The Dark Pictures Anthology: House of Ashes, interview with game director Will Doyle

The Dark Pictures Anthology: House of Ashes, interview with game director Will Doyle

The Dark Pictures Anthology

In close turn, after the preview dedicated to The Dark Pictures Anthology: House of Ashes, we return to you with the full interview with game director Will Doyle. For those who are not aware of it, we are at the third chapter of the anthology developed by the authors of Until Dawn - of which for now Man of Medan and Little Hope are part - through which different genres of horror are explored, taking legends as a basis. known or not to re-elaborate them according to narrative needs; this without ever straying too far from the original material, on the contrary exploiting one element in particular to make the story take a particular deviation. After the mystery of Ourang Medan and the dark chapter of Salem with its witch trials, the developers dig into a decidedly older story to offer us an experience whose inspirations are based on films such as Alien, Predator and The Descent, and from the novel Alle Montagne della Madlia written by Lovecraft.

The chat with Doyle was rich and very pleasant, we tried to range as much as possible without ever detaching ourselves from the topic in question - especially in the face of the gameplay news. Happy reading!

What is fear and how is it built?

Let's start with a simple question, or perhaps not too much, certainly fundamental when working to offer some kind of experience? What is fear for you, for you? From the point of view of an ordinary person, a reader, a spectator, a gamer and, of course, a developer? It is never the same for everyone but above all it is not even the same for a single person, who according to the "role" of the moment could have a different concept of fear.

Will Doyle: Fear and horror mean, for us, putting the player in a situation he is unprepared for and uncomfortable with. This allows us to think of our characters as real people, to tell stories that involve them by dragging them out of their 'safe zone' and confronting them with real challenges. Everything revolves around the concept of projection: when we watch, or play, a horror we find ourselves in a position to identify with the situation and reflect on how we would respond, what we would do. Consequently, this projection influences the characters we create, based on the possible reactions of the players, thus opening new and very interesting avenues in terms of narration.

What do you think is the best way to convey this fear, especially in a product like The Dark Pictures Anthology which changes from chapter to chapter?

Will Doyle: part of this fear comes from surprise, which does not necessarily have to refer to the so-called jumpscare. More than anything else, it is a concept linked to the unknown and the unexpected. With The Dark Pictures Anthology we are trying to explore different horror genres, which is why each game in the anthology has a different tone than the previous one. It is impossible for us to say that there is a specific formula to which we refer when we go to choose the type of horror to tell, the story linked to it and what meaning fear should have in that specific case. There are points on which we can rely, for example in Little Hope we dealt with folk horror and the fear that came with it was more psychological; in House of Ashes we dedicated ourselves instead to exploration horror, which involves the presence of a group of experts, at least in our case, far from home and cut off from any type of support that will face a terrible threat. In this sense the pause is different, because the characters are more prepared, more flexible, but still faced with something for which they are not at all ready - they thought they were when in reality they are not. Horror therefore tears them out of their safe zone to drag them in front of something unimaginable.

Is psychological fear better than "tangible" fear?

The Dark Pictures Anthology: House of Ashes Nella my personal experience I have found that following a legend too closely, as in the case of Ourang Medan, can influence the player who knows it and therefore will not have genuine reactions towards a threat that he knows is not real; similarly, Little Hope offered an equally psychological type of horror, albeit constructed in a different way, which once intuited it altered the experience making it less impactful. Is it possible that this time, faced with a concrete and tangible horror, the players feel more involved and react sincerely to situations? Is concrete horror more effective than psychological horror, especially in a series like The Dark Pictures Anthology?

Will Doyle: Surely a tangible threat hunting them down can be more intimidating for players. The risk, but also the beauty, of working on an anthology is precisely that in its diversity of genres and approaches this will affect some more deeply than others; not only that, it allows you to experiment a lot, constantly looking for the right expedient to surprise the public. In House of Ashes the danger is absolutely real and its protagonists are at risk for just that, no matter how prepared they may be. Each chapter is a story in itself, tonally, so we cannot speak in competitive terms, even more so if the fear conveyed is different. Sources of inspiration such as Alien, Predator and The Descent give House of Ashes a more action footprint that could find more favor among the public but there is no better fear than another: they are all different from each other, like the grip. that do on users.

Create and carry on an anthology

The Dark Pictures Anthology: House of Ashes Speaking of anthologies, what are the difficulties and challenges in making them one that always manages to be fresh and different in the stories told? Above all, on what basis do you decide the legend, the myth, the folklore to be used for a particular chapter?

