Interview: El Paso, Elsewhere Tells A Special Story While Being A Game You Didn’t Know You Needed
In El Paso, Elsewhere you play as James Savage, an addict whose girlfriend, well ex-girlfriend, is on a path of destruction in order to destroy the world. What’s more, is that your ex is none other than Draculae.
You’ll traverse a motel that continues to see floor after floor appear in the most psychedelic way with the goal of rescuing the innocent and returning to the elevator. Unfortunately, every time you get to the elevator, there seems to be a more daunting level ahead of you within the void.
It’s a story that developer Strange Scaffold studio head Xalavier Nelson Jr. said started to come together after moving to the titular city of El Paso, Texas.
“The idea struck me as we were driving on this kind of iconic road in the city that’s called Woodrow Bean Transmountain,” he said. “It literally splits the Franklin Mountains that runs behind the city, basically it being the backdrop of a stage.
“This vivid image hit me of a monster hunter driving a beat-up muscle car looking along the ridge of this desert environment for a place to bury a body, the body of a creature. And I was like, I got to tell this guy’s story. I don’t know who he is or what that means, but I know this guy and I need to tell people about him.”
While the studio continued to develop various games, the story Nelson Jr. wanted to tell never stopped being thought about. Eventually, it came to a head when he decided he wanted to finally create a game that was a spiritual successor to games like Max Payne and Dead to Rights.
“This vampire hunter, this monster hunter could be a part of that story,” Nelson Jr. said. “Not only could that vampire hunter be a part of the story, but how much more interesting does this become when it’s actually a love story?”
A Story That Requires Sensitivity
El Paso, Elsewhere then took shape as that love story, of sorts. From the very beginning with the first line of written script being, “Would you believe that this was a love story?”, Nelson Jr. says that it was the most natural script-writing process he ever had when working on a game. What helped his process was that it became not only a love story but one that deals with topics such as addiction, trauma, and a male survivor of domestic emotional abuse.
Covering things like addiction, domestic abuse, and other sensitive topics isn’t something that comes easy to everyone. It can be a touchy subject for many that potentially opens up a can of criticism. To do it right, Nelson Jr. says, requires you to have confidence in your abilities and be good at what you do as a group.
“Every member of the team needs to be aligned,” he said. “There can’t be anything schlocky or hokey.
“When it came to El Paso elsewhere, if we’re going to handle this, not only did the writing and the performance have to be on point, but everyone on the team had to be aligned around making sure that the absurdity and the surreality and the complication of that situation was handled with emotion and dignity. We also had to develop a kick-ass game around it.”
He added that while it wasn’t an easy task to take on when developing a game, it wasn’t one that felt harder than delivering a “more simple type” of narrative. It was a story, he says, that simply required a bit more focus to do it right while also finding the right team with the right perspectives.
A Game Of Yesteryear
The one key thing about El Paso, Elsewhere is that it’s not a game with many of the modern-day tropes that players will find in most titles. Instead, Strange Scaffold keeps things just deep enough to make the game, and all of the elements within it, meaningful to the gameplay and story. And it’s strictly by design.
The game features no XP system or upgrade loop, no microtransactions, and no long-term engagement loops. Instead, El Paso, Elsewhere, Nelson Jr. says, is a game that is built to give players something that “respects their time” while also feeling and playing like something you can’t get anywhere else.
The game will have you run — or slow-motion dive — through levels, find new weapons, find ammo, and destroy various wooden environment objects to find stakes to stab through the vampires. It’s all a straightforward system that fits with the story being told in the style Strange Scaffold thinks players will gravitate to.
“[We want a game that] is joyful and delivering something distinctly meaningful to their [players’] lives and then leaving them free to spend time with their families or replay the game if they enjoyed it,” Nelson Jr. says, “not having these dark patterns that you have to go back in for your daily login bonus.”
El Paso, Elsewhere launches on September 26 on Steam and Xbox.
For more on El Paso, Elsewhere, including information on future platform releases, art style decisions, and more, watch the full video interview from The Indie Initiative above. To get alerts when new exclusive interviews go live, subscribe to Insider Gaming’s YouTube channel and turn on your notifications.