"Leon Hurley at 10:57am July 31 2013

Itís an interesting proposition: a combat-free survival horror built around investigation and escape. Itís also an indie game. One of PS4′s heavily featured line up of small studios. In this case Red Barrels, a ten man team made up of ex-Naughty Dog, EA, Ubisoft and Eidos staffers. Here I speak to co-founder Philippe Morin about the game to find out more.

So letís talk about the game itself, can you set up the premise. I know whatís going on, but Iíd like to get it in your own words.

Youíre playing an investigative reporter, you get a tip from an anonymous informant that something fishy is going on at [Mount Massive] asylum, so you go there to find a story and of course, early on you realise that all hell has broken loose and itís probably a good idea to leave the place, but itís too late, youíre trapped inside. From that point on itís a matter of you surviving, but at the same time weíre giving the option to players to investigate and find out more about the experiments and who is behind those experiments. That part is up to the player, do they want to focus on surviving or go all in with the investigation?

So itís almost like the investigation is a side mission if you want? If you feel like you want to delve in deeper?

Yeah, the camcorder, obviously the main reason for the camcorder is the night vision, but when you raise the camcorder itís also recording. So if you saw the ten minute gameplay demo, the camcorder was up all the time, but thatís player choice, itís up to them to decide if they want it up all the time which would allow them to find information about the asylum and whatís going on there, or if they just want to focus on surviving.

The PS4′s Share button seems a good match for a game about recording video footage?

In our case, we are trying to make the investigation as organic as possible, we could actually use this functionality so players who are experiencing the game at the same time could share the investigation to one another to try and solve the puzzle together.

So people could send videos and leave them in the game to be found?

Stuff like that yeah.

I wrote a piece a week or two back where I described Outlast as Found Footage Horror Movie: The Game. Was that intentional?

The two starting points wereÖ one of the co-founders sent us a clip from Chris Cunningham called Rubber Johnny. That gave us the direction of using night vision. That was around the time when Amnesia: Dark Descent came out. We played it and we loved the idea of focussing on stealth and having no combat. So those two things were the starting point. After that it evolved based on many references, either games or movies. I think when players play the game they might be able to pinpoint our references, but I think the whole found footage thing sort of came out of those ideas. It wasnít like we started saying Ďletís make a horror game that replicates those things. We didnít consciously make a decision to make a horror game thatís like a found footage movie. But the nature of a first person and night vision gave it that feel.

What are the main mechanics? I know you have to collect batteries, but what are your interactions and your constraints?

Thereís no weapon, no gun. Itís mostly about analysing the environment and navigating in the environment. So all your interactions are mostly with the world around you; climbing, jumping, shimmying, stuff like that. In terms of dealing with the patients, itís mostly a stealth game in a horror setting, youíre going to be avoiding them, running away from them, and hiding from them. Also one thing we want to focus on a lot is the unpredictability of the patient. Itís like if you saw Hannibal Lecter on the street you wouldnít know heís criminally insane. Itís the same with the patients Ė you see one down the corridor and you donít know if heís going to talk to you, push you, kill you, chase you. So we wanted players to always be in doubt of whatís going to happen.

ďOne thing we want to focus on is the unpredictability of patients. If you saw Hannibal Lecter on the street you wouldnít know heís criminally insane. Itís the same with the patientsĒ

So there are friendly NPCs? Non-hostile characters?

Absolutely, in the demo you only see one patient. But the game is filled with many patients. Itís like, you know, Apocalypse Now or Heart Of Darkness, you go on this journey meeting people, some youíll spend time with and others it will just be briefly dealing with them. So itís the same thing here. The guy you see in the demo, might be called the main nemesis because heís basically the predator, heís chasing you throughout the asylum, so youíll see him a lot. But youíll be meeting a whole lot of patients as well.

Are they classes? A fast one, slow one, big one? Or are they more unique?

We didnít approach it like that, because we didnít want players to analyse the situation and be able to figure out what to do based on what theyíre seeing. So we are going back to this idea of having players always be in doubt. We donít have any classes, we approach each set up individually and we try to tweak those set ups based on what we feel will be fun or will convey the right emotion.

With the investigative side of things, is that purely Ďyou find some stuff and learn things?í Or is there a progression to it? Do you have to interact with things?

We didnít turn it in to a mechanic, because we were concerned that it would become too gimmicky. What we are focussing on is trying to make the immersion as affective as possible. Thatís why we focus on telling the player Ďyouíre a reporter, youíre there to investigateí but we donít want to enforce that on the players, thatís why itís up to them to decide how much investigation they want to do. Thereís no reward in the game, other than youíre satisfying your own curiosity.

How does the progression work generally in the game? How do you move through the world?

Well thereís some puzzle elements, but our main influence regarding that is Half Life. So the story unfolds while you play but it feels really organic. Itís not like you go from one cut scene to another. So youíll be stuck inside. Sometimes youíll play for a long time with a very specific goal, and some of the time your goal will be dependent on what characters do to you.

Whatís your favourite bit of the game?

I think, thereís definitely a sequence in the middle of the game that Iím really eager to see how people react to it. We havenít play tested that sequence yet. We play tested a few weeks ago the first third of the game. It was really satisfying to see people with sweaty hands and having to take a break once in a while to relax from the tension. That sequence in the game, you seen American Psycho? You see the scene with the song? That was our inspiration for that sequence in the middle of the game. And you wonít be the one with the hatchet." ~ Source