From Layers of Fear to Blair Witch
Not too long ago we got the chance to sit down with Maciek Glomb, a member of the crew over at Bloober Team, to talk about their upcoming psychological horror title: Blair Witch. After a hands-on preview of an early build of the game, we were lucky enough to grill Maciek about the upcoming title and the efforts that went into making it as scary as possible. Read on to discover all that you can about Blair Witch and the absolute masters of terror over at Bloober Team.
A Chat With Bloober Team | Blair Witch
TechRaptor: So the first question I got when asking around at work for questions was “can the dog die?” but I don't know if you want to that because, obviously, that's kind of a big deal right?
Maciek Glomb: Yeah. I don't think I can tell you too much about the ending of the, you know, side scenario or the side plot with Bullet. What I can say for sure is that you can actually kill the dog gameplay-wise. So the dog doesn't have a health bar. So during encountering monsters, as you just played, there's no such outcome that the dog dies because you made a wrong decision. And we also didn't want to make it an escort Mission.
TR: I'm a big fan of the source material, well the two good ones, I don't talk about the other one. How related to the source material is the game. Is it kind of a very stand-alone thing or are there links to the original movie?
MG: So it's in the same universe right? It's happened to two years after the first movie. It's 96 and first one was 94. So it is related in a sense that it happens in the same word the events from two years ago are present and there are some references in the game when you play you'll see you'll hear some, you know, people talking about events from two years ago and so on, but at the same time we kind of wanted to you know, give this our own Bloober touch to the game, so it's not going to be a survival-horror game like that movies were right? So there's no. you know, like five or six characters a lot of chasing, running. It will be much more atmosphere focused will try to play a lot with music, with lightning, which are creating this atmosphere of dread, of harrowing.
TR: You pretty much answered this during the presentation. Did you say that you were reached out to by Lionsgate games themselves about making this? You didn't approach them for the license?
MG: Yes, so I'm not like 100% positive about this because I wasn't there, but what I've heard is that we knew each other before. Bloober Team and Lionsgate knew each other and as they saw like Layers of Fear, we kind of, you know decided to work together on The Blair Witch game.
Masters of Horror | Blair Witch
TR: So obviously Bloober Team has had a lot of success with the first-person psychological horror games, like both Layers of Fear games, Observer, they were all that same style of sort of first-person psychologically themed atmospheric horror games. Is there anything that you guys learned from your first like three games you've done in that style that's affected what you've done for this game?
MG: Yeah, for sure. I think that probably the most important thing is that we were always drawing players to our games with our story and we weren't focusing on the mechanics that much and that was something that we wanted to change in this title. We wanted to add as many different mechanics that you could so that's why we added Bullet. Who is really important story-wise but also gameplay-wise. We added for the first time in our history encounters with monster because there are always chase sequences or stealth sequences, we never had a proper fight. It's also not a proper fight now because you use the flashlight.
TR: It's a more interesting take on combat.
MG: Yeah exactly. So we wanted to have more kinds of combat because there will be also chase sequences, there will be stealth sequences, and also the camcorder which is probably the biggest mechanic change.
TR: Is the camera part of a sort of homage to the found-footage style of the original movie or is it purely something you added because you thought it would make a good mechanic?
MG: Having the camcorder was essential for the game because it's such an iconic part of it. You'd be like, you know, this game without the camcorder would be like this game without the witches house. What's the point? Right? So yeah, we were positive from the start that we wanted to include the camcorder in the game, but we had some different iterations of it because at the beginning we only used it to play tapes that we found in the game and it was not really that engaging for the players because it only revolved around playing the video watching it and then closing the camcorder. So that's why we came up with this mechanic of fast-forwarding and rewinding which changes the environment around you based on what you see in the camcorder.
"Walking Simulator" | Blair Witch
TR: How do you guys feel about the term 'Walking Simulator'? Is it something that you try to steer your games away from because I know lot's of people don't like the term when it's used to refer to a game because it makes it sound less engaging.
MG: Yeah, it does. I mean it kind of already sounds like it's the something not good right? I think that in Layers of Fear, in our first psychological horror game we kind of did that because things just happened around you naturally. The game didn't really require any input from you just outside of opening doors. I think that's something that we change to already in Observer, you know, you had some puzzles. The investigation and so on and so I think that's something that we already changed then. This time we are just moving even further and you know adding even more mechanics to the game. I think that it's hard to call a game [a walking simulator]. You take for example Firewatch Yeah, it's kind of a walking simulator, right? Because you don't do much, but it's a great game. So I would say that labeling a game as a 'walking simulator' doesn't necessarily mean that's a bad game for sure, probably the lack of a better term for it.
