The lights are on
We had an excellent time getting scared out of our wits with Frictional Games’ PC survival horror game Amnesia: The Dark Descent. Thechineseroom’s Dan Pinchbeck, lead on Dear Esther, is taking the helm on the sequel Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs. The game, due out next year, is set in the Victorian age, where humans are being trampled underfoot for the sake of progress. Macabre machines and twisted inventions are sure to chill players exploring the new game. We’re so eager to reenter the chilling world of Amnesia that we chatted with Pinchbeck about getting involved with Frictional and why he chose the Victorian era.
How did you come to get involved with Frictional Games and the Amnesia series?
I’ve known Frictional for a few years now. I was always a big fan of Penumbra. We made a survival horror game called Korsakovia in 2009. I didn’t know that Frictional had played it and liked what we were trying to do. When Amnesia was coming out I got an email from Thomas Grip saying he liked Korsokovia and what we were doing with Dear Esther and he asked me to play Amensia. I told him I had the game pre-ordered for so long that he didn’t even want to know about it. We just got talking. I think we share really similar ideas about games, what games should be, and about player experience, and horror, and things like that. We’ve been talking on and off ever since. We met at GDC Europe last year. Frictional is overhauling their engine in a very big way for an unannounced game that is still a few years away. They don’t want to have this really long period without getting a game out and want to keep their fans happy. So they told me they were looking to ask a developer to make an Amnesia game to fill this gap. He asked if I was interested in that. At that point, we (thechineseroom) were getting close to launching Dear Esther, but we still had a few months to go until launch and we had no idea how Dear Esther was going to do. It seemed like a perfect project to take on. It was also hugely exciting. The chance to make an Amnesia game is a fanboy’s dream come true. It wasn’t a difficult decision.
How is Frictional involved in Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs?
They are executive producing the game. Effectively, they pay for the game and then we’re going off making it. Every few months we drop a bunch of levels on them, they give us very extensive feedback, and we work through that crazy process together. And they’re on hand to support any kind of technical issues we have with the engine. We have this really nice relationship where we’ve got an enormous amount of creative freedom but we also have all this support whenever we want it. They’re great to work with in terms of honing the levels down because they’re so clued in now for how to creative the right kind of experiences for horror games. We’ve got access to some of the best horror designers out there. They’re helping us make this the best game it possibly can be. They steer and support us as we go along.
Tell me about your history with horror
I think like a lot of people I went through the teenage phase of being obsessed with horror. In terms of games, I started off [with this PhD project] on first-person shooters. A lot of that was on content, and how content shapes player experience. So horror kept coming up again and again. A lot of themes in horror which are very strongly supported in gameplay, such as being alone and artificially changing the sense of threat in the environment so someone doesn’t get overly confident or cocky about knowing what’s out there. These are all techniques that give horror an awful lot of punch, whether it’s in a book or a film as well. I think there’s a natural fit between being interested in single-player games and being interested in horror because they’re so similar. When it came down to Dear Esther and Korsakovia it just fit well with the way I write and the types of experiences I like to have. If you try to get players to have very strong, emotional reactions to a game, horror is one of the genres where it’s easiest to get under players’ skin. When you get under their skin you can get them to be open to other kinds of emotional reactions as well. Ironically, going with something that’s designed to scare the wits out of someone, you can get to other kinds of emotions that are slightly harder to get to like empathy or sadness. It’s just a natural fit to the kind of stuff that I’m into.