Will Doyle: It is always a challenge for us not only to develop games of this type, given the narrative branching that sets them apart, but it is also a challenge to decide which story to bring. Our goal is always to tie the story tightly to an existing legend, a myth, thus reworking something that has been handed down without straying too far from the truth. If you look at the history of different cultures you can find amazing tales to dig into. With House of Ashes we went back to the cradle of life, to Mesopotamia, and the idea that legend and historical reality merged, or that the fall of the empire at the hands of the Gutei not only had supposed mythological reasons but had been historically noted, we hit immediately; especially because it went well with what we wanted to tell in the present. I won't go any further, but a particular connection has been created with the past that we found fitting. As for the development itself, we always tend to look back, analyze the work done previously and take into account what can be improved also thanks to user feedback: it is a continuous improvement.

House of Ashes is the first chapter that breaks with the past, not only of the anthology but also with Until Dawn itself, presenting an unprecedented three hundred and sixty degree camera. Can you elaborate on the reasons behind the choice and why now did it seem like the right time for this step?

Will Doyle: We thought it made the experience more immersive. Giving the player control of the camera when exploring a large area allows him to empathize much more with the character and unnerves him more - precisely due to the fact that now, as he moves along a dark corridor, he has the ability to peek into the alcoves. or in the most hidden points without the game imposing anything on him. In this freedom lies the constant sensation of having the nerves on the edge of the skin. However, this is not the only reason: on a practical level, it allows for greater continuity between the game phases and the films, without the sharp detachment of the previous chapters. Furthermore, the management of the camera at will goes perfectly with the flashlight, another element that we have included to facilitate exploration and induce the player to discover all the secrets that the setting has to offer: in front of a similar interaction, it was natural to "evolve" towards a three hundred and sixty degree camera.

The Dark Pictures Anthology: House of Ashes What were the main difficulties in the development of this chapter?

Will Doyle: Being a more action-oriented experience, during the motion capture phases we relied on stunt coordinators and adopted a more choreographic approach especially with regard to the movements of the creatures. Not only that, however, because since it is a game where the action plays a greater role and is more intense, our own actors had to have a particular type of preparation: we went through a very rigorous casting to return a ' most engaging experience possible from this point of view. It was a challenge, especially since being the underground setting we made a lot of use of the strings during the shoot, but also a lot of fun.

Horror, as a genre, has its own set of "non-rules" written ". Has it ever happened to you to go against one of these and prefer a different approach because you considered it better from the point of view of the experience you wanted to create?

Will Dyole: in each of our games we have always tried to subvert the most common tropes in order to obtain interesting results. Yes, horror has its own set rules but it is equally true that these rules change according to the genre: there is such a variety of stories that the same solution can work for one but be totally unsuitable for another. Our greatest strength is the presence of the player and the active role of him in our games: we work a lot around this aspect. A person, as a spectator and watching the characters in a film do something generally stupid like going to check that dark corner from which a disturbing noise is coming, would say that such a thing would never do; suddenly that person, having switched to the role of player, would do just the same, pushing himself further and further until he is really in danger. We like to play on these contrasts in particular, on inducing the player to perform an action that as a spectator, perhaps, he has always criticized. House of Ashes presents such situations.

To what extent can music be supportive?

The Dark Pictures Anthology: House of Ashes Another rather divisive aspect is the use of music: there are cases in which, while putting yourself in conditions of tension, it anticipates that something is coming or waiting for you. In general, a situation is about to occur (or potentially could) to tear you out of your safe zone. How do you manage the balance of music in a horror movie?

Will Doyle: Music can be a great support. There are cases in which, while foreshadowing that something is about to happen, it puts us in a condition of anxiety and tension precisely because we are aware of an imminent danger but not what it is specifically. In this sense Paranormal Activity comes to mind: it does not necessarily spoil the moment, on the contrary, it leaves you with the nerves of the skin. We take the same approach. It is also true, however, that it is also a question of rhythm, of the ability to manage it: maintaining a constant tension is deleterious, you have to understand when to loosen your grip and allow the player to relax, and then return to build it gradually. In this sense, music is an exceptional tool.

Relating to other characters

The Dark Pictures Anthology: House of Ashes

Taking Until Dawn as an example, the mechanics according to which your attitude towards the other characters could unexpectedly decree your death or your salvation in the future seemed more marked to me, compared to the recent Man of Medan and Little Hope. Considering that House of Ashes also brings into play the possible collaboration of two factions (US and Iraqi) that until a moment before were fighting each other, is it possible that situations like this on a tightrope will return?

Will Doyle: The versatility of the Trait System is its greatest strength. Combined with a so-called more consistent gray zone, when it comes to moral choices, it allows for outcomes like the one you described. Our goal with House of Ashes is to focus even more on the concept of the dilemma, pushing the player to think, rather than acting on instinct, but at the same time not making it clear at all what the best choice is - assuming it exists. There will always be positive and negative aspects related to the choices the player will make and in this chapter they will be even more nuanced, difficult to predict, some even designed to prove themselves in the long run.

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