HIERONYMUS BOSCH'S BRUTAL ORCHESTRA: A Creature Design Review-Interview with Talia Bob Mair

Hieronymus Bosch's Brutal Orchestra is an imaginatively strange, funny, dark and heartfelt turn-based strategy game released in December of 2021, but with a fan base that seemingly only continues to grow. Set in a dreamlike Purgatory crawling with abstracted creatures, you play a newly arrived homicide victim, Nowak, thrust into a quest to find his recently deceased killer at the behest of the demonic entity, Bosch.

  Since its release, Brutal Orchestra has been one of the most popular suggestions for my seasonal horror bestiary reviews. But while the line between major AAA release and independent title has by now (and for the best) stopped being relevant, I'm hesitant to review and analyze designs from games you can trace to just a single artist or two without that artist having any actual say in the article. It just feels like discussing someone's hairstyle where they can easily hear you, but for some reason you shut them out of the conversation, you know?!

  But in this case, that person is one that I followed, and vice versa, on an ancient defunct website called "twitter" way, way back before it was eaten by a hobgoblin. So we (me) at Bogleech.com have sat down (DM chatted) with game creator Talia Bob Mair, whose previous works Swallow the Sea and Perfect Vermin are also among my favorite indie games and top reader suggestions.

  For those unfamiliar with bogleech.com, seeing as to how every one of my posts brings in some newcomers, this website focuses almost entirely on the art of creature design, so this won't be your usual broad interview about a game's overall premise, mechanics, themes and major characters. This is a bestiary interview-review! Has that ever been a thing before? Has anyone website done that?! I haven't asked Talia about every beast and weirdo in the game, but she's been nice enough during her busy schedule to provide meticulous intel on every one we'll be covering so far!

But first:

Where did Brutal Orchestra Come From?


I am what is often called a bottom-up designer by other game designers. Bottom-up design means the mechanics and gameplay come first and the aesthetics/story and lore follow.
Brutal Orchestra originally started as a purely mechanical pitch/design that I called Ball Wizards, a title that was intentionally generic to make it clear it was just a proof of concept. I designed the mechanical systems for Brutal Orchestra during my final months at Vancouver Film School while developing my final project, Robo-Rapture, and the prototype for Swallow the Sea.

I had the name Hieronymous Bosch's Brutal Orchestra in mind for a long time, but it was never attached to a project. I actually used the name for my very first pitch at Vancouver Film School, however that game was a Bosch-themed Kaiju punch out style game. I was comfortable choosing Bosch because of how uniquely dead he is. He is an artist you can only engage with via his art; his life is poorly documented at best and he has no surviving family. There is no celebrity to get in the way.

Narratively, Hieronymous Bosch (the real guy) and his relationship to Nowak (the protagonist of Brutal Orchestra) is inspired by a particular developer (that I will not name because there is a non-0% chance they will someday read this) that I personally put on a pedestal and slave away in the hopes to someday be like. The Garden of Earthly Delights is a sort of prediction especially in its final panel, depicting a scene that is either interpreted as the rapture or hell (personally I view it as the rapture), mankinds' sins come home to roost, bringing the unrepentant closer to god one way or another.

Art historians often refer to the ears sprouting knives and titanic instrument-like sacs as being like war machines, and that comparison resonates with me. But the chaos that Bosch depicts didn't exist in war of his era. Historically, war was a largely organised affair; war as writhing chaos that strategy desperately tries to contain is a rather new invention, which in my personal opinion began with the advent of the machine gun. In the first battles where the machine gun was used, there were massive casualties due to older methods of war being rendered impotent and quaint to this new world. The chaos Bosch saw in his vision of hell and rapture are real now in a way they have never been before. We have "living" war machines in the form of tanks that crawl the earth, we have strange flying demons of metal in the sky, fire rains, the rapture is here. And in the wake of this all, have we been brought closer to god as Bosch predicted?

Nowak was born near the end of World War 2. The "real world" outside of Brutal Orchestra's purgatory is reeling from the end of the world wars. I like to imagine Brutal Orchestra as a sort of fourth panel of the Triptych that is the Earthly Delights after the promised rapture and salvation. Men are still here, that we know for certain, but is god still tending his garden?"

- Brutal Orchestra's Bestiary (part one?) -


MY REVIEW: The Mung is the first and most common creature you encounter in this game; a sad little fish lying on the ground, sagging a little like a decompressed blob sculpin. They're the "Goombas" of this setting, the basic iconic low-level monster that comes in many variations, and I love that a game set in the afterlife assigned this role to a fish stuck out of water; it's poignant on multiple levels, even before we consider that fish were common imagery in Bosch's artwork. The twist of the Mung however is that it can take control of corpses, becoming a "Mudlung" with a single fish crammed into the carcass or a "Mungling" with two at once, gasping fish head bulging out of either the neck hole or nether regions.

