Master of The Free World Productions | Jumpcut Entertainment Network

The Developers Of Stories Untold On Alien: Isolation, Stranger Things, And How They Made Their Game In Six Months

The stylish and enjoyable puzzle/adventure horror anthology Stories Untold came out last week. I dug the game a lot, so I tracked down the Scotland-based developers No Code at this year's GDC and had a chat with them about the spooky collection. I talked with studio founders Jon McKellan and Omar Khan about developing the entire anthology in less than six months, working on Alien: Isolation, and if we're likely to see more games from the studio like Stories Untold in the future.

Game Informer: So The House Abandon, one of the stories in the anthology, came out half a year ago as a standalone prototype. Was Stories Untold meant to be an anthology from the outset?

McKellan: No. The House Abandon was a Ludum Dare game we had created like over a weekend. We put it out there and honestly didn’t expect anything to come of it. I mean, two thousand games get made that weekend, right? But it suddenly blew up and went viral, and lots of people were asking more and we had some time to kill, so we thought we’d take a chance.
For the next couple of months, we just started making some more and were already talking to Devolver Digital [the game’s publisherEd] at time. So we just decided to go for it and put something cool together within the next six months.

Stories Untold has a fair amount of quality content. How did you manage to develop the game in less than a year?

Khan: We put the time and effort into the things we knew that we could do well. When we were building the game and building systems that fit the skills we had. We were pretty selective in how we put the game together. Because it is a slightly linear adventure we didn’t have to derail the player far in any direction so that means it was easier to plan out the puzzle and time it was going to take.

The narrative-driven style is something we’ve actually been looking at quite a bit. Our next big game coming up is going to be falling into a similar type of style because it’s something we specialize in.

McKellan: We didn’t sleep, either. The game, from back to back, took six months. We kind of burnt ourselves out a little but it’s fine because we created something cool. The scope for the project also changed a fair bit. We originally were going to do four text adventures but that changed from puzzle to puzzle as we got deeper into the project. “Let’s have a little point and click in here!” and “Let’s have you looking around a bit.” So it just expanded, but in a way where we’re building corners and little rooms rather than an entire house. In that way, you get to focus on a handful of spaces and that helps a lot.

SU1610.jpg

Can you talk influences a little bit for Stories Untold? Obviously you have a marketing campaign that taps into Stranger Things but what other works influenced the anthology?

McKellan: We were originally tapping into Stephen King books and those anthologies of short stories and The Twilight Zone and just a lot of stuff that came out in the 80s because the mechanics we were using were all centered around retro technology, so it made sense to set it in that era. We didn’t set out to write an 80s game with all these pop culture references or anything like Stranger Things; it was just the right fit for the game.

And I had spent like five years working on Alien: Isolation, so I had just been engrossed in lo-fi sci-fi tech for that long so it was really just a natural thing for me to move onto. I was making survival horror UI stuff so I thought, “why not make games out of it?”

A lot of Stories Untold came from that but yeah, narrative-wise: Silent Hill 2 was also another influence. It’s one of my favorite games because it does a good job of presenting something that’s… a lot more than it seems on the surface. The depth in Silent Hill 2 is something we definitely riffed on with Stories Untold.

The good thing about doing an anthology is that you can draw inspiration from like anywhere and anywhere. I mean, we’ve got a polar outpost and a haunted house and a government lab. We could just take these things we thought were really cool and make games out of them. We didn’t have to invest years of our lives into getting this thing completely right. We just had to get a feel across, riff on it a little bit, and then move on to the next story.

So Jon, what was it like working on Alien: Isolation?

McKellan: Yeah, I was there pretty much from the start. The team had done a little bit of work before I joined, and there was like 10 of us or something before we first started. The whole thing took nearly five years and I came in as a 2D artist and then became the UI guy and gradually got involved in more and more things. I designed like the hacking games and crafting stuff and then I was lead design on all the DLC and was given a chance to lead that team.

