MCV tells an awesome story about the founding of the upcoming PS4 exclusive game UNTIL DAWN, as well as thoughts and quotes from the makers of the game!
It’s not safe to come out from behind the sofa yet.
The last year has seen horror rise back into the charts, as a mixture of beloved franchise sequels and remakes, big-name licensed titles and indie efforts draw scores of gamers seeking a fright.
Whether it’s Alien Isolation’s 2.1 million worldwide sales, The Evil Within reaching number one in the UK charts or the HD remaster of Resident Evil, which became the fastest-selling digital game ever released by Capcom in Europe and the US, scary titles are seeing a heyday reminiscent of 15 years ago.
It may seem like we are seeing the next generation of horror games, but these are ideas we’ve seen before. Resident Evil has been a consistent presence in the industry over the last two decades, while Alien was backed by one of the most iconic movie franchises in history. Even The Evil Within, while technically a ‘new’ IP, had the legacy of Resident Evil creator Shinji Mikami behind it. However, this month will see a completely new IP step into the fray.
The title is a brand new IP – it’s not a sequel or a licensed spin-off, and comes from a team known for PlayStation Move titles and BBC tie-ins, rather than horror games – but it has already been a name in the industry for longer than some of its peers.
“We announced Until Dawn back in 2012 at Gamescom as a PS3 title with PlayStation Move support,” explains Pete Samuels, MD of developer Supermassive Games.
“We got an overwhelming response, a lot of positivity about the type of game it was and its interesting take on horror, but also an overwhelming desire for it not to be a Move title, particularly Move-only.
“We took that very seriously and began to have some conversations. During those conversations the PS4 was coming over the horizon, so we looked at what we wanted to do and what would be best for the title. We all agreed that the best thing would be to age it up, make it more serious, and we could achieve that by making it more believable because of what the PS4 could do.”
In fact, while Until Dawn may look like a leap away from Supermassive’s past output – which includes titles such as Doctor Who: The Eternity Clock, motion-controlled party game Tumble and the HD remaster of Killzone – the spooky title has underpinned much of the studio’s history.
“We’ve been working on this for five years now – and the studio is only seven years old,” continues Samuels.
“It is quite different from our previous releases. We’ve cut our teeth on levels of innovation, controls and interface with Move titles and so on – that’s helped with Until Dawn because we’ve retained some of that innovation. It’s certainly got Supermassive’s personality about the control system.
“In terms of the size and style of the game, it’s very big and very serious, and the first one we’ve done as a studio. Most of the team we’ve brought into the game have really strong pedigrees from big developers and publishers on triple-A titles. It’s not new to anyone on the team, but to the studio it is.”
Actually, to call PS4 exclusive Until Dawn completely new is to bend the truth a little.
Most of the Until Dawn team have really strong pedigrees from big developers and publishers on triple-A titles.
Pete Samuels, Supermassive Games
Soaked in blood and punctuated with the shrill screams of teenagers, Until Dawn aims to recreate the feel of classic horror movies like Halloween, Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street.
The game’s cinematic qualities are hardly surprising; indie horror film-makers Larry Fessenden and Graham Reznick helped write and advise on the title. Its cast, too, is plucked from the heart of cinema, including Hayden Panettiere from TV show Heroes, who also starred in slasher sequel Scream 4.
“Hayden is not the only famous actor in the mix,” adds Joe Palmer, product manager at Sony.
“Until Dawn also stars Peter Stormare of Fargo and Prison Break and Rami Malek of Need for Speed and the Twilight Saga; it’s a real benefit to have such strong Hollywood talent in a cinematic game like this.”
Much like its cinematic siblings, Until Dawn relies upon building tension and fear in the player to pull off its story twists (See ‘Don’t Go That Way’). As with any film, the portrayal of emotion goes a long way to making characters relatable – a vital requirement if players are to want to move them out of harm’s way. Games have long been criticised for their inability to capture nuanced facial expressions and movements, but Supermassive has utilised the Killzone Shadowfall graphics engine, combined with its own custom-made systems, to bring its live-action cast to life.
“We wanted to make it feel like you were participating in a horror film,” Samuels states. “For a number of reasons, in horror games, that’s quite a new approach.
“Horror films have such a huge fan base and we’re massive fans, so we know that you can pull off good tension, fear and scares in that kind of photographic, cinematic medium. That was the challenge – can we do that in a game?
