Spoiler Warning: This interview spoils the story and ending of Intruders: Hide and Seek. If you haven’t yet played the game, proceed at your own risk.
Intruders: Hide and Seek released earlier this month on PS VR, and I enjoyed the game for its accessible stealth gameplay, and the stellar design of the house in which it all takes place.
While I called the story in Intruders: Hide and Seek “well-worn but engaging” in my review, I found myself pondering some of the themes presented in the game well after its conclusion. The nature of parenthood, the innocence of childhood, and the reality of people’s willingness to ignore the darkness that is right in front of them; all of these swirled around in my mind for days after completing Intruders. Engaging indeed, and perhaps not so well-worn tropes after all.
In Intruders, a small band of three criminals invade the vacation home of a research doctor, capturing him and his wife. This leaves their two small children to creep around the house, learning secrets about their family while trying to figure out a way to save their parents and escape.
While the actual events of the game never skew to the overly violent, the secrets the family harbors are dark indeed, and the ending is nothing short of a gut-punch.
I reached out to Intruders’ developers Tessera Studios to discuss the development of the game’s beautiful home, their feelings on presenting violence against children in their game, and the lengths that parents will go to protect their children.
PSU: How did Tessera Studios get its start?
We all studied in the same university, some were doing a master’s degree in art, others in programming and others in design. We were assigned together to develop the end of our Masters’ project. We developed the vertical slice of what would later become Intruders. After winning the PlayStation Award we recruited an animator and started the project again from scratch.
PSU: What are some of the goals of the studio?
We want to consolidate as an indie developer and keep exploring VR as a gaming medium.
PSU: Intruders: Hide and Seek walks the line between a lot of genres and, while an original work, seems to share some DNA with many different games and films. What were some of the inspirations for the story and gameplay in Intruders?
Thematically speaking, the home invasion genre was the main inspiration, specially movies like Funny Games or Panic Room. From a gameplay perspective we studied games where the player has a feeling of defenselessness (Alien Isolation, Outlast).
PSU: The house itself is a visual marvel. It is obviously the home of a very wealthy family, while still maintaining the feeling of a real, lived-in place. Did you design the house first for functionality within the gameplay, or did you decide on the look and layout of the house first, and design the gameplay around it?
The visual style came first, we wanted to get away from the trope of an old, abandoned, haunted mansion.
After that, we drafted the script and saw which rooms we needed. Fun fact; at first the house was supposed to have a pool, a gym and a greenhouse, but eventually those were removed. With the draft in our hands we started designing the missions and the house at the same time. We did it this way to be sure that there was a balance. We wanted the player to visit the whole house and not to spend too much time in a single area. Once the house layout was done we designed the furniture and the intruder’s patrolling patterns (they’re not really patterns, they are slightly randomized).
PSU: Much of the violence in Intruders: Hide and Seek is implied rather than shown. How did you decide on the level of violence you were willing to show? Was the fact that the protagonists were children influence this decision?
The game was supposed to be more violent and explicit. Due to production constraints we had to sacrifice some scenes and animations. We were always a little bit worried that people would get mad for having violence against children in the game, but we never censored anything because of that. We wanted a heart-wrenching story and we didn’t mind having fictional characters suffering, even if they were children.
PSU: Ben, the player character, doesn’t seem to react very strongly when he learns that his father is a serial killer. Is the character’s silence intended to allow the player to have their own reaction to the revelations as they happen?
Exactly. During the vertical slice we did during our Masters’ degree Ben didn’t talk at all. We didn’t know how the player would react to hearing the voice of the playable character. When developing the full game, we realised the story was too complex to have a mute protagonist. It would have been weird to have your sister talking to you through a walkie-talkie and never answering back. Eventually we did some tests and saw that it could work. Another fun fact; this process of experimentation was almost the same with the music. At first we didn’t know if having non-diegetic music would work in VR. We had to test that too.
PSU: Do you believe that Ben, with the logic and reason of a 13-year-old child, might believe that his father was justified in his actions?
Tough question, we think that’s for the player to decide. Despite all of his crimes, we wanted Paul to be a loving father, people in general are more likely to forgive the sins of those who have treated us well. We tried to do the same with the Intruders. Paul is introduced as a loving father and at the end you learn about his dark side. At first the intruders seem to be pure evil, but eventually you learn the motives behind their actions, so some people might sympathize with them.
PSU: One of the primary themes in Intruders: Hide and Seek is that of various parents willing to go to any lengths to protect or save their children. While the two father characters are motivated by very different things, they both ultimately kill for their children. Do parents on the development team feel differently about the actions of the characters than non-parents?
Not really. I think we all in the studio understand that people are willing to do things for their loved ones that they wouldn’t do for themselves. Everything revolves around protecting those we consider to be defenseless, especially if they are under our protection. People are more likely to believe that “the end justifies the means” if it is for what they think is a noble cause.
PSU: During the ending I got, the mother admitted that she should have just let her daughter die rather than be complicit in her husband’s murderous experiments. Despite the darkness of the story, this seemed like a very bitter and regretful statement to end the game. It had a true emotional impact, and really stayed with me. I greatly appreciated the dark ending, but was there any concern on the team about not delivering a “happy” ending to the game?
Absolutely not. From the very beginning we knew that we wanted to end with a punch to the stomach. It’s like Funny Games, after watching the movie you’re left with a feeling of, ‘I don’t want to live in this world anymore’. That’s what we were looking for. That’s why the two children are the only pure innocent characters in the game. I guess the message we wanted to send is ‘life is not fair and sometimes bad things happen to good people, deal with it’.
PSU: What does the future hold for Tessera Studios?
Well, Intruders has been done with a lots of effort and little budget. We would like to see what we are capable of if we have money to spend. We already have two new game concepts that we love, but we need the funding to be able to develop one of the two. We’ll have to wait and see how Intruders performs when it comes to sales. It is very difficult to self-finance a game, so we will probably have to look for a publisher or an investor willing to finance the project. Tell your wealthy friends!
PlayStation Universe would like to sincerely thank Tessera Studios for its participation in this interview. Intruders: Hide and Seek is now available for PlayStation VR on the PlayStation Store.