‘The Quarry’ Makes the Case For Interactive Moviemaking

the quarry

Developer Supermassive Games is at the forefront of the next step in interactive media. Their games, principally The Quarry, represent a new frontier of digital convergence. Their innovation is best conceptualized by their recent journey into developing cinematic horror stories, among them Until Dawn and the Dark Pictures Anthology. But beyond the scope and innovation within the gaming landscape, Supermassive Games is poised to have a considerable impact on the cinematic landscape writ large.

Too easily blamed on the pandemic—which no doubt played a considerable role—the moviegoing experience has been metamorphizing for years. Key titles are released direct to streaming, and the theatrical experience is an unpredictable hodgepodge. Mid-budget titles prove remunerative while established IPs (looking at you, Lightyear) disappoint on several fronts. As of right now, the key innovations of titles like The Quarry are contained exclusively in the realm of gaming. Though, in all likelihood, media integration might see Supermassive’s best ideas transition out of gaming into the big, vast world of movies beyond them.

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To better understand what makes Supermassive’s gaming output so inimitable, it’s worth reviewing the breadth of choice-based games. That’s still the best qualifier for what Supermassive has been doing since the release of Until Dawn, published by Sony Computer Entertainment as a PlayStation 4 exclusive, in 2015. The likes of Zork, an interactive text-based game developed by four members of the MIT Dynamic Modelling Group in 1979, is one of the earliest examples. Ludology, broadly defined as the study of games and mechanics, contends a game’s mechanics and rules best conceptualize what gaming is. Conversely, narratology—a common analytical framework for cinema, too—contends the opposite. Expression and meaning are rooted in narrative structures, not gameplay.

Choice-based games balance both approaches. Contemporary examples make use of ludic systems to express the narrative. Bethesda, a studio known for vast RPGS including The Elder Scrolls and Fallout series, permit players to develop any kind of character they want. Often, these choices prove to be binary in nature, locking players into one of several predetermined paths and endings. Studios such as Bioware, especially with their earlier titles, were similarly constrained. Even studios such as Quantic Dream, known for their deep, narrative choice-based thrillers, struggled, often constrained by technology and the innumerable variables at play. In balancing both story and gameplay, writers need to account for the differences in player decision and interest, limiting what they can and cannot do and, resultantly, how the story can and cannot play out.

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Supermassive Games, especially with The Quarry, have instead opted to embrace those constraints. Even compared the spiritual predecessor Until Dawn, The Quarry has considerably less, capital-G “Gameplay.” Accessible to as broad an audience as possible—even those who don’t play games—The Quarry most often plays out in cutscenes. This gives players dialogue options or compels them to make quick decisions, such as running or hiding when pursued by an antagonist. There are isolated gameplay segments where players are given full control of any respective character, able to walk around and explore the environment, But they’re transitional stages, means of moving the narrative along, never demanding more from the player aside from navigating from one point to another.

So, rather than a game, The Quarry is best conceptualized as an interactive movie. It’s a moniker the developers are even aware of given The Quarry ships with a movie mode built in, an opportunity to adjust character traits and decisions before sitting back and watching any given scenario play out.

Further solidifying the movie moniker, Supermassive Games is known for casting a bevy of A-list stars. Until Dawn features the likes of Rami Malek and Hayden Panettiere. The Dark Pictures Anthology has entries starring both Ashley Tisdale and Will Poulter, while The Quarry is a veritable assemblage of horror iconography. David Arquette, Ted Raimi, and Lin Shaye feature, while Ariel Winter, Justice Smith, and Brenda Song (they’re practically pilfering from the Disney Channel at this point) star as playable characters. The closest Quantic Dream, Supermassive’s nearest competitor, got was having Elliot Page and Willem Dafoe star in Beyond: Two Souls.

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Cinema has been playing with the idea of interactive storytelling for years. Horror fans remember the thrill of Final Destination 3’s DVD release. A special feature titled “Choose Their Fate” gave viewers the option to make decisions to alter the course of the movie. Often, these resulted in alternative deaths, never having a profound impact on the movie itself. But it was a thrilling concept, one so uniquely suited to that franchise. Netflix, for its part, has released Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, an interactive episode in the Black Mirror series. In terms of non-genre properties, Netflix has an entire section dedicated to interactive stories, tagging cover images for the likes of Boss Baby: Get That Baby and Minecraft Story Mode with interactive labels.

As the theatrical experience adjusts to an ever-changing climate, interactive storytelling is poised to be the future. Of course, the vagaries of digital media are unpredictable. Both HD DVD and 3D were positioned as the future of cinema, and everyone knows how those went. The convergence of different media forms is first and foremost tethered to profit and accessibility. As groundbreaking as the technology and interaction might be, it doesn’t matter if audiences aren’t interested.

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Luckily, The Quarry debuted at number 4 on the UK Games Chart, beating out legacy titles and franchises in a respectable showing for an M-rated slasher game. In other words, in some form or another, it’s clear audiences are at least interested in interactive moviemaking writ large, and currently, Supermassive Games is spearheading the idea. While the technology is still limited, The Quarry, for its part, still locks key characters into predetermined traits and actions (in the beginning, Jacob has to sabotage the van). Few studios, if any, give players as much control over a story as Supermassive.

Even in video game form, it’s a distinctly cinematic experience. Friends can gather online or together proximally for couch co-op. It’s an opportunity to experience The Quarry with others, screaming in tandem at scares and breathing in relief every time a character just barely dodges death. Supermassive Games has found a niche where they excel, one poised to be the future of storytelling in some capacity. In other words, Supermassive’s success with The Quarry isn’t just a success in the gaming landscape. It’s a success in the slasher subgenre, letting players experience what it’s like to be in a slasher movie for the first time. It’s a success in the horror realm. Most importantly, it’s a success for movies, and storytelling, writ large.



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