Exploring Our Childhood Nightmares: An Interview with Adrian Husby of Killbite Studio
July 9, 2012
Adrian Husby of Krillbite Studio was nice enough to take the time for an interview about the upcoming horror game, Among the Sleep. He’s also provided some amazing concept art from the game from Krillbite Studio’s Facebook page. If you have any interest in good horror games, you should go check it out.
Man, hearing what he had to say about the game has only made me more excited to play it!
JC – What sorts of unique experiences/ideas are you trying to convey with Among The Sleep?
AH- Much of our motivation to work with games comes from a wish to make something unique. We think the industry is in grave need of more diversity, something we would love to contribute towards. Also we want to tell a compelling story both through an interesting storyline and metaphorically – related to what evokes this fear and confusion in the child. For instance we are consulting people with competence on the field of child psychology and development, which we think is rather interesting. We are hoping to use the combination of imagination and dreams to create both a creatively stimulating as well as a terrifying experience.
JC – What are the challenges/benefits of creating a horror experience rather than a combative/straight action one?
AH – In most combative action games, the player is directing his/her thoughts at trying to manipulate a mechanical system. That might be fun and stimulating, but that is not what many of our basic emotions is about, especially fear. Designers has to ask themselves what they really want their game to be about, and some games are definitely not about mastery of mechanical rules. It might be a bit challenging to develop games this way, but we want to always keep experimenting. When something is difficult, the chances might be higher that you are doing something worthwhile.
JC – Why a toddler? Why not an older child?
AH – A toddler’s mind and physique is very important to most aspects of the game, like the gameplay, plot and setting. So even though we could have used an older child, we would in that case be making a completely different game. The concepts’ surreal mix of early childhood and dreams really appealed to us, and we instantly saw that there was no end to what we could do with it. This posed a very interesting challenge that we just had to pursue.
JC – Are any particular childhood memories inspiring the game?
AH – We all try to draw inspiration from our own memories and fears. It’s around the age of two that children develop long-term memory, so it’s quite possible to remember situations from around this age. For instance, our general manager Ole Andreas remembers that he found old people, even his own grand-grandfather, very scary – “His wrinkles and old features made me cry”. That doesn’t mean Among the Sleep will be packed with old people though, this is just the kind of brainstorming we do when we work. I guess things like the darkness with noises without obvious origins among other things, is something most people can relate to.
JC – Will there be ways of interacting with the dangers in your environment other than hiding? Is hiding going to be a crucial element?
AH- You will indeed be hiding a lot. But we’ve also spent a lot of time experimenting with general movement, and physical interaction with the environment. So for instance you will be able to walk and crawl around, push, pull and climb chairs to reach places, open and close doors, make a staircase out of drawers, peek around corners, carry and place small objects – and the list goes on. You will have to use these kinds of abilities to move through the world, solve puzzles and, of course, find places to hide from dangers. Real dangers I might add, you will have a good reason to hide.
JC – What can you tell us about Teddy’s role?
AH- Teddy will play a big part as your companion, but he will not be a irritating in-your-way AI, as he will mostly be hanging on your back. Occasionally he will also talk and convey some of the story elements.
JC – Can you tell us anything about the sunny landscape picture from the website? Will a lot of the game take place in the house? Where else can we look forward to going?
AH- The surreal nature of dreams and childhood is a central part of the game, for example in that you never know what to expect around the next corner. The house in the gameplay teaser is one of the early levels. You will be travelling a long way from home, so to speak, and visit very diverse environments before the end.
JC – Are there any other horror games that have helped inspire you to make this one? Movies?
AH- I think our main source of inspiration is our own childhood and dreams, but we naturally look a lot to other games and media for inspiration as well. For example, we very much enjoyed (i.e. “were horrified by”) Amnesia, and it really reinforced our feeling that Among the Sleep was going to work. Some other sources of inspiration include the whimsical and at times unpleasant Majoras Mask. And naturally we’ve all played games like Resident Evil, Silent Hill, Fear, Dead Space, Condemned, and System Shock over the years, though I don’t think much of Among the Sleep is derived from such titles.
JC – What inspired you to make this particular game?
AH- When our game designer Anders Ugland first pitched the concept, the team almost instantly decided that this game had to be made. With the perspective of a two-year-old, the concept felt so fresh and the possibilities so endless. There are two times in our lives where everyone can relate to being authentically scared, and this is when we are dreaming and when we were young. The thought of combining the two really appealed to us.
JC – The artwork for the daytime is absolutely gorgeous, looking warm and inviting compared to the dark house in the video. How will these two very separate worlds factor into the gameplay?
AH- The environment is quite heavily based on the story, so as you explore and progress things might change very dramatically. But even though the game depends much on atmosphere, and the mood at any given time is very crucial, the core gameplay will stay roughly the same throughout the game.
JC – I noticed that a lot of subtle audio was used to heighten tension. What other tricks do you have up your sleeves to scare the daylights out of us?
AH- We definitely work a lot with the atmosphere, hoping that players will immerse themselves instead of fighting a system. We want to put the player in an engaging setting, and provide them with means to interact with the environment quite extensively. We hope this will result in a lot of intriguing situations, but revealing any specific tricks in advance seems like a bad idea!
JC – What brought you guys together as a development team?
AH- Actually, we all studied various aspects of experience production and interactive media at the the same school in Norway, and got along so well that we decided to start collaborating on a bigger project. Our leader Ole Andreas Jordet and our co-founder and friend Håvard Stene Skjærvik gathered the team based on the various disciplines needed for such a project, and thus Among the Sleep became the bachelor thesis of most of the people currently in the studio. When we graduated last summer we decided to apply for funding at the Norwegian Film Institute, and to our delight got our application approved! Suddenly we could afford offices for example, and the company establishment was a fact.
JC – Is this everyone’s first game? What other projects have your team members worked on?
AH- Most of us had little or no experience related to game development from before we started studying together. But even though this lack of experience has been a huge challenge, it has certainly allowed for us to shape our own unique vision for the project and our company as well.
AH- We try not to think that much of Among the Sleep in terms of genres, so for us the decision to make this particular game was more about our love for the concept than about making a horror game. But on a side note, scary games often provide interesting studies of emotional engagement in games in general, because fear is such a concrete primal emotion. It is quickly evident what elements doesn’t work and why, providing lessons that can benefit many other types of games as well.
JC – Do you find there are a lot of pitfalls or exciting opportunities to working as an indie developer?
AH- There is certainly a fair share of both! We face a lot of uncertainty and risks, but in the end we don’t have hundreds of salaries dependent on our projects economic success. I guess we’re in a very different mind set – since we finished our study we’ve all been working part-time jobs on the side to support game development for example. But in the end it’s easily worth it, we have the freedom to do what we want (you only live once, right?), and in the end the worst thing that can happen is that we learn a shitload of things and gain invaluable experience.
Thanks again to Adrian Husby for the interview, and I hope it’s gotten some of you as excited for this game as I am. Real horror’s coming back, baby!