For all the criticism Bloober Team received with Basement Crawl, it’s hard to keep the studio down. After working on BRAWL, the team returned with a decidedly different creation with Layers of Fear. As a first person horror title exploring the mind of a deranged painter, you’ll be exploring a large 19th century house that may be haunted. Or may be not. Either way, strange things are afoot and it makes for a great experience. Layers of Fear is currently available for PS4, Xbox One and PC on February 16th but we spoke to the development team on the inspirations, development process and overall creation for this Masterpiece of Fear.
"We believe we couldn’t fully explore the insanity without venturing into supernatural phenomena, but we wanted to keep this aspect in check and not venture deeper than the game’s environment. It makes the game more plausible in connection to the real world."
We say it a lot when it comes to horror games but the concept behind Layers of Fear is truly exceptional. Can you tell us what inspired it and how you went about building on the concept?
We here at Bloober Team love horror. We have spent countless hours playing, reading and watching the genre. However, the main ingredient for Layers of Fear was the passion for fine art that a lot of our artists share. Most of them have a MA degree in Art and have received a thorough education on the history of art. Fine art has centuries of inspirational material that we felt is ready to be used in a contemporary media like gaming. We wanted to incorporate it as the soul of the game, that is why paint or piano music play such a vital role in Layers of Fear. Another inspiration connected to this idea was The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, which is a classic that complemented our vision for the game. It all shaped up to become a true Masterpiece of Fear, at least, that’s what we are hoping for.
How did you progress from Basement Crawl, which was heavily criticized, to a more cinematic and serious horror title?
Between Basement Crawl and Layers of Fear was BRAWL – an expanded version of ideas from Basement Crawl. We have literally built the game again from scratch upon the constructive critique and opinions from the journalists and the community, leaving the original idea intact. We have given BRAWL away for free to those who bought Basement Crawl as a way of saying sorry for a product that to some didn’t feel like a great experience. It payed off, the game received far better reviews and the community around the game keeps growing. It was the first step towards Layers of Fear, as BRAWL retains a fair deal of horror themes and a grisly atmosphere.
Layers of Fear sees the player as a painter who is slowly losing his mind but also encountering various supernatural occurrences in his house. What challenges did this present from a narrative point of view? Was there any temptation to lean towards either insanity or the supernatural for the sake of the story?
Those elements were strictly connected to each other from the moment we got the idea for the game. We believe we couldn’t fully explore the insanity without venturing into supernatural phenomena, but we wanted to keep this aspect in check and not venture deeper than the game’s environment. It makes the game more plausible in connection to the real world.
"If the game is overly extended the atmosphere and the narration will suffer. You always need to test and observe if the player doesn’t get bored and starts to rush things just to finish the game."
For that matter, the aspect of the world changing spontaneously as the player ventures further into the story is interesting. Did you try to randomize some of these occurrences to keep players off balance or is there a pattern that we’ll eventually be able to notice?
We fiddled a little bit with randomizing some elements of the game in early stages of the development, however we felt that the narration part of the game suffered too much from it. It was also hard to maintain a steady pace of uneasiness and relief while some elements spawned randomly. We wanted more control over how the player will progress , so we ditched the randomness altogether.
What do the gameplay mechanics of Layers of Fear comprise of? Are there puzzles for players to solve and an inventory to manage or is it all about observing one’s surroundings? Will there be various outcomes to different situations or is it all highly linear?
There are light puzzles in the game. We didn’t want to make them too hard to not spoil the pacing of the game and throw players off immersion. That said, the game is focused on the atmosphere, environmental shifts and the story. Layers of Fear gives you hints like ‘Don’t look back.’, you may of course do this and face the consequence, or just move forward. In this regard you may say that you can play the game in a manner that suits you best and that there are consequences to your actions.
Games like Layers of Fear are often in a difficult place when it comes to length and pacing. What are your thoughts on the length of the story and how did you go about properly pacing the scares?
First and foremost we believe that the game cannot be too long. If the game is overly extended the atmosphere and the narration will suffer. You always need to test and observe if the player doesn’t get bored and starts to rush things just to finish the game. You also have to be weary that tension needs to be relieved in some way. For most horror games it’s a straight-in-you-face jump scare; in Layers of Fear we mostly use the environment to scare the player, so we also try to relieve the tension by using the game’s surroundings, like in the basement scene.
"Fortunately the game is very basic regarding to controls and we were able to transfer the game to Xbox without problems. The only obstacles were the performance issues, which are being systematically dealt with."
How has Steam Early Access (and Xbox Game Preview) helped the development of Layers of Fear? What feedback have fans shared that helped to further refine the experience?
It helped us tremendously. Probably the most important feedback we have received was the overall interest in the game – we got assured that we were on the right track with the way we scare the player and how we have set up the world. We were working closely with the community – we have read every single comment that has been posted on the forums, and we were more than happy to find constructive criticism there. People didn’t only say that they disliked the game (or some aspects of it), but they have provided arguments to support their vision that we could work with in the development process. We have used some of those ideas, other became topics of interest and were debated internally. All in all it was a great experience that helped shape Layers of Fear to its current state.
Layers of Fear will be coming to the Xbox One. Did you face any challenges translating the experience to the console? Were there any obstacles in the hardware or controls?
Fortunately the game is very basic regarding to controls and we were able to transfer the game to Xbox without problems. The only obstacles were the performance issues, which are being systematically dealt with. However, the final release of the game will run smoothly on a fixed frame rate.
Will Layers of Fear run at 1080p and 60fps on the Xbox One?
It will be 1080p and 30fps. As with Xbox One the framerate has been locked to 30fps to maintain the movie-like feeling and the pacing of the game. Of course the game runs in 1080p resolution.
What are your thoughts on the comparisons to P.T. aka Silent Hills, especially considering that game is no longer happening?
The Playable Teaser in a way opened our eyes. Suddenly we heard the peoples voice that there is a place on the market for a horror that isn’t a survival game, also its use of ‘impossible space’ became one of our main inspirations for Layers of Fear.
We were hugely disappointed by the Silent Hills cancel, it was shaping to become a truly groundbreaking title. I believe this game will yet again surface in the future, but it most definitely be a different game. If it will stand toe-to-toe to P.T.’s quality is a big unknown, I’m keeping my fingers crossed though.
"As with Xbox One the framerate has been locked to 30fps to maintain the movie-like feeling and the pacing of the game. Of course the game runs in 1080p resolution."
What are your thoughts and PlayStation VR and do you think 60fps is enough for games on it or should developers aim for 90fps?
We are glad this technology became a real thing and made such an impact on the market even before its debut. It has so much potential to show some uncanny ideas and revolutionize gaming.
From what experience we had with VR gear we believe that 90fps does wonders, however as with all of the technology – improvements will be available with time, so 60 fps might work perfectly as well.
As a developer and a gamer, what are your thoughts on the recent announcement by Sony for PS2 emulation on PS4? Do you think it holds value especially given that a number of games are due for the next year and beyond?
To be honest, I actually don’t care about it that much. I have never sold a console after its time, and I come back to my GameCube quite regularly. It’s just not a selling feature for me.
Are you using the 7th core CPU on both the PS4 and X1 to improve performance of the game?
No, we aren’t. We didn’t feel the need to do this, as we have already achieved the desired, stable version of the game we wanted to create.