They say it takes a village… and when it comes to creating the village of Gravoi, it’s more than true. Saturnalia is a cultural mosaic, inspired in equal parts by film, theater and even architecture, as well as classic video games that emphasize survival and exploration. The result is a deeply textured and thematically rich world, which reflects a realistic influence while remaining ultimately otherworldly.
Where Reality Meets Surreal
Once the Santa Ragione team knew the game was to be set in the Sardinian region of Italy – a place underrepresented in popular media – we realized we had a responsibility to beautiful places and authentic culture. of the region. At the same time, our vision was for a horror story with supernatural influence, requiring an imaginative leap from the real world to something else. This is how Gravoi was born: a fictional dreamscape that reflects the real Sardinia while standing apart as a distinct and eerie backdrop.
The team carried out extensive scouting all over the island, taking countless photos and videos of villages and towns all over Sardinia, from the ancient church of Bosa to the abandoned mines of Monteponi. With these resources in hand, we were able to meticulously design the city of Gravoi and its many unique twists.
With the goal of creating a procedurally generated layout that could reorient itself once certain in-game conditions were met, the designers worked hard to ensure that each cobbled street and narrow alley felt distinct and lived in. The cathedral, storefronts and architecture that make up Gravoi are both familiar and totally unique. But establishing a three-dimensional framework is only part of the storytelling process.
The neon-folk effect
Saturnalia’s art style evokes many descriptors. Colourful, kaleidoscopic or perhaps picturesque? All of these are accurate, but they only begin to explain the depth and range of influences that contributed to the aesthetic that defines Saturnalia’s visuals.
From the outset, we had very clear inspiration in mind for both the story and the look of Saturnalia: giallo cinema, the classic Italian horror films that rose to prominence in the 60s and 70 thanks to the invigorating and innovative work of people like Dario Argento and Mario Bava. Known for their shocking violence, gripping mysteries, and stylized cinematography, these films provided a foundation upon which the developers were able to build their own entry in the long tradition of Italian horror.
For level design, our art director turned to contemporary architecture and dramatic scenography, particularly expressionist and brutalist forms that prioritize meaning over realism. These stark geometric patterns combine with the color treatment and palette structure to create an immersive world that’s easy to get lost in, both literally and figuratively.
Saturnalia’s evocative art style – dubbed “neon-folk” – is its most immediately striking feature. But how the game is played is just as crucial.
The heart of Saturnalia
Although the cinematic influence on Saturnalia is substantial, it is first and foremost a video game, which has deep ties to the lineage of horror and survival-based adventure games. Specifically, the rich and detailed world of Shenmue was a huge source of inspiration, as were mystery games like Mizzurna Falls, Enemy Zero, and D2. What all of these games have in common is deeply immersive worlds that encourage critical thinking and emotional connection to their central narratives and characters.
Level design focused on providing players with multiple paths to achieve their goals, with a primacy given to choice and single playthroughs. Borrowing from the exploratory adventure style, some areas of the village are not available to the player until certain tools and equipment have been acquired. Likewise, the many diegetic puzzles woven throughout the game are the key to discovering new areas and secret passages through Gravoi.
The result is a labyrinthine structure that gives the impression of traversing a complex maze. In the absence of daylight, the player’s management of his matches is essential to warding off the darkness…and the attention of the creature that follows his every move. This maze contains a monster, and avoiding its clutches is the top priority for any soul brave enough to explore the village.
But Saturnalia is not combat-oriented. Stealth and evasion are the main tools of the player, as are the unique abilities of each of the four co-protagonists. Using these abilities goes hand in hand with revealing each character’s personal motivations and desires: in the world of Saturnalia, story and gameplay are intertwined. The only way for the player to progress is to learn which character is best used for a given situation or puzzle.
Even so, everyone who plays Saturnalia will enjoy a unique experience. It is possible to complete the story without discovering the slightest detail, favoring replayability and alternative strategies. Discoveries made by the player, as well as the order in which certain events are resolved, can affect the ending. Ultimately, this aligns with one of our key pillars in designing Saturnalia: a focus on player agency. How you want this story to unfold is up to you.
With that in mind, there is only one question left.
Do you dare to join the ritual?
The Santa Ragione team is putting the finishing touches on the game and we can’t wait for you to play it. Saturnalia will launch for PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5 on October 27, 2022.