When we last spoke to British developer Supermassive Games in September 2015, we had no idea what a surprise hit their PlayStation-exclusive horror adventure Until Dawn was about to become. Since that game‘s succesful launch, the studio has done anything but rest on its laurels, releasing several smaller projects for Sony's VR and PlayLink catalogue. With Supermassive's upcoming The Dark Pictures Anthology, though, the time of exclusivity is over as the team has joined forces with publisher Bandai Namco to release the series of interactive movies on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. With Man of Medan, the first entry in the anthology, aiming for a 2019 release, the time seemed right to chat with the game's director Pete Samuels for a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the horrors on the horizon.
Ingmar Böke: Hi Pete, and welcome to Adventure Gamers! You're currently working on The Dark Pictures Anthology, a series of cinematic games that explore different sub-genres of horror. Let's start out by discussing the overall concept, and the similarities/differences between the individual episodes.
Pete Samuels: Hi Ingmar. We started working on the Dark Pictures concept almost four years ago. We are massively excited about it! The concept, as you say, is for the individual games in the series to represent different sub-genres of horror. That means each game will have a different tone and set of tropes each time. There will be changes in the pacing of each story, with different protagonists – and antagonists – and that means a unique set of relationships between characters at the outset of each story. Essentially, all of our stories are about people and relationships. How these relationships are stressed depends on the nature of the horror in that game and, of course, the decisions that the player makes on behalf of the characters.
Ingmar: Please describe the story premise behind the first part of the series, Man of Medan.
Pete: OK, so, one other thing that’s common to each story in the series is that there is some kind of link between the horror and a real existing mythology, and even real historical events. Man of Medan draws on the myth of the Ourang Medan, a Dutch freighter that reported some strange happenings before the unexplained deaths of the entire crew shortly after the Second World War. Our premise is that a group of young Americans with an interest in wreck-diving WW2 sites gets caught up in a series of events that puts them on a ghost-ship in the South Pacific Ocean. Facing multiple human and non-human threats, they try desperately to survive the terror and escape the ship.
Ingmar: Like in Until Dawn, the aspect of choice and consequence will be very important. What can you tell us about the kinds of choices players will be able to make, and how far narrative branching might change the experience that different players are going to have?
Pete: How the story plays out is entirely driven by the players’ choices, each of which has consequences for their characters. This might be a single significant consequence to a single decision, which might play out immediately or set off a chain of events that manifest in a significant consequence some time later in the story. It may be that a decision nudges a relationship in a certain way, and an accumulation of those ‘nudges’ leads to, or avoids, a significant event further down the line. Man of Medan is significantly more branching than anything we’ve done previously, leading to multiple significantly different endings. As is our way, all of the playable characters can survive the story, and any of them can die as a direct result of the players’ decisions and actions.
Ingmar: Are there any particular lessons from Until Dawn and your other games that you're trying to implement into The Dark Pictures Anthology?
Pete: One key learning has been how much people enjoyed horror in this format, individually and with friends. Until Dawn hadn’t been released for very long before people were calling for a sequel. This was one of the reasons we decided on the Anthology format as it allows us to release new games more often than once every few years. We have introduced a dramatic change in our production model to accommodate this. As of today, the first four of the games in the Anthology are in progress at different stages. Man of Medan is obviously in its latter stages of production, slated for release later this year. The second game is also in production, at an early stage. The third is largely designed and the dialogue script being written for recording later this year, and the fourth is in story development. They’re all horror, they’re very different from each other, and we’re equally excited about each of them.
Ingmar: Aside from its playable prologue, Until Dawn burned slowly at first before things escalated, taking time to thoroughly introduce its characters. What can you tell us about pacing in Man of Medan?
Pete: The pacing in Man of Medan isn’t dissimilar. There’s a playable prologue that sets up an instigating event, followed by some time to get to know and, to some extent, form our characters and their relationships before the terror kicks in.
Ingmar: Unlike your previous games, The Dark Pictures Anthology is going to be a multi-platform series for PC, PS4 and Xbox One. Is the PC version going to allow playing with a keyboard and a mouse? If it does, would you still recommend using a controller anyway, or will there not be much difference when it comes to the ideal experience?
Pete: We will be supporting keyboard and mouse for PC and I’d encourage people to play with whichever input method they are most comfortable. I think that’s the way to have the best personal experience.
Ingmar: What kind of play time are you estimating for a single playthrough of Man of Medan and its successors?
Pete: We’re targeting a single playthrough time of around four-and-a-half hours for each game in the series. However, this will vary depending on how exhaustively players search the environment for information and, to a degree, the decisions that they make and the scenes that they experience as a result. Man of Medan has the most branching of any game we’ve made and is designed to be hugely replayable.
Ingmar: Let's talk about inspiration: What horror movies/TV series/games have had an impact on The Dark Pictures Anthology?
Pete: We have many influences. Each story has its own influences from film, TV, games, books, radio… but the things that have influenced our anthological approach have been TV series such as The Twilight Zone and Black Mirror, and films like V.H.S. When people play Man of Medan, the most obvious places to find influence will be films such as Ghost Ship and Triangle because they are clearly ghost ship stories. But look more closely to find influences from all sorts of supernatural horror, such as Insidious and The Shining, amongst others…and even from other genres, such as Home Invasion. These influences are important in what we do because we’d like players to recognise situations and be able to weigh-up the possible consequences of their choices based on their own experiences. Not many will have faced these terrors in real life…we hope…so will rely on what they’ve read, heard or seen on a screen to determine what an outcome might be.Continued on the next page...