Cultist Simulator is a card-based simulation video game developed by British indie studio Weather Factory. It was released for Microsoft Windows, macOS and Linux computer systems in May 2018, with mobile versions developed by Playdigious released in April 2019.
|Platform(s)||Linux, macOS, Microsoft Windows, Android, iOS|
|Release||31 May 2018|
Cultist Simulator is a narrative-driven simulation game that has the player take on the role of a citizen in a nameless society where their actions may lead to their creating a cultlike following. The game's mechanics are presented as a combination of cards and action buttons. Cards represent a range of different elements: persons, attributes like health or reason, emotions, locations, items, wealth, lore, and others. The player starts with two cards: a career and one health. To play, the player drops cards onto slots contained within the action buttons, then starts the action which triggers a timer. When complete, the player clicks the action, collecting played cards and additional rewards, which may be random or predetermined based on the action. The first action button is "Work"; placing their career card on this earns the player "Funds" cards.
As the game progresses, new action buttons can appear. Some of these are beneficial, adding more options that players can do, such as Study, Talk, Explore, or Dream. Other action buttons are a detriment to the player's progress. For example, players will eventually get an action button that reflects the passage of their character's time in the game, which will automatically consume wealth cards; should the player have no wealth cards when this action's timer completes, they will gain Hunger cards, which leads to a chain of cards and action buttons that can lead to the death of the character. Some cards, often generated by action buttons, also have timers attached, either which they will burn out, or may revert to a different card type. The game takes place in real-time, but the player has the option of pausing the game to review cards and actions, and to place or collect cards from the board. The game ultimately has many different parallel victory and failure conditions, both based on "sane" and "insane" routes that the player's character may uncover.
Weather Factory is an independent game studio created by Alexis Kennedy, who previously had founded Failbetter Games. Failbetter had developed several gothic and Lovecraftian horror story-driven games, including Fallen London. Kennedy split from Failbetter and founded Weather Factory in 2016, looking for a more hands-on role in designing and writing than his management-focused role at Failbetter. Cultist Simulator represented the studio's first game and an experimental title that they could produce quickly with minimal costs.
The use of card-driven narrative systems was already something Kennedy was familiar with through Fallen London. Kennedy said that a card-based approach helped to make concepts tangible and allowed for players to organize the cards as they saw best fit. Cultist Simulator represented the most minimalist take Kennedy could take with the card-based concept, since cards represented a vast vocabulary of terms within the game. While Kennedy provided user interface elements to help the player understand where to place cards, much of the strategy and reasoning was something he wanted players to discover for themselves. Kennedy did this to both mimic crafting systems in other role-playing games, and to create the Lovecraftian feel to the game. Kennedy said the player "will be able to mesh together an understanding of this very deep, very complicated lore in the same way that the scholars of Lovecraft are actually doing in fiction."
Kennedy announced the project in September 2016, providing a free simplified web-driven version of how the game would play, and with plans to use Kickstarter to raise funds for an anticipated October 2017 release date. Kennedy launched the Kickstarter in September 2017 and pushed the release date into May 2018; the Kickstarted succeeded in obtaining GB£82,000 of its target GB£30,000 fundraising goal. The game was released on 31 May 2018 for Microsoft Windows, macOS, and Linux systems.
Kennedy plans to be able to extend Cultist Simulator through downloadable content following the Paradox Interactive model. The first such content, "The Dancer", was released on 16 October 2018. A free update released on 22 January 2019 includes an extended end-game, where the player is challenged to take their successful cult leader and elevate them into a godlike state. Two additional DLC packs, "Priest" and "Ghoul" were released in May 2019, alongside the Cultist Simulator: Anthology Edition which includes the game and all DLC content in a single package.
According to Alexis Kennedy, Cultist Simulator's sales surpassed 35,000 units within six days of release, which caused the game to break even and generate a profit in its first week. Its sales were similar in volume to those of Sunless Sea over the same period.
Cultist Simulator won the award for "Best Emotional Game Design" at the Emotional Game Awards 2018. It was nominated in the "Debut Game" and "Game Innovation" categories for the 15th British Academy Games Awards, and won the awards for "Best Game Design" and "Best Innovation" at the Develop:Star Awards, whereas its other nomination was for "Best Narrative".
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