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Frictional Games are a small independent studio based in Sweden and have so far impressed with their excellent Penumbra game series. They are preparing to launch their new horror game, Amnesia, soon and we thought about asking them a few questions. Read on below:
GMZ: First of all, how did Frictional Games come together? Thomas Grip: Jens and I first collaborated on a game called Unbirth (that never got finished) in 2005. We then worked together on a game for our thesis which in turn led us both to do a one year masters course. It was during this course that the Penumbra tech demo was made and after the course we started working on Penumbra Overture. In 2007 the company was officially formed and Penumbra Overture was released. During the development of Black Plague and Requiem 3 more people joined, which has brought us the total size of five people!
GMZ: How many people are involved in the development of Amnesia? Thomas Grip: We are five people in the core team that have worked full time on the project since the start. We then have a lot of freelancers that we work with. We have one guy who does all the music, one writer, a mac/linux porter, a guy that makes all the additional sounds, a firm that did some of the animation, two that have been doing some concept art and four artists who have done additional art. On top of that are voice actors, people doing casting and so on. Some of these have only put in a few days of work, while others several months. So there has been something almost 20 people involved in total, but at the core we are just five people.
GMZ: Where do you draw the inspiration for your games? There’s a lot of Lovecraft in there, but what else? For example, there are a couple of Thief levels (Cradle and Return to the Cathedral) that seem pretty close to what you guys showed so far. Thomas Grip: There are have been tons of inspirations when making Amnesia and these have been collected during the three years we have worked on the project. Some of the more major inspirations comes from books read on 18th and 19th century scientists and set the tone for much of the story. Also things like the Milgram experiments and Unit 731 have been inspiration for themes that we cover. Games that have inspired us include Bioshock and Silent Hill 2, which have helped us determine ways to tell the story and how to create environments. I really loved the first 15 minutes of Bioshock (before the wrench fighting started) and that kinda of immersive and interesting environments and scenarios have a been one of our many goals.
GMZ: I remember the first time I read a short story by Lovecraft and realized that the key to a successful horror is to not actually show anything specific, keep the reader (or player) guessing, unsure. Games are not that subtle: you usually get a gun and some baddies that may or may not look scary. The only games that come close to that feeling of dread that you get from the Lovecraft stories are Asian horrors (the Fatal Frame series, for example). Why do you think developers are so reluctant to use these incredible powerful mechanics? Thomas Grip: I think many are stuck in the thought that games must be “fun”. So when a game is started out you first try and find the proper mechanic (usually based on killing stuff), refine that and then add all story, atmosphere and immersion on top of that. This approach makes it impossible to have enemies that are only hinted at and build a fear of the unknown. What we try to do instead is not to have any specific gameplay at the core of the game, but rather emotions and feelings that we want to evoke. Then we try and come up with mechanics that work towards creating these. For example, Amnesia does not really have any core gameplay, but is rather about placing the player in a fictional world and then let them have an experience inside this world. The mechanics are only there to support this experience and does not need to have any fun-value on their own.
GMZ: What are the most important design rules behind Amnesia? Thomas Grip: The most important rule is to let the horror happen inside the head of the player. By letting the player imagine what lies behind the next corner instead of showing, you can increase the horror level a lot.
The second rule of importance is that the player should be the protagonist. The player is always in control, there are no cut-scenes, no time-jumps and the protagonist should not speak for the player. The last point means that there will never be comments on subjective matters in the environment and it is up for the players to decide what they are seeing.
GMZ: What did you set out to accomplish with your games? Besides getting the players scared… Thomas Grip: To create a game where the players feel like that they truly are the protagonist and then immerse them in a story that stimulates thought and makes them think about moral, human evil and things like that.
GMZ: How does the creative process go for Frictional Games? I know you don’t actually work in an office, but from home. Does that affect you or the project in any way? Thomas Grip: Hard to say since we have never really worked in an office. We have worked out a lot of ways to deal with stuff and do not feel like we miss much. As for creative process, it is very hard to describe, but involves a lot of iteration and cutting. I think that pretty much nothing of the initial idea is left in the game.
GMZ: This is your 4th horror game, so you seem pretty committed to this genre. Let’s presume Amnesia will sell millions and make you all stinking rich. What would you like to do next? Thomas Grip: As long as we make enough money to survive we will continue to evolve and try to make something new and interesting in the gaming medium. Our plan is to try and push the boundaries further and the amount of success we have with Amnesia will determine how much resources we can spend trying to do so.
GMZ: Tell us a little bit about your experience as indie developers. How hard is it for you to keep developing games on your own? Thomas Grip: At times it is really hard and I think we have been close to closing the company at least three times since we started. Right now things are looking really bright though and if we get a decent success with Amnesia we should almost come up to normal living standards! The last year has been quite tough financially, but I guess sometimes that is what is required to do what you love.
GMZ: Will you launch the editor alongside the game? It looked really interesting and easy to use, so I presume a lot of people would want to try it. Thomas Grip: It will be released along with the game! Probably as an optional download.
GMZ: Will there be a boxed (or collector’s) version of the game? Thomas Grip: There will be a boxed version of it in Russia, but EU and US are still undecided.
GMZ: One of the voices in the latest video (not the main character) sounds a lot like the mission briefing voice from Dungeon Keeper 1. Am I crazy? Thomas Grip: As you might have read from our release date PR, the game has been known to cause insanity…
This is the story of Ultima Underworld told by Paul Neurath, a 20-year veteran of the interactive entertainment industry. In 1990 he founded Blue Sky Productions, which was later renamed to LookingGlass, and became a leading US game development studio. As Creative Director of the studio, Paul designed and directed the development of such acclaimed titles as Ultima Underworld, Terra Nova, Flight Unlimited, and Thief, which collectively earned over a dozen game-of-the-year awards. In this forum post I dug up, he talks about the making of Ultima Underworld – a pioneering breakthrough in gaming technologies, including 3D texture mapping and photorealistic terrain.