Last week, the internet responded with terrified glee to the reveal of Choo-Choo Charles, the upcoming novelty survival horror game that finally confirms our long-standing fears about trains with faces. With its announcement trailer chugging through a couple million views across Twitter, we spoke to the game's creator and developer, Gavin Eisenbeisz, about his background and how he's handling the sudden attention, and learned more about how the game will work.
Eisenbeisz shared a few additional gameplay details for Choo-Choo Charles (opens in new tab), including some of the areas that make up its open-world island setting. You'll explore forested areas, beaches, and mountains, as well as villages inhabited by the paper-doll NPCs shown in the trailer. As you do, you'll be hunted by Charles, and initially you'll only be able to evade or repel him.
"My idea is that, you know, every maybe five, 10 minutes, every so often Charles will go on the prowl and try to hunt you down," says Eisenbeisz. "And so your goal in that moment, as soon as he latches onto you and starts, your goal is simply to escape or to scare him away."
After upgrading your train with scrap gathered from the world and earned from NPCs, you'll eventually battle Charles on your own terms by summoning him for "a final duel." At that point, he won't run away anymore. It'll be a "duel to the death."
Eisenbeisz is just 20 years old, and is a self-taught team of one at his studio Two Star Games. "I started making games about eight years ago now, when I was 12," he says. "I started making games with the Blender game engine, and I completely fell in love with it. I've been doing it ever since."
Eventually, Eisenbeisz shifted to building his games in Unreal, Choo-Choo Charles included. "I am a huge fan of Unreal," he said.
Eisenbeisz started publishing his games as soon as possible—first on mobile, then Itch.io, and eventually on Steam during the Greenlight era. Two Star Games has already released two games this year, including My Beautiful Paper Smile, an Early Access hand-drawn horror game due to be finished this year, which Eisenbeisz illustrated himself. "I've always been into art and drawing, sketching, that kind of stuff," he said.
Beyond illustrating, Eisenbeisz creates his own custom 3D assets and textures for his games, including those for the spider-train horror of Choo-Choo Charles.
A horror game where you navigate an island in an old train, upgrade it over time, and use it to fight an evil spider train named Charles. Here's the first trailer! (Steam link in comments) #Halloween #Horror #IndieGames #HorrorGames pic.twitter.com/Ug5GHIwXRmOctober 1, 2021
The huge response to the first Choo-Choo Charles trailer has been "incredible" and "overwhelming," he says. "It's been a little bit stressful, although I think the stress is mostly adrenaline."
The trailer tweet Eisenbeisz posted has been retweeted over 13,000 times, and the video has over 300,000 views on YouTube. A separate YouTube upload of the trailer adds another 200,000 views to the total.
Now that the social media fervor has quieted a bit, Eisenbeisz has "a little more room to breathe," he says. He chalks up the happy reaction to the collective memory of Thomas the Tank Engine—Choo-Choo Charles's most obvious inspiration—along with other train-based horrors, such as Blaine the Mono from Stephen King's Dark Tower series. But he didn't expect this many people to be creeped out by trains with faces.
"I'll be honest, I was a little surprised by some of the comments," he said. "As a kid, I wasn't particularly scared of [Thomas the Tank Engine]. But looking back at it, I can definitely see where some of that comes from."
While he might not be terrified of tank engines himself, Eisenbeisz is a horror fan, though he noted that the obsession peaked while making My Beautiful Paper Smile, which features darker themes than the more deliberately lighthearted Choo-Choo Charles. As far as what scares him: "The only thing that ever gets to me is body horror/gore. For that reason all my games are pretty much absent of any type of intense gore."
Hoping for an early 2022 release date, Eisenbeisz confirmed that Choo-Choo Charles is in "very, very early development," and acknowledged that the level of interest adds some extra pressure. "I'm willing to put more time into it than I originally anticipated," he said, although he doesn't plan to bring anyone else into the project.
"Ultimately, I enjoy the simplicity of game development and of working solo, specifically," Eisenbeisz says. "I know what I need to do. I know how I need to do it. It seems to work best for me, at least at the moment."