On October 30, Supermassive Games will release its next interactive horror game Little Hope, which will be the second part of its new The Dark Pictures Anthology series after Man of Medan. Having achieved resounding success with the experiment in the form of Until Dawn, the studio decided to explore this genre far and wide, offering players a whole anthology of various horror games.
“I remember when we were just recruiting, I immediately warned that we were not interested in any awards in the industry. At that moment, we were only concentrating on success from a business point of view. Now everything has turned 180 degrees. We received such recognition from the gaming community that now our goal is to do something big, ”recalled Supermassive Games producer and CEO Pete Samuels.
Supermassive itself was born when Sony needed a studio to develop titles for the PlayStation Move. Samuels by that time had already gained a solid portfolio in the industry and was not opposed to focusing only on doing business.
Although the industry has known Supermassive since 2015 as “the studio that developed Until Dawn,” the acclaimed horror was preceded by seven years of work on other titles in a variety of genres, from Start the Party! using the PlayStation Move controller before porting the first-person shooter Killzone to the PlayStation 3. The debut project of the studio was one of the many add-ons for LittleBigPlanet.
Supermassive’s first opportunity to tell its own story came when it partnered with the BBC to create a Doctor Who lineup. However, the reviews for the title The Eternity Clock, released in 2012, were so depressing that the production of sequels was out of the question.
Until Dawn (2015)
Until Dawn was announced in 2012 at Gamescom and was supposed to be the 25th PlayStation 3 exclusive. Then it was a completely different game than players saw in 2015. According to the original idea, Until Dawn was supposed to be the same horror about teenagers, but its gameplay revolved around the Move controller, which would represent a flashlight, a hand, or a weapon.
However, the developers had great doubts about the success of the project. They weren’t able to get a high-quality picture anyway, and the PlayStation 4 just flashed on the horizon, not to mention the fact that interest in the Move controller was falling. In the end, the positive fan reaction to the idea of a self-scripted horror game convinced Supermassive to delay the release of the game and remake it from scratch.
“We were thrilled that we ended up turning Until Dawn into a more serious adult title,” Samuels said.
The gameplay of the new version of Until Dawn is focused on making decisions for the characters of the game, very often in the context of the QTE (Quick Time Event) mechanic. As in Quantic Dream projects, in this genre, often referred to as “interactive cinema”, the main emphasis is on acting, high-quality graphics and animation. The latter, by the way, was made by the studio with the help of Cubic Motion technologies. The company’s tools have also been used to create facial animations in games such as Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare and Ryse: Son of Rome. Each character was developed with its own visual identity, consisting of a distinctive silhouette and contrasting colors, and facial and body movements were recorded separately.
As for the cast, the main roles were played by prominent people in Hollywood, such as Hayden Panettiere (Heroes), Brett Dalton (Agents of SHIELD) and Rami Malek (Mr. Robot, Bohemian Rhapsody “).
“Everyone watched the scenes in which the heroes of horror films did stupid things that no one would do in real life. In Until Dawn, players have the opportunity to make the right choice and try to keep them alive,” said Creative Director of the game Will Biles.
According to the story, a group of friends go to their parents’ ski base in the winter, but the trip ends in tragedy as a result of a poorly thought out prank. A year later, the friends return to the base with a smaller squad to start from scratch, but instead get into even more trouble.
In order to write a script with various plot development options, Supermassive turned to Larry Fessenden, a well-known indie filmmaker, who, in turn, brought colleague Graham Resnick to the project, knowing his passion for video games.
“We understand how slashers work. Most people are familiar with at least some kind of horror, and already have expectations about the imagery and behavior of the characters. Therefore, our goal was to destroy them,” Reznik explained.
Until Dawn’s soundtrack was composed by Jason Graves, a composer best known for titles such as Dead Space and Murdered: Soul Suspect. According to the composer, he started working on the game back in 2011.
One of the goals of the developers was to make controls accessible so that even people who rarely intersect with video games get satisfaction from the process. Moreover, they noted that if the player does not orient at the right time and loses the character, the game will by no means become worse.
“In Until Dawn, all characters can survive or, on the contrary, die, but we believe that we managed to put together a strong story no matter how many characters see the end of the game,” Samuels assured.
As a result, Until Dawn was released on August 25, 2015, and in general, the development of both versions took about five years. Still, the studio’s efforts were not in vain – sales exceeded all expectations of the team, the title won many awards, and also took the tenth line in the list of the most popular games on Youtube.
“We were amazed at how many players were restarting Until Dawn. The title became the most replayable game on the Sony platform, which we were incredibly happy about. Some players have completed Until Dawn 15 times!” Samuels said.
Other works of the studio
After the success of Until Dawn, the studio was eager to try out VR and see what they could learn from the platform. From 2016 to 2018, Supermassive released four PlayStation VR titles, namely Tumble VR, Bravo Team, Until Dawn: Rush of Blood, and The Inpatient. The latter two received the most attention from the industry and served as a spin-off and prequel to Until Dawn, respectively.
