Silent Heaven: A supernatural horror MU*

ko-fi Written by Andruid
A foggy highway with a hazy light shining through craggy trees, and the text: "Silent Heaven: A supernatural horror MU*"
A foggy highway with a hazy light shining through craggy trees, and the text: "Silent Heaven: A supernatural horror MU*"

Silent Heaven is a supernatural horror MU* known for its emphasis on story and its relatively non-toxic RP community.

Table of Contents

    Happy 2024 to my fellow roleplayers and storytellers! I’m excited to share the first interview of the year with you today.

    This one features Jumpscare, the creator of Silent Heaven, as well as a few words from Maina, a Helper and Builder who also contributes to the game.

    Why Silent Heaven? Last year, the game earned a positive reputation in the MU* community as a relatively non-toxic RPI-lite.

    Several people reached out to me to recommend Jumpscare for an interview, including implementors of other active games.

    Well, that got my attention – and sparked my curiosity! The more I heard about Silent Heaven, the more I wanted to learn about Jumpscare’s approach and what she’s doing differently.

    Fortunately, Jumpscare was kind enough to take time out of her busy schedule to share her experiences. I hope her lessons inspire you and give you some ideas to try in your projects.

    Meet Jumpscare, creator of Silent Heaven

    A writer from the US East Coast, Jumpscare gets her name from the fact that she’s actually a relatively quiet person.

    “So much so that when I do talk, I tend to jumpscare the people around me,” she said.

    One unique thing about Jumpscare is that she has a very vivid imagination. For her, the written word paints a clearer picture than 4K RTX graphics, which puts her right at home in the text-based gaming niche.

    When she’s not working on Silent Heaven, she enjoys reading and roleplaying. She got started roleplaying on Neopets back in the day and from there graduated to anime forums.

    “Eventually, as I became a moderator and helped to maintain continuity in realms, I found myself wanting more structure to the worlds and stories,” she said.

    It was that desire for structure that led her to AresMUSH games and, ultimately, MUDs, RPIs, and other styles of MU*.

    Amid the pandemic, Jumpscare decided to try coding her own MU*, and thus Silent Heaven was born.

    Okay, so there may have been a few fits and starts along the way, but before Jumpscare gets into the details of her journey, let’s first hear about the game and what sets it apart.

    Silent Heaven: a small town supernatural horror MU*

    “Silent Heaven is a roleplaying game set in a small town full of supernatural horror,” explained Jumpscare.

    “Each player takes control of a character who has gotten lost, only to turn up in the isolated town of Silent Heaven. The horror isn’t usually in-your-face; rather, it’s the kind of slow, creeping psychological horror that lurks around the corner.”

    And once you’re in Silent Heaven, you’re trapped. Nobody knows how to escape the town alive.

    This means that nobody in Silent Heaven is okay, including your character.

    Cafe Moon. This cafe has seen brighter days, before years of grease and old smoke have stained its dingy teal walls.
    Silent Heaven is a small town that seems ordinary on the surface but hides many secrets.

    In terms of gameplay, Jumpscare describes Silent Heaven as “an experimental fusion between the freeform roleplay of a MUSH and the mechanical crunch of an RPI.”

    The game features simple crafting and combat systems, two dozen skills to choose from, and a traditional grid to explore, but the true heart of Silent Heaven is the roleplaying and character-driven storylines.

    “The mechanics don’t supplant the RP, they support the RP,” said Jumpscare.

    Turning OOC commands into IC systems that drive roleplay

    One example of this is the WHO command.

    “In most games, typing WHO will generate an out-of-character list of everyone who’s currently connected,” said Jumpscare.

    “In Silent Heaven, WHO is an in-character command, where your character listens to the mysterious wind currents in town that carry echoes of each character’s name, plus a little quip about them.

    The net result is still the same – it’s a list of characters. However, the wind doesn’t travel everywhere in town. If you want privacy, you can move to a room where there’s no wind, and your character won’t appear on the WHO list!”

    Another example is the WHISPER system, which acts kind of like a supernatural ham radio. Characters can use it to communicate with others across town, either publically or privately.

    Annalise: (Hisssssss...)
Claire: (My bones love to rest longer and longer each time.)
    Whisper examples. Hisses represent private whispers between other people and can be toggled off if the player prefers not to see them.

