GamesBeat: So it’s more like, if you make a series of blunders, you’ll die?
Reznick: Exactly. There’s a bit of a more traditional gameplay element built in where it’s like, okay, I have to make sure I hurry along this path or else I’m not going to get to someone in time. But then there are a lot of situations where, depending on the conversation you have with someone, it might result in their death almost immediately. You wouldn’t know that going into the conversation.
But there’s also something built into the game that I thought was pretty clever on Supermassive’s part, these little totems you can find. They won’t always help you, but if you find enough of them, or you start to learn the language they’re speaking, they’ll give you information that will help you make more informed decisions. Those decisions aren’t necessarily good or bad, but they might prevent things from happening that you don’t want to happen.
GamesBeat: I’m about halfway through my second playthrough now. When I got to the final episode, it didn’t turn out exactly the way I wanted, so I played that episode over and over until I could get more survivors. It’s definitely replayable.
Reznick: Even as a writer, I haven’t had a chance to play all the way through that much. The little bit I have played, it’s surprising to me, the differences. I’ve seen some of the demo sections played over and over and over again for press reasons, and every time it’s a slightly different story. The characters say slightly different things. I has this weird organic, living quality to it. Even being part of it, it’s still a strange new thing for me to see it in action.
As a moviegoer and a game player, I want more of this in general. I like the idea that a game doesn’t have to be a sports simulator or Call of Duty. That’s great, but I also enjoy evenings where I can sit on the couch and play Life Is Strange or Until Dawn and have a narrative, cinematic experience I can interface with.
GamesBeat: It could be very broadly appealing, but it’s also the kind of game that people might dismiss with, “I’m not a horror movie fan.” How do you communicate that there’s something more going on here?
Reznick: The idea that it’s only for horror fans—It’s essentially just a narrative. One of the ways that slasher-style horror movies often fall into a trap – though the better ones don’t – is that they don’t spend a lot of time on character development. They’re just setting up teenagers to be slaughtered, and so everybody starts as a stereotype and ends as a stereotype. They’re around for a few minutes, or at most an hour if they’re lucky.
In Until Dawn, that can potentially happen, but–We wanted to set up a game where it starts very familiar. It feels like a slasher film. As soon as you start playing with it and making choices for the characters, though, all those stereotypes and clichés start to get whittled down into reflections of the personality of the player. They might not be reflections of the player’s direct personality, but the choices reflect the player’s personality. That will help players engage with and empathize with the characters a lot more than they would in a 90-minute slasher movie.
That will also have the effect of creating much higher stakes. You start associating with them a lot more, because they become extensions of yourself. You vicariously empathize with characters in horror movies, but in a game like Until Dawn, you literally worry about them, because it’s your achievement to keep them alive, keep them from harm. Or it could be your goal to get them horribly murdered. That’s a valid playthrough as well.
GamesBeat: It seems like the characters are steered in some way to either be likable or not likable. That makes a difference in how you play with them.
Reznick: Yeah. There’s that effect, and then for certain characters, depending on how you play, they can end up really surprising you. Some of the characters who start as the most unlikable have the potential to become the most interesting.
GamesBeat: There are some major twists that turn it into something else. I had some choices where I didn’t quite realize what would happen.
Reznick: Some of those types of situations are meant to be—In the moment you have to make a decision where you don’t know what the outcome will be either way. When you watch old slasher movies, old horror movies, everybody’s yelling at the screen – “Don’t go in the basement! Look behind you!” But when you’re in the moment and you have to make decisions quickly with no idea what’s going on, the adrenaline is running—You just can’t know what the repercussions of your choices will be. Sometimes you can have an inkling, but you have to just make a decision and roll with it. Part of the fun of Until Dawn, too, is that you have to roll with it and see what happens.
GamesBeat: There’s a small lesson there in that — you could very quickly save yourself, but you could also save a larger number of people if you think about it a bit more. That’s a life lesson, I guess.
Reznick: We’re trying to keep morality realistic in Until Dawn, if that makes sense. In the past, a lot of games have dealt with very black and white choices. Save someone, don’t save someone. We’re trying to make it less black and white. But there is a theme of thinking about your choices when you can, or thinking about the repercussions of your actions when you can, and trying to deduce the best way to operate and conduct yourself.
GamesBeat: Now that you’ve done this, do you feel like it’s something repeatable? The quality of the human faces in this was top-notch. The writing was good. It seems like this formula is applicable to many different kinds of stories.
Reznick: All of us, Supermassive and Larry and myself, learned a lot of lessons about how to put this kind of thing together. I know we’d all be excited to do more work like this, whatever form it might take.
GamesBeat: Maybe every TV show you watch could eventually be like this.
Reznick: I’m a big believer that mediums don’t replace each other. They just become more options. I hope that’s the case, anyway. I’m a big fan of VR. I’m excited to see what happens there. I was a big fan of 3D and I feel like it was a missed opportunity, the way it was handled with so much material coming out post-converted as opposed to being properly shot in 3D. I feel like that turned the public against it. It was sold as a replacement for movies, when it should have just been an option. It’s nice to have the ability to choose among all sorts of forms of entertainment and interaction.