Thursday, August 3, 2017

Some old interviews I did with Frictional Games (Penumbra, Amnesia, SOMA)

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  3. Some old interviews I did with Frictional Games (Penumbra, Amnesia, SOMA)
the_NGW 18 hours ago#1
Was digging around a bit and stumbled back across these and thought it'd be fun to share them with you guys here.

So quick backstory, I was a very prominent member on an old Super Smash Bros. fansite (Brawl Central), which later became Nintendo Hub and finally VGDistrict before eventually shutting down. Was a fairly large and active community, I eventually become a moderator and, later, administrator before stepping down. I did some writing for the site and later the spinoff site Xugo Gaming that was started up by other former VGD admins that I had jumped ship with. This was around the time that Frictional Games was gearing up to release Amnesia: The Dark Descent. I was pretty active in that community and was super hyped for the game, so in conjuncture with Xugo Gaming I contacted Jens from Frictional about doing an interview for the site, which he happily agreed to do. I kept contact and after the game finally released I was able to do a followup review with them as well. It was really cool, they were awesome and getting to do something with one of my favorite development teams was just such a cool experience.

So yeah, I have the interviews hosted over on my (more or less) abandoned blog, which I'll go ahead and link to here, but I'll put up the actual interviews on here as well for easier reading.

And as a bonus the actual review I did for the game at that time:

Enjoy GPs!
GP Vs 2016: Second Place Winner
PSN: ourtheNGW, Now Playing: ARMS, The Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth +, Implosion, Nioh
the_NGW 18 hours ago#2
-To start, let's hear a bit about your background, how exactly did Frictional Games come to be?
Thomas: Jens and I met when I worked on Unbirth, a now cancel hobby project, where he helped with sounds. We then did a thesis together. Then we made Penumbra tech demo during a course, which did so well that we decided to make a commercial version. That is pretty much it!

-Now, if I'm not mistaken, all of your releases to date have been developed and released exclusively for PC as opposed to a multiplatform or console release. Is this due to the accessability of the platform for independent developers or is there some other reasoning behind it?
Thomas: The main reasons are resources, knowledge and money and they are all connected. Developing for the PC is much cheaper as you do not need to have a dev-kit or costly QA. Also, we are all familiar with the PC platform meaning we can jump right into development. Given that we have little time and people that can do work, it is important that we do not get stuck at other issues than making the actual game.
That said, we would like to make console games and it would not be impossible for us to do so in the future. It depends a little on our financial situation and what kind of opportunities that comes along.

-I'm a huge fan of H.P. Lovecraft, and the Lovecraftian influence on your company and work is clearly quite obvious. Was this just sorta a natural development due to a passion for his work, or did you more consciously try and include references and Lovecraftian imagery and ideology?
Thomas: 10 years ago or so, I made a hobby game called Fiend and this was pretty much me making my first Lovecraft game. All other games from that have got more inspiration than actual copying material. I am also a huge fan of Lovecraft and I think he will always be an inspiration, and can be found lurking in our games' design. It is of course also fun to throw in references now and then (like names of books, etc), but that is usually more eastern eggs more than anything else. 

-Would you say that there's also a heavy Lovecraftian theme to your upcoming title Amnesia? Care to tell us how his works may have come into play in the development of it?
Thomas: As I mentioned, the Lovecraftian atmosphere will always be a part of our game's somehow. Amnesia has some lovecraftian themes, story and gameplay-wise, but is not a central part of the game. Parts like mysterious note and a sort of scientification of the horror are things that can be directly connected to Lovecraft's work and are big part Amnesia. But this comes more from what we find works in a horror game, rather than us having to make a “Lovecraft game”. Also, Lovecraft have been such a huge inspiration on modern horror that it is hard to do anything that is not just a bit Lovecratian.