    “The wind carries even the quietest voices, so a WHISPER will spread throughout town, making it difficult to share a secret in a crowded room. However, sending a WHISPER to the town is a great way to find RP,” said Jumpscare.

    “Imagine how your character would feel if they whispered, ‘What is going on in this town?’ and then unseen voices whisper back.”

    Well, I know how I’d feel if that happened to me. *shiver* Unsettled!

    Achieving “disturbing familiarity” through game mechanics

    I find it fascinating how Jumpscare uses familiar MU* systems to create a unique ambiance within the game.

    When you play Silent Heaven, you’ll encounter common systems and commands, but they’re manifested in sometimes new and unexpected ways.

    “A lot of the work I spent on designing Silent Heaven was about creating disturbing familiarity,” she explained.

    “I played at least 50 different MU* games to see how they each accomplished their systems – even the simplest ones. I questioned the purpose of every command and wondered how they could synergize with each other – and how they could each carry a deeper meaning.

    I don’t know if it’s possible to create a liminal space through text alone, but I certainly gave it my best shot.”

    From ideas in a spreadsheet to early launch

    When I asked Jumpscare what motivated her to create her own game, her answer was both simple and surprising.

    “I wanted to see how hard it was to make a MU* so I could have respect for people that do code,” she said.

    “I picked out Evennia and got started. But step two of the installation instructions was ‘learn how to code in Python,’ and I gave up there.”

    Or so she thought. Jumpscare ended up giving it another shot.

    Using examples on the Evennia website, and some help from a friend, she managed to create a command that printed text on the screen. And that small bit of progress was motivation enough to keep going.

    Until… another setback.

    “About three months into development, I managed to break the entire game,” she said. “The database was messed up and unrecoverable. I resigned to throw it all in the trash.

    Then a friend of mine asked how progress was going, and I said I had abandoned it. She was sad to hear the news. I was surprised that she not only remembered it, but was interested in seeing my progress.

    Something inside me felt renewed.”

    So Jumpscare grabbed a month-old backup of the game and painstakingly re-added everything that had been lost.

    “There were plenty of moments like that where I was resigned to quit, but something managed to save the day every time,” she said.

    “There was a point where I decided that I had to launch. Even if it wasn’t completely ready, I knew that if I kept sitting on it, I’d never pull the trigger. So I set a firm launch date of June 1st, 2023. And I stuck to it.”

    Three years after she first began dabbling with ideas in a spreadsheet, Silent Heaven was finally open for play.

    “These days, I’m motivated by the players. I love every moment that they’re having fun, and I’m excited to brainstorm Storyteller plots that include them.”

    Accessibility and sound on Silent Heaven

    Because the game uses the Evennia engine, it comes with built-in support for screen readers (known as “screenreader mode”).

    I already knew about that, as I’ve written about and worked with Evennia before.

    What surprised me is that ASCII art isn’t allowed in Silent Heaven. There’s a rule against it, and I’d never heard of a game outright banning ASCII art before.

    But it actually makes a lot of sense. ASCII art is unintelligible when read by a screen reader, which can make it frustrating if not downright confusing for players.

    If there isn’t a way to dynamically replace player-created ASCII art with text descriptions, it’s better to simply not allow ASCII art. This ensures that all players, whether they use a screen reader or not, can have an equally good experience.

    To see an example system that accommodates both ASCII art and text descriptions created by players, check out this interview with Niamh.

    And while Silent Heaven doesn’t currently have a soundpack, it does feature an original soundtrack that plays on the webclient based on your character’s location.

    The music was composed and performed by Mae of Bitter Pearls, with some guitar portions by Leila T.

    Jumpscare said, “I met Mae back in 2020 when she shared a link to her music in a group chat. I felt it matched the Silent Heaven vibe, and I asked her if she was open for commissions. She said she was, and we connected then and there!”

    Quote by Jumpscare, pulled from the body of the post.

    Keeping the game non-toxic

    I love what Jumpscare has made here: both the community and the game. I saw that it grew a lot faster than she anticipated, and I wanted to help.

    – Maina, Helper and Builder on Silent Heaven

    Earlier, I mentioned that Silent Heaven has a reputation for being a relatively non-toxic RP MU*.

