Caffeine Interview: Redefining Dread in Gaming With Unreal Engine 4

Creator Dylan Browne challenges our notions of what horror in games can be.

If you haven’t seen Caffeine, Incandescent Imaging’s first person horror mystery, you’ve got a lot of catching up to do. Or rather, enough to be as in the dark as the rest of us. Developed by Dylan Browne, Caffeine is set in the far future where caffeine has become the world’s number one drug. As part of a mining station, you’ll wake up and suddenly find the joint abandoned. Where did everyone go? What is the foreboding sense of loneliness setting in? How will you survive?

While most games employ outside threats to scare you, Caffeine is looking to isolation and an all-encompassing atmosphere of horror to get to you. It does this by employing Unreal Engine 4 for some truly outstanding and ambient visuals. It’s almost impossible to believe a title that looks this good is still at the crowd-funding level.

GamingBolt spoke to Browne about the experience, the gameplay, the sense of horror the game brings and what’s really up in a future whose primary drug pertains to caffeine.

Ravi Sinha: Caffeine is taking the internet by storm thanks to the sheer visual quality and atmosphere showcased. What inspired the game and how did it take shape in your mind?

Dylan Browne: Caffeine came about because of my love for horror and because I am a massive coffee drinker, I wanted a quirky but unsettling game and caffeine seemed like a cool inventive choice. The game started out as a concept and from there it formed what is now the demo.

Ravi Sinha: What purpose does the substance caffeine serve in the game? Is it directly tied to what’s happening with the protagonist and does it play an important part at some point?

Dylan Browne: Caffeine is tightly woven into the story and it is directly related to what has been happening on the station and it may have a little to do with the protagonist.

Caffeine

Well I think that caffeine the drug is very prominent in human life at the moment and I enjoyed the idea that in the future it would be something that everyone is addicted to, I really enjoy the fact that it is a unique take on addiction as many people drink coffee today but it isn’t considered an addiction.

Ravi Sinha: The storytelling in this game seems to be rather unique- piecing it all together using logs and artifacts. It’s sort of an emergent narrative that is very rarely done in video games- I guess the most prominent example I can think of is Metroid Prime. What were your sources of inspiration for this kind of storytelling? I know you talk about Fear, and Doom 3, and Condemned, but was there any more?

Dylan Browne: In terms of the narrative side of things, I was inspired by Dear Esther and a little by Gone Home (which I have not played yet), I really enjoy a good narrative and I wanted to make a game that I would enjoy.

Ravi Sinha: The very idea of caffeine being the most consumed drug in the future is also a bit kitschy. How did you settle on the idea of basing the experience around something that doesn’t hold as much stigma as heroin or cocaine?

Dylan Browne: Well I think that caffeine the drug is very prominent in human life at the moment and I enjoyed the idea that in the future it would be something that everyone is addicted to, I really enjoy the fact that it is a unique take on addiction as many people drink coffee today but it isn’t considered an addiction.

Ravi Sinha: How did you take to balancing the horror aspect of Caffeine with the story-telling aspect? The isolated atmosphere is spooky but in terms of pacing, how does it add to the overall experience?

Dylan Browne: I enjoy giving the player time to explore the areas, and even then there are very subtle scares that you might not notice, but when you do it seems a heap scarier than the big jump scares, there are long areas where there are not many horror elements which adds to the isolation at the same time giving room for narrative but also making the player let their guard down which I think adds to the cool experience.

Caffeine

I would love for Caffeine to be released for next-gen consoles, I have been reaching out to both Microsoft and Sony but no news on that front as of yet.

Ravi Sinha: While most psychological horror games threaten us with monsters – both seen and unseen – Caffeine has thus far threatened us with overwhelming isolation. What kind of effect does this create for players and will we be seeing any opposing forces at later stages in the game?

Dylan Browne: Yes, I wanted to be a little different in this aspect of horror, so far from play testing it seems to have a great sense of dread imprinted onto the player. You will be seeing an opposing force of sorts later in the game, but it won’t be your standard monster type.

Ravi Sinha: What key features of Unreal Engine 4, in terms of lighting, animation and effects, did you utilize to bring Caffeine to life? How easy or hard has development on the engine been?

Dylan Browne: Moving to Unreal Engine 4 has been fantastic, allowing me to utilize more dynamic lights, huge textures and particles that light the environment, in addition the engine allows for amazing real-time reflections which look fantastic. So far development has been really good, the tools integrated in UE4 are easy to use and very streamlined which provide a great environment to work.

Ravi Sinha: With visuals and atmosphere like this, what motivated you to take Caffeine to Kickstarter? There are several projects in the same genre including like Outlast, Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs and more which bypassed crowd-funding. What appeal did the option hold in that respect?

Dylan Browne: I think that once I started getting some awesome feedback I realised I could actually make this into a fantastic game, but at this point in time I am working on it in my free time so the funding would allow me to focus my efforts on Caffeine to make it an amazing experience.

Ravi Sinha: Will we ever see Caffeine make its way to next gen consoles at any point? Has there been any interest expressed in the PS4 or Xbox One, especially considering that UE4 is meant for them?

Dylan Browne: I would love for Caffeine to be released for next-gen consoles, I have been reaching out to both Microsoft and Sony but no news on that front as of yet.

Ravi Sinha: Are there any cut scenes or combat sequences within Caffeine or is it simply exploration-based? We know that one of the objectives is to make it to an escape pod, but what puzzles and other objectives lie in wait for players?

Dylan Browne: There will be no cut scenes in Caffeine as all the story elements will be played out in engine through notes, audio logs etc. In terms of puzzles there will be quite a few logic puzzles and simple memory puzzles which will increase in difficulty as the story progresses.

Ravi Sinha: What kind of play-time are we looking at for Caffeine, and will we see DLC or anything else in the future to add on to it?

Dylan Browne: My goal is to have Caffeine last 4-6 hours but if you are exploring and looking at notes and logs it will take much longer. At this time there are no plans for DLC but that could change.

Ravi Sinha: Was your decision to use Unreal 4 predicated on Unreal’s new subscription model [announced at GDC], or was it purely because of its significantly more powerful and flexible toolset?

Dylan Browne: I wanted to use Unreal Engine 4 before the announcement because I knew UE3 was very outdated and struggled with the amount of texture resolution I wanted, as soon as it was available I switched over to it.

Caffeine pc

As a slight AMD fan myself I would like for Mantle to be adopted and I think that it will perhaps not have the same reach as DX12 will but it seems at the moment that quite a few developers are adopting it and it does provide some very nice performance boosts.

Ravi Sinha: Horror games set in space appear to be getting increasingly more and more common these days- do you fear this diminishing your game’s appeal?

Dylan Browne: It possibly could but I think that Caffeine will be unique enough to differentiate itself from the others, when I started Caffeine the only space horror I knew of was Alien Isolation, since then there are a few more coming out which I think is great since there has been a lack of space horror in recent years.

Ravi Sinha: As someone who is primarily developing games on the PC, what are your thoughts on DX12? How do you think it will change the landscape of games on PC and Xbox One?

Dylan Browne: I think that it will be good, but I doubt it will make a massive change, that being said more performance is better!

Ravi Sinha: Furthermore, what are your thoughts on AMD’s Mantle? Do you think it will have the reach [in terms of usage in game development] compared to DirectX?

Dylan Browne: As a slight AMD fan myself I would like for Mantle to be adopted and I think that it will perhaps not have the same reach as DX12 will but it seems at the moment that quite a few developers are adopting it and it does provide some very nice performance boosts.


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