-It's clear you guys have a great grasp on the horror genre, really seeming to just...get it, as opposed to a lot of other developers nowadays that seem focused on making action games with horror themes to them. I'd assume you're fans of horror in general? Besides the obvious Lovecraft influences, were there other films, games or books that inspired you?
Thomas: For Amnesia, inspiration has come from many non-fictional sources. For example, the general settings has been inspired by reading books about 17th -18th century scientists and how they went about with their work. Also the Milgram and Standford prison experiments have also played a large part and laid as a base for some of the themes that the game explore. I read and watch a lot of horror stuff, and while I cannot point to anything specific, many situations and feelings has been transferred into the game. Like if a film has some character in a tight crawlspace, then you might get an idea for some event to use in the game. That sort of things.
GP Vs 2016: Second Place Winner
PSN: ourtheNGW, Now Playing: ARMS, The Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth +, Implosion, Nioh
the_NGW 18 hours ago#3
-Something the Penumbra series was able to do that I've never seen replicated in another game before or since is create a real feeling of vulnerability and helplessness, especially so in Black Plague where, while you tecnhically can harm your foes, its not really a viable option, players best opting to run and hide. How are you carrying this over into Amnesia? Will players have ways of defending themselves outside of the run and hide we've seen in previews ala Overture or will you be relatively defenseless more in the spirit of Black Plague?
Thomas: No weapons in Amnesia either and you will be just as (if not more?) vulnerable as in Black Plague. We felt that taking away weapons in Black Plague really changed the way the players approached the game and we feel it was something we wanted to keep. When the player does not have weapon up front, it changes their view immensely and many seem to be more willing to roleplay and immerse themselves. When having combat, it is so easy that the game becomes mechanics oriented and losing focus on story, environments and other crucial parts (this happened to me when playing Dead Space for example). It really makes the horror elements so much better with no weapons in the game.

-What sort of philosophy and mindset did you have when beginning work on the Penumbra trilogy? Would you say you took the same sort of approach with Amnesia, or has anything changed?
Thomas: Back then I think it was mostly about making a horror game in general. Now days we have a stronger focus on creating emotions and building mechanics and situations that help convey this. So it is just not as much that we want to make a “horror game”, but rather that we like to create a certain experience.

-I've gotta ask about the third chapter of the Penumbra trilogy, Requiem. Now this game took a very very different turn from its predecessors, opting for more of a puzzle focused game than a survival horror one, either to the benefit or detriment of it depending on who you ask. Regardless of that, why is it you choose such an approach for the third installment? Do you feel it was overall the right way to close the series out or looking back would you have gone with a style more in veing with Overture and Black Plague?
Thomas: Paradox actually asked us if we wanted to make a sort of add-on for Black Plague and because we did not feel like building a new story and so on, we made a puzzle focused game. The interaction system we have allow for a lot of fun things, but in the previous games we where heavily constrained by story on what we could do. So we thought it would be fun to make a game where we just skipped story and focused on the puzzles. This was not very well received though and is not something we will repeat.
GP Vs 2016: Second Place Winner
PSN: ourtheNGW, Now Playing: ARMS, The Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth +, Implosion, Nioh
the_NGW 18 hours ago#4
-The Penumbra series was your first real efforts as a development team putting a game out for retail, how has your experience with that differed from your soon to be released Amnesia?
Thomas: There is a lot of things that we have learned over the years since we first started. There is so much that goes into making a game, and not just things directly connected with the development itself. For example, there is accounting, team management, localizations, contract and tons of other stuff. We have slowly figured out how to handle these things and although we still have a lot to learn, we feel we have really matured as a company. 

-With Amnesia just a few short weeks away, is there any info you're willing to divulge about it?
Thomas: Apart from that we are really happy about how it is turning out, I am not sure there is that much new to tell. We do not want to spoil too much before release and the current info available should be a more than enough:. 
Amnesia is a game that focus on immersion and exploration. It does not focus on some fun gameplay gimmick, but is an holistic experience that tries to truly terrify the player. You awake in a desolate castle, only remembering that something is hunting you. Soon you find a note written by yourself to yourself, where you are told to kill someone named Alexander, who resides in the castle.
That is pretty much all a new player should know!

-Touching back on how most modern day horror games seem to focus on being action/horror titles rather than survival-horror, do you feel this trend is good for the genre? Is it something you'd ever consider taking a shot at?
Thomas: I think it is good that so many (all?) horror games seem to have the horror more as a side thing and have more focus on the action. This makes our own game stand out more! 
It is not really something I personally want to create though. There are far too many other interesting game ideas to explore. 

-I've already asked about influences you've had as far as the horror genre goes, but are there other developers out there that have had a hand in shaping Frictional Games or your work?
Thomas: Not sure really. We have contacts with some other indie developer's and hearing about success from other small companies is always inspiring. Can not come up with any developer that we have had as a sort of role model though.

