Inside the Indie Studio, with Cowardly Creations
A little over a week ago, Cowardly Creations released a trailer for their 2D survival horror game, Uncanny Valley. Players will control a security guard named Tom who is perhaps a tad too curious for his own good. Upon exploring the facility he works at, he begins to find more than he ever bargained for. Despite being busy working on the game, Cowardly Creations found time for us to facilitate an interview. I corresponded with Danilo Kapel (Composer), Tadej Kupčič (Project Director, Programmer), Adam Sellerfors (Artist, 2D Animator), and Tim Žibrat (Sound Effects). There’s a clear passion here behind all of these team members that I believe will be very obvious in the finished product. Keep reading to see why I’m so excited for this and stay for the two exclusive screenshots they were kind enough to give us!
Your Indiegogo page shows that your team is from Maribor, Slovenia. I’m not familiar with the game development scene over there; can you tell me a bit about it?
Tadej: Most of the team is from Slovenia, apart from our artist Adam, who is from Sweden. Slovenia is, let’s just say, a slow country that only has one AAA game development studio called Zootfly, but other than that there aren’t many people making games, let alone forming a successful indie studio. That means I didn’t get any support and finding reliable team mates who also enjoyed making games was quite a challenge. Luckily, as you can see, things worked out for us.
Do you think living in Slovenia gives you a unique perspective on horror? Most horror games seem to be lumped into Eastern or Western horror, but I personally feel that the development team’s origin greatly colors their work. Do you think your place of origin will influence Uncanny Valley, and if so, how?
Tadej: For this specific game I don’t think so, but I would love to create something inspired by Slavic mythology in the future, as I think it’s an unknown, but very interesting fantasy.
From watching the trailer, I’m definitely seeing Lone Survivor influences, along with some Silent Hill and Twin Peaks (correct me if that’s wrong!). What other influences would you specifically cite in regards to Uncanny Valley?
Tadej: Lone Survivor was the game that showed me I can create a 2D indie game and still be both scary and successful with it. But other horror games also influenced a couple of our game design choices; for example Resident Evil’s non-linear exploration of the mansion, Alone in the Dark (2008) world interaction, Eternal Darkness with its innovative sanity effects and Haunting Ground because of how vulnerable the main character is.
Adam: A lot of people are telling us that the art style seems to be inspired/taken from Gunpoint by Tom Francis. Although I really adore that game I would probably say that my art style is something I’ve developed myself after a few years of experimenting. I’d guess that it’s alike Gunpoint’s as I’m not using outlines and the main character is a security guard.
How did this team come together? Were you all friends, or did you find each other when developing the game?
Tadej: Me and Danilo, our composer, were friends and he introduced me to the very talented SFX artist Tim. As for Adam, he responded to my advertisement, but for another game which is now on hold. We shared the same ideas and got along very well, so we kept working together on new projects.
Adam: Fun fact, I am actually very lucky to be working with these guys. About 1 ½ year ago I was looking for an artist position in game development. When I first saw the advertisement that Tadej needed an artist I checked the comments. There was this guy that wrote that he already got the position so I was ready to drop it and continue my search. However, I sent a quick e-mail just in case. As it turns out, he was just a random douche trying to scare off other artists, so I got the job and here we are now, starting up an indie game studio. Pretty neat.
The song in the trailer is fantastic. I love how somber, yet gorgeous it is. From the bit of research I did, Danilo Kapel and Tim Žibrat (and their music group MadOcean) are more known for bombastic, cinematic orchestral pieces. What were their inspirations for Uncanny Valley’s unnerving music?
Danilo: Music is that one little thing that can elevate the tension and the feeling of dread in horror. I listened to a lot of Trent Reznor, especially to his soundtrack for The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (editor’s note: I knew I heard some Dragon Tattoo in there!) and Petri Alanko’s score to Alan Wake. I wanted to create an atmosphere in which the player would feel alert and somewhat uneasy even if the music didn’t feel completely dangerous.
Tim: I always loved the role sound plays in horror games. Especially when the game is almost completely silent, yet you can still feel the presence of danger as if it is right behind the corner and each new sound makes your heart race just a little more. For me a big inspiration was the entire soundscape of The Last of Us and Far Cry 1, two games that really put me on the edge when I was playing them.
On the Indiegogo page, you talk a bit about what you’re calling the “consequence system.” What can you tell me about that? Or would you rather let players discover this on their own?
Tadej: Basically, it means two things: 1. The game needs to have a logical world progression. If you’re holding an axe and there’s a wooden door in your path, you can break it down and you don’t have to go hunting for keys. If there’s a cart nearby, you can push it and break down the door or you can try climb into it through a nearby vent. We want players to have a lot of choices when it comes to world exploring and those choices need to feel natural. This was inspired by a very under-appreciated game, the Alone in the Dark sequel from 2008 that did something similar. 2. When you make story choices, the world reacts and shapes according to them. Rooms or level design might change, the main character can get injured which means playing with him might get harder, side characters will treat you differently – a lot can happen. That leads to different story arches and playthroughs, meaning people will have a different experience each time they play through the game. I think that creates a nice “water cooler moment” and it will give an initiative to keep replaying the game.
As an indie game, you don’t have to show every little bit of the game in order to excite potential players. Do you feel this gives you more room to surprise players when the game releases?
Tadej: Absolutely. Modern trailers give out way too much information, but that’s because some people won’t buy it unless they know exactly what they’re getting. We’re being risky and mysterious, which I think works best for a horror game, as you shouldn’t show too much to the players if you’re trying to make something scary. Everything might be a spoiler and they’ll react to it differently when they’re playing it themselves. That’s why I was so vague with the story and we only showed a couple of areas in the trailer that either don’t spoil the game or you have no idea what’s going on and you will forget about it when you play the game, because things are not as they seem.
What are some of your guys’ favorite horror games and films (even ones that didn’t inspire this particular project)?
Tadej: That’s a really tough question for a die-hard horror fan. Horror movies are a very broad genre and I enjoy them a lot, from the silly 80’s slashers and movies like Braindead (Dead Alive in USA), monster movies with great special effects like The Thing (Carpenter version) or The Fly (Cronenberg version) or the more serious, psychological horror such as Session 9 or Martyrs. I’m also a huge fan of Tales from the Crypt and the original Twillight Zone TV series. As for games, my favourite horror game is Silent Hill 2, followed closely by Fatal Frame 2 (also known as Project Zero 2). Honourable mentions go to Haunting Ground and the first Condemned game.
Danilo: My first experience with horror was probably Phantasmagoria. I still remember playing it as a kid with my sister and then exchanging nightmares about it the next day. It somewhat scared me off of playing horror games until Bioshock came out. I don’t really have a favourite horror movie but I do remember being scared out of my wits from a scene in Hitchcock’s Vertigo.
Tim: To be honest, I have been enjoying horror elements lately and not the genre as much. Meaning that parts of Uncharted, Far Cry and The Last of Us scared me way more than some of the horror games I’ve played and films I’ve seen.
One of the stretch goals on the Indiegogo page is Android and iOS support. Depending on the success of the fundraising, are you going to consider a Vita, PS3, or PS4 port?
Tadej: We’d like to release the game on as many platforms as possible, but to port it on Sony consoles I first need their license/approval. If there’s a demand for it, I will definitely see what can be done to make sure as many people as possible play it on their preferred system.
Do you have any other dream projects that you’d like to make?
Tadej: Of course! Everyone is full of ideas and if this game is successful, we’ll be able to create many more games. Some of those might be horror games, but I like to make different themed games so I think we’ll stay away from it for the next game or two. I would really like to create an episodic (fully 3D) horror series of games, similar to Tales of the Crypt, with each episode being a completely separate story including new game mechanics.
Adam: Man do we have some stuff waiting to be developed. If everything goes as planned we’ll be pumpin’ out a lot of games in no time.
Danilo: Since Knights of the Old Republic and Monkey Island are some of my favourite games, I’ve always wanted to work on a very big RPG or on an adventure game. And since composing is something I’ve been dying to do, every project that i get to work on is kind of a dream come true.
Tim: My dream project isn’t really as specific as one might think. I mostly enjoy fantasy and adventure films/games, but as long as a project has that something to give you goose bumps, this way or the other, it’s more or less my dream project. So you might consider Uncanny Valley one of my dream projects.
And there you have it! They’re certainly hitting all the right notes for me. Lone Survivor? The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo? A logic-based consequence system with branching paths? Sign me up. If any of this sounds interesting to you, consider donating on their Indiegogo page, and voting for it on Steam Greenlight. And here are those exclusive screenshots, showing Tom in some sort of surveillance room and an office. Looks like somethin’ spooky is about to go down.