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Interview with Frictional Games

When news reached GameOn that Fricitonal Games, the talented studio behind the Penumbra series, were working on a new title we couldn't wait to find out more! Thankfully, the development team took time out of their busy schedule to answer a few questions about giving people nightmares, the challenges of creating a game and their upcoming project Amnesia: The Dark Descent.

The Penumbra series was really terrifying, do you enjoy scaring people?
What we like is to create emotions in people and to create a really immersive environment
where these emotions are explored. Frightening people is pretty easy in a game (at least
compared to other emotions) and we also have a lot of interest in the horror genre. That is
why we picked that emotion and will continue exploring it in Amnesia. That said, it is always really satisfying when we know people have been really scared by our work! What makes other people lose sleep, makes us sleep really well!

One of the most impressive elements of the Penumbra games was the atmosphere, how
did you go about creating this?

The main thing that we try to do, is to imagine ourselves in the situation and then try to
figure out what we would be scared by. This is the way we think up the most basic elements
of environments and the mood we want to create. It is worth noting that we often design the
atmosphere and emotions on a whole that, instead of a specific event. What we want is that players can go around exploring the surroundings and sort of find the feelings themselves, instead of just having very specific events that are meant to be scary. We think that this is the way to go about it if one wants to take advantage of the interactivity that is so special about the game medium.

Penumbra Overture Screenshot

We really enjoyed using Penumbra's unique control system; can you tell us where the
idea for it came from? How difficult was it to implement?

It was actually just an idea on how to get rid of doing animations for opening drawers and then it grew from there. Hard to say how difficult it was since it has been refined over such a long time. We have put quite a lot of time into it though and tweaking some of the behaviour
has been quite challenging. Physics have this annoying habit of not doing what you want them to!

How important do you think pacing and level design are in creating a horror title and
how did you approach these aspects?

I think level design and pacing are crucial for a good horror experience. Important to note is
that when I say pacing I do not mean moment to moment stuff, but rather how the
environments and intensity change. For example, if it is dark all the time it will loose the
effectiveness pretty quickly. As for level design, that is also really important and in a way
the level design is almost the entire experience! As we do not have any proper core
gameplay that we can repeat through the levels, it becomes extra important that the levels
are interesting and contain specific and atmospheric events.

Penumbra Black Plague Screenshot 1

There was a shift in gameplay between Penumbra: Overture and Black Plague, putting
more emphasis on stealth. How did this decision come about?

Mainly because it made the game so much more scary and it also forced the players to think
in other terms. Players are so used to how other games work that when you give them a
weapon they will try to kill everything they can! Even though we really tried to tone down
the weapons in Overture, most people where focused on using them and they did not
experience the game properly. Without weapons we did not have that problem and it made it
easier to design a really scary experience. Also, almost every game makes the player a mean
killing machine and we wanted to do something different but making the player vulnerable
and ordinary.

Penumbra Black Plague Screenshot 2

The Penumbra series was released across several platforms, including Linux and Macs. How hard is it to develop for several different formats?
Not that hard really as we have one guy, Edward, that takes care of all the porting. The
engine was also designed from start to be portable so that has made it a lot easier.

You're currently working on a new game, Amnesia: The Dark Descent. Can you tell us what the premise is?
The premise of the game is quite simple: you wake up in some strange castle with your only
strong memory being that something is hunting you. Now you need to explore the castle to
find out about your identity and why you ended up there. The reason for using an amnesiac
plot is that it ties really well into our main message of the game, which is to explore the
nature of evil. We want players to become one with the protagonist and feel as if the
revealed background was their own. They are forced to take a stance against the events that
have happened and how they want to react to them. Our aim is to make a deeply
psychological experience that will have the player thinking long after the game is over.

 The Dark Descent Screenshot 1

Where has your inspiration for Amnesia come from?
There are tons of places from where we draw experience from, but the whole "human evil"
theme comes from studies such as the Standford Prison and Milgram Experiements. These
are really fascinating insights into human nature and we wanted to take a stab at exploring
that in a game. Also, we have been influenced by Lovecraft, David Lynch and the other usual suspects.

How will the gameplay compare to the Penumbra series?
There are many things that are similar to the Penumbra series and players of Penumbra
should feel right at home. The main difference is probably the way we approach the design. In Penumbra the protagonist comments on a lot of things and there was also a big emphasis on having a strictly structured plot. In Amnesia, the player is supposed to be the protagonist so there won't be any descriptions of objects or reflections on events. It will be up to players to makes their minds on what is going on and what the true nature of the events are. This is crucial for the underlying message of the game, which wants the player to think about and form an opinion on the events that have occurred. Our top goal is for the player to become the protagonist. Another difference, is that the structure of plots and events are more open and we never once lock down the player for a cut scene or similar. The player is always free to move around and while the game is linear there is freedom in how the accessible levels can be
explored. There is a lot less "spoon feeding" of story, than there was in Penumbra.

 The Dark Descent Screenshot 2

How difficult is it to create puzzles that aren't too hard or too easy for players? Can
you tell us about your process of creating them?

It is really hard! Once you have designed a puzzle it is very hard to imagine what it is like
for a new player to experience it. An interesting fact is that puzzle designing is a lot like
designing scary situations, where it is very different to be a first-time player as opposed to
one that knows exactly what will happen. In the end it is a matter of testing, but we try really
hard to imagine ourselves in the situation of a first time player and try and get as much right
from the start. Also, we must make sure the puzzle is fun to complete and relevant to the
story, so there is a lot of juggling to be done!

 The Dark Descent Screenshot 3

The Penumbra Soundtrack has recently been released. How important is music and
audio in Amnesia?
For us sound is more important than visuals in building a terrifying mood. When one hears a
sound the imagination runs wild in a way that visuals cannot accomplish. Using the players
imagination is at the core of creating a scary atmosphere and thus the correct use of sounds
and music is essential. We put a lot of effort in to this area.

As a developer how important is the reaction of fans and the community? Does this
ever infleunce your decisions during the development process?

We try to listen to fans as much as possible! For example during the release of Overture we
posed a bunch of questions to the members on our forums and the answers given helped
greatly when designing Black Plague. Even though creating a game is satisfying no matter
what anybody thinks, it is a lot more rewarding to hear when people enjoy our work. It really
makes all those long nights of gruelling work worthwhile when we hear that we have given
someone nightmares!

 The Dark Descent Screenshot 4

 

evilgiraffeman | 26th January, 2010
TGK's picture
Oh hell no. Friction games can f*ck right off.

Rasher, if you dare send me this I will NOT be happy!
Dead Alive's picture
Quote:
Frightening people is pretty easy in a game (at least
compared to other emotions) and we also have a lot of interest in the horror genre.
I wouldn't really agree with that at all. There's only a few select games out of the handfulls of 'horror' games that have actually frightened me to varying degrees and for different reasons - Penumbra series being one of them.

Most games go for jump-scares, not all out frightening you, and when they do, it usually fails miserably. These guys done a damn good job with it.
POBmaestro's picture
Quote:
Originally Posted by Dead Alive View Post
I wouldn't really agree with that at all. There's only a few select games out of the handfulls of 'horror' games that have actually frightened me to varying degrees and for different reasons - Penumbra series being one of them.

Most games go for jump-scares, not all out frightening you, and when they do, it usually fails miserably. These guys done a damn good job with it.
Agreed, I would say very few games are actually really that scary. The Cradle, first FEAR and Penumbra are the cream of the scary crop that stick out in my mind. Scarying people must just come naturally to them!

I liked the interview too. Nice to read about the intelligent thinking behind the games. Oh, and can we have a video review of TGK reviewing Amnesia please

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