-Digital distribution is obviously an up and coming market, but some question its validity and stability in the long run, as well as its benefits to smaller developers. With the Penumbra series being available both on Steam as well as your own online store, and Amnesia only receiving a digital release, its clear you're fond of the practice, what words would you have for the naysayers?
Thomas: I would say there is still room for both! Amnesia is being released as retail in Russia and would have been in EU and US too if we have gotten a deal ready in time. I understand why some people like to buy a physical copy and at the same time I personally buy all my games digitally. 
From a financial stand point digital distribution is really ace. You get money quickly and you get the largest part of the cake with no middle hands. So it is really nice for a small developer as ourselves. But it does not mean that the retail market is dead. At least not yet! 

-I'm sure I've eaten up enough of your time so I've got just one last question. If you could name any movie as the be all, end all of horror movies, what would it be and why?
Thomas: There is a lot of movies from the seventies that had really stood the test of time. Like Alien, Omen and the Exorcist. There have been very few films to reach the height of those.
GP Vs 2016: Second Place Winner
PSN: ourtheNGW, Now Playing: ARMS, The Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth +, Implosion, Nioh
the_NGW 18 hours ago#5
NGW: Let's start by talking a bit about the game that almost wasn't, if you don't mind. Leading up to its release it became known that you guys almost had to drop work on Amnesia completely. Care to shed any light on the subject?

Frictional Games: It's also lost in a haze of Amnesia so can't remember really. Nah, the short version is something like this: We originally had a publisher to do a new game, we had to break that contract and found ourselves with no money to really run the company for as long as it would take to finish the game. We had a rush where we tried all possible solutions, from bank loans to investors, right at this time there was a sale of Penumbra on Steam, which had a huge success. We then took a quick decision to cut salaries in half and re-plan the project to be completed in a short timeframe and started working furiously. We did not have the money needed to finish the project, but we had a couple of months and made a budget where we had some key areas where we needed to get more money.

The same year we had a great combination of a Penumbra Collection for Linux/Mac re-launch, with a heavy sale and a spot on blog post on a popular Linux blog (blog of Helios) which created another great weekend sale of madness. This occurred just as things were looking pretty game over for us.

We continued on and during the rest of the project we managed to get some extra cash when needed, so we kept running on the low burner and managing to survive. Then during this late spring there was the HIB, at which point we knew already that we were going to be able to finish the game with out any troubles, but the HIB really made it feel very safe and warm, that after finishing the game we would not be completely out of money. Thank's to the HIB we have been able to sleep comfortable and knowing that even if Amnesia failed tremendously we would have a couple of months again to think of solutions. Thank fully Amnesia did not fail...

NGW: Following on from above, you also have stated that your future as a company is pretty much being decided on this one release. Has Amnesia sold up to (beyond?) expectations? Do we have to worry about your future as a company or is all good?

FG: That's true, the good news is that Amnesia met our expectations so we are continuing on in an OK form. It's not a huge success, we have met our sales expectations so far, but the reviews and reception has been a lot more positive than we expected, so with this in mind we are a little worried that the sales could be viewed as worse as the game is better than we had planned!

Frictional Games has not been in such a good shape as we currently are. But we had hoped to have a bit more financial success because we have some ideas and visions that would require a bit more stability. We are on the right track though!

NGW: Speaking on Amnesia's performance, the game has received fairly positive reviews, I don' think I've seen any less than an 8. Obviously as a team you're shooting for the highest possible scores, but are you as a whole satisfied with the game's performance score-wise?

FG: Yup, very satisfied.

NGW: There's no doubt that Amnesia is a frightening game, I've had seasoned gamers, even Penumbra veterans, tell me that Amnesia is just too much for them. Do you feel that it is possible to make something that is "too scary", either in that it pushes away too large a group of potential buyers or that it really could be harmful to the health of your players?

