Tim Newsome-Ward & Darren Flowers Interview (Desktop Daydreams)

The Corridor

Life after Kickstarter: Catching up with The Corridor

Around this time last year, I happened across a rather interesting indie horror game called The Corridor: On Behalf of the Dead. Developed by Bradford-based indie studio Desktop Daydreams, it’s a 3D first-person horror game coming to PC and Xbox One, and, if I may say so myself, I think it looks pretty damn cool.

You haven’t heard of it? Allow me to bring you up to speed. The game places you in the shoes of Ri Anderson, a Custodian (think a neurological Sherlock Holmes mixed with equal parts Judge Dredd and Inception‘s Dom Cobb and you’re on the right lines) who has to enter the mind of a suspected murderer and navigate through their various memories to get to the truth of a (probably rather grisly) murder case. This process of entering minds and poking about with their memories is facilitated with the use of a special program called The Corridor (think The Matrix‘s VR program, only with less gun-blasting lobby scenes and designer sunglasses and more creepy monsters and mind-bending madness). As the name might suggest, the program displays the suspect’s mind to the Custodian as a virtual corridor, which acts as a hub area from which the player accesses the various scattered memories of the subject. I say scattered, because the order in which they are accessed is randomised each playthrough. The player has to navigate their way through mysterious mental echoes to find important clues, avoid creatures and gradually build up a case of evidence in order to make a final judgement on the suspect at the climax of the game.

Sounds neat right? Intrigued by the game and its curious cognitive concepts, I previously spoke to the game’s Designer, Tim Newsome-Ward, on the eve of the game’s August 2014 Kickstarter campaign to find out more. Although the game generated positive media coverage, was selected for Steam Greenlight and picked up plenty of new fans along the way, in the end the project sadly didn’t reach its minimum funding goal. Since then we haven’t heard much from the Desktop Daydreamers, and to an outsider, it looked like the lights might have ultimately been switched off on The Corridor for good.

Thankfully, I can tell you right now that this is definitely not the case. I once again met with Tim and his colleague Darren Flowers, Desktop Daydream’s Creative Director, to talk about what’s new with The Corridor, and it sounds like things are very much full scream (sorry) ahead.

Pig Head

“It’s a been a tough road,” laughs Tim good-naturedly as he nurses a hot cup of coffee, “We’re still going strong even though we’ve had a rollercoaster ride at the beginning of this year.” It’s a bright sunny Bradford morning when I meet Tim and Darren, and in contrast to their pleasant and cheery company, the nice weather and the plush furnishings of Waterstones’ cafe, I’m about to learn just how dark and tough this rollercoaster ride through the harsh reality of indie development has been for the tiny two-person studio. I kick things off with a rather unsophisticated opening question; what happened next after the Kickstarter failed?

“We had to think positively,” Tim recalls. “Steam have given us the okay, so we thought look, let’s keep working on the game keep pushing as far as we can.” Their resolve to keep going in the face of adversity is even more impressive when it’s revealed that the team’s programmer left the project at the end of last year. “We got to Christmas, and then our coder Chris left, so we lost our technical side. As a designer I’m part technical and part arty, and Daz is full art on the creative side of things, so we just thought oh shit!” he laughs. “We’ve known Chris since university, and we mean no disrespect to him; he had other things to do and his own financial concerns to deal with. He had to move on. We still talk to him and he’s still interested in working with us at some point, but basically he couldn’t dedicate the time that we needed and that’s fair enough.”

Chris’ departure inexorably forced the team into the unenviable position of having to find a new programmer – fast. “Everything we’d done up to that point was just a prototype, there were no solid or fixed frameworks; everything was hashed together to get a playable idea down. What we really needed was someone who could come in and tackle the engineering side of things. Someone to come in, take the reins and tell us what we need to do from a tech standpoint. We were humming and hawing for ages, but eventually we just turned to the community to see if there was anyone who liked the idea. We set up a post on the Unity forums at the beginning of this year which contained a few screenshots and the basic premise of the game.”

