We had a chance to chat Penumbra and beyond with Frictional Games in Stockholm.
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During our time at the Paradox Interactive press event we had a chance to chat with Frictional Games regarding the release of Penumbra Collection, which includes the entire trilogy and has enjoyed respectable acclaim across the board.
We talked about the difficulties of working as such a small team, stressful physics calculations and their next game due out later this year as well as the powerful influence of The Blair Witch Project.
Strategy Informer: Where did the idea for Penumbra come from?
Frictional Games: The initial idea for Penumbra was to make a survival horror without so much violence and having all the things the other games have like nasty monsters. We wanted to have something different, but still have the survival horror formula: exploring the environments and so on, but that’s what our main inspiration was really.
Good old flashlight. Where would we be without you?
Good old glowstick. You’re almost as valuable as a flashlight.
Strategy Informer: Frictional Games is made up of four people. How difficult was it to make a game as complicated as Penumbra with just the four of you?
Frictional Games: First of all, we’re all full-time and we also outsource to other people such as the writer and musician, but we have to build a lot of roles to make it all work, so someone takes care of the finances, sound and scripts the level, updates the web pages and programmes the game engine and takes care of signing and that sort of thing. So, a lot of roles to fill, but that’s part of the fun of it. Yeah, it’s hard work but it’s fun at the same time (laughs).
Strategy Informer: Does it ever get a bit maddening when, with all of the complex physics calculations you have going on, problems crop up with the engine that you have to keep solving. Can that become a frustrating and stressful thing?
Frictional Games: There’re a lot of things that can go wrong and sometimes you just have to pull your hair out as you can see! (laughs). Trying to solve it, trying to find ways to get around it, sometimes we have to redo the physics altogether and it’s also fun knowing that we’re sort of breaking new ground to some extent, so it’s fun to feel that we’re on the edge of something, doing new things and so on. You’re right, though, it can be quite maddening getting it all to work in time properly.
Strategy Informer: Some would argue that this is quite a low profile game, being developed by such a small, independent studio. Was the success of the game a surprise or did you always have an inkling that Penumbra would be something quite special?
Frictional Games: When we first released the tech demo we weren’t sure that this was something anyone would like and this was when it was still a school project, so we were really surprised when so many people liked it and so many people said it was good and so on. I’m still surprised that I can carry on making a living out of making our own game, but that I think was the most important thing, knowing enough people liked it that so it wasn’t such a surprise to know that we could sell the game!
Strategy Informer: What games would you credit with being an influence upon Penumbra?
Frictional Games: It’s hard to pinpoint any single game, but everything from text-based and interactive fiction games to newer survival horror games like Silent Hill and so on influenced us in the making of Penumbra.
Strategy Informer: And did you have any cinematic influences at all for Penumbra?
Frictional Games: I think Blair Witch Project is something that really comes to mind, not only in the ‘don’t show the monster’ thing that they have but also the whole low budget thing in that you can make something really cool with low production values. That’s a big inspiration not only style-wise, but also knowing that if they could do something that effective with such a small budget then we can do the same thing with our game.
This is where it all begins, in a freezing cold cabin where swinging the lantern on a chain consumes most of your time.
Hate to state the obvious, but wow, Penumbra is dark.
Strategy Informer: Is the release of the Penumbra Collection a full stop on the series or do you have plans to continue with the series later on?
Frictional Games: Right now we have no plans to start making a new Penumbra game – we’re through with it for now - but who knows what will happen in the future?
Strategy Informer: There’s been mention of a new horror-based game that you’re making. Can you tell us a bit more about that?
Frictional Games: It’s set in the 18th Century and it takes the player to this strange old castle where you have to explore all of these environments and learn certain stuff while doing so. It’s going to be more action-based (than Penumbra). It’s not going to be like running around shooting stuff but it’s still going to have this slower pacing and so on, but it is going to be more action-based. In Penumbra you had the stop-and-solve-a-puzzle moments then you’d move on, this time we want you to always be moving forward, make it more fluid and concentrate more on adventuring and exploring. When it comes to the whole 18th Century setting we want to have huge scenery, things like big cogwheels and stuff as opposed to the more computerised stuff like security cards and that kind of thing from Penumbra. In the new game we want to have more big things to move round and I think that will be more interesting for the physics. We’ve also made the physics a lot better, simpler and more intuitive when it comes to messing around with them.
Strategy Informer: Has the success you’ve had with Penumbra given you a lot more resources at your disposal for the new game?
Frictional Games: Yeah, we have a larger team than we had before. We have for example, a full-time programmer to develop tools, to devote time and really take care of the engine and so on, so basically the biggest part is the whole creative and pre-production things that we can do at this point and we can take our time to build a prototype and test out different stuff that we didn’t really have on Penumbra.
Strategy Informer: This is a standard question that I always ask, but can you ever see Penumbra making the leap to consoles?
Frictional Games: Perhaps not Penumbra: nothing is impossible, but with the new game we may try to add control pad support and we are certified Xbox 360 developers, so while we’re not going to be making any 360 games tomorrow, in the future we’re very willing to do something.
Strategy Informer: Something like Penumbra might actually do quite well on the Xbox 360. What do you think?
Frictional Games: There’d be some things that you’d have to fix with the system and so on, but yeah, sure. We just don’t think there’s a market there for this kind of more mature horror game, but if there was, then yeah, definitely.
Strategy Informer: Finally, can you reveal the working title for your new game or is that strictly under wraps?
Frictional Games: Since it’s still not one hundred percent decided, we would like to keep it until we have the big announcement with some stuff to show.
Someone really ought to mop that floor.
Can Lux Tenebra (working title) live up to Penumbra’s slow-burn scares?
Strategy Informer: Can you tell us when that big announcement might be?
Frictional Games: In the near future. We’re currently wrapping up the prototypes, so anytime soon. I can’t say exactly because we don’t want to disappoint (laughs).
Strategy Informer: Thank-you for your time.
Frictional Games’ new working title has recently been revealed as Lux Tenebras and is tentatively slated for release some time this year.