One of my favorite things about this game in general is that every type of monster has its own distinct battle music. The fact that other RPG's will subject you to the same basic combat tune fifty thousand times always felt like kind of an oversight to me, and not only does Brutal Orchestra change it up depending on the lead enemy, but these tracks actually sound like their matching creatures. Give a Man a Fish is a cute, quirky little tune appropriate to a strange, pitiful creature that's nonetheless doing its damnedest, and its "lead instrument" has a sort of underwater, cartoon fishy "bwooping" to it.

So, what's the overall deal with the Mung? Am I in the right ballpark when it comes to their rationale?

Mung are depressed punching bags in the form of fat little catfish. Opportunistically they will seize human corpses and puppeteer them as a Mud Lung. I have an immense fondness of fish, I see them as harbingers of change. Mass extinctions are measured more precisely in how they effect marine species, fish were the first vertebrates and gave rise to the first meaningful terrestrial life. In many ways I feel we are still fish, just now mired in complexity. Our world would collapse without their boundless and unwilling support.

I see angels as being ontologically simple, and if you were to strip and angel of their divinity and perfection I'd imagine you'd result in something like a fish, with their awkward cadence, unblinking eyes and face permanently frozen in a single expression.

All of that makes perfect sense to me. Strongly agree with your ideas about angels in particular. Dead fish are also a really creative choice for corpse-puppeteers, I have to say. Most settings make them fungi or invertebrates, which I love, but it can also get predictable.

The puppeteering human corpses came from how much I adore Head Crab zombies from the Half life series. I wanted to make something that riffed on that concept but didn't feel derivative. And once more to accomplish this all I needed to do was rely on the endless support of fish.



Another fish-like enemy, the Goa has the shape of curled up shrimp tale, pale blue, lying on its side with frightened-looking shiny black eyes and a gaping, red-lipped mouth. It's even more pitiful than the Mung on its own, but when it commandeers a corpse, the resulting "Fla Ming Goa" is much more impressive than a Mudlung. The purple, headless carcass dances confidently, Goa wobbling around out of the neck stump like a snake, and its Fandango dance is able to heal its allies.

The Fla Ming Goa's theme music is Estupido Pez Sexy and exactly what you expect.

The Goa also looks quite a bit similar to the Slither Sucker from Swallow the Sea. Is it only a visual reference, or is there a canon connection, and what's their connection to the Mung?

The Goa and the Slither Suckers are one in the same. A fun quirk of Brutal Orchestra's purgatory is that anything that dies in any of my games winds up there. This allows Purgatory to be a sort of depressing super smash bros of all of my work.

I imagine the Goa and Mung are related but probably as closely as real life catfish and morays. The puppeteering human corpses is convergent and *cough* rule of cool.

It's not a surprising convergence, in any case. What do you do when you were built for a life underwater, but now you're stranded on land in a realm where you're already dead? Obviously you need a body that can get around. I feel like I should also ask about the flamingo reference, before we move on from the Goa.

Haha, I find Flamingos to be menacing and I wanted to try and capture the seemingly uncommon intimidation I feel from them, which is why I started with a much thinner design. I ultimately made the head much rounder so it could more easily emote.



The Flarb isn't as easy to describe in terms of recognizable animal life, though it certainly gives a frog-like impression, or sort of frog-adjacent. A boxy slab of a creature, with big, wet, almost humanlike eyes on the sides, two tiny nostrils on top and a black, toothless, Y-shaped mouth in the middle, right above a paler stomach. No hands, no feet, no other obvious appendages. "Flarb" truly feels like the only thing you can call an animal like this; it's big, dopey looking, peculiar and not necessarily threatening, but it's certainly a little off-putting. We also get to see its offspring, the Flarblets, curly orange tadpoles in transparent eggs.

The Flarb's theme music is Amphibious Army, and its distorted funkiness couldn't possibly communicate the look and feel of the Flarb any better.

Flarbs are titanic amphibians, one of the first creatures I ever designed for a video game, they originally appeared in Devour, a game I was working on in highschool. Extremely early in Devour's development there was a Frankenstein element to the enemies, the flarbs iconic split mouth actually began as an autopsy Y incision that had been stitched up. I dropped the Frankenstein elements and it just became the shape of their mouth.

The name and colour of the flarb also has a very personal origin. I had a childhood cat named Lego that was the biggest sweetheart in the whole world (rest in peace) and he would lounge in the strangest places. My father took to calling this behaviour flarbing and the term always stuck with me. The orange colouration of the flarb also comes from that pudgy cat.