TR: What do you think it is that needs to go into a horror game to maintain and create that sense of suspense and tension that makes it horror?
MG: I know what you can have too much of, you can have too much of jump scares. That's for sure because it just becomes too repetitive at some point. So when you have five or six hours of the game, after 3 or 4 hours when you use jump scares too much you just stops being scares. So that's something that we want to avoid for sure. For something that you want to have I'm sure that what we always try to do in our games, at the very beginning of the game, We want to raise the stakes so that the player knows what to do. That's what we do, for example in Observer just after finding your son's body you have a reason to do what you do. That's something that we also did here in Blair Witch so you have a clear reason at the beginning of the game. We need to find the missing kid, and I think what's really important is not to hurry, not to push narrative too hard because I think what's great in psychological horror such as ours is that the scariest moments are these ones when players expected something to happen and it doesn't. You kind of need to be inventive when creating horrors because you know, it doesn't work like RPGs or sports games that you can play a lot of the same things over and over again. You just need to be inventive because things stop working on some players after one or so games. So yeah, that's probably the thing that you need to remember.
TR: Do you think that making you the player feel powerless is important to a horror game?
MG: I think you don't really feel powerful. I mean you have this way of fending off monsters, but it's not like a conventional weapon, just a flashlight. So every mistake you make the monsters will use it. What's really important is that the monster you fought, for example, are not the only kind of monster that you will encounter in the game. So there will be monsters which you won't be able to fight with the flashlight. So you kind of need to adapt to the situation to proceed forward. What you asked at the beginning, if you need to make players feel powerless, I think to some extent yes. You need to do that, but you need to balance it, basically. You can't give them too much power, but also if you give not enough or none whatsoever, that can also be frustrating so you kind of need to give [players] some ways of fighting the dangers in the game, but they need to know that this is heavily limited.
Working With A Strong IP | Blair Witch
TR: When you started designing the game did you find any obstacles due to the source material? Limitations that you have to like operate within because this time you're basing it on an already established universe?
MG: That was much different than the experience with Layers of Fear and Observer because you have this third party that you know that you need to bump your ideas from, but we are lucky enough that Lionsgate was really helpful from the beginning, and they wanted to cooperate with us, giving us a lot of freedom in what we wanted to create. So I would say that it was like a mutual cycle of inspiration because there were there were moments when they were telling us that maybe something won't really work in the universe but there are also moments when we are suggesting something and they will say like, “Yeah, that's a good idea that we never thought about before.” so I would say that it was different from Observer and Layers of Fear, but it wasn't like a hard experience or something that we wouldn't want to repeat.
TR: Do you think that producing a game like this that is based on a relatively popular existing franchise is going to be a good way bringing in more fans of your work?
MG: Yeah, truly. What I've read somewhere is that if someone creates a game based on a movie or a book you need to always ask yourself a question, “Would this game be good if it wasn't based on a movie or on the book?”. So if the answer to this question is yes, then you did a great job. So I hope that the people will answer yes to our game and I think that if they will [answer yes] then yeah this will happen. I think that this, especially in the US, it's like a really well-known IP and we really experience it during E3 that people were walking past us on the sidewalk and saying “Yeah let's go!”. People were so hyped after that.
The Biggest Hurdles | Blair Witch
TR: When you first started designing the game were there any mechanics or ideas for things that you wanted to do that you discovered maybe didn't work or the other things needed adding and things that, after you made the prototype, needed changing?
MG: I don't think there were many things that we scrubbed out, but I'm sure that we had a lot of problems with Bullet and how intelligent he is because in our first iterations of him he was too smart. Basically, you're telling him to seek and he was like guiding you through the whole game.
TR: Solving all the puzzles for you?
MG: Yeah [laughs]. Yeah and about the puzzles, that reminds me that the beginning we didn't have as many puzzles and at the beginning we didn't really have the mechanic with the camcorder to rewind and fast forward. So I think that after we added that we felt that you know, the pacing of the game becomes pretty reasonable and so it's not always, you know, finding items giving them to Bullet and he seeks. I think that bullet was that was the hard part this part because if he's too smart, it's not okay if he's too dumb it's also not okay because you're not using him. I think that was the biggest challenge for us to to create and then to balance it in a way that you know, that's helpful in the game, but it doesn't overshadow the gameplay.
A big thank you to Maciek Glomb and Tomasz Gawlikowski for the interview and presentation. Blair Witch will be released on August 30th for Xbox One and PC. You can check out our hands-on preview here.
What do you think about the upcoming Blair Witch game? Have you tried Bloober Team's previous titles? Let us know in the comments down below.