FG: Haha, hopefully not harmful! Yes on the possibility of pushing potential players away from the game. Not sure that has to be negative, it is a niche and to be really horrifying in this niche makes us stand out and hopefully attract more players than we loose.
GP Vs 2016: Second Place Winner
PSN: ourtheNGW, Now Playing: ARMS, The Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth +, Implosion, Nioh
the_NGW 18 hours ago#6
NGW: One complaint I have seen pop up in regards to Amnesia is the almost scripted feel to some of the scares. Not just so much that things like certain monster encounters or environmental events or some such are scripted to happen and will happen in every play through, but that Daniel's own reactions may differ too greatly from the player and pull them a bit out of the experience. While I personally feel it does work if you approach the game with the right mindset, I can see how it may be a turn off for some players. What say you?

FG: There was a suggestion to make an option in the game to "disable player character reactions", which we have said to be a great idea. We will not do it for Amnesia, as it would require some work we have not planned for, but for a next game we can keep this option in mind and create the game with that option. We think it is a typical design issue that adds a lot to the game for some people but detracts a lot from the game for others. 

NGW: The way deaths are handled in Amnesia are a bit different from most other games, in the manual it mentions that somewhere, something in the game world changes upon a death. Now I've died a few times in both of my plays of Amnesia, but I can't say I've quite experienced these changes, at least not to the degree I'd have expected. More often than not I'd respawn, generally in the same area outside of a couple of circumstances, the creature that killed me would either be gone or farther away, and I'd actually in some cases have been moved slightly ahead. Is this how it was intended or is there more to this system? Care to give examples of things that may change?

FG: There are more interesting changes, but overall it can be a bit simplified. The main reason is to make sure that players do not get stuck and have to play the same part over and over, so while the first death might change something more interesting the second or third might simply be something that eases the difficulty level to pass the specific section.

It can be difficult to notice what has changed, because some are simply that you will get encounters later in the level that you do not get if you did not die. Some might be more noticeable, as starting out in a strange place, with some sort of event happening. If you die and think now I will pay attention and see what has changed it might not always be easy if it is not one of those events, as the change will occur later.
GP Vs 2016: Second Place Winner
PSN: ourtheNGW, Now Playing: ARMS, The Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth +, Implosion, Nioh
the_NGW 18 hours ago#7
NGW: What are some things that have changed over the course of Amnesia's development? I did begin a play with the commentary, and found some interesting facts out (such as Daniel's initial lack of the titular Amnesia upon his awakening), are there any other examples? I recall in trailers Daniel being able to barricade a door with objects such as a tables to block Alexander's servants from getting in, this has changed from the final product and much less of the world is that interactive, what was the reasoning behind this change? 

FG: Originally Amnesia had a working title of horror pacman, the idea was to have smaller rooms that you entered and solved puzzles. So a horror themed story driven puzzler, a bit like Saw if you so like. This was later moved towards a horror game with combat elements, the reasoning behind this was that combat allows for easy to make gameplay. When it is puzzle and story driven, you really have to craft every single minute of gameplay, but if you have combat you can add a weapon and an enemy and off you go (sort of). But with the weapon we got the same problem as in Penumbra Overture, that for some combat was really easy and for others it was really difficult. Then we actually went back to some older ideas, which was more like Penumbra, but with a re-usable gameplay with using shadows and light instead (shadows being dangerous and light being safe basically). We never really got that far, as we first started to prototype the game as a whole without that specific gameplay bit, so we eventually had prototyped something that was quite close to what Amnesia were on the release. We mostly spent the last year removing typical gameplay elements, like coins, potions, the quest system and things like that, in order to make something that was really concentrated on the "not to play and win, rather to experience" idea behind Amnesia.

NGW: With the toolkit now released, are there any expectations you have or things you are hoping to see develop from the userbase? Any specific requests?

FG: No expectations at all to be honest. We are surprised and very happy about the interest already! We did not expect so much stuff to be made this soon as it is, so we are simply enjoying all the fun stuff showing up. We even already have seen the very first Machinima made with the tools, created a good laugh in our Skype chat!

NGW: You have stated in the past that Amnesia is a stand-alone title, and that it will not be handled in an episodic manner like Penumbra. But is there a chance that we may in the future revisit the world of Amnesia? Perhaps find out more about the orb and the shadow that guards it, or this other world mentioned by various characters and notes, maybe explain a few things left unanswered by the end of the game? And while you've stated there is no direct connection between Amnesia and the Penumbra games, are they possibly in the same universe or are they completely removed from eachother? 

FG: There is no link at all between Amnesia and Penumbra. Amnesia really was a fresh and lovely start on something new for us. There is a chance for more Amnesia in the future, but most likely not what we do next. It will be near impossible for us to gather the inspiration to do another horror game like that and to make something that will meet the expectations. We are very happy with the reception of Amnesia and feel ourselves right now that we will have problems trying to make an even better Amnesia game. So we are off to look high and low for new inspiration.
GP Vs 2016: Second Place Winner
PSN: ourtheNGW, Now Playing: ARMS, The Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth +, Implosion, Nioh
the_NGW 18 hours ago#8
NGW: I've stumbled upon some interesting theories regarding the story of Amnesia, as well as the meaning behind the password used for the super_secret.rar file in the game's folder. How close would you say some of these are? Any clarifications you wish to make? Or is it more open to one's own interpretation.

FG: No comment.

NGW: I have to ask this, as it pertains to a personal favorite story/moment of mine. Late in the game there is a strange metal cylinder, and from this cylinder a voice. Is this meant as a reference to "The Whisperer in Darkness", my favorite HP Lovecraft story? If so, I love you guys all the more. And do you have a favorite Lovecraft story?

FG: A bunch of stuff in the game is inspired by Lovecraft stories, but we do not want to (or can) say exactly what. As you read books, watch movies, you fill your mind with inspiration and some of this is bound to end up in the game. Amnesia is not meant to specifically be a Lovecraft inspired work, but there is bound to be lots of stuff in there that relates to his stories.
Hard to pick a favorite, Statement of Randolph Carter, Case of Charles Dexter Ward and The Hound are some that pop up, but hard to pin down just one.

NGW: What were some specific challenges you faced when developing Amnesia, be they story or design related.

FG: Tons! With our prototyping it is safe to say that we had a hard time figuring out the main concept in the game, what the player should actually go about doing while playing. It was a challenge to let go of many rules that you have about games, that they need to be challenging, difficult and even fun is a must. We spent a lot of time trying to convince ourselves that you can remove all that and yet present something that will be a great experience for the player.

NGW: Any plans for the future now that Amnesia has released? Can we look forward to, mayhaps a sci-fi/horror title along the lines of the original Alien, something like what Dead Space could have been? Or do you have something else planned?

FG: We are full steam ahead already on what is coming next, but too early to say anything specific about it. Lots of things can change before we have something that can truly be said to be the next project. It will not be Amnesia 2 that is as good as certain and we doubt it will be in space!

NGW: Any last words or tips for our readers?

FG: Visit and try the demo, what else is there!?

NGW: Thanks again for taking the time to answer my questions, always a pleasure to speak with you. Congrats once again on the release and success of Amnesia, looking forward to whatever more you have planned for us. Here's hoping we can keep this contact again in the future.

Kindest regards,

FG: Thanks and best regards,
Frictional Games
GP Vs 2016: Second Place Winner
PSN: ourtheNGW, Now Playing: ARMS, The Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth +, Implosion, Nioh
the_NGW 18 hours ago#9
I'd also like to think my question about the possibility of a scifi title from them is what eventually lead to us getting their magnum opus, and the greatest horror game of all time, SOMA. But that's just me haha.
GP Vs 2016: Second Place Winner
PSN: ourtheNGW, Now Playing: ARMS, The Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth +, Implosion, Nioh
drivenby 18 hours ago#10
Tc is this why you are such a shill for frictional? 

Posted with GameRaven 3.2.1
the_NGW 18 hours ago#11
drivenby posted...
Tc is this why you are such a shill for frictional? 


Haha, I was shilling them before this lol.

They're just an awesome, small team of people that show a genuine appreciation and understanding of horror. I love their blog posts on different subjects about the genre and concepts in gaming. They just..get it.

Also SOMA is just so fucking good, it blew me away, up there with my all time favorite horror media period.
GP Vs 2016: Second Place Winner
PSN: ourtheNGW, Now Playing: ARMS, The Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth +, Implosion, Nioh
Icewitch 18 hours ago#12
Now I see why you shill SOMA so hard. Damn!

But cool that you got to talk with some talented devs.
  1. Boards
  2. Nonstop Gaming - General 
  3. Some old interviews I did with Frictional Games (Penumbra, Amnesia, SOMA)

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