery being woven by Studio [notes.]

Getting the interview underway I asked Mr. Kowloon if he would tell us about himself, specifically, where was he from, and how long had he been making games?

Mr. Kowloon: Well, I am from the Netherlands, originally. I live in Finland now. I’ve been making games since I was very young. I’m 22 now, and I think I was about 9 and when I started, so quite a long time ago.

As a follow up I asked what systems he was using at that young of an age?

Mr. Kowloon: Have you heard of RPGmaker? That’s what I was using, and then later when I was about 13 or 14 I moved on to Unity, and started making making 3D games.

It was very cool that he had been making games for over half of his life, with so much experience making RPGs it made sense to me that Mr. Kowloon would wish to stay within the genre for his first project. Staying on the topic of game development, I asked Mr. Kowloon how large the team at Studio [notes.] was?

Mr. Kowloon: There’s me and one other person, a writer, and then I also have a programmer who occasionally works on the game. So, those three people are pretty much the core team, along with other people helping out at times… I do all of the art assets myself, but I do have a lot of help with the writing. It’s a very text-heavy game, so the other main developer of the game, she does a lot of the writing, and also helps out with game design.

I asked Mr. Kowloon if he had released anything before Lost Report, whether with the team or as a solo developer?

Mr. Kowloon: Nothing that I’ve ever actually released. But of course, I’ve done many things over the years. Some on my own, some with other people. These people I’m making Kowloon with, I know them from school, so I’ve known them for a very long time. So we’ve done things together before in the past. Before I started on Kowloon’s Curse I was working on an action RPG, which I still intend on making after I finish Kowloon’s Curse. It’s a project that I’m very passionate about and have been working on for a long time.

As a follow up I asked Mr. Kowloon if that was something that the whole team would move onto after Kowloon’s Curse?

Mr. Kowloon: Probably, yes. I was working on that for about three years, and they also both helped out a lot on that project.

Speaking more about Kowloon’s Curse, I wanted to learn about the titles that inspired it, I was intrigued by the claim that it was not only the PS1 but the Dreamcast that helped shape the visual design of the title. With that in mind I asked Mr. Kowloon what Dreamcast dungeon crawlers might have inspired Kowloon’s Curse?

Mr. Kowloon: Well, it’s not a dungeon crawler, actually, but the one Dreamcast game that’s a very big influence is Shenmue. And just this general feeling of that time period, you know?

I understood what he was trying to get at, that sort of high octane slice of life, a world that is homey, but nothing that happens is typical. 

Mr. Kowloon: Yeah, that’s something I also wanted to do in this game.

On the topic of that classic dungeon crawler gameplay, I asked Mr. Kowloon if he had made any accommodations to make that style of gameplay in Kowloon’s Curse more accessible to a modern audience?

Mr. Kowloon: Yeah, basically. I mean, of course, I did try to make it at least in a way that does feel nice to play. But I did not change too much about it.

As a follow up I asked if his intention was for the game to feel like it could have come out in the late PS1 early Dreamcast days?

Mr. Kowloon: Pretty much, yeah. 

Speaking more on the influences for the title, it seemed as though there was a lot of influence from Yakuza media and culture, being unfamiliar with this genre and culture, I asked Mr. Kowloon if he could talk about the Yakuza influence on Kowloon’s Curse?

Mr. Kowloon: Yes, you got that right, Yakuza media, of all sorts. Obviously, the Yakuza game series was an influence on it, which itself is sort of a spiritual successor to Shenmue. And, also, Yakuza movies, things like that. But also The Sopranos, for example. Mafia stuff was also a big influence.

I knew nothing about the Yakuza, but I do know The Sopranos. Looking to expand my and my readers horizons, I asked Mr. Kowloon if he had a Yakuza film he could recommend?

Mr. Kowloon: Yes, there is this movie called A Family. I believe it’s on Netflix. It’s very long, but it’s very, very good. I would say it’s a good one to watch even if you’ve never seen a Yakuza movie before. I don’t want to say too much about it, but it takes place over a long period of time, and shows how the Yakuza has changed in modern times. It’s a very good movie, I highly recommend it.

Moving beyond the influences from media and organized crime, I wanted to ask about the real world walled city in Kowloon. I had known nothing about it before beginning my research for this article, but after learning about it and its fascinating history, it was obvious to see its inspiration in titles such as The Raid: Redemption, or DREDD. With the walled city being a main inspiration for Kowloon’s Curse, I asked Mr. Kowloon if there was a lot of care taken to accurately recreate parts of the city, or if the city in Kowloon’s Curse was more of a spiritual sibling, or sister city to its real world counterpart?

