Developer LKA talks about its off-beat psychological horror title.
As a medium, the horror genre is capable of lending itself to a variety of fears. More than just a fear of the supernatural or monsters, horror also puts us into situation of cruelty that are simply unimaginable. Such is the setting for LKA’s The Town of Light, a first person psychological horror in a late 1930s mental institution. Protagonist Renée finds herself imprisoned in the institution for simply not knowing her place. Strange as it may sound, this was a common occurrence during those times.
GamingBolt spoke to LKA’s studio head Luca Dalcò about the game, currently available for PC and releasing on June 6th for PS4 and Xbox One. The inspiration for the setting, recreating the mood of Italy and much more help illuminate what the Town of Light really is.
"During the game The Town of Light attempts to balance the protagonist’s possible mental health concerns with her humanity, attempting to hold the two in balance to allow the player to make their own evaluation of the truth of Renée’s condition."
What inspired the concept for The Town of Light? How long did it take to develop and what challenges did you face along the way?
The Town of Light is your brainchild due to events in your own life. You wanted to create a game which talked about mental health, exploring the issues surrounding and dispelling the stigma.
The biggest challenge within creating the game was to create a well-balanced narrative, when creating a story which finds its grounding in reality you have to be incredibly sensitive towards that context and the people and institutions involved. We believe the game achieves this goal, it allows the player to determine their own outlook.
How difficult was it to depict the issues surrounding mental health care, both from a narrative and gameplay perspective, especially given the game’s old-time setting?
Depicting the issues around mental health is an incredibly sensitive issue and one which in particular required a great deal of consideration. There is a simple fact that whilst institutions in the 1930s-40s did house patients suffering with the symptoms of mental illness, these institutions often also housed people with no medical issues at all, simply to allow those people to exist out of society – these included for example people with alcohol abuse issues as well as people who practiced homosexuality.
During the game The Town of Light attempts to balance the protagonist’s possible mental health concerns with her humanity, attempting to hold the two in balance to allow the player to make their own evaluation of the truth of Renée’s condition. Here it would be too easy to create a ‘victims’ and ‘villains’ narrative which we were keen to avoid, because there are a huge number of factors which contributed to the poor care of patients. A social worker who worked at the Asylum shortly before its closure in the 1970s stated that even amongst staff it was said that it took only three months to become institutionalized, and this in itself they considered a condition which caused many issues for both the patients and the staff who worked there.
The Town of Light is also interesting because it’s a different kind of “horror”, one that is founded on real life and real people. What kind of potential did that present in terms of character development and atmosphere?
The horrors of the real world and those of the past are much greater than any supernatural influence and ultimately more harrowing because they represent reality. Although the protagonist is in herself fictional, the events of her life within the asylum tell the stories of many patients who suffered there.
The game tries to avoid unnecessary departures from the real world setting and a factual approach but there are a few moments where we bend the rules too.
"As you explore the asylum you encounter objects from Renée’s past, it’s up to the player how they interpret the evidence and how they reason with the protagonist."
How did Italy add to the mood of the overall story? How much effort went into recreating the city?
The real location in which the game is set is very atmospheric in its own right so we had to change very little. The game centres around two buildings which are part of the hospital complex at Volterra (the complex itself had a huge number of buildings, housing over 5,000 patients and operating various trades e.g. butchers, tailors & workshops on site).
In terms of the method we employed a number of tactics to ensure that the building was accurate, from photogrammetry and architects drawings to flying drones around the building to see areas which we were unable to explore by foot. Everything has been recreated even down to small details like graffiti around the building.
The two areas in which we had the greatest control were the use of light and the placement of objects (the facility has largely been emptied but a great number of items have been preserved by the special museum there.) We had to rely on these as our key tools to create atmosphere.
What is the player’s objective in The Town of Light? Does the narrative follow a linear path or does it move back and forth between different times?
The player’s objective is simply to discover the truth, they see the world as it is in this day through the eyes of Renée who is returning to the asylum to uncover the secrets of her past.
As you explore the asylum you encounter objects from Renée’s past, it’s up to the player how they interpret the evidence and how they reason with the protagonist. This will ultimately influence the path the story takes and “version of the truth” you see. It will depend very much on the players own intuition, whether they’re someone who places their belief in the protagonist or the staff of the establishment.
The paths the players can take are inspired by Vittorino Andreoli, a famous Italian psychiatrist, researcher and writer who wrote about the four mechanisms of defence.
How strongly does the soundtrack influence the action? What went into its development? For that matter, how important was the sound design for the entire experience and how does it immerse players in the story?
It was about using sound and music at the right times. Not every second needs to have a full score playing all the time. The right music and sounds are picked to reinforce the game’s events, not to distract from them. There are times where the audio is not so much music, but sound to show in a way the detrition of the character’s mental health at key moments.
"We think VR has a real future in exploring real locations, with the recreation of these locations at the centre of The Town of Light."
What kind of playtime can be expected from the entire experience? Are there secrets that can be uncovered by revisiting the game or multiple endings?
There are multiple story paths that can be uncovered by revisiting the game along with a number of collectable items within the Charcot (this has been expanded for the console edition along with new story elements.) We’re confident that it’s a more expansive experience than ever before and we hope people will want to replay the game and explore everything the game has to offer.
What are your thoughts on VR with regards to bringing to life concepts such as The Town of Light? Do you think we’ll see more such experiences that help players see things from a different POV?
We think VR has a real future in exploring real locations, with the recreation of these locations at the centre of The Town of Light. We did explore VR in our initial PC release of the game but our focus right now is bringing Renée’s story to the console audience. That is not to say that it’s something we won’t explore post-launch.
When can we expect The Town of Light to release on Xbox One and PS4?
We recently confirmed our release date for June 6th!
The big new technology pushes with the Scorpio and Pro are UHD, 4K, and VR- which of these personally excites you the most, as developers?
I think as a developer who wants to recreate the real world we have to be excited about anything that enables us to deliver on our vision, whether that’s HDR, 4K or VR each of these bring something new and exciting to the table and we’ll be looking to take full advantage of these as the technology