Q&A: Alone In The Dark - Up Against The Possibilities
Alone in the Dark is a key title for publisher Atari, and the firm's Todd Slepian and Alissa Bell sat down with Gamasutra to discuss the multi-platform title launching in early 2008 - how has the originator evolved the survival horror paradigm?
The team aims to deliver the game, which leads on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 but also has multiple other SKUs, over a series of episodes presented in one retail package - and is taking stylistic and presentational influences from television drama and action cinema.
When Gamasutra spoke to Atari's Alone In The Dark producer Todd Slepian and PR specialist Alissa Bell to take a look at the game in progress, they outlined discussed the challenges the developers, Eden Games, face in updating the franchise, which began all the way back in 1992 in the hands of Atari parent company Infogrames.
What were the influences for Atari and the developers in creating this version of Alone In The Dark?
Todd Slepian: One of the biggest influences on the developers was Die Hard -- just that action-packed, one man's survival against overwhelming odds...and also the way they decided to do the game was, I don't know if you guys know anything about the new version, but it's going to be done in a series of episodes -- episodic content.
So they were really also influenced by TV shows like Lost or Prison Break, where each show has character development, plot twists, and cliffhangers, and keeps you on the edge of your seat and keeps you watching for next week. So they did that with their episodes.
So it's going to be episodic on the Xbox 360?
Is the game going to be released episodically?
Alissa Bell: No. You'll buy the season.
TS: The whole game is in there, but each episode consists of maybe four or five levels within each episode, which could stand on their own, but you want to continue playing to unravel the story and see what happens.
Is the series going a little more in the direction of action than survival horror?
TS: It is. I mean, there still is survival horror aspects to it, but they're going more for the big action blockbuster. The fear and the horror comes in more from the mood and the music and the lighting and the question, "What's behind this locked door?" kind of thing, not necessarily from like blood and violence and gore. But it is like a big action sequence.
When is this game going to ship, by the way?
AB: Spring, for the 360, PC, and PS2.
Is it planned for the PlayStation 3?
AB: Yes. That will be later.
I'm wondering if...because I know that Atari really needs it to come out and be good and sell well, but it needs it to do that soon. What is the balance there?
AB: It's kind of interesting, because I think originally, Eden Studios...they're such perfectionists, and they're working on an engine so much that they really needed someone to come in and be like...they recently got split into groups, where all of the levels are being worked on simultaneously, and wrap up obviously some levels that finished before others, and wrap up on that and polishing starts. But it's all happening at the same time.
TS: There's a bunch of mini-milestones now for each team that's working on each separate episode, to try facilitate the development.
Was that the impetus for the episodic idea, or was it the other way?
TS: No. The episodic ideas were already there. It's just a more efficient way to try and get the team to make their ultimate goal of getting the game out. They were very behind, and like she said, Eden was very perfectionist and into the technology, and if it was up to them, they'd work on it for another two years to get it so perfect that it would be the coolest game.
But you're right -- we do got to get to market. The development has ramped up quite a bit recently. My boss, the first day I ever started -- I've only been there since June -- when I started, my boss was basically, "Hi. Welcome. Nice to have you on board." Well, he went to France, and he's pretty much been there ever since.
This game was originally announced a couple of years ago - did it end up perhaps getting revealed too early?
AB: I think that's always with any game, in the interest of being balanced of what's too early, how long do you embargo and not show and just talk, and what's the point that you can show?
There's certain publications and online places that really want to highlight the...from conception, to early sketches, all the way through and want to follow that. I've only been at Atari for a year and a half, so I wasn't part of the decision-making process on this game, as far as showing early stuff and having it out there, so I'm not really...
It's like a really different world right now, in terms of that kind of stuff, because you've more of a reactionary online situation, where if someone from a consumer outlet says that he fell through the world or something like that, then some commenters will be like, "Oh my God! It's terrible! It's all going wrong!" How do you deal with that kind of stuff?
AB: Well, I think that, in the end, you let the product speak for itself. Right? You do your best to get it out there, and let people talk. If they're talking, at least they're talking. Then when the game comes out and scores come out, that generally is the final judgment.
This game seems like it must be targeting the M rating, I guess?
AB: I believe it will be rated M.
TS: I'm pretty sure it's going to get an M rating. I don't see a T in there.
The PS2 and Wii versioning, which we're not showing here, are being done by another company -- Hydravision. Eden is doing the PS3, the PC, and the Xbox games. I think we're submitting for the ESRB in like two or three weeks.
Since everything is being developed concurrently, how different are the other SKUs going to be from the, shall we say, HD SKUs?
TS: There's definitely a difference between the PS2 and the Wii SKU, as compared to the PC and the 360 and the PS3. They're being done by different studios. There will be some similarities between the two, but there's definitely some differences as well.
Moving on, since the game has a lot of abilities to combine items to solve puzzles and defeat enemies, it seems like there's an interesting potential for application of real-world knowledge in there.
TS: And I think that's a lot of what Eden is striving for. Just the way things act in the real world, and the way things happen in the real world, and incorporating that into the game, to make it a lot more intuitive for the player, so they don't necessarily have to give you a tutorial and a demo level of "this is how you play." Because it's all just intuitive. You know what you should be doing, or how things will react.
The challenge with the combine system seems to be giving the player the options they would logically want to combine. People might want to screw around with the game, but ultimately they're not going to complain too much if they couldn't.
TS: The cool thing about it is, I think, the game in and of itself allows for a wide variety of gameplay, like you saw before. Some people are going to use their flashlight to get past the water that's been transformed, but other people are going to want to use fire. They can throw toxic spray and light it on fire, and maybe the water will back up when the fire's there.
It just allows for a bunch of different types of gameplay styles. It's kind of cool. Some people are going to really like using an aerosol can and their lighter, and walk around and try to blowtorch everything.
But other people might rather throw the bottle and fire at it. Other people might just be like, "I hear something. An enemy's coming!" and stick it on the wall with tape and hide in the shadows and let that stuff take it that way. That's what's really cool about it. The open-endedness of it provides for a bunch of different types of gameplay styles.