But yeah, it’s a weird game because it's totally not mainstream friendly but set in the universe of a massively famous franchise and there was a lot of money put into it. But critically it had done really well and we scooped up some Game of the Year awards. I honestly don’t know how it all sold because I left shortly after the DLC shipped. But yeah, fascinating game. I’ve been in games for about 8 years now and I think that’s like a career-defining thing, my calling card ever since. And I’m okay with that because I’m really proud of what we did.

Will there be another anthology?

McKellan: I think we’d like to. Obviously, we need to see how this pans out. Our next project is a much longer cycle so we’re not going to be running as ragged but yeah, if there’s an appetite for this sort of thing, we’d love to do a season 2, maybe continuing with a whole new set of stories, whole new premise.

I think it’s also just a thing we can go back to and do in a short period of time, make a single 20-30 minute episode every so often…..


Maybe as DLC?

McKellan: Right. We’ve got no plans at the moment to add to the current story but there’s no reason why if we have a cool idea, we can’t just make it and get it out and let people have more of this.

Khan: And the thing is we’ve actually got a format with this game that makes it easy to build upon. So since we have a lot of building blocks in place, it’s actually easier to work with that than to go back.

For more on Stories Untold, check out our review of the game here.

www.GameInformer.com – The Feed

Battlefield 1 They Shall Not Pass Trailer Focuses On WWI’s Fearless French Heroes

Battlefield 1's first premium DLC expansion is nearly upon us, and publisher EA has released a new trailer to offer historical context for the new content.

The first of four planned add-ons, They Shall Not Pass, is named after the French army's rallying cry during the Battle of Verdun, and two of the four new maps are set during that legendary milestone of the war. The expansion finally allows for players to fight on the side of the French army, and adds new weapons and vehicles, as well as a new game mode, Frontlines, which is a cross between Rush and Conquest, among other additions.

(Please visit the site to view this media)

They Shall Not Pass releases on March 14 to Premium Pass holders, who will have two-week exclusive access to the new content.

For more on Battlefield 1, check out GI's review, and details on the recently-released Winter Update.

www.GameInformer.com – The Feed

Review Roundup: Before They Were On Switch

Nintendo’s launch lineup is a little thin, but it is padded out with several notable games that you might have missed when they originally released on other consoles. If you’re looking for something to play between breaks from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, check out some of the rereleases hitting the Switch tomorrow. We rounded up our old reviews for each game.

I Am Setsuna
Original release: July 19, 2016
GI's score on PS4: 7.5
Excerpt: "I Am Setsuna has lots of nods to Chrono Trigger, from its general combat framework to specific references to skills like X-Strike and Luminaire. However, it doesn’t capture why most players connected to that seminal title. Even though the combat is entertaining, I Am Setsuna’s characters are dull, the environments are repetitive, and the story is predictable. I would like to see more games inspired by the golden era of 16-bit RPGs, but you can’t recapture the spirit of innovation and experimentation that pervaded those titles through mimicry alone." (Full Review)

Little Inferno
Original release: November 18, 2012
GI's score on Wii U: 8.5
Excerpt: "Little Inferno is unlike any game I’ve played. It has a big heart that blends perfectly with its dark tones and simple gameplay scope. Days removed from playing it, I’m still thinking about it. I’m recommending it to my friends who love Braid, Unfinished Swan, and Journey. I’m telling my coworkers it’s one of the nicest surprises of the year. It’s one of those games that breaks free from standard video game conventions. Play it, discuss it, and enjoy it. I sure did." (Full Review)

Shovel Knight
Original release: June 26, 2014
GI's score on PC: 8.75
Excerpt: "It looks like a simple, straightforward trip down memory lane, but I was surprised by the subtle, emotional story Yacht Club Games delivered. After some boss fights, Shovel Knight rests and dreams of his lost partner, Shield Knight. In his dreams she falls from the sky as he fights waves of enemies in an attempt to catch her. These recurring segments are capped off with a satisfying and memorable payoff that raises the experience 
to a new level." (Full Review)

