March 28, 2012 5:00 AM | John Polson
[Tom Curtis wrote this story originally on Gamasutra.] While Frictional Games has built numerous horror games over the last several years, it was the 2010 release Amnesia: The Dark Descent that put the developer on the map. The game saw impressive sales, with many calling it the scariest game ever made.
It may come as a surprise, then, that Frictional isn't developing the game's sequel -- Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs. Instead, the team has handed over the project to thechineseroom, the indie studio behind the recently released IGF finalist Dear Esther.
Speaking to Gamasutra, Frictional's Thomas Grip said that while the team initially wanted to create their own Amnesia follow-up, the studio simply didn't have the resources to make a sequel on its own.
"We had the money to do so, but not enough man-power," Grip said. "Expanding the company with that much personnel didn't feel comfortable for us though and thus the idea of collaborating with somebody was born."
In Frictional's eyes, thechineseroom had already proven its knack for horror with atmospheric Source mods like Korsakovia and Dear Esther. Frictional thought the studio seemed a perfect fit for the Amnesia franchise, and soon the studio gave thechineseroom the funding, publishing support, and creative control to make an Amnesia sequel of its own.
Thechineseroom creative director Dan Pinchbeck -- a huge Amnesia fan himself -- recently sat down with Gamasutra to discuss his plans for the upcoming game. Despite his palpable enthusiasm, Pinchbeck made sure to note that he takes working with Frictional's series very, very seriously.
"There are some really big shoes to fill, so we really have to do a good job with this," he said.
The biggest challenge, he believes, will be to make a game that both retains the essence of the original Amnesia, and branches off in some entirely new directions. After all, if players already know what to expect, they won't find the game very scary.
"The thing is, if we don't frighten people as much as the original, then we've failed. But now we have to frighten people that know what to expect," Pinchbeck said. "The big design challenge is: How do we protect the things that make Amnesia great, and how do we evolve everything else to make a really fresh experience?"
The trick, he believes, is to identify what players associate with the original Amnesia, and to find ways to subvert those expectations and deliver a different -- but just as chilling -- experience.
An aesthetic of fear
In order to make A Machine for Pigs even scarier than its predecessor, Pinchbeck said one of his first goals was to invest heavily in the game' visuals. Improved visuals will not only help the game become more aesthetically interesting, it will also make its horrific content all the more unsettling.
"With this new game, we want to create a world that is so rich and dramatic and beautiful that the player is constantly torn between wanting to go around the corner to see what's there and not wanting to go around the corner because they're frightened of what's there," said Pinchbeck.
On top of the rich visuals, Pinchbeck wants A Machine for Pigs to offer a world that players can believe in. Everything in the game's environment exists for a reason, and Pinchbeck said that he wants players to explore the world, pick apart its internal logic, and "become more horrified as they think about the world more and more."
If everything comes together as planned, Pinchbeck says A Machine For Pigs -- just like its predecessor -- won't just alarm or startle players; it will disturb them at a subconscious, almost primal level. "With Amnesia, it's not just about a superficial level of fear, it's about feeling that something has burrowed into your head and is just scratching its nails at you. But you're so hooked. Inside, you're peeling away like bodies from a pile and you just can't stop yourself," said Pinchbeck.
"We want this game to be absolutely skin-crawlingly, heart-shatteringly, and nerve-jarringly terrifying -- that's the target. Everything is geared around that. Just turning people to complete ice and making them have complete meltdowns," he added.
Pinchbeck says the game is due to launch later this year, and is shooting for an appropriately spooky Halloween release.