With its tense atmosphere and creepy horror mystery narrative, Those Who Remain had been a title we were curious about. Ahead of our review, we reached out to developer Camel 101 to find out more about the game and the things that inspired it. Here’s what they had to say.
How did the idea for Those Who Remain come about?
Our last projects were all sci-fi themed, so this time we wanted to get a bit more down to earth, literally speaking.
The very first basic idea was that we wanted to do something playing around with lights. The player couldn’t go into the dark (because of some supernatural reason), and he would have to find light sources to clear paths through the dark.
While the idea sounded really cool on paper, it didn’t quite work when we tried it out, as it was almost impossible to visually explain to the player where safety ended and danger started – light gets gradually darker, there’s not really a line that separates from light to dark.
So then we thought, what if there are creatures in the dark? It won’t be darkness itself that kills, but the creatures that roam in the dark. We were working on the narrative at the same time, and these creatures connected really well and made a lot of sense with the story that we were writing.
That’s basically how it started.
We still wanted to add a new layer of complexity to the gameplay, so we had the idea of creating an alternate dimension that would be like a twisted version of our own reality, almost like a mirror. And what happens in one reality, affects the other.
Narrative-wise, we didn’t want to tell just another haunted house / ghost story. Our idea was to have complex characters with an emotional storyline that could somehow resonate with the players. We like to play around with morality, to have the player questioning and thinking about what’s right or wrong. In real life nothing’s black and white, everything’s in shades of grey. In Those Who Remain, it’s the exact same thing.
In a game like this, atmosphere is paramount. What are some of the games and movies that inspired you visually?
The biggest influences actually came from movies and tv shows. Dormont, the fictional town where the action takes place, is heavily inspired by things like Twin Peaks. Just like Twin Peaks, Dormont seems like a happy and peaceful place where nothing special happens, but is in fact hiding dark secrets just underneath the surface. I’m a huge fan of David Lynch’s work, especially the way that he blends simple everyday things with all that surreal weirdness that’s so typical of him, and so we tried to capture that feeling too.
Stranger Things was another major influence in the setting. We were playing around with the notion of having portals and different dimensions when we first started designing the game. That was around the time that Stranger Things came along, and when we saw the ‘upside down’, we thought that that was exactly what we were aiming for. So we created our own alternate dimension, that’s almost like a twisted version of our own reality, basically like an inverted mirror. And what happens in one side of the mirror, directly affects the other.
The shadow creatures that roam in the dark are reminiscent of the ghosts from John Carpenter’s ‘The Fog’. The town of Dormont also has a retro classical look, and so the audio design matches these visuals too, almost throwing back to the 80’s.
There are other influences, of course. We are horror geeks and we watch, play and read a lot of stuff. We did include several references and Easter eggs in the game – our way of paying homage to stuff that we love.
Those Who Remain is more narrative-driven than previous Camel 101 titles. What did this mean for the development process?
It was a really cool experience. One of the reasons that made us not include combat, was that we wanted to focus on other aspects of the game. That means different gameplay mechanics and more narrative focus.
That doesn’t mean that a game with combat can’t have a narrative – it just means that combat usually becomes the focus of the game.
With Those Who Remain we wanted to create an emotional story with believable and humane characters that the player could relate to. The main character, Edward, is a flawed person who’s made quite a few mistakes – when the game starts, he’s heading to a motel to meet his lover. You could say that he’s not the classic hero you usually see in videogames.
Real people have flaws and make mistakes, and that’s what we tried to do here. Everyone in the game has their issues, no one is perfect – just like in real life.
We also wanted to tell a story that would somehow resonate with people. Instead of making yet another haunted house thing, we wanted to tell a story that could address sensitive subjects, and hopefully stay on the player’s mind after finishing the game. Videogames are a perfect vehicle to talk about certain things like bullying, infidelity or suicide – and that’s what we did here.
The whole premise of the game is choices and consequences, so we wanted the player to feel the weight of his actions too, meaning that there are three different endings based on the player’s choices.
How are you approaching the concept of a branching narrative?
The player has to make a few choices throughout the game. Some are more important than others, it’s up to him to find out which ones and why.
These choices affect the ending, but there’s not a different branch after something is done – everything still happens the same way until the very end of the game.
The “fear the dark” concept in the game is strong. What are some of the ways you’re implementing this?
That’s true. We really want to appeal to that primal fear of the dark with this game.
Soon after the adventure starts, the player is introduced to the shadow figures that roam in the darkness, waiting to attack and kill whoever gets close. These figures are always surrounding the player, always following him with their gaze. If it’s dark, they’re there.This creates a palpable tension that unnerves the player – he never feels completely safe, even when he’s standing in the light, because he knows that all it takes is for a lamp to fail or a lightbulb to explode.
This is so much more effective than jump scares. Jump scares last a moment; an oppressive and dangerous atmosphere last a whole playthrough.
Roughly how long do you expect a playthrough of the game to be?
I would say the first playthrough should be around five to six hours.