Skylanders: Imaginators
Original release: October 16, 2016
GI's score on Xbox One: 7
Excerpt: "As much as I enjoyed playing as my own created character, the collector in me felt like something was missing. Part of what makes Skylanders great is the action figure element. A tube containing a glowing rock isn’t nearly as cool as a beautifully sculpted monster. The charm of seeing that character come to life is partially lost. Even with players receiving a wealth of rewards, Skylanders Imaginators feels somewhat uninspired. Kaos is off of his game, and Spyro and his cohorts aren’t needed as much. Where this series goes from here is anyone’s guess, but I hope Activision takes a more calculated risk in shaking the formula up. Giving players creative control isn’t enough of a spark to make this experience shine." (Full Review)

For more Switch reviews, be sure to read our impressions on The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and the console itself.

www.GameInformer.com – The Feed

Here They Lie To Be Playable Without PSVR

We enjoyed the horror game Here They Lie when we reviewed it last October, but the fact that it required PlayStation VR kept it out of reach for a lot of players. That's changing tomorrow, when the game is getting a free update that allows it to be played on traditional displays.

The update should be an automatic download for anyone who previously bought the game. New customers will get both versions, so if they decide to eventually buy a PSVR, they'll be able to play it that way as well. The update also includes customizable controls, subtitles, and a chapter-select screen.

The game's also getting a PS4 Pro patch, which includes better lighting effects.

[Source: PlayStation Blog]

 

Our Take
It's unlikely that I'm ever going to spend money on PlayStation's VR peripheral, but that doesn't mean I'm not interested in its games. I'm sure that I'll be missing out on aspects of these games that don't translate well – including that elusive sense of presence – but if it's the difference between playing and not playing, I'll take it.

www.GameInformer.com – The Feed

Don’t Miss: How to train players right, so they don’t hate learning to play

Designer Mike Stout takes a look at examples of in-game training that skip the boring tutorials and teach players the rules of the game by letting them play the game. …


Gamasutra News

Blog: Why indies should target China while they still can

Chinese gamers have finally opened up to indie games, and developers should take advantage before the window of opportunity closes. …


Gamasutra News

Fan Art Depicts Overwatch Characters As If They Were From The 1950s

Because of Overwatch's crazy popularity, it can make for some pretty cool fan art. An artist that goes by the name "Doctaword" online has posted a batch of digital artworks that reimagine popular characters as if they were straight out of the '50s.

This is an ongoing series from Doctaword, a Canadian artist. You can take a look at his entire Overwatch album here. Below, you'll find the newest set of works, which include characters such as Zenyatta, Zarya, Mei, Mercy, and Bastion.

[Source: Reddit]

www.GameInformer.com – The Feed

Developers explain why they love the small details of Final Fantasy XV

All the small things about Final Fantasy XV are important, from the selfies to Florence and the Machine’s cover of Stand By Me. Three developers explain why. …


Gamasutra News

Blog: 9 things they didn’t tell me about being an indie developer

“I want to talk about a few other aspects of indie development that aren’t often talked about. Whether you’re an aspiring developer or an experienced veteran looking back, I hope you can relate.” …


Gamasutra News

Here They Lie’s Creative Director Talks Horror, Influences, And Working On Spec Ops: The Line

Cory Davis and horror go way back. Since he was a child, he’s been fascinated with the way horror can elicit emotions other genres can’t. “Horror’s a place where you can have a big influence and impact on the emotions that someone is feeling.” After being surprised by how well Davis’ most recent game, Here They Lie, managed to use the realm of VR to craft a powerful horror experience, I caught up with Davis to talk about his history with the genre, working on different kinds of horror, and some of the difficulties of creating a horror game in VR.

Of Dodgeball And F.E.A.R.
In his younger years, Davis immersed himself in the works of H.P. Lovecraft and Stanley Kubrick, obsessing over their freakish monsters and unreal, twisted locations. But even at that early stage, Davis understood Lovecraft’s best scares had little to do with physical monsters; the philosophical questions those stories posed consistently inspired his creativity. “That’s where I always went when I wanted to have an experience and question something in my life. Horror was always the place that I went to.”

Along with a love of horror, Davis also had a healthy fascination with video games, but it didn’t strike Davis to combine those two interests until his plan A lost its appeal. “I was studying architecture at Texas Tech University,” says Davis. ”There was some discussion with my professors there about the viability of architecture as a profession at the time.” His professors encouraged Davis to do what he loved instead of get into architecture, so he began working on level mods for Counter-Strike and Half-Life, using inspiration from the way Kubrick films like The Shining manipulated their audience. “It’s really strange how that film is constructed, because it’s built to make you feel unsettled, even about the spaces and the architecture where it’s filmed. There’s a lot of tricks going on that play with you.”