“By moving from first-person in the PS3 game to the current third-person cinematic, we are creating that horror film atmosphere and tension, where you desperately care for the characters, no matter how stupid they might be – which is very typical in a horror film. You can see the stress, the pain and the fear.”
“The horror genre is huge in the wider entertainment industry,” observes Palmer.
“People want to be scared and games always carry the potential to be scarier than movies or novels due to their immersive and interactive nature. Hopefully what we’re seeing is a shift towards mainstream gaming appreciation for the genre.”
Samuels adds that the wider interest in horror as a whole has harmonised with the launch of PS4 and Xbox One to provide a fertile environment for terrifying titles to thrive.
“It’s partly because of what we can achieve in terms of realism with the next generation of consoles,” he says.
“That’s driving people to want to do something very different, whatever their motivation – whether that’s realistic gore, or, for some, more realistic and terrifying monsters. Whatever your motivation, realism for horror is a big driver in games.”
Until Dawn’s reception among horror fans will be helped further by its platform alignment. Palmer says that, as a PlayStation exclusive, the title follows in the footsteps of seminal scary games that remain iconic and lucrative decades later.
“PlayStation has a rich heritage over its 20-year history of debuting and nurturing new franchises and gaming genres,” he explains.
“As part of that, the horror genre is very well represented with Resident Evil, Silent Hill and our own Siren. Even the recent popularity of the Zombies mode in Call of Duty still testifies to the appeal of the fright genre.
“Until Dawn represents a novel twist in a genre for which PlayStation fans have proven a healthy appetite. We are hoping to strongly appeal to that demand with our marketing and PR comms in the run-up to launch.”
Until Dawn is launching in August – a release period not widely associated with horror. But it closely follows the release of scary movies Sinister 2 and The Gift, which have also opted to give consumers summer chills. Long a niche enthusiast genre, horror is increasingly a mainstream obsession – something no longer just for Halloween.
Games carry the potential to be scarier than movies or novels due to their immersive and interactive nature.
Joe Palmer, Sony
Perhaps it is Supermassive, rather than its players, that should be quaking in its boots. By entering the horror genre with Until Dawn, the developer will find itself head-to-head with some of the most venerated games of all time.
Samuels perceives Until Dawn to be the offspring of, rather than a rival to, titles like Resident Evil and Silent Hill, as well as the mastersof the macabre in other mediums.
“We’ve been inspired by pretty much every game,” he enthuses.
“We wouldn’t want to pick one thing out as inspiration because we don’t want to give too much away about the game. People will recognise a number of influences, in both small moments and big scenarios.
“I wouldn’t say nothing has influenced us because everything has. As a team, we watched about 1,500 hours of horror film in research for this and read I-don’t-know-how-many horror short stories and novels, from Lovecraft through Wheatley to Stephen King – the whole spectrum. They’ve all had an influence in some way.”
With its unique take on terror, it could be that Until Dawn becomes the next big horror hit – and Supermassive the next indie developer – to strike it big in the mainstream market.
“We wanted to do something new because we wanted to make a great horror game, and we needed to create our own,” recalls Samuels.
“We feel very blessed that we managed to come up with a concept and that Sony has stuck with us, even through effectively stopping production on one platform and moving it over to another.”
Palmer concludes that there has rarely been a better time to make a splash with a horror title. It may be that Until Dawn was worth the long wait – for Supermassive as much as its players.
“The recent success of titles like The Evil Within is hugely encouraging and proves that there is still a healthy appetite for games in the horror genre,” says Palmer.
“This gives companies more confidence to give horror games the attention they deserve.”
The recent success of titles like The Evil Within proves that there is still a healthy appetite for games in the horror genre.
Joe Palmer, Sony
‘DON’T GO THAT WAY’
“Until Dawn has a classic horror movie setup,” says Sony product manager Joe Palmer.
“However, the way you interact with the story and characters is completely unique. You make all the decisions and shape the relationships. For once, instead of just shouting ‘Don’t go up the stairs’, you can actually make that decision for yourself.”
Until Dawn will allow players to tell their own scary story. A huge range of different endings will be available through the branching ‘butterfly effect’.
“The ‘butterfly effect’ turns what could be trivial split-second decisions into moments of grave peril,” explains Palmer.
“Anyone can die and anyone can survive. It’s an incredibly complex narrative design, with thousands of unique pathways.”
This means that fans should be driven to complete the title multiple times.
“No two stories will be the same,” says Palmer.
“I genuinely think gamers will be intrigued to know how much their choices impacted their story by playing through again and again.”