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Shadows of Duat. Interview with the author: Ángel Guede, by Abraham I. Fernández Pichel and Víctor Sánchez Domínguez

Shadows of Duat. Interview with the author: Ángel Guede, by Abraham I. Fernández Pichel and Víctor Sánchez Domínguez

Good afternoon and welcome to this interview with Ángel Guede, creator of the computer game Shadows of Duat, which incorporates a huge amount of Egyptology and elements from Egyptomania through a plot that takes place inside an Egyptian tomb during the 1920s. This will allow for a discussion between an Egyptologist, myself, a gamer like Víctor Sánchez Domínguez, and a creator like Ángel Guede.

Abraham: Why did you decide to make a game inspired by Ancient Egypt?

Angel: I am a big fan of Egyptian history and mythology. I don’t consider myself an expert, but I do consider myself a fan. Besides, in October 2022 I travelled to Egypt for a week, and I was fascinated. Being in the Valley of the Kings, inside one of the huge royal tombs, very deep, with narrow and narrow corridors, with reliefs and paintings on the walls… I thought it would be terrifying to be locked in there, carrying only an oil lamp. I am also a fan of horror games, and from all this I got the motivation to create a horror game in an Egyptian tomb.


Abr: What other horror games might have influenced you to create Shadows of Duat?

Angel: My favourite game is Resident Evil, the most classic titles in the series, as well as Silent Hill and Alone in the Dark, all of which are in the survival horror genre. In fact, when conceiving my game, I thought of taking some technical and gameplay features from these games (fixed camera shots, mainly), but I thought I had to do something more modern to make it more playable.


Abr: If we talk about cinema, television, comics… What other popular culture products did you have in mind when you created the game?

Angel: Honestly, I love The Mummy movies with Brendan Fraser, especially the first two installments of that saga. They are films that bring together many elements that appeal to me, like adventure, action, romance, comedy, some horror. My video game has no romance (although in the last levels there is “something” between the engineer and Samira, but I don’t want to give away any spoilers) and hardly any comedy, but the rest I have taken from this model of The Mummy. I like the version with Tom Cruise less.


Abr: Continuing with this idea, Brendan Fraser’s character in The Mummy is a clear revival of Indiana Jones. Were you influenced by other products from the 80s and 90s of the last century?

Angel: I love Indiana Jones and it has certainly influenced me too.


Abr: Together with these influences, we can see in your game a huge research work. What sources did you use for your documentation?

Angel: I made this game with the help of my brother, who was mainly in charge of the historical documentation. He dug through numerous archives on the internet, finding very old books in PDF format. Almost all are in English, dealing with historical and mythological aspects of ancient Egypt, and we particularly focused on everything related to the Book of Gates. This Egyptian book is the fundamental basis for the construction of the game. As for the Egyptian language, we looked for bibliography to find out how it was pronounced, but we quickly saw that we could not make much progress in this regard because this is an aspect that we still cannot know today. However, there are manuals and articles by ancient authors that include editions of texts, very old Egyptological bibliography, which show how Egyptian is supposed to have been vocalised. We follow some of these works, mainly in those parts of the game where the character of the Pharaoh speaks to the player.

Fig. 1: Player selectable character gallery (Screenshot by the author)

Abr: Continuing with the question of the texts and inscriptions, I have noticed that the game, in the design of the tomb and the texts that decorate its walls, uses authentic hieroglyphic signs, but the texts themselves are not authentic; the repetition of the same text sequences along all the walls of the tomb is common.

Angel: That’s right, we have made sure that the texts and their signs are in most parts of the game purely decorative. Only later in the game are some signs relevant, and we have taken more care with regards to their meaning.


Abr: If we now turn to the historical era chosen for the setting of the game, the action takes place in Luxor at the turn of the last century, after the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922. With regards to the chronology of ancient Egypt, what period does the tomb and villain of the game belong to? Some paintings are reminiscent of tomb paintings from the Old Kingdom; other elements seem to be based on some of the findings in Tutankhamun’s tomb; and other motifs are clearly from the Greco-Roman period. What specific period did you think of for your game?

Angel: Our idea was for the game to be set in the earliest periods of Egyptian history, but we haven’t dated it precisely. We mainly thought about the time of the pyramids. We set the limits between the pharaoh Djet and the pharaoh Seti, because in a series of ancient works we read that human sacrifices were made between these two reigns [editor’s note: imprecise information], and that after Seti the ushebtis were introduced, which meant the end of the sacrifices. Both notions are fundamental to the game: the sacrifices and the ushebtis.

The geographical location of the tomb has not been pointed out either. It is a lost tomb and, as such, we did not care about its location. In the same way, we did not want to base it on a specific Pharaoh.


Abr: What can you tell us about the villains?

Angel: The main villain is a Pharaoh, or so it is thought at the beginning of the game. Later on, it becomes clear that he is a high priest of the Apophis cult, Akenapep, whose name has been erased throughout the tomb. This character is initially incomplete and has to recover his essence. To do so, he has to find 4 canopic jars that are scattered in different parts of this impossible and enormous tomb that I designed. When he recovers all 4, he will be a living human again, but with much more power than the rest of humankind. Therefore, the end of the game is to prevent Akenapep from completing himself, which could bring about the apocalypse. The only way to defeat him is to try to get one of the jars out of the tomb and destroy it. That way Akenapep can never be complete or leave the tomb.

Other villains are the Ushebits, which are a kind of zombies or Golems that reanimate to attack players, and others are the Ex-anima, who have no soul and yearn to regain it by taking it from their victims.


Abr: Fortunately, there are also less evil characters in the game. So you introduce an Egyptian professor, Hamuda, and an inhabitant of the sands, Samira, also Egyptian. Both appear in a historical context characterised by the archaeological discoveries in Egypt mainly carried out by American, French and British Egyptologists… On the other hand, you introduce Egyptian characters, distancing yourself from this colonialist point of view. In this way you claim the Egyptian heritage, a form of post-colonialism. Was this premeditated?

Ángel: Yes, it was premeditated. No one could know the desert better than an inhabitant of the sands of Egypt. That’s why Samira was necessary. She has a dark past, we don’t know much about her except that she handles weapons very well. Her model was the “silent gunman”, who says little, but acts. We also wanted the professor to be an Egyptian, who helps to prevent the inhabitants of the Duat from crossing the boundaries of the underworld and invading our reality. His knowledge was therefore necessary to make the destruction of Akenapep possible.


Abr: As for the Pharaoh, even his name offers clues as to the possible source of inspiration. You speak of damnatio memoriae, that is, the erasure of a Pharaoh’s name in the decoration of his tomb, which makes us think of Akhenaten. And the element Apep in the name, which is the Egyptian name Apep, Hellenised as Apophis. Is this link with these two aspects what you wanted to show, or was it accidental?

Angel: Yes, in effect this link is premeditated.


Abr: As for the inspiration for many elements of the tomb, we see representations that seem to be taken from iconography works. This is the case for the scenes depicting the Pharaoh in a chariot, whose inspiration seem to be scenes of Ramses II in the battle of Kadesh as they appear in different Egyptian temples of the New Kingdom; scenes of daily life, which are very common in reliefs and paintings of the Old Kingdom; or scenes of the solar bark typical of the tombs in the Valley of the Kings. So, were these scenes an inspiration for you, and did you browse monographs or websites for inspiration, or did you see them on your trip to Egypt as you mentioned before?

Ángel: The scene of the Pharaoh in the chariot I actually wanted to eliminate because it seemed too obvious to me. Besides, I am aware that they are not very coherent chronologically, because they are from different periods. But I wanted to retain the idea they expressed and not their particular historical period. Particularly in the first level of the game, the images are a potpourri, so that the player recognises certain Egyptian images. In other levels, which are more linked to the Book of Gates, the scenes have a more unitary sense. This is why the first level is the least accurate of all the levels in the game in terms of decoration.


Victor: How do you define your game?

Ángel: Although it seems to be an action game, and even the trailers of the game on the internet show a more active and action-oriented side, the truth is that this could give a false impression, because the game includes many puzzles that have to be solved by the players, tests, mystery solving… and I characterise it more as a game where exploration and discovery predominate.


Abr: Your game takes up some of the usual leitmotifs of Egyptian civilisation in popular culture, such as labyrinths, passageways, magic, treasure, mystery, adventurers, Egyptian evil… But are there any elements which you believe you have innovated, that is, for which you have not relied on the existing popular culture of the generation you belong to?

Angel: Shadows of Duat will be the first game in a larger game universe, which I call ‘Land of Gods’. In it I’m positing that this world of the Duat, the underworld, is a plane of existence parallel to our own, inhabited by ghosts, the undead and demons, all based on the Egyptian culture. I’m inspired by everything I like in popular culture and mythology and, at the same time, I’m trying to create a new and different world, in short. I don’t know if it’s an innovation or not, because everything is already invented, but that’s what I intend to do.

Fig. 2: Plan of the tomb explored by the archaeologist (Screenshot by the author)

Abr: Definitely, because what you often do is to reinterpret many Egyptian elements. You reinterpret the tekenu, the false door stele and the ushebtis. These elements in your game have characteristics that go far beyond what we know from ancient Egyptian accounts. This seems fundamental to me because, by reinterpreting them, you are developing the narratives and enriching them to achieve greater playability. If we were to stick to the purely historical and the pretended accuracy, the game would probably be very boring. This is fundamental to works of fiction.


Abr/Víctor: And one last question, how long did it take you to conceive of the game and the technical work?

Angel: I went to Egypt in October 2022 and in October 2023 the game was released. It was one year, which was a huge challenge and I put in as many hours as possible from very early in the morning until very late at night. In this regard, I can say that I have always loved storytelling, particularly in RPGs and video games, I am interested in making people ‘live’ the stories. This led me to spend months studying games, with training courses that gave me the skills I needed to create games. I learnt programming quickly, because the pandemic didn’t allow me to leave the house, so I focused entirely on this.


Víctor: And finally, where can we get your game?

Angel: It’s a PC game, which you can buy simply by doing a search on the internet.

Authors: Abraham I. Fernández Pichel / Víctor Sánchez Domínguez

Further reading: 

Entry Egypopcult Database Shadows of Duat

Video of the Interview:

Egypopcult Youtube channel here.

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