“We have done several projects for VR that we are proud of, and although this market has not gone where we would like, it has not affected us. Rush of Blood is still on the PSN for VR charts and is now over three years old,” Samuels said.
In addition, in 2017, the detective Hidden Agenda was released, which offered a completely new gameplay in which several people decide the course of events using their smartphones.
Man of Medan (2019)
When the studio finished with Until Dawn, it began to think about the next step and soon realized that most of the ideas revolved around the horror genre again. After compiling a list of 39 horror sub-genres, Until Dawn designer and Man of Medan director Tom Heaton wondered why not do it all.
Man of Medan is the first of eight planned titles in The Dark Pictures Anthology series to share the QTE gameplay of Until Dawn. All stories do not intersect with each other and are made in different subgenres familiar to players from the world of cinema. The idea for the anthology was inspired, among other things, by TV series such as The Twilight Zone and Tales from the Crypt, which featured monologues between episodes by Rod Serling and the Crypt Keeper, whose role in Man of Medan was taken by the enigmatic Curator. In terms of movies, Samuels cites Triangle and The Haunting of Hill House as his favorites.
Supermassive planned to release about two games a year and chose the legend of the ghost ship Ourang Medan (The Man from Medan) as the first story. In fact, at first, the studio wanted to finish the anthology games even more often – four pieces a year, and each of them would take no more than two hours. On the one hand, this is an intimidating amount of work, but on the other hand, each game will be smaller in size than Until Dawn, and in general, about 170 people are working on the anthology.
“We are afraid of getting into a continuous crunch, which, as a rule, catches up with you towards the end of the project. Given that we’re releasing more games now, we don’t want crunch to haunt us every six months. Therefore, the studio has completely redesigned its approach to planning and completing the necessary tasks, which was one of the most important changes in our history,” said Samuels.
In the story, a company of four young American tourists hired a boat with a captain to investigate a rumored World War II shipwreck in the Pacific. It won’t be long before they come face to face with the revived myth in the form of a huge ghost ship, from which it is not so easy to get out alive.
The design of the ship has been carefully crafted to convey a sense of claustrophobia.
“We studied how ships rust, age and fade over the years, because it’s not easy to understand what a ship looks like wandering in the ocean for more than sixty years,” said production designer Lee Robinson.
Sound engineer Barney Pratt and his team traveled to a large warship from that time period, where they recorded all sorts of sounds and even room reverb pulses to better capture the atmosphere. Sound engineers did a similar job on a fishing boat, which personified the dive boat of the main characters.
Speaking of animation, the developers worked out the water simulation, but it was not easy for them to get the boats to react correctly and believably to it, not to mention the characters. To achieve the desired effect, the developers experimented during motion capture sessions, including having the actors balance during scenes on staggering platforms.
In Man of Medan, the developers broke their record for the number of endings and variability. As in Until Dawn, in the anthology title, you can save the lives of all the characters, but you can end up with nothing.
“The first script they sent me was a thousand pages thick, and I thought:“ How can we write all this down? ”Recalled one of the leading actors of the game, Sean Ashmore.
The single-player campaign is completed in about five hours, however Supermassive offered a “Movie Night” mode, which allows up to five players to play in co-op, where each player is responsible for the decisions of one or more specific characters. The studio also introduced two-player online co-op in Shared Story.
“We wanted to make every The Dark Pictures title even more replayable than Until Dawn. To do this, we cut the length of the games by almost half, but significantly increased the variability,” Samuels explained.
The development of any Supermassive title has long been like shooting a movie, and every scene, even if it doesn’t end up in the final cut, costs money. To avoid unnecessary expenses, the studio has created a toolkit that allows you to play various scenes in 2D before sending them to production.
“We’ve already learned that if a scene doesn’t work in 2D, no matter how much money we spend polishing it, it won’t work in 3D,” Samuels said.
Man of Medan was released on August 30, 2019 and received some pretty solid reviews. While the title has seen less sales than Until Dawn, its release has proven to be a pretty solid move for Supermassive considering it’s only one eighth of an anthology.
With the release of Man of Medan, Supermassive Games has already started development on the next four parts of the anthology, and even the last three had a common plot. Little Hope will send players into a ghost town, another classic horror movie theme, with the likes of Will Poulter (The Revenant, Solstice) and Caitlin Sponheimer (The Boys) playing the lead characters.
According to the developers, they thoroughly studied the feedback regarding the first part of the anthology, after which they decided to explain the events taking place in Little Hope to the player more and improved the narrative in general.
“Everyone loves a good story with memorable characters, and that’s what we do. We have taken a very good place in the industry and are not going to change in the near future. Instead, we will try to evolve in what we do best,” summed up Samuels.