In days gone by if a video game cost less than $50.00, one would assume that it had to suck, and in most cases we were right. I don’t think I’ve ever been happier to be WRONG! DreamCatcher Games has been lighting up the video game bargain bins lately, and that’s a very good thing! Recently we had a chance to sit down with Mr. Byron Gaum, one of the many minds behind such recent genre fare as Obscure and Still, so gamers – press “pause” and take a look-see!
Ryan Acheson: First of all, what would you say your favorite horror pieces are? What influences you the most? Feel free to include films, games, books, whatever.
Byron Gaum: I’ve always been a huge horror fan ever since I was first freaked out while watching Amityville at the tender age of seven. I then went on to Twilight Zone re-runs and Alfred Hitchcock stories to get my fill since my parents wouldn’t let me rent or see any other horror movies. I’m now 30, and I find that many horror movies just don’t scare me enough anymore, so I read a lot more and play some horror-based games on the side. I love Stephen King books just because they force you to use your imagination a lot more than a movie normally would. His descriptions are so well thought out that you can’t help but conjure powerful and terrifying imagery in your head. Recently, I finished Doom 3 on the PC. This is a very scary game, but you need to play it with headphones on and in the dark – all the lights turned completely off except for your monitor. All horror-based games should be played with headphones and in the dark as it makes the game so much more engaging.
RA: I understand you’re a strong believer in the power of games to scare, but Still Life and Obscure showcase two pretty different ways to approach horror gaming. What would you say are the big differences when designing a survival horror game like Obscure over an atmospheric adventure game like Still Life?
BG: Although these games are both creepy games that incorporate the horror theme, they may likely appeal to different audiences. Obscure is paced quite quickly as it is comprised of more action sequences; on the other hand, Still Life is more methodic and puzzle-driven and will require you to think a bit more than you normally do in Obscure. We have seen that both methods are effective in appealing to fans that enjoy horror-based games, but some may prefer one to the other.
RA: What things scare you? Do you find the in-your-face jump scares of survival horror scarier than, say, the slowly building tension of something like Se7en? Is it scarier to be helpless to save someone rather than facing the guilt of their death if you could have saved them?
BG: Today I find the things that scare me the most are the movies, books, games, etc., that are somewhat realistic and you could almost see them as being true – for instance, the movie Open Water. Although this isn’t your traditional horror movie, I found it quite terrifying because this could actually happen to someone while on vacation. Another movie that I really liked was The Blair Witch Project. They did an excellent job on it because it seemed like it was a real videotape that was actually recovered in the woods. The Freddy and Jason type movies just don’t do it for me anymore. As for your last question, I’d prefer not to be in either situation!
RA: What things that scare us do you think work best in gaming?
BG: Well, for one thing the sound has to be top-notch and the visuals should follow. A number of times in games you’ll often hear something before you see it, and the sounds can be so creepy that they’ll send shivers down your spine. Both Still Life and Obscure use sound to their advantage, which greatly helps to engross the player.
RA: Adventure games have long been a favorite genre of mine, and DreamCatcher Games with its Adventure Game Company has long been flying the genre’s flag, whereas companies like LucasArts have turned their back on them. What do you think it is that has enabled the adventure game to endure long past its supposed demise, and how do you see a game like Still Life taking it forward?
BG: There is still a large audience for adventure gaming –although it may not be as large as it was several years ago. Over the years we have seen many games take parts and pieces from the adventure genre and incorporate them into other genres, and many of the original and avid adventure gamers have now moved on to enjoy other genres, the largest of which is probably RPGs. There are still those that enjoy their gameplay to be a little slower and to exercise their brains more than other games do. Combine this with a strong storyline, and you are sure to appease any adventure gamer. I’m largely an action gamer myself, but every now and then when the action begins to get too monotonous, I’ll load up the latest adventure game and play through it. Still Life is an attempt to satisfy adventure gamers’ need for more mature content, and we feel that it delivers just that.
RA: It’s always encouraging to see a “Mature” rated game that’s actually just that: aimed at adults instead of pandering to base instincts. The nudity, swearing, and violence in Still Life seem to be part of the story rather than cheap attempts at getting free publicity. That said, are you worried about how the content of the game will be perceived by the mainstream media?
BG: No, I was never really that concerned. All these issues are so prevalent in all entertainment today, and having this in a game is no different. The game is rated “Mature” to prevent younger players from playing and buying it, so I think the restrictions in place are enough. The media’s reception to the game so far has been exceptional, and review scores have been averaging in the mid-80s.
RA: Many people don’t realize that Still Life is a sequel to Post Mortem, which also featured Gus McPherson. It’s a pretty bold attempt at a sequel, and the parallel investigations are one of the things I’m most looking forward to experiencing, but how crucial is it that people are familiar with the original game, and on the flip side, should fans of the original game expect to see any references back to it?
BG: It is not crucial for the player to have played Post Mortem prior to playing Still Life, although those that have will see how the stories are connected. A good sequel will often not require you to play the previous game, and this is what Still Life does so wonderfully.
RA: Horror films often center on a screaming woman because it’s a tried and tested archetype for scaring audiences. Victoria is quite obviously not the weak and pure damsel in distress you still see in many horror movies, but are you still hoping to get some mileage by centering part of the game on what many people will see as a physically weaker and more easily victimized character? Do you hope that Victoria will reach out to women gamers, or do you feel that it’s easier to feel scared for a female character?
BG: A large part of the adventure audience is comprised of females, so it only seemed natural to have a female lead. Gamers like to live vicariously through the main character, so you need to make the character as intriguing as possible. Initial feedback from women (and men) who have played Still Life is that they have enjoyed playing as Victoria, so we think that the developers made an excellent choice when they created her.
RA: A lot of horror fans aren’t really hardcore gamers but are willing to pick up anything that looks like a scary game so long as it isn’t overly difficult. How important is this market to you, and how do you go about ensuring the game caters and appeals to the horror fan?
BG: This market is definitely very important to us because a large part of our consumer base are those that don’t necessarily play games all of the time or just want to try something new instead of the “tried, tested and true” games. Our games vary in difficulty and subject matter, and even if you are having troubles in a particular game, you can always post a message in our forums, and many players will be more than happy to assist you.
RA: DreamCatcher have been pretty good at supplying the horror fan’s demand for games, but what else should our readers be looking out for in the months to come?
BG: We have Painkiller coming out for the Xbox, which was awarded Computer Gaming World’s 2004 Single Player First Person Shooter Game of the Year. This game really is terrific and has a huge variety of horrifying and unique characters in it. Possessed clowns, demonic orphans, electric clowns – they’re all here. I’m in awe of the creativity behind the characters in the game. Even if this isn’t your type of game, I encourage you to check out the character art in the Features section at www.painkillergame.com. The Xbox version will include new weapons, single player missions and, of course, Xbox Live capabilities.
RA: Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions. I certainly felt I got my money’s worth with Obscure and look forward to playing Still Life. Finally, please take a moment to tell the horror fans why Obscure and Still Life are worth taking a look at.
BG: If you’re looking for some scary games, you really can’t go wrong with either of these. Obscure is priced at $19.99 for PC, Xbox and PS2, which is a terrific value. Still Life for the PC is $29.99, and the Xbox version is $19.99.
Thank you very much and I hope that we can continue to scare you in the future!
Big thanks to Byron for chatting with us!