Tessera Studios’ Pablo Lafora, game designer on Intruders: Hide and Seek, speaks to us about the stealth title.
Instead of giving players a game that lets them live out their greatest power fantasies, indie studio Tessera Studios instead decided to make something that would put you in the most psychologically tense situations imaginable- and thus, Intruders: Hide and Seek was born. A unique stealth-horror title on the PS4, the game sees us playing as a little boy in a house that has been set by intruders, as the name implies, and it now falls to us to avoid them by hiding from them- an experience that, according to the developers, is significantly better in VR. Recently, we sent across a few of our questions to the developers about this curious indie title, questioning them about the core concepts of the game, the strengths of VR as a medium, and a lot more. The following questions were answered by Tessera Studios’ Pablo Lafora, game designer on Intruders: Hide and Seek.
"We saw that most VR experiences were in a fantasy setting and were always other-worldly, offering experiences that you could not get in real life (visiting hell, fighting skeletons, riding a dragon, etc). So instead of offering something that you couldn’t get in real life we decided to offer something that you wouldn’t want in real life."
How did the idea for Intruders Hide and Seek come about, conceptually speaking?
We came up with the idea in 2016, when there were very few games for VR, just “experiences” and “experiments.” We saw that horror worked great on VR, but there were already too many horror experiences. At the time we decided 3 things: Narrative and immersion were the strengths of VR, and we had to use them intensively; that the game shouldn’t be just an “experience” nor should the player have a passive role, we wanted to make a video game where the player’s actions mattered; and we decided we didn’t want fantasy horror or jump scares; we wanted a more realistic approach.
We saw that most VR experiences were in a fantasy setting and were always other-worldly, offering experiences that you could not get in real life (visiting hell, fighting skeletons, riding a dragon, etc). So instead of offering something that you couldn’t get in real life we decided to offer something that you wouldn’t want in real life. No one wants to go through that in real life, but if it happens in a safe environment (VR), people would dig it. There’s a little masochist in every one of us.
About how long is Intruders Hide and Seek going to be? Are there branching paths, collectibles, or perhaps some other things that would promote replay value in the game?
The story is 3 – 4 hours long and progresses at a good pace. There will be collectibles and some minor branching, but don’t expect a “choose-you-own-adventure” kind of game.
In spite of being a non-supernatural concept, Intruders Hide and Seek seems to have a very strong psychological horror bent- how does the game balance those two aspects, without ever having to sacrifice one in favour of the other?
Well, psychological horror doesn’t have to be supernatural, so balancing that wasn’t really a problem. We think humans can make great monsters. So we always thought “how messed up can a situation get? How twisted can a person become? Let’s do that”. We tried to focus on the darkest sides of human psyche (envy, revenge, sadism, selfishness, etc).
What tools will the players have at their disposal as far as stealth mechanics are concerned?
Very few. The player can hide in cabinets and can crouch to be less noisy. There’s also a flashlight that is very convenient to move around in the dark, but using it makes you easier to be spotted. We tried giving the player more tools, but it really didn’t work. Some items would make the game too Home Alone-esque (slapstick comedy) and others would destroy the feeling of total defencelessness we were looking for, so we got rid of them. Also, first person stealth is always tricky to implement, so we thought that the easier the system, the better for the game.
"We made the game VR compatible because we thought the story was good enough to be enjoyed even without VR. But this is definitely a much better experience with VR. The atmosphere really works and peeking around corners or over furniture feels great."
Looking at the concept of Intruders Hide and Seek, it seems like it would be suited to an asymmetrical multiplayer mode, where one player plays as the boy and the other players play as the intruders- is that something you ever considered, and might it be added into the game some time down the line?
It’s definitely something we considered! We ultimately decided to utilize our resources towards the core gameplay, and while it’s an interesting concept, we decided that online features likely wouldn’t be a part of the game.
How much do you feel VR adds to the experience? Is there a significant gulf in the experience without VR?
Yes! We made the game VR compatible because we thought the story was good enough to be enjoyed even without VR. But this is definitely a much better experience with VR. The atmosphere really works and peeking around corners or over furniture feels great. There are no jump scares in the game, but people who play it on VR are so tense that the slightest sound makes them scream.
Motion sickness is a potential pitfall that VR games have always had to contend with- is that something that you’ve been mindful of in particular during development?
We tried a lot of things when we first started, lots of different controls. We came up with some cool ideas that eventually have become a standard on VR game (turning by degrees, very fast crouch animations, tunnel-effect). Frames per second and consistency in the game environment have a major role in motion sickness too. We were always aware of those.
Do you feel there is potential for experiences like Intruders Hide and Seek to occupy a larger space in the VR market?
We don’t know about that. Anything can get old if you see it too often. We think there really is a market for more “horrible-real-world-experience-simulations.” How many variations of those are there? Good question. There’s always market for new things, but if you want to sell things in VR, make sure they take advantage of VR strengths.
"VR offers a different experience, and people like options. Will VR become as popular as traditional video games? Yes, most likely. Will VR replace traditional video games? No."
VR has been growing as a medium and showing an increasing amount of potential, but in your view, what sort of experiences can push it even further? Have there been any recent examples that have stood out to you?
Well, best-selling VR games (Robo Recall, Moss, Superhot, Beat Saber, Lone Echo) have stood out to us, but each in its unique way. Not so much anymore, but at first we were impressed of how good third person games work in VR. We also love games that make you feel overpowered. We would love to see something like the last Prey in VR. Also, of course, simulators.
Do you think VR is something that will become an integral part of how we play our games any time in the near future?
If we take integral in its literal meaning (essential, needed to make something whole), then no, at least not in the near future.
Traditional games are here to stay, at least until screens get out of fashion. VR games (or apps) will permeate, and will become more and more mainstream. Eventually they won’t be niche anymore, but they’ll be their own market.
VR offers a different experience, and people like options. Will VR become as popular as traditional video games? Yes, most likely. Will VR replace traditional video games? No.
They are different things, why walk away from one of them?
Do you think Microsoft not investing in VR technology is missed opportunity and furthermore do you think they will make the next Xbox VR compatible?
Good question, no matter how much I ask, I never get any news on Microsoft VR. Just some rumors about HoloLens 2. It seems like they don’t have much interest on VR. On one hand, it looks like right now they won’t include VR features on their next console. On the other hand… that sounds really risky. Maybe the next Xbox will be HoloLens 2 compatible? It might be, but we don’t think the console/marketing will make HoloLens the core of it all.
Do you think VR will be a defining feature for the next Xbox and PS5?
I don’t know about Xbox, but Sony for sure. PSVR is an add-on and PS Move is 9 years old already. It worked great and it doesn’t seem like they had it planned from the beginning. Sony knows VR/AR is the future, so I think VR will have a much more important role in PS5. We think the console has been designed with VR in mind from the very beginning, so it probably won’t be an add-on anymore, though that doesn’t mean it’s going to be a VR gadget exclusively. So yes, VR will be very important in PS5.
"Intruders was made by students, more with love and stubbornness than with resources."
Is there anything else you want to tell us about the game before we let you go?
Intruders was made by students, more with love and stubbornness than with resources. We really hope you like it (it means a lot to us, we put a lot of hard work in it), and we really hope it allows us to keep working as an independent developer. There are more and bigger things we want to make.