Interviews

‘Uncanny Valley’: An Interview With Cowardly Creations

Cowardly Creations is bringing a new take on horror to the masses with Uncanny Valley, coming to PC in late 2014/early 2015.

Uncanny Valley is an upcoming Horror title from the talented folks at Cowardly Creations. A trait not often seen for the genre, Uncanny Valley features a “continuous story” that evolves with the player’s actions. Dubbed the “consequence system”, several elements of the plot can be altered based on how the player tackles a situation; entire sequences can be extended or missed entirely. Rather than punish the player with a lost-life or a Game Over, Uncanny Valley‘s plot actually rewards failure- accidental or not- with extra story details, frights and gameplay changes.

After a dozen-or-so runs through the demo, I had the pleasure of chatting with Cowardly Creations Game Designer and Project Leader Tadej Kupcic to discuss the fine details and inspirations behind Uncanny Valley:

Jordan Schilling: How long has Uncanny Valley been in development?

Tadej Kupcic: I’d say less than a year now, but the first few months were spent researching the idea, making a design document and getting comfortable with the tools and programming languages.

JS: Uncanny Valley includes a gameplay mechanic dubbed the “consequence system”, where the player’s actions directly affect the outcome of certain events, and how Tom controls. Could you elaborate more on this system?

TK: It basically consists of two things:

1. Story decisions. Sometimes you will be able to influence the story by choosing something, knowingly or not. But we also want the player to influence the story with decisions that won’t continue the story as we planned, so you can escape the facility if you want, or kill supporting characters. Nothing is stopping you- what you do is canon for your story.

2. Every situation can be solved with at least two different solutions. We set an example in the demo where you can escape a room by pushing the cart and breaking the door, or by going into the vents. If you break down the door, you are instantly caught because you’re loud. If you go through the vents, it’s a smarter solution and you can actually sneak past the enemy before it alerts everyone else. So small things will also have consequences.

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JS: Will the consequence system play into the story on a larger scale, to the point where players might experience completely different sections of the story?

TK: Sometimes an event will occur later, sooner or not at all and sometimes it will give you new levels to explore, so yes.

JS: The demo itself can end in one of many ways; will the final release include multiple endings for players to discover?

TK: There is one ending we consider canon, as it’s an awesome ending and the first one we came up with. But there are other endings, yes.

JS: Will the gameplay focus entirely on stealth and puzzle-solving, or will there also be instances where the player can defend himself/herself against the horrors of Tom’s nightmares?

TK: You can also fight back on a couple of occasions if you want, or if you didn’t screw up before. Saying anything else would be a spoiler.

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JS: What environments can players expect to explore?

TK: As you can see in the demo, it’s not just the facility. There are also city sections, some surreal dream sections, facility exteriors (forest, generators) and an apartment building nearby of the facility where the employees lived. The whole design of the game is logical and you’ll explore rooms that would exist in a real remote facility.

JS: As hinted at in the demo, in what ways will Tom’s nightmares affect his perception of the “real world”?

TK: Actually, the consequence system comes into play there as well. The dreams are also some sort of flashbacks, and the story will adjust to what kind of decisions you make in the dreams, meaning everything is not pre-determined.

JS: Tom also has a lazy, day-shift counterpart at his job; will Buck be playable at any point?

TK: Maaaaybe.

JS: During the development process, how do you determine what players may consider to be “scary”, especially when the targeted audience has extremely varied tastes?

TK: I’ve seen a lot of horror, up to the point where nothing scares me anymore. So I try to think of stuff that scares me; for example, the stalking section in the demo, where someone is following you.

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JS: Were there any influences from movies, novels or other media that you guys took to heart when creating Uncanny Valley?

TK: The inspirations are from a lot of movies. The story is inspired by real events (No I won’t say which- that would spoil it!), but everything else we’re doing is taken from countless movies, video games and books. [The] Silent Hill series is a huge inspiration for the gameplay/atmosphere, [the] Alone in the Dark (2008) game had a lot of world interactivity which we want to do. As for movies, there’s a small gem called Tourist Trap which deals with a lot of puppets and mannequins.

JS: Which Horror theme do you find is more effective- the persistent anticipation of dread, or the up-close-and-personal assault of nightmarish creatures and abominations?

TK: Both actually. You must have a build up to the up and close section. In the demo, we wanted to surprise the player and attack him right away, which was completely unexpected; people expect some sort of a tutorial section first, but no, we just threw everything we had at him. But right after that, we had a slow, exploration section, but people were afraid because they expected something to murder them again, which made them tense and scared. We used the same tactic a bit after, where players can watch video tapes. They watched a video tape, saw some creepy things going on in some apartment room and then they went in the same room. Most people just said “nope nope nope” and went out, expecting something to attack them.

JS: Horror games can often get away with vivid, grotesque imagery as part of their content- it’s practically the norm. However, at what point is the imagery considered “too much”; at what point do you think content might cross the line?

TK: It’s art- it can never cross the line as long as the content isn’t there just for the shock value, but has some story behind it.

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JS: Does the low-polygon presentation allow you to do more with the game in terms of unsettling content, without crossing the line?

TK: Our game isn’t too gory, so it doesn’t matter in our case, but yes, I think it actually helps. Silent Hill 1 is a very dated and pixelated game, but the player’s imagination replaces those bad textures; the player, looking back, remembers things more vividly than he would if the game was super-HD and detailed. This is something we’re trying to achieve with Uncanny Valley as well.

JS: How do you feel about the underlying shift of the Horror genre becoming more “Action-Game-Featuring-Horror-Themes”?

TK: There’s a difference between “survival horror” and “horror”. I don’t mind horror games being more “actiony” (like Dead Space or newly released The Evil Within), but I’d like to see some “true” survival horror games as well. I think Alien: Isolation did quite well on that aspect – it wasn’t just a stealth game, but you actually collected resources and used them a lot to distract the alien, androids and humans. I also have high hopes for the upcoming Silent Hills and Fatal Frame V. So games like that give me hope that the future will consist of both straight up horror shooters and actual survival horror games.

JS: The demo is currently available through the Cowardly Creations website, and Uncanny Valley has been Greenlit on Steam; will it be available on any other outlets?

TK: Yes, we’re already setting up our pages on Humble Bundle and Desura.

For those interested in checking out the demo, the Windows version is currently available as a free download through the Cowardly Creations website. The full version is also available for pre-order for €6.99 ($8.83 USD), and is scheduled to release sometime in late 2014/early 2015.

Images courtesy of Cowardly Creations

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