Published on July 17th, 2012 | by Joshua Philipp1
“From the Devs” is a daily feature where we find indie games with potential, and let the developers tell you about their projects and what makes them unique. Today we have Agustín Cordes of Senscape, the designer behind Scratches, about upcoming indie game, Asylum.
TechZwn: What’s your game and what’s it about?
Cordes: At its heart, Asylum is a horror adventure played in the first person perspective. You could say it’s traditional or classic in the sense that it doesn’t have action elements (not even running) and its primary focus is in the story. The game casts you as an ex-patient of the Hanwell Mental Institute, an enormous building that was shut down under sinister circumstances and allegedly remained abandoned for many years.
We went to extreme lengths to ensure the game feels like exploring an actual decaying asylum: all that you see as you play is part of an architecturally correct “virtual” building based on actual blueprints of old asylums. The proportions and layout are fairly accurate, although we obviously took certain liberties to ensure the game is fun to play too. For this reason Asylum has attracted the attention of so-called urban explorers, that is, people that enjoy venturing into abandoned structures of any kind.
TechZwn: What makes your game unique?
Cordes: One feature that immediately comes to mind is a striking atmosphere: the visuals are polished and detailed, the recurring theme being gritty and oppressive rooms. Indeed, you can almost feel the dust in your face as you move through the rundown asylum. Sound is of utmost importance to us as well and the game features many layers of music that dynamically change as you visit different areas, and strange sounds are always echoing around you. Generally, we feel confident to say this is going to be one of the most immerse and visually arresting adventures ever made.
Besides the technical aspect, we’re striving to make our protagonist feel alive and constantly aware of his surroundings. That is, he’s far more than just a “template” for the player (something uncommon these days in first person adventures which tend to focus in puzzle solving). In the end, I hope people deeply cares for him and feel the weirdness when they start losing control of his actions.
Like I said, a thrilling story is the focus of Asylum, and if the players are constantly guessing what happens next and unraveling the mystery in their minds, then the goal will be met.
TechZwn: Where did the inspiration come from?
Cordes: Above all, Lovecraft and the school of horror he created, where the unknown is far scarier than what you see. Many instantly associate Lovecraft with the oddly shaped monsters and slimy tentacles, and while it’s true they’re a prominent part of his stories, I don’t believe at all they were his primary concern. In this sense, Asylum is a spiritual successor of sorts to Scratches which featured an atypical “haunted house” that hinted at supernatural occurrences yet players never actually witnessed one. That ambiguity (supernatural vs. rational explanations) is also very present in Asylum.
Besides Lovecraft, horror movies of the 70′s and especially those from Hammer Films have always influenced me, although when compared to Scratches, Asylum will feel “edgier” and more modern.
I should also mention Christopher Priest, even though the Asylum story was completed before I began reading him. I feel very related to his common obsessions (the quest for identity and perception of reality) and in some ways he was present when I revised the story and reworked parts of it.
TechZwn: Is there anything you saw in modern gaming that you’d like to change or build on with your game?
Cordes: When it comes to adventures, I feel many current titles are lacking a certain level of polish and immediacy. We have great games with exciting stories but they feel dated, or not quite in tune with aspects taken for granted in other genres. One of them is interfaces and among our goals with Asylum is to provide gamers with a simple and accessible one: in its current form it’s very minimalistic and never gets in the way, which doesn’t mean the game is necessarily uncomplicated. For instance, the inventory in Asylum is completely unlike what adventure gamers are accustomed to use. In addition, I believe the notion of save games is a remnant of the past that should be abandoned. One thing Asylum does is take a cue from iOS and instantly resume your previous game upon launch. We will allow players to bookmark specific moments in the story, but nothing like the typical menu with slots.
What bothers me of games in general is that developers are willing to sacrifice the opportunity to do something different or tell a good story because they have to comply with the established guidelines of a genre, be it because they feel pressure from publishers or want to satisfy the expectation of gamers. Off the top of my head, I’m still seeing boss fights in survival horror, thus breaking the immersion and pacing. It’s like games are still trying to be… well, “games” and not something else, perhaps better and more refined. This is something very personal however and I’m sure not everybody will agree with the sentiment.
Specifically in the case of Asylum, I have no problems in sacrificing “gameplay” if it doesn’t serve the purposes of the story. All the problems you have to solve are there for a reason and it’s always advancing the plot, so it’s all very organic. It may not always feel like a game as we have come to expect, but I’m positive it will be an experience people won’t forget.
TechZwn: Is there anything else you’d like to say or talk about regarding your game (or gaming in general)?
Cordes: We can’t thank gamers enough for the support and kind words we have been receiving. There’s a great deal of faith in Asylum and we trust it won’t disappoint; at least we’re approaching every aspect of the project with the utmost care and attention to detail we can. It’s been a long time coming since it was announced in 2010 (and it was two years into production by then already), and it still will be a while until it’s completed, but I want to stress this: we ARE finishing Asylum and it really is in advanced stages of production. Thank you for being so patient!