Mr. Kowloon: That’s hard to say. Obviously, initially, I would say it was a lot more like how it was in the real world. It sort of gradually became more of its own thing. There is actually a reason for it in the story, but I’m not gonna spoil that now, obviously. But I’m still trying to kind of capture the feeling of the real place.

Speaking about the story, I wanted to know more about the story of the standalone prequel, Kowloon’s Curse: Lost Report. I asked Mr. Kowloon if, for those who completed Lost Report, there would be any threads that would carry over to the full title?

Mr. Kowloon: Definitely. Actually, the main character of Lost Report is also one of the playable characters in the full game. But I’m trying to write it in a way that it’s absolutely not necessary to play Lost Report before you play the full game. There’s several references to characters and stuff that, when you play the full game, if you played Lost Report, you get those references, you’ll be like, “Oh, I recognize that.” But it’s still a standalone story.

It was very cool to hear that players who played Lost Report would be rewarded in the full game without penalizing players who did not. Continuing to speak about Lost Report, I asked Mr. Kowloon if the team had to set aside a good chunk of time to complete the standalone prequel, or was it something that was easier than expected?

Mr. Kowloon: Well, we did a Kickstarter for the game in 2021. After that was successful, we started working on the full game. And we realized that with the current gameplay it wasn’t really going to work, it wasn’t fun for a full game. Originally it wasn’t a dungeon crawler, like it is now. Instead you automatically moved forward through very linear environments, and fought different enemies, it would have been kind of boring for a full game. So we decided to make it so you can move around. And basically what we wanted to do, instead of making all of the Kickstarter backers wait for the full game, we wanted to make a little demo, show off this new gameplay that we had. And we decided to turn that demo into something of a prequel to the full game. It took quite a lot of time to make, but It was also mostly because we had to make all of these gameplay systems. Now that we have those it will make developing the full game a lot easier.

I loved to hear that philosophy of making sure that the backers knew where the money was going, and giving them a chance to experience the game in a meaningful way ahead of its full release. Speaking to the size of Lost Report compared to Kowloon’s Curse, I asked Mr. Kowloon if he could give us an idea about how big the standalone prequel was compared to the full game?

Mr. Kowloon: Well, I don’t know exactly how long the full game will be. So my aim for the full game is around 10 to 12 hours. Lost Report ended up being quite a bit longer than what I had in mind. When I give an estimate, I like to give a lower one, rather than a higher one, so I don’t disappoint people when it’s shorter. So Lost Report is about one to two hours long, a little bit more with the upcoming update. So it’s about a fifth of the full game.

Speaking about Lost Report, I told Mr. Kowloon that it was very cool that he continued to support the prequel. This level of commitment to the supporters was rare among indie devs, and even triple A studios. 

Mr. Kowloon: Yeah, I feel the same way. That’s why I do it.

While Mr. Kowloon had been understandably tight lipped about the larger story of his project, lest he spoil the mystery, I asked if he would feel comfortable telling us more about the conflicts and characters we will be introduced to in Kowloon’s Curse?

Mr. Kowloon: I don’t want to give too much away at this point, but the full game has two protagonists. One is a police officer, and the other is a criminal, which is the guy you play as in Lost Report. And I thought it would be really interesting to show the story from these two different perspectives. And to have these two characters that you’re both controlling be in conflict with each other.

With exploration and conversation being such integral parts of Lost Report, and by extension Kowloon’s Curse, I asked Mr. Kowloon if there were multiple branching paths or endings for the full game?

Mr. Kowloon: Three endings are planned for the full game. And actually, right now Lost Report has only one ending, but there can be slight differences in this ending based on what you do. But with the upcoming update, I’m adding basically a new game plus of sorts, that’s the new story and the new ending.

As a follow up I asked if there was a time frame for when that update would go live?

Mr. Kowloon: Hopefully this month?

Wrapping up the interview, I asked Mr. Kowloon how he felt about the continued development of Kowloon’s Curse, and if he had a hopeful release window at this time?

Mr. Kowloon:  It’s going very well, other than that I don’t want to say anything about that. I’ve had to delay the game twice before, so I’m just refraining from giving specific times for when the game’s done.

With that I wrapped up the interview and again thanked Mr. Kowloon for taking the time to meet with me and discuss the details on his upcoming surreal city story. I was eager to see all the work that the team would be doing in the lead up to the full release.

If you would like to play Kowloon’s Curse: Lost Report ahead of the launch of the full game, you can download it for free on Steam. To stay up to date with the development of the project be sure to follow the Twitter page for Kowloon’s Curse. And as always, if you are absolutely fiending for the latest and greatest in ghoulish and gruesome gaming, then be sure to head back to DreadXP and read more of our frightful features.