I have an obsession with the Pikmin series and the Flarb was my attempt at developing a bulborb-esqe creature. I suspect this won't be the last time I use the Flarbs in a project of mine. They are too close to my heart.



Kekos are beautifully designed worm enemies! Pale blue-grey with protruding eyes on the sides of their heads and large, beaklike mouths that split three ways, the lower central piece tinier than the upper two for a jaw structure just a little different than the usual symmetry of nematode-style faces. Kekos are initially encountered on their own, waving and wiggling out of the ground, but the "Kekastle" is a whole nest of them - including little babies! - infesting the rotten husk of a Flarb! Their theme music, War of the Worms, really communicates a "wiggliness" to it as well.

I love the Kekos they are just little wriggly guys. You can see a surprising amount of the Keko life cycle in Brutal Orchestra. Kekastles are these mummified flarbs the Keko's populate to lay eggs and nest in. You can see the little babies wriggling inside.

There is a fan mod that imagines a non-canon stage of the Keko lifecycle where they grow into a titanic monster called a Kekapex, but alas within canon they stay cute and regular terrifying worm size.

Keko's were originally designed for the first game I ever worked on, Devour, but got canned when the game got cancelled. They had goat heads back then for some reason.



These are very fun, very distinct beings, looking like shiny, gooey knots of "guts" with a stalked head on top. The "clotted" Jumbleguts is reddish, with a head like a pale insectoid skull, which has large black orbs for eyes and a comical big knob on top - I think it's my favorite of the four but it's a really tough call. "Hollowing" jumbleguts is blue, wile its red head is spade shaped with a long "snout" pointing downward, black eyes with eerie yellow corneas and a large dark hole in the center of the head, possibly the "creepiest" looking Jumbleguts, though the "Flummoxing" jumble's head is just a white orb with swirly black markings, no obvious "face," just hauntingly abstract. The final variety, the "Waning" jumbleguts, is yellow with a head like a sideturned crescent; a pair of curved horns with eyes. Their song is Primary Colors, a track that's a little mischievous and upbeat, but also a little dire and wistful; the kind of track you might expect from a boss fight in a haunted house.

Early on in development our publisher really strongly pushed for anthropomorphising the pigment, giving it little eyes and such. It proved to be too busy in the ui, but the jumble guts were already designed by that point as a take on the classic, RPG slime enemy. It was a natural step to recontextualize them as living piles of pigment.

Not all of the heads were inspired by something. The red one was just me doodling, however it used to have a much more unintentionally phallic shape. The yellow ones were a reference to the game series Hylics which I adore but honestly regret referencing, Brutal Orchestra gets a lot of comparisons to Hylics due to some shared superficial elements and I worry this homage strengths those comparisons. The blue ones are loosely designed after an enemy from Devour, a much older game of mine, called a Gizo (which may someday show up in the world of Brutal Orchestra). The purple ones are a reference to Leliel an angel from the anime series Evangelion.



Love how exceedingly weird these are; a Spoggle is a roundish, spongy mass of tissue full of small holes, the front ripped open into a ragged mouth, with three legs or leg-like appendages and some sort of "head" on top. The yellow "Spitfire Spoggle" has four dark blue heads sticking out the top, almost like a nest of birds with hooked beaks, though they're actually meant to be fish. The blue "Ruminating" Spoggle has skeletal red legs ending in hooves, but the hooves are holding up the body, rather than planted on the ground, and its conical red head is basically the upside-down skull of an ungulate with its nostril holes turned towards us. The red "Writhing" Spoggle has large blocky humanlike teeth visible in its mouth, skeletal arms are holding it up in its hands, and the head is a skull so smashed open that it's barely recognizable. The "Resonant" Spoggle is the strangest, having wooden legs like tree branches, and a diamond-shaped head that hovers just above it.

Their music is Wriggle and Writhe, which sways between a gloomy, ethereal quality and a more panicked, more dangerous tune.

You can't make a game about purgatory without some properly undead creatures, spoggles are my answer to that. I didn't want just like an undead bear or something like that as it made the world feel too much like the real world. Instead we have the spoggles which are like globsters of refuse and carrion that rise again to wreak some more havoc.

The Red spoggle is primarily human remains, however these are a bit rarer than you would think due to fish scavenging them.

The yellow spoggle are fish, but ingame depicted as salmon.

The blue spoggle is an ungulate but ingame depicted as a deer. This is a subtle reference to "deer game" a project I have been trying to get off the ground for ages.

The purple spoggle are remains that have been spat back out of the Garden, a dangerous and ominous location the player will enter during the final trek of their journey. The floating gemstone is a recurring motif of human souls being depicted as perfect cubes. The cube is also a subtle reference to Ramiel from Evangelion.


Voboola is a reddish, eel-like animal biting its own tail in the shape of a mobius strip, and winding through two bloated corpses like those used by the Mung. It looks quite a bit like a Swallow the Sea enemy, so we now know why that would be found here, and that as a "fish," occupying dead bodies is just kind of what it's into now. But even when it was alive, it had a loose, kind of deteriorating flabby skin that exposes the top of the skull. Did this come from a real memory of anything that grisly? And is there any special reason (besides looking cool) that it becomes an Ouroboros in the next world?

Its theme is Swallowing the Sea!

The Voboola is the Brutal Orchestra version of the Vobble from Swallow the Sea. The Vobbles have these really creepy heads that peel back to reveal a bony skull they attack with. This attack mechanism was meant to be visually alarming/unexpected and took inspiration from the pharyngeal jaws of Moray eels and (I'm a little shamed to admit this) the function and movement of the human foreskin.

The rotting appearance of the Vobble is to build upon the sick and dying atmosphere of the world of Swallow the Sea.

Vobbles form an Ouroboros shape in purgatory as a reference to Swallow the Sea and how important that symbol is to that game but also because I wanted a really unique silhouette and body plan for my big snake monster. I didn't want to just coil it up like a typical snake enemy.

If we ever get to do something animated I'd love to demonstrate the strange flipping motion of a Voboola as it makes it way through those endless dunes.


This one is a "hidden" boss whose theme, Incubus Rising, is a chugging heavy metal track accompanied as it progresses by a warped, high-pitched buzzing, like a mosquito's wings, that oscillates like some small, mewling creature attempting and failing to communicate. It's the perfect combination of elements for what is both the most frightening and most wretched boss battle up to this point; a giant, fetal looking bird creature supporting its own limp neck in one hand and dangling its own dripping placenta in the other. It sits atop what looks like its own entrails pouring out of it, its own umbilical cord is strangling it and its heart is external.

Even the game's most gruesome enemies, in concept, have been colorful and stylized enough that I wouldn't call them "graphic." This poor horrible thing is graphic. Talia, what's wrong with him. What's wrong with him Talia. Why is he like that.

Oh boy, the Unfinished Heir, I could write you a book about this mini-boss abomination so I'll do my best to be concise.

The Unfinished Heir is the child of one of the two "demons" mentioned in Brutal Orchestra. Particularly it is the child of the "Incubus" a currently unseen demon that is obsessed with producing an offspring.

Demons in the world of Brutal Orchestra are the only things native to purgatory and aren't really alive, instead they are more patterns in the fabric of purgatory that are most easily understood as a singular "creature" by humans.

You can't reason with a demon, and they are often transfixed on a singular goal. There are actually more demons or demon-like creatures than anything else in Purgatory the overwhelming majority just don't ever interact with anything physical, it's sort of like how neutrinos are so rare to interact with typical matter.

So the unfinished heir is the product of the Incubus copulating with the corpse of one of Purgatory's many bird creatures.

The player is tasked with killing the Heir, by the Ungod, who recognises that the Heir, once fully grown, will render Purgatory unliveable for it.

The Unfinished Heir is pretty directly inspired by a favourite monster from my all time favourite game "Pikmin" (which is now on Switch, go buy it). Pikmin features an optional boss monster called the Smoky Progg, a horrifying mass of cancerous black smoke that only has two twinkling dark eyes as it's sole features. Similarly this creature is found in an oversized and mysterious egg, that only appears during the games first 15 days. The Smoky Progg is by far the most dangerous creature in all of Pikmin and even experiences players can expect huge losses taking it on.

To keep in the spirit of "Huge Fuck Off monster placed way too early game" the Unfinished Heir is only found in the very first area of Brutal Orchestra where the player is woefully unequipped to handle it. Taking on the Heir is only for the foolish or suicidal.

The Heir's organs are pouring out of its body forming a crude throne of viscera, its head is still asleep and it dangles a placenta like organ in its other hand. This "placenta" houses the mind of the creature as you fight it. I have a lot of nightmares of my own decayed placenta trying to reconnect with my body. The cherry on top is the Heir's ectopic heart beating outside of its chest evoking sacred heart imagery from Catholicism. Through and through the Unfinished Heir is one of my favourite creations.

Thank you so much for this much detail, graphic and otherwise. That recurring dream is such a haunting concept I feel like it just reinvigorated my whole fascination with nightmares and horror, and I'm glad to know we have another Smoky Progg fan. Overall the amount of thought you put into this world and its every entity makes me hope there will be more from this setting in our lifetimes, and not necessarily just games. You said you could write a book about the Heir alone and I know I would definitely read it.

For everyone else reading: this is where our interview leaves off for now, as we're both working hard on our personal projects, but I hope you had as much fun as I did learning more about some of the various terrible, uncomfortably moist things dragging themselves around purgatory.