Compulsion Games shows up at Xbox Games Showcase 2023 with South of Midnight

South of Midnight reveal screenshots
(Image credit: Microsoft)

Update: This news post has been updated to include additional information about South of Midnight from Compulsion Games' creative director David Sears and narrative producer James Lewis.

What you need to know

  • Compulsion Games was acquired by Xbox in 2018.
  • Previously known only as Project Midnight, South of Midnight was unveiled with a trailer during the Xbox Games Showcase
  • The title will come to Xbox and Steam, with Xbox Game Pass subscribers getting day 1 access.

Compulsion Games has finally given players a glimpse at what they've been working on. Previously acquired by Xbox in 2018, Compulsion's previous titles included We Happy Few in 2018 and Contrast in 2013. The game, previously known as Project Midnight, has been officially revealed to be South of Midnight.

South of Midnight features a stop motion claymation art style and features a story set in the deep south. The trailer features a young woman asking raccoons and rabbits and if they've seen a sneaky looking monster with teeth like knives as a mysterious old man plays guitar. After the animals scurry off, the woman smiles and pulls out a device that activates a magic spell before the trailer cuts to the title.

While the trailer may have been light on details and heavy on intrigue, a post from the official Xbox blog provided further insight into Compulsion Games' new third-person action-adventure title. Set in the deep south, South of Midnight is a coming of age tale about a young woman named Hazel who is designated to become a Weaver following a catastrophic disaster in her hometown. Weavers are entrusted with magic that is powerful enough to mend broken bonds and spirits, and Hazel will use her newfound abilities to confront dangerous creatures while also untangling the webs of her own family's past.

Magic Realism is, is one of the calling cards of Southern Gothic. It’s a licence to actually put magic in the modern world, and to have creatures there that are just accepted.

David Sears, creative director

"South of Midnight’s world is definitely a magically real place, much like the actual South," David Sears explained, "The South is a sultry, sexy, mysterious place that has not been in a lot of games. Any amount of wandering in the country is going to lead you to speculate that there might be more than what you’ve been led to believe. I felt like the South was underrepresented, and it deserves an honest love letter – it deserves its time in the spotlight.”

The magical creatures that Hazel encounters as she attempts to mend the broken world around her are all rooted in real-life folklore from the South. Sears explains that much of his inspiration for South of Midnight comes from his time exploring abandoned farms in Mississippi and uncovering unusual artefacts from across significant historical moments. 

South of Midnight reveal screenshots

(Image credit: Microsoft)

The heroine, Hazel, is outwardly confident with a wry sense of humor with a history firmly rooted in a small rural town that the rest of the world has forgotten. Compulsion Games has gone above and beyond to create a character in Hazel that feels rounded and real. She's sarcastic with a dry sense of humor that serves as a defense mechanism after growing up at odds with her mother and pinned in place by societal injustices that can wreak a unique form of havoc on rural folk. Compulsion Games has acknowledged that having a black woman protagonist is still an anomaly among video games, and worked diligently to ensure that their repesentation of Hazel was accurate by filling out the team with Black women and women of color. 

Hazel's role as a Weaver will have her tracking down a plethora of unusual monsters, all of which are inspired by genuine southern folklore.  The regions cultural mix of European, Caribbean, and African storytelling gave Compulsion Games a unique oral history to draw upon where there were all these incredible stories of creatures and monsters, but no eyewitness or photographic evidence. This gave the team the freedom to craft these monsters in whatever image they saw fit and to run wild with the spirits players will encounter. The monsters are able to spill into the world around Hazel thanks to tears that she will need to repair using her magic Weaver abilities. Hazel's weaving is not just for combat as it can be used for traversing the world around her, as well, and ultimately serves as the foundation for your interactions.

While Hazel is our main protagonist, she is not even the first character visible in the trailer. That honor goes to Shakin' Bones, a seemingly monstrous creature in his own right. According to Sears, Shakin' Bones is an "Archon", or an icon of the entertainment archetype, and he is inspired by Robert Johnson, the man who made a deal with the Devil at the crossroads, and Greek mythological ferryman Charon. Shakin' Bones introduction to players came as he played a rendition of 'Death Don't Have no Mercy', which stood in as a representation for the musical aspirations of South of Midnight.  Gospel, blues, and folk music are hallmarks of the American South, and the game will draw heavily on inspiration from that rich musical history.

South of Midnight's southern rural aesthetic doesn't stop with the music and monsters. The game's art style is intended to look as if everything is handcrafted, with Sears explaining that stop motion animation classics like Coraline and the works of Rankin/Bass were inspirations. “If you look closely you might notice that the fibers of a character’s clothes are a bit coarser and looser than normal. It is as if a the clothing was plucked out of a miniature world and worn by a much larger person," Sears explained in the Xbox blog, "Overall, we are going for a feeling of handcrafted everything rather than recreating photorealistic objects, which helps create the feeling of being in a folktale.”

South of Midnight reveal screenshots

(Image credit: Microsoft)

There was no release date just yet for South of Midnight, but we do have confirmation from the Xbox Games Showcase trailer that the game will launch on Xbox consoles and Steam for PC, and will also be available for Xbox Game Pass subscribers day one.

Cole Martin

Cole is the resident Call of Duty know-it-all and indie game enthusiast for Windows Central. She's a lifelong artist with two decades of experience in digital painting, and she will happily talk your ear off about budget pen displays.