    I asked Jumpscare how she keeps heads cool and drama levels low in a game that supports in-character conflict.

    “Silent Heaven is a horror game, and players have fun putting their characters in dangerous situations,” she said.

    “The comfort and consent of all players is of utmost importance, because we believe no player should be forced to RP something that’s uncomfortable to them. We encourage OOC check-ins to make sure everyone involved in the scene is still eager for the action to continue.

    Often, there are scenes that deal with heavy emotions, conflict between groups, and violence. It isn’t uncommon to see someone type, ‘OOC This is a heavy and chaotic scene. Vibe check, is everyone good for the scene to continue?’ or ‘OOC Is it okay if my character shows off a particularly bloody wound?'”

    Throughout it all, communication seems to be key. Players are encouraged to communicate about important things like consent and comfort levels.

    This sets Silent Heaven apart from some other RPI games out there – games that punish or prohibit players from communicating out-of-character.

    Maintaining comfort via the consent checklist

    “Silent Heaven comes with a consent checklist that allows you to opt-in to over 30 different kinds of horror content and other potentially uncomfortable RP moments,” said Jumpscare.

    “After RPing with another character for a few scenes, you’re allowed to check their consent checklist to potentially introduce additional elements of horror.”

    “The reason you’re not immediately allowed to check someone’s list is because we want players to get to know each other a bit before introducing potentially sensitive topics,” she explained.

    1: (Horror) GREEN: Body horror - Being exposed to visually disturbing or grotesque reshaping of the human body.
2: (Horror) GREEN: Cannibalism - Witnessing the consumption of other humans. Participation is always optional.
    Items on the consent checklist. Note that each item is categorized and has been given a rating by the player (green, yellow, orange or red).
    Choose the number that matches your comfort level for Body horror.
1: GREEN: Enthusiastic consent! Bring it on!
4: RED: Hard no! Do not include or reference this at all.
    When filling out the checklist, players can rate their comfort level for each item. Green represents enthusiastic consent, whereas red is a hard no.

    The importance of trust in staff

    Jumpscare admitted that while systems like the consent checklist are good to have in place, they don’t work if players don’t have trust in staff.

    “I believe the most important thing is to foster an environment of trust with staff,” she said.

    Trust is a very important resource that’s difficult to raise and easily lost. The overwhelming majority of players have been burned by staff in past games they’ve played.

    When someone joins a new game, they almost always start with a negative trust level of staff. And it’s my responsibility to help change that to a positive over time.”

    This is why, whenever a player comes to Jumpscare with an issue, she acknowledges that issue, does the research, and takes steps to remediate the problem.

    “Most often, all it takes is just a gentle nudge to another player. I’ve opened many conversations with, ‘Hi there! Let me preface this by saying that you’re not in trouble.’ I’m clear about the issue so they understand what happened and what needs to change.

    Almost always, everyone’s understanding. They agree and change their behavior.

    There have only been a few instances where someone’s vehemently refused to change, and those people are no longer a part of the game.”

    Jumpscare makes an effort to be open to concerns from the community and even actively reaches out when she hears of concerns or finds something concerning in a character journal.

    Bad actors are dealt with quickly, but fairly, rather than letting them linger and foster resentment.

    That’s gone a long way, I think, to making people feel like they can say their piece, respectfully, to either JS or other players, and know that the people who are here are mature enough to work through whatever minor issues rise up in a respectful way.

    – Maina, Helper and Builder on Silent Heaven

    Lessons learned from Silent Heaven

    Finally, I asked Jumpscare if she had any lessons she’d like to share – things she learned while creating or implementing the game.

    “This was my first attempt at making an online game! It was way harder than I ever could’ve imagined it’d be. But it’s worth every moment,” she said.

    “My advice for anyone planning on making their own MU* is that the amount of effort you spend on making it will need to be tripled after it’s launched.

    I wasn’t able to sleep for the first 36 hours after launch, and I got unhealthily little sleep for the first two weeks. Even staggering invites as I did, there was so much I needed to be on top of, including responding to initial reviews and feedback.

    If I had let things drop through the cracks, Silent Heaven wouldn’t have reached sustainable player numbers.

    That being said, I should have had other people there to help me. It’s impossible to do everything by yourself. Eventually, you’ll burn out. I lasted 26 days before asking for help, haha.”

    Toxicology Study, Part 2. Pallia Clinic, Examination Room.
    Events like this one allow storytellers to proactively set up scenes and ensure there’s plenty for players to do without always having to rely on a single staffer.

    A healthy staff environment – where people don’t feel like they have to do it all themselves and can, instead, rely on each other – makes for a much better game.

    I’ve staffed on other games where you were just kind of thrown in the deep end, and one where it was heavily discouraged to interact with other staffers.

    Silent Heaven has shown me that keeping stuff positive from the top down really makes a difference.

    – Maina, Helper and Builder on Silent Heaven

    Jumpscare’s recommended resources

    I asked Jumpscare if she had any resources to share with readers who might be thinking of building their own games.

    “The Evennia website is well laid-out for someone who’s starting out, and the Evennia Discord server is helpful when you need coding assistance,” she said.

    She also pointed to two videos on YouTube that were vital to her:

    Jumpscare admitted that she must have reiterated over Silent Heaven’s chargen intro sequence at least 15 times, even bringing in a friend who had never played a MU* before to playtest the intro sequence.

    But it was worth it to get it right.

    She explained, “The beginning of a MU* has a daunting task:

    • it needs to teach the basics of text-based games while also keeping the player engaged in the experience,
    • it has to set the tone of the game,
    • it has to give just enough information about the world without being overwhelming,
    • it has to have a chargen that’s as painless as the opening to any Pokemon Mystery Dungeon game,
    • AND it has to do all that in less than 30 minutes.
    • And you need to leave the player at a position where the next time they log in, they’re given nudges for how to re-engage with the game.

    That’s a tall order!”

    But if there’s anywhere you should invest your time and energy, it’s your tutorial.

    “Your chargen / tutorial / intro sequence is going to be the most-played part. The majority of everyone who plays your game is never going to see anything beyond that,” she said.

    And while there are many reasons why a player might leave – they were just curious, the game’s not a good fit, etc. – you don’t want to lose the players that are a good fit just because the beginning of the game leaves them confused or frustrated as to what to do.

    “Remember, once a character is in the game world proper, you still need to provide explicit direction for what they’re supposed to do next.

    Most players don’t go searching for help files when they don’t know what to do; instead, they quit.”

    Quote by Jumpscare pulled from the body of the post.

    What’s next for Jumpscare and Silent Heaven

    As far as MU* games go, Silent Heaven seems to be an early success. But what’s next, I wonder?

    While Jumpscare didn’t want to give too much away, she did hint at a few things on the horizon.

    “One high priority is further expansion of the game world to better accommodate players. As more players pour in, some locations and resources in town are reaching capacity.

    Additionally, there are major areas that have been alluded to but not revealed, as well as notable residents that have yet to surface,” she said.

    “Some of these expansion plans were among the first things I expected to add to the game. But as the players honed in on other mysteries, I had to change my plans to react to what themes and locations the players wanted to explore.

    As a game runner, being flexible to the wants of your players is important!”

    Jumpscare wrapped things up by expressing her gratitude to those players and others who have been instrumental in Silent Heaven’s success:

    “My thanks go out to Tegiminis, Diz, Kovitikus, Inspector Caracal, Owllex, Kestrel, and everyone else who provided me with feedback, coding help, and motivation!

    I’m also infinitely thankful for all the players of Silent Heaven, past and present. Silent Heaven would be nothing without you.”

    Speaking of thanks, a big huge thank you to Jumpscare and Maina for sharing their experiences with me! Some really valuable, thoughtful insights from both staffers.

    I also appreciate their patience. Between holidays, work travel, a damaging winter storm, and an annoying head cold, this interview took longer than usual to get out the door, but it was well worth the effort. I hope you enjoyed it, and stay tuned for more to come!

    In the meantime, hop on over to the Silent Heaven website to read up on the lore, create a new character, or join the community Discord.

    Smiling blonde woman wearing glasses.
    About the author

    Andruid is a writer, roleplayer, storyteller, and nerd who tries to live by Bill and Ted wisdom, i.e. “Be excellent to each other.”