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Obscurity Knocks

We chat to Olivier Grassiano about Microids' survival horror title Obscure, reviewed elsewhere on the site today.

There's probably some deeper hidden meaning here, but we love scaring ourselves witless at Eurogamer. Must have been something to do with seeing The Hills Have Eyes, The Omen and Amercian Werewolf In London and the like at the age of nine, or just a predisposition to terror. Whatever, any new entrant to the world of gaming horror seems to get the (blood) red carpet treatment around these parts, and Obscure is no exception. Setting itself apart from the herd as part of a new generation of teen horror games, we were curious to find out what developer Hydravision had to say and what it was trying to achieve with this surprisingly accomplished adventure. Sweet dreams...

Eurogamer Tell us about the premise of Obscure, and who are you trying to appeal to with this title?
Olivier Grassiano

With Obscure we tried to appeal to the survival horror game fans who want some thing new, and also to people who enjoy slasher movies and teen horror movies. We love all the universes around the survival horror theme and we thought that it was possible and desirable to make the genre evolve.

Eurogamer What have your influences been during the making of the game?
Olivier Grassiano

Horror movies are the basis of the background of Obscure, for example movies such as The Faculty, Final Destination, or Scream. The TV series Buffy the vampire Slayer has also inspired our work, because it mixes supernatural and spontaneity.

Although, these were not the only influences on making Obscure, for the decor, for example, we wanted creepy and fascinating environments. So we added an anachronous style to buildings and furniture. We also wanted original music (more than two hours!), which we got by blending children's voices and symphonic music.

Eurogamer What's your track record as a developer; what have you produced before?
Olivier Grassiano

Obscure is the first video game to be developed by Hydravision. As gamers who dreamed of creating video games themselves for years, they were a highly motivated team! Microïds was founded in 1985, and in 2003 fused with MC2, to form our dynamic new team, MC2-Microïds. We're proud of our history of creating, developing, editing and distributing video games for multiple platforms, such as L'Amerzone and the award-winning Syberia. We are also very proud of the new projects we are going to be presenting, not only for Xbox, PS2 and the PC, but for exciting new media as well. Most recently MC2-Microids published World War Zero and The Saga of Ryzom.

Eurogamer Where is Microids/Hydravision based and how many people have worked on the game?
Olivier Grassiano

Hydravision is located in Lille, a lovely town between London, Paris and Brussels. More than one hundred people worked on this title, with a core team of 20. MC2-Microids is located in Paris, Milan and Montreal with one hundred people, specialising in production and publishing.

Eurogamer How do you feel Obscure stands up as a game next to the established players in the genre - the Silent Hills, Resident Evils and Project Zeroes?
Olivier Grassiano

First of all, we created a fluid and spontaneous gameplay for Obscure, based on the unexplored universe of teen horror games. This feeling is quite new in a genre of complex enigmas and slow moves. You also manage a group of five students that you have to make survive, and each one has its own abilities. As in the movies the title is inspired from, you can continue the adventure, even if several characters die. But above all, Obscure is the first offline multiplayer survival horror: at any time, a second player can enter the game and take control of your teammate, with no need to connect to a server nor restart the game. This easy-to-use multiplayer mode gives a brand new experience to the survival horror genre. The soundtracks have also been selected to match perfectly to Obscure with SUM 41 and Span.

Eurogamer What can you do to break the stranglehold these games have on the genre?
Olivier Grassiano

The best way is to listen to people who were attracted to the genre the past several years and have been disappointed by some aspect of the gameplay and the lack of innovation. We also have to listen to people that have never played a survival horror game, and try to understand why they don't like it, to make the genre evolve and encounter a new audience.

Eurogamer How do you make the game genuinely scary?
Olivier Grassiano

We worked on two fronts: surprise and anxiety. With regards to the surprises, monsters can spring up from anywhere; some of them can even smash walls with no prior warning… We also worked on "off balance" effects, when a player is used to a world, he learns the rules of this world. When you break these rules you can create surprise. For example: you play for hours, and nothing has ever come from the windows. Then one time, the camera points to a corridor as usual, to make you see the monsters ahead. But, this time, the monster is not coming from ahead, but from the window besides.

And to create anxiety for Obscure we created a special effect called "Dark Aura" that surrounds the monsters and warn the player of their imminent arrival. That aura acts like a shield to the enemies, and mildews the ground, the walls, and the objects close to them. It darkens everything around, but above all, it conceals the monsters so that the player has trouble perceiving what is exactly coming to him. We do think suggestion is a very powerful asset, making things we imagine far more frightening than what we can actually see, because it comes from what we have imagined.

Eurogamer How do you feel about the puzzle-solving element of your game? Is it the main thrust of the experience, or have you placed combat as a greater priority?
Olivier Grassiano

We wanted more action than in the other survival horror titles. Even in some puzzles, we added combat. We didn't want the player's experience to be stopped by out-of-subject enigmas that were impossible to solve in less than one hour. We wanted the player to be in a constant flow of action and progression feeling.

Eurogamer Have you got any famous names to do the voice acting?
Olivier Grassiano

For some of the non-English versions, we had dubbers of famous actors, for example the dubbed voice of Elijah Wood (Lord of the Rings). For the English release, although there are no famous names we did everything we could to ensure the voice acting was of the high possible quality and this shows through in the game. We also worked hard to create an original and deep sound atmosphere. All along the production, voices, sounds and music took more and more importance in development to help us create a unique, fascinating and creepy mood. In addition to this, with the help of the official Children's Choir of the National Opera of Paris we were able to create some very spooky scenes!

Eurogamer How do you cope with players getting stuck during the game - is there an in-game hint system, or are you offering help on your website?
Olivier Grassiano

We trust fans and dedicated websites to give players as much information as they need. And don't forget that you can get help from some characters of the game (Josh and Shannon).

Eurogamer Would you say the pure adventure genre is completely dead now, or is it just morphing into a different beast?
Olivier Grassiano

Obviously, the genre is not dead, but it definitely has to evolve. We can look to cinema or television to get information about how to make the "adventure" genre become something new. Nowadays, television doesn't show only sports and news, it also broadcasts a lot of fictions of different kinds: pure action fictions, detective stories, historic or adventure epics. And each one of these styles can be broadcasted as a two-hour movie, a live action series or animated series. In the same way, adventure games can be a 2D "point and click" game or a third-person 3D console game as well, as long as these various "works of fiction" don't have their storytelling being diluted into too much action.

Eurogamer Any plans for more episodes in the Obscure series?
Olivier Grassiano

Maybe…

Eurogamer Who's responsible for the art style and what direction was he or she trying to go in?
Olivier Grassiano

Anthony Lejeune was responsible of art direction. From the beginning we wanted the player to feel like he was in an American high school. Artists therefore watched TV series, especially Boston Public, that gave them lots of information about what we had to create. But we also wanted the buildings have a strange and disturbing style. The background of the story made them think about "Art Nouveau" architecture, because of its organic shapes. For the monsters, each one is the reflection, of a teenager concern (obesity, bullying, girlfriend/boyfriend troubles etc.) although some are more obvious than others!

Obscure is due out on PS2, Xbox and PC in Europe this October 1st, and is reviewed elsewhere on the site.

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Kristan Reed avatar

Kristan Reed

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Kristan is a former editor of Eurogamer, dad, Stone Roses bore and Norwich City supporter who sometimes mutters optimistically about Team Silent getting back together.

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