Fantasy shaped by history

It always feels slightly ridiculous to discuss historical authenticity in the context of a game all about demonic possession and psychic powers, and yet, that’s exactly what I’ve set out to do in Dark Tides — at least with regard to architecture, fashion, and, to some extent, technology.

And in fact, I even like to think that the Victorians — with their spiritual and mystical beliefs and preoccupation with death — might have appreciated some of the themes of the game.

From the beginning, Dark Tides was inextricably linked to the 19th Century. It’s a game that absolutely requires gas lamps and street urchins and shadowy figures in top hats. But the Victorian era was one that brought great social change, and a game set in 1837 would look very different from a game set in 1901.

The first winnowing was easy. Chapter Two is to take place in a Coney Island-like setting, and I really had no interest in romanticizing pre-1865 America. So that left us with 36 years. For reasons also related to Chapter Two we wanted to set the game before electricity became widely used in transportation and commercial projects. And while I love the cuirass bodices of the late 1870s and early 1880s they were going to be impossible to animate for a character who needs to run, jump and climb.

And so we officially settled on 1888 (incidentally the year that Jack the Ripper terrorized London), though really you’ll see details from as early as 1880 and late as 1900.

A timeline of Victorian dresses.
Early research and concept art for Theodora’s dress.
Working prototype of Theodora’s dress.

Starving Brides

As an avid reader of Victorian books I thought I understood the era. But my research revealed details stranger and more fascinating than I could have believed.

Some of these I’ll leave as a surprise, but since I’ve already shared many images of the character Maude Lynn, here’s a bit about the so-called Starving Brides. (Apologies to our UK friends who may already know all about this macabre fad.)

At the turn of the century, sideshows became increasingly popular in seaside towns such as Blackpool (Dark Tides is based on Blackpool and Brighton with a dash of Cape May, New Jersey architecture), and eventually one popular attraction at these sideshows would become the Starving Brides — young, recently-married women who starved themselves to win money or a new home. The women were put on display in glass coffins and surrounded by lurid advertising. For periods as long as 30-32 days, the newlyweds would waste away, surviving only on lemonade and cigarettes.

According to historians Walter Vandereycken and Ron van Deth, the trend began in c. 1880 and remained extremely popular for the next 20 years. The tradition continued in some towns, including Blackpool, through the 1930s.

Hangry, tired and sick of lemonade.
In Dark Tides, Maude Lynn is displayed at Mr. Critchshaw’s Sideshow in Devil’s Pocket.
A real-life starving bride.


In what seems practically a parody of the Victorian ethos, for nearly 100 years London had a railway specially dedicated to transporting mourners and the deceased from the city to Brookwood Cemetery.

I was so taken with the idea of a dedicated funeral train that I immediately built the Necropolis Railway station in Devil’s Pocket (a seedy neighborhood in Cape Fortune) — despite the fact that the railway currently has no bearing on the plot or puzzles. We’ll figure it out 🙂

Necropolis station in Devil’s Pocket. (Laundry line is a WIP.)

One final though before signing off: I’m in no way an expert on the Victorian era. Just an enthusiast who’s excited to be learning more while making an indie game. So all you historians out there, go easy on me — and feel free to share your thoughts and ideas with us on Twitter.


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