Simply put: how do you know you’re scaring people?
I think the best measure as to whether we are scaring people is to just watch players’ reactions to encountering the Alien. We felt, early on, that the best first experience people could have was for them to have a hands-on encounter… to actually play the game. When we watch people play, whether at E3 or other events it’s fantastic to see how players quickly become immersed in the world, in the experience. To see them have a physical reaction: to see them moving in their chairs, pushing back into their seat, to hear them start to breath heavily as the intensity ramps up. And when they are confronted by the Alien: the exclamations, the swearing and probably best of all the huge smiles that appear on the players’ faces upon being killed.
As the Alien in Alien: Isolation is running under its senses, it’s looking and listening for the player, each encounter is different. This unpredictability means that the player can never be certain of what is going to happen next, keeping the tension high and true. Even we, as the games developers, get scared, we jump and yelp when caught or outmanoeuvred, and we play it every day!
And why do you think people enjoy being scared as part of their gaming habits? Wouldn’t it make more sense for them to want to not be scared?
For me, I think it’s similar to a rollercoaster – it’s the thrill and fear of the unknown. The expectation and anticipation, the out of control powerlessness followed by the satisfaction of surviving a stressful encounter and the physical response, the adrenaline rush afterwards.
I was surprised by the players’ huge smiles and nervous but excited laughter in response to tackling the game. To watch someone rip off their headphones upon being jumped by the Alien, massive smile on their face before carefully putting their headphones back on to head, once again, into the unknown.
What do you think about the indie scene in regards to horror games? The genre wasn’t too popular for a while, now the CA is making a massive, AAA horror game – is it, at least in part, because of the indie resurgence?
We started making this game many years ago… I don’t think the genre has gone away, I think it’s evolved. I think you could find really compelling heart pounding survivor horror experiences in a variety of games of different genres. I do think there’s an argument to say that Minecraft is the most successful survival horror of the generation. It’s a game about an underpowered protagonist struggling to survive, about resource gathering and creepy, dangerous creatures that come out at night. If you come to the game completely cold, the first night in Minecraft is terrifying.
Of those indie horror titles, have any of them had an influence on Isolation?
As a team we are big survival horror fans but we I think we find inspiration in a wide spectrum of games and personal experiences. Games like Limbo with its incredible soundscape and its unique anti-fanfare approach to death to something like Gone Home, which toys brilliantly with the player’s expectations. It’s not a survival horror game per se, but it feels like one at times.