Decisions And Consequence: An Interview With Until Dawn’s Producer

Having tittered and giggled my way through the behind closed doors presentation of Until Dawn back in 2012, it felt like a very long two year wait before I got to see it again. I was pretty delighted that it hadn’t been canned, when I saw it at Gamescom as a PS4 game and with a renewed focus on horror itself.

Back then, they showed off a section designed to ratchet up the tension, leading up to a particularly climactic moment, but with the PlayStation Experience demo, it’s all about the action.

We’ll have our hands on impressions from a PSX preview event posted tomorrow, but to keep the chronology right, we sat down with Supermassive’s Jez Harris, Producer, who we chatted to about the game before having a chance to get our grubby mitts on it.

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TSA: The interesting thing with Until Dawn is how you disappeared from view after revealing the quite fun and schlocky sense of humour PS3 version of the game, but have come back on PS4 with a much more serious tone. That really feels like you deliberately refocussed and retargeted the game.

Jez Harris: Yeah, to an extent. We were delighted with the response that we got to the PS3 reveal two years ago at Gamescom 2012, and we were on Move controller then, in first person and with a very different game, but one of the overwhelming responses we had with the game, as much as people loved it and loved what they were seeing, was to say, “Can we have this with a DualShock as well?” Obviously a huge amount of our decisions had all been driven by it being a Move controlled game.

So when we got all that feedback, we thought that, OK, we would like to make this DualShock compatible. This was at the point where the transition was starting to occur from PS3 to PS4, and we and Sony felt that we had an opportunity to utilise the power of the PS4 and the familiarity of the DualShock to make an even more compelling experience.

So it was an opportunity, as well, to take on all the other feedback that was happening at that time. There was the shift to third person, we re-cast the whole thing, re-wrote a lot of it, and there was a deliberate decision to shift it, not completely away from where it was – it’s still a group of teenagers on a mountain and they’re going to have a harrowing night and the choices they make are going to decide who lives and who dies, but the tone has shifted slightly, yes, into something that we hope and believe is outright more terrifying, to be honest!

That’s our intention; to terrify the players and give them a chance to play in a horror movie. The familiarity that you have with, as I said before, it being eight teenagers on a mountain… clearly this is going to go wrong! We get you into your comfort zone of, “Oh, I’ve seen horror movies. I know what this is going to do!” and then we get to yank you out of it with what actually transpires over the course of the night.

I think, you know, all of this is supported by this underlying absolute which is that choices you make mean you’ll either live or you’ll die, and you can get to the end of the game with no-one left or with everyone left.

TSA: Do you lose everyone, get to the end of the game and get to take over the guy with the clown mask and get to go, “yay!” [laughs]

Jez Harris: “I did it!” [laughs]

TSA: One thing during the demo – not having gone hands on with this demo just yet – you’ve got decision points with a few seconds in which to react. It kind of feels that this could be a little bit stop-start. How was that balanced? Is it something to do with difficulty levels, perhaps?

Jez Harris: There’s an amount of that. I think I would say it’s quite different when you’re playing it. We’ve not seen anyone ever run out of time or use their time up and, if we’re doing it as we are in the action sequence there, as soon as they get their choice, people make their decision pretty quickly.

Of course, as you say, that will be balanced right the way through and they will be different in different situations. There are situations in the game where there isn’t an immediate pressure and you haven’t got a killer chasing you, so you might have more time to make your choice. In those cases where you do, people just tend to find themselves panicking and making a choice.

All of those choices have some kind of consequence and some kind of meaning. Whether that’s something as innocuous as failing a QTE and then getting a grazed knee as a result, or…

TSA: And then dying of dysentery? [laughs]

Jez Harris: [laughs] And then dying of dysentery in the very next act!

Some of the choices that we made in the demonstration, you might not feel until five, six, seven acts later, when another member of the cast comes down to discover exactly what happened to Sam and what’s going on. So those choices I made there may have a bearing on how that plays out.