Davis’ first big project was the Dodgeball mod for the original Half-Life, which became popular enough to port over to Valve’s Source engine for Half-Life 2 years later. The mod was good enough to get Davis’ foot in the door at Monolith, which gave him his first professional gig as a junior level designer on the Extraction Point expansion for F.E.A.R., and later as a level designer on Condemned 2: Bloodshot. These were Davis’ first chances to implement the techniques he’d absorbed over the years by watching and reading horror fiction, as well as the fundamental aspects of design he’d learned from building mods. 

Considering his background, working on horror titles came naturally to Davis. “I love the idea of inconsistent geometry, players losing their mind, things you can almost only have in a game. Watching someone else go crazy isn’t the same thing as being in a room, [then watching as] it starts to have some interesting change as you’re standing in it.”

A Different Kind Of Horror
Seeking to implement more of his surreal and darker ideas on a larger scale, Davis left Monolith in 2008 to become the creative director on Spec Ops: The Line. After wrapping up work on Condemned 2, Davis vacationed in Mexico, where he first spoke with developer Yager and publisher 2K Games about joining the project. Here, Davis’ history of working on horror games proved a useful asset. “At the start of the project, 2K had a bunch of creative directors who were really behind taking the old Spec Ops series and doing dark and gritty with it, and I was on the exact same page with them.”

Many of the initial conversations Davis had with Yager and 2K touched on horror, as well as some of the darker aspects of Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now, the latter of which Davis counts among his favorite films of all time. 2K wanted a dark game about the atrocities of war, and to have the chance to work on a game inspired by a film he loved was a huge opportunity for Davis.

In order to work on the game, Davis and his wife had to relocate to Berlin, but the project was ambitious enough to merit the move. Although Spec Ops is bereft of ghosts, monsters, or hallways lined with blood, Davis considers it a horror game, which “drifted into a really interesting place that’s a lot harder to define than that” as Yager worked on the game over the course of several years. Much of the game emphasized the role the player takes in a video game, and many of its “horrors” have to do with the acts humans bring themselves to do (either by force or voluntarily) when the usual rules of society no longer apply. It was a horror story which drew from the more philosophical aspects of the Lovecraftian fiction Davis read as a young teenager.

Because of the game’s unique direction, 2K had a hard time trying to sell it. “There was some discussion about how to market the game after it had been in development for a while, and that’s when marketing began pushing back, trying to get it more in line with conventional shooters,” says Davis. The company even considered delaying the game to align make changes it thought might help Spec Ops sell better. Davis understood the publisher’s desire to make the game successful, but wanted to keep the game’s tone and inspiration intact. “There were strong battles towards the end of the project,” he says.

Ninja Side-Story
While finishing up Spec Ops, Davis had a son in Berlin, and he and his wife began looking for a way to move to Los Angeles. Davis was able to get in contact with Toby Gard, one of the people behind the Tomb Raider series who was then a creative lead at Spark Unlimited. The two talked about working on a collaboration with Keiji Inafune’s studio, Comcept, on Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z.

Although Yaiba was met with mixed-to-negative reaction from critics and fans alike (garnering an average Metacritic score of 47 across all platforms), Davis is glad to have worked on the game. “Yaiba was a really cool experience for me because that’s where I got back in hands-on level design,” says Davis. It allowed him to move away from the trappings of horror and work on a lighter, more action-oriented title. It also let him become more familiar with the Unreal Engine, which proved useful down the line.

Davis felt the environment during Yaiba’s development constricted his potential (and that of his team), but it provided him two very important things: examples of what not to do after he left the project, and the opportunity to meet Rich Smith and John Garcia-Shelton, who, along with Davis and Gard, eventually went on to form their current studio, Tangentlemen.

On page two, we speak to Davis about the influences and practicalities of his latest title, Here They Lie. 


www.GameInformer.com – The Feed