Coming off of a narrative horror game as intricately detailed and fascinatingly fun as Until Dawn will take a lot of time and dedication. Especially when the developers at Supermassive Games plan to pull off the same level of magic once again in The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan. With set pieces and a story to rival Hollywood films, it’s time to see where the horror for this new game can reach next. We had a chance to sit down with Game Director Tom Heaton to figure out some more tantalizing details on Man of Medan.
"As a studio we learned massive amounts from Until Dawn. We grew in all areas, people got experience, we just learned how to do things. What we wanted to do with Man of Medan was to increase the story."
Coming off of Until Dawn, easily one of the best horror games of this generation, how are you improving the horror formula in The Dark Pictures?
As a studio we learned massive amounts from Until Dawn. We grew in all areas, people got experience, we just learned how to do things. What we wanted to do with Man of Medan was to increase the story. We made branching narratives. Narratives where the player makes choices, does things that changes the way the story moves. We wanted to supersize that. So this is many times more branching than Until Dawn.
It’s complicated to work all that stuff out. We have a thing that helps us— that allows us to play the story out and think of all these permutations. So that was one thing we did. Another thing we did was when we launched the game, we were really amazed with the reception in the streaming community. It was not a thing we anticipated. We didn’t really know about it because we were busy developing the game.
People were streaming it all over the place and people were engaging with it, YouTube, Twitch, and stuff like that. That really helps us get the game in the public consciousness. We have that in our minds this time out. We made sure we had content that’s really good to stream, that will be engaging for the audience. And the other thing that surprised us was how much people cared about the relationships between the characters.
The relationships that we’ve planned for the characters, we kind of paired them up with each other. So we thought about a whole relationship system, and how we could build in bonus content. Like if they got relationships to particular state where people really liked each other, that opens up additional scenes and stuff like that.
What are the biggest benefits for having an anthology of games rather than having to follow a single overarching narrative?
The reason we decided to do the anthology— we work in horror, but horror isn’t just one thing. It splits into loads and loads of sub genres. The audience knows the sub genres well. They know they’re going to see a zombie movie, a slasher movie or whatever. It’s the same with games. So we sat down and kind of worked it out, and kind of worked out all the sub-genres. We got to 39 and we added a couple extra since then.
We wondered where we start and how do we approach this? An anthology was a really good way of dealing with that. It allows us every game in the anthology to standalone. New stories, new narratives, New characters, new cast. So a blank sheet that allows us to explore those sub-genres, learn their tropes to scare audiences. So it’s cool to be able to just start over with no ties to previous titles, just make something new.
"We’re always looking for new ways to engage with audiences. People always want us to surprise them, and we’re always trying to find ways of doing that."
Is every game in The Dark Pictures an individual, standalone release, or is it more like episodic releases of a single series (speaking purely in terms of release structure and pricing)?
Everything is standalone. It’s a cinematic-horror, branching game. But everything is standalone. They’ll all be in this supermassive style. The way we make games— giving players choices, let them explore creepy environments, the cast of characters voice by top-quality actors. So that’ll follow the template. But every story is new.
Is there a particular subgenre of horror that Man of Medan adheres to, or one that it at least favors more than the others?
We’re constantly experimenting. I can’t talk about that or any of the other games. But we’re always looking for new ways to engage with audiences. People always want us to surprise them, and we’re always trying to find ways of doing that.
About how long can we expect Man of Medan to be?
The play time is four to five hours. It’s probably closer to the five hour mark. That’s a good length for a branching-narrative story. It means the narrative doesn’t get too long. It’s longer than a film, but games have a different kind of pacing. Because of the branching it’s very replayable. So once you’ve played it— we’ve seen it in Until Dawn already— people play the game and they immediately try and save the people who got killed. Then they play again and try and kill everyone. We think people will replay the game many times and try and find all the secret content.
Why did you decide to go with a sunken ghost ship as the game’s setting?
That seems like a good idea. The ghost ship in itself is kind of scary. It’s that sense of being isolated at sea. It’s probably the most remote place on the planet. The characters— they’re stuck there. Their engine is out, they have no radio. Isolation is such a key element of horror. There’s no where you can run to, there’s no one that can help you. It kind of works as a setting for us.
Can you tell us what kind of work went into the graphics style? It looks like such a beautiful game.
Yeah. It’s a massive thing for us. We’ve gone for a really cinematic feel, and be very influenced by the look of it from movies. We’re using the Unreal Engine with some modifications to make it really suitable for us. So that’s one component of it. But another thing is just having a great team of artists, character artists. Cameras were very influenced by films that plays such a very important part in the whole thing. And lighting is massively important. You can do all of that, but if the lighting is wrong it doesn’t look good. We got great lighting too.
"We’re always looking to go further. So there’s things we learn in how to do scares. Sometimes it’s about slow-building tension. The suspense— that’s kind of essential."
Until Dawn had plenty of scary moments. Will it be right to assume that Man of Medan will surpass Until Dawn in that department?
Yeah. We’re always looking to go further. So there’s things we learn in how to do scares. Sometimes it’s about slow-building tension. The suspense— that’s kind of essential. We get the player in a very heightened state; they’re very anxious. They don’t know where the scares are going to come from, and that’s when we can do a scare. We’ve got techniques for doing that. We’re always trying to scare the player out of their skin.
Do you have any plans to launch on Switch?
Not at the moment. We are focused on PS4, Xbox and PC.
What resolution and frame rate does the game run on the PS4 Pro and Xbox One X?
4K and HDR for both.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Let me tell you about the Curator’s Cut. So that something you get early access to if you pre-order. And what it is, once you play the game you can replay it. And if you have the Curator’s Cut, you can play some scenes from the eyes of the other characters. And you get to make choices from their point of view. You just get another view of the whole story. It’s a very cool feature.