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TSA: You have this quite clever and evocative image with the butterfly effect, and all of those branches. That first decision that you make, though, you’re surely set onto a wholly different side of the butterfly?

Jez Harris: I will not talk at great length about the butterfly stuff right now, because we’ll be talking more about that at a later date.

It’s very easy to say that every choice you make has a bearing on the game, but how do we prove that? The butterfly is what that’s about, really. It’s showing your route through and showing that a decision did actually make a massive difference.

TSA: And it’s visualised as you’re making these decisions too?

Jez Harris: Absolutely. How you’re getting on, whereabouts you are and what else is happening.

TSA: I think it’s quite interesting that you do show people where a decision point has happened, so that it’s an obvious gameplay element and isn’t really all that secretive.

Jez Harris: Absolutely, and we’re very conscious of wanting to pull back the curtain a little bit to let people in and see…

TSA: Show a little ankle.

Jez Harris: Exactly, and I think that’ll help people on their journey through the game to understand that yes, their decisions do matter. They won’t know at any given moment whether or not that choice will be marked on the butterfly, necessarily – if we were trying to track every choice on the butterfly we wouldn’t fit it on screen.

The butterfly is there to really communicate the big decisions and the big moments, but every moment really counts, not all of them are telegraphed and even the big moments, like we saw in the Gamescom demo with the big moral dilemma of should I shoot myself or shoot my girlfriend? Well that’s obviously a fairly transparent and obvious situation, and we set that up deliberately to do just that and give a hard decision to the player.

Some of the other stuff, you may have made a decision that you thought didn’t matter, but actually it did, and you’ll find out why later on.

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TSA: Going back to the controls, do you still have Move support in the game, with the camera hooked up? Because it’s still a very motion based control system.

Jez Harris: What you saw in the demo today, the DualShock 4 incorporates all of our Move functionality. The ‘Keep Still’ mechanic that we saw was absolutely me keeping the controller very still, which I very nearly failed due to nerves, and had I failed it would have played out very differently!

TSA: All the pressure of standing in front of dozens of game journalists!

Jez Harris: Yeah, there is!

So yes, we are essentially using the Move controller, and some of the Move controller ideas were always there…

TSA: But not the actual controllers themselves?

Jez Harris: Not the actual controllers themselves right now, although I don’t know exactly how that works on PS4. But the PS4 gives us a huge amount of that functionality, without worrying about anything else, to be honest.

We’ve also got the touchpad there to play with and there are other features in that controller.

TSA: It feels like it’s still going to be an interesting and quite unique control system because you’re physically pointing when you’re making decisions, for example.

Jez Harris: That’s what we hope, but made all the more accessible by the fact that it’s the usual controller and I’m just using it in a new way!


Thanks to Jez for taking the time to chat with us. You’ll doubtless be on the edge of your seats waiting until tomorrow’s hands on impression.

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7 Comments

  1. Looks and sounds good but I’m still not 100% certain of how the entire gameplay works. Can you physically move the characters around the environment or is it just like a point and click type thing? There would have to be a hell of a lot of footage if so.

    On another note, it would be a bonus after completing the game if you could play the whole game through as the bad guy. Point ‘left’ to bludgeon girl with flaming axe or ‘right’ to skin her alive, then ‘up’ to wear her knickers on your head.

    • You physically move the characters around with the left analogue stick during certain scenes and areas, selecting items nearby with X and maybe a bit of pointing with the controller itself. Decisions are then physical motions to point at something and press X, and there’s a liberal sprinkling of QTEs throughout.

      • I think I get ya. Dare I say, in a way similar to Heavy Rain???

      • I should’ve just said that. Yeah, it’s like Heavy Rain, Beyond, The Walking Dead etc. and the modern form of direct control point & click adventure (where point & click is something of a misnomer).

  2. Sounds great, really looking forward to it. Do we know if this is a confirmed 2015 title yet?

  3. Audience participation (at PlayStation Experience) was great. This game should be played in front of a large crowd.

    http://youtu.be/Kg7-w2TRzQU :-)

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