Feature Spotlight: Spineskulker

The original concept sheet for the Spineskulker

A sudden movement in the kelp. Something whirs past the facial port of Science Officer Keller’s diving helmet, leaving behind only a small trace of bubbles. She turns, but sees only a faint outline moving away behind the vegetation.

“Commander?” she calls on the radio. “I think something just… shot at me.” Her voice is incredulous; she’s never heard of an animal capable of this. What’s even stranger is that the figure looks like it’s walking on the ocean floor. “Moving north now, on my twelve. Over.”

“Hang tight, Corrine. I’m coming over with the speargun. Over.”

She peers into the darkness. There is something there, at the very edge of the nimbus of light cast by her suit lamp. For a moment, Corrine swears she can see two large, ink-black eyes staring directly at her. She goes for the diver’s knife at her toolbelt. As she raises her eyes, the apparition is gone, swallowed by the unending darkness of the ocean.

The Hunter of the Depths

The Spineskulker is one of the many enemies that haunt your crew in Stirring Abyss. It lurks in the shadows, flinging venomous spines at divers from a distance. Although individually weak, the skulker is not to be underestimated; to escape the depths, you will have to learn how to deal with these common foes decisively.

In terms of the visual look of the Spineskulker, the starting point was the classic Lovecraftian sea cultist. The idea was to keep some humanoid features, with heavy aquatic mutations. Keeping in mind that we would have other similarly themed foes, the skulker was given its thin frame and hunched over stance, to give it a unique silhouette. The eerie barrelfish was also used for inspiration, as well as the dilophosaurus from Jurassic Park.

Some signs of the human origins of these strange creatures were also left in the finished model. The Spineskulker wears a tattered piece of cloth that would serve little purpose in its living environment, perhaps for some kind of social reason, or simply as a vestige of its long-forgotten humanity. It also walks the ocean floor on almost human legs. We tried to hit a sweet spot where the model would naturally fit expectations for what it does, but do so without being generic and boring. Let us know if you think we hit our mark!

The evolution of the Spineskulker
The evolution of the Spineskulker model.

Designing the Spineskulker

Our basic idea when designing enemies was to really embrace the deep sea environment, and try to create creatures that feel adapted to the abyssal setting. In the case of the Spineskulker, we achieved this through their sight. With large eyes that can make out movement even in almost perfect darkness, the Spineskulker is vulnerable to bright lights. The light blinds it, forcing it to seek a better vantage point from where to launch its quills. They are also cowardly creatures, and many of the abilities and items players can acquire throughout the game will send them scurrying.

As a ranged enemy, the Spineskulker is also relatively weak and defenseless when engaged in close combat. Facing a lone skulker is more of a nuisance than a threat in most cases, and even a larger group may be best tackled with a decisive charge into their midst. They do, however, become a real problem when paired with other enemies or problems. Their spines carry a potent neurotoxin, that inhibits reaction times and muscle control, rendering their victims slow and vulnerable. An injured character may have a very hard time getting away from Spineskulkers, and a diver with a nearly empty air tank may not have the time required to hunt one down.

This is just a glimpse into the world of Stirring Abyss; there is much more to learn still about Spineskulkers as well as many other creatures of the deep to cover. Only by playing the game, and unraveling the secrets within, can you learn the full story of how these monstrosities came to be. Hold tight for more feature spotlights and announcements!

Corrine examines the strange footprint in the silt. Not for the first time, she wishes she could find one of the underwater cameras they had on the Salem. As it stands, she has to commit every new wonder to memory as accurately as possible, and hope that she will find the time and opportunity to transcribe her findings on paper.

“Elongated toes, with webbing between them. Certainly adapted to life underwater, but I still don’t understand what use something that lives here has for-”

The captain interrupts her: “Less biology, more tracking, Keller. Don’t forget it attacked you.”

“Maybe,” she responds, “or maybe it was just trying to scare me.”

“Your boundless optimism never ceases to amaze, Corrine.”

As she tries to think of a witty retort, something impacts with the chestplate of her suit. Corrine looks down and stares in shock at what appears to be a bony spine lodged in her torso.

She fights off the panic. To her relief, she realizes the spine has only barely penetrated the metal plate. As she tries to move, however, the nerves in her torso explode in a symphony of burning pain. The barbed projectile must be venomous!


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