Little did they know however, that their programming soulmate was just around the digital corner. “We got tons of replies from coders, so it took a while to sift through all these applications. Eventually, we contacted Tony Li from Pixel Crushers in the States – he’s been fantastic as he bought into the whole idea and just gets what we’re going for completely. There was just something about Tony that made you know he was going to deliver; he was very much to the point and he came across with a lot of confidence. He was really good because he just knew what we needed and was totally professional. We sent Tony the GDD (Game Design Document) and he read through it and said what would work and what wouldn’t. We actually ended up ripping out more or less everything we’d started with and started again from scratch.”

On top of the personnel setbacks, another big concern from a technical standpoint was the game’s engine. Up to this point, The Corridor had been developed using Unity 4, but the release of the shiny new Unity 5 engine in March 2015 posed an enticing, but costly temptation for Desktop Daydreams. “Unity 5 had just launched and we thought wow, that looks nice! We’d already built a lot of the game in Unity 4 by this point – we had about five or six full levels finished and looking nice with the physically based shading kit, so we set these up in another test project and started converting them over to Unity 5.”

The decision to move things over to the newly announced Unity 5 was a particularly agonising choice for Darren. “I went kicking and screaming into Unity 5!” he laughs. “I didn’t want to do it at all, because there’s only two of us tackling this side of the game, so to completely changeover from Unity 4 to 5 would be a lot of work. We’d both put so much time into the game already, but were at a point with Unity 4 where I think we’d pushed it to its limits.”

Nevertheless, as Darren explains to me their visual aims for the game, it certainly sounds like all the extra work that went into migrating the project over to Unity 5 was well worth the trouble. “The main thing we had to be sure of was that it would be visually acceptable. We’ve set ourselves quite a high mantle – we’re not skimping anywhere, and if there’s something that doesn’t look right then we do it again. At first, when opening what we’d already made in Unity 4 in the new engine, it didn’t quite have that ‘wow’ factor, despite all the new shaders, lighting and textures in there. Now though, there’s nothing of the original game left – we’ve rebuilt everything, and it all just looks totally different and so much better now. We’ve worked on levels where we’ve completed everything, and then decided it’s not good enough, so we scrap everything and start again. It can be quite tearful binning something that you’ve spent the past six months working on, but we’ve had to do it because we want the game to look and feel the best that it possibly can.”

Basically, we started the whole game again, and reassessed everything,” Tim adds.With the new lighting, everything has this new realistic look to it because of the new physically based shaders and stuff, it works really well. It feels a lot more in line with other games that are already out there, but it’s going to take more time yet. We’re getting to a point where in the next few days we’ll be at the Alpha stage, all the in-game systems and mechanics are present and working. We’ve still got to do a lot of work in terms of getting levels and memories working, and getting the actual gameplay of those levels up to scratch, but because all the base frameworks are in place that will be a lot easier now. Looking back, we’ve done the right thing moving to Unity 5 because we think that we’ve got a much better game now as a result.”

With a new programmer in place, and the migration from Unity 4 to 5 well underway, Desktop Daydreams’ next move was to seek out potential publishers. Tim and Darren reached out to Microsoft, specifically their ID@Xbox program, who were quick to help step in and support the game. “We thought about what we needed to do next and decided to approach Xbox One and the ID@Xbox team. Having been Greenlit on Steam gave us a bit of leverage, and Xbox shipped us through the ID@Xbox onboarding process really quickly. We’ve got the XDKs, they sent the kit out really fast. It was really surprising and nice because they wanted to see a bit of the game, some screenshots and what figures we’d got from Steam. They were really good and supportive – it was like wow, we’ve got some kit from Xbox, even though we haven’t really got anything solid to show yet! I think they just saw the idea, thought that it was good and decided to get us onboard.”

Understandably in light of the tumultuous events, the game’s release window has now been delayed to Spring 2016. “Originally, we were aiming to have the game out by Christmas of this year, but with all the setbacks with losing staff and upgrading to Unity 5, it’s pushed us over into next year. I think towards the first quarter of next year, around April-ish hopefully. It’s going to be another few months before we get to Beta, but once we’ve signed off on the Alpha and we’re happy with everything, the Beta will progress pretty quickly as it’ll just be a case of building levels, building the gameplay in those levels, getting the story working and then testing it all. Testing is a big phase though, so we’re thinking of trying a closed Beta. We would like to do an open Beta, but with the game being so story-focused, we don’t want the narrative to get out there and onto YouTube before the finished thing is actually out and ruin it for people. We might release some specific playthrough videos or small slices of trailer footage, but it’s tricky because of course we want people to play it, but we also don’t want to give away the story. When you’ve only really got two people working full-time on a game and you’re going for top quality on all parts of it, then it does take time. It’s all part of the cycle of development; it’s been hard work, but we’re getting there.”

“We’ve been working on this for so long, and we’ve had such a knockback with the changeover to Unity 5 – all those events have put us back at least six months or so at least – that we don’t want all the people who helped us get through Steam Greenlight to forget that we’re still bringing this game out,” Darren earnestly attests. “Hopefully the game will have matured a lot, and it’s now just about giving us the time to get the finished thing out. But hey, these things happen when you’re making your own game with basically just two people and no budget!”

Without a central office for the team to work out of, there’s also a pressing need to keep morale levels up amongst everyone on the team. As well as Tony, Tim and Darren also regularly collaborate with animator Andreea Lintaru, but due to both geographic and chronological concerns, it’s hard to find time when everybody is free to touch base. “I think for a team to successfully work virtually without an office, everyone needs to be self-disciplined and have that drive to get up and do what you need to do,” says Tim. “Otherwise, you’re going to lose motivation and it’s just not going to work. Thankfully though, the DIY attitude of indie development certainly seems to have focused the team’s ongoing efforts, and kept them a close-knit group. “We’ve been working on the game for over two years now. We’re such a small team for a project of this scope and we’ve got to do everything ourselves. It’s an exciting process, but in terms of finance we’re running on fumes really. It can be a strain at times, but that’s also part of the fun of it all; you can only rely on yourself to get everything done. Daz tackles the creative side of things and I do the design, Tony writes the code and Andy animates. It’s how it is, you’ve got to learn what you need to do and just get things done.”

Spider Man

With the main pieces of Desktop Daydreams’ story over the last year in place, our conversation moves onto more specific details about the state of The Corridor itself. As a story-heavy singleplayer horror game with a mixture of linear and non-linear parts, I’m keen to hear how they still plan to get these potentially conflicting narrative elements working together cohesively. “We want it to be different to your typical linear video game story even though you’ll play it linearly with junction points where you’ll be able to choose your path,” Tim tells me.

“We had an idea first that when the player moves through these memory booths, you’d end up in a completely random level, but we decided that to get it right it just wouldn’t be a practical thing for a team of our size to do. So instead we decided to come up with a set amount of levels and really, really polish them.”

Interestingly, Tim explains how they have looked to real world brain psychology for inspiration when designing the structure of these in-game memories. “How would you access the memories in somebody else’s mind? Would you randomly access these memories, or would they come to you in some sort of structure? Could you travel back through that mind again and go to a different memory? Thinking in terms of the science behind real life memory engrams, we don’t really know how they work or how they are stored in the brain, so we built that idea into the in-game science and lore of The Corridor. The game might give you two hatches to go through, each taking you different ways – so that concept plays into how this virtual mental corridor is structured. We came up with the idea to have these branching points where you have to make a choice, and then once you’ve played through a memory, you’ll go back to the main path.”

“As you choose your own path through the game, you might do or see something in a memory that might influence how you perceive the story, and your decision process might be completely different if you went another way. You are going into these different memories at various branching points, and although it might feel disjointed along the way, when you get to the end you’ll be able to look back and piece it all together.”

While we’re on the topic of jumping into people’s minds and rooting through their memories and whatnot, I ask how the process of integrating Oculus Rift support is going. Unfortunately, although the whole premise of The Corridor makes it an ideal fit for VR, sadly it sounds like things are still at an early stage here. We haven’t got any of the Oculus kits at the moment,” admits Tim, “but we’ve also not really been at the stage where we felt like we needed one just yet. It’s still something we really want to do though, because I think it adds to that feeling of immersion we want. We’ve been building the levels with a 60fps target in mind, so things have already been optimised a lot for VR. It’s a time consuming process, but we’re getting there.”

Aside from the general narrative concerns, another big challenge for the two developers is designing a horror game around the personal and mutable tastes of its players. “We’re trying to scare people – that’s our main aim really, but it’s such a subjective thing. What do you do exactly?” Darren muses.

“Creating a universal fear is a very hard thing to achieve,” adds Tim. “We’ve done a lot of research into different types of horror, and ultimately fear is a relative thing to each person. People take their own personal fears and experiences into the games they play. Jumpscares are probably going to be a scary factor for some people, but we don’t want to overuse them as a mechanic.”

“A lot of games rely purely on jumpscares, but I find that once I’ve had one or two thrown at me then I just quickly get used to them,” interjects Darren. “It’s about keeping that fear in the player throughout the game. We’re almost trying to get people frightened of themselves. They might walk into a room and see something and make a decision based on what they’ve seen. Later on, it might turn out that they made completely the wrong decision, and we might try to make that realisation a bit upsetting. We want people to be aware of what they’re doing within the game’s environments all the time. Getting that idea to work within a horror framework is quite hard.”

“That’s why a lot of horror games don’t work, because they probably don’t have that level of fear to them.” Tim reasons. “It’s all about getting that uneasy feeling of being somewhere you don’t ever really feel comfortable. Some horror games are largely about the combat and the blood etc., but for us I think the important word isn’t so much horror, but fear. One of our main points of reference which we always go back to is Silent Hill. That first game had that feeling of constant dread, you never really knew what was coming, you never felt safe at any time – that’s the atmosphere we’re aiming for. It’s not necessarily about being anxious of dying, but rather capturing that feeling of tension and discomfort and sustaining it throughout an entire game.”

Darren suggests that a crucial factor in effectively creating and sustaining anxiety in the player is the aesthetic design of the world. “A lot of that goes back to the environment design. For example, one of my favourite bits from the first Resident Evil is the part where you move the bookcase in the Dormitory and go down into this flooded chamber just before you reach Neptune’s Aqua Ring. The creepy music playing in the room before you get to the flooded lab was so effective and it just sent shivers up and down my spine. It’s about creating that sense of fear and eeriness and having it pervade throughout the game continuously; We’re trying to create similar moments and memories in The Corridor that will hopefully stick with players for a similarly long time.”

“I think above all, you’ve got to capture that feeling of the unknown, so we want the environments to be as diverse as possible. They might throw unexpected things your way, so it’s not just about what you’re seeing and what you feel, but also questioning the nature of the spaces that you’re in as well. Am I actually in this environment or is it something else? One minute you might be outside, one minute you might be in something very cartoony, but they’ve all got that element of horror running through them, that similar atmosphere of fear that we’re after. Silent Hill did it with the radio static; if you were near to a creature you’d get the static crackling through on the portable radio. You might not even be able to see what you were close to, but it still sent that shiver down your spine.”

Silent Hill has not only inspired the team artistically, but also in regard to what elements aren’t necessary for The Corridor – such as a combat system.

“The only thing I didn’t really gel with in the game was the combat. You’d find a creature and have to batter it to death with a dodgy stick! It just felt like it was taking something away from the mood for me,” Darren reasons.

That’s one of the reasons we didn’t want to put combat in The Corridor,” Tim affirms. “A full combat is not in the game because we’re trying to keep things true to the story of the game. The player’s character is attached to a machine that connects them to another person’s mind, and you’re entering their thoughts and walking through a virtually constructed representation of their memories to see what they’ve done and to find evidence of a potential crime. Would you really be there to fight things? Would you be there to shoot and kill? Your character is more of an observer, but would you still have to defend yourself from this other mind? We’ve gone through all these questions so many times! Thinking along those lines, we’ve come up with a scenario where you might come across a gun or weapon, but it might not be necessarily for shooting something or someone. If you fire off the gun, then you might actually just ruin the puzzle it was the solution to.”

Having said that, the team has experimented with the idea of a combat system to see how it could function. “We’ve temporarily got guns in the current game at the minute actually,” Tim reveals. “You can run round and shoot at stuff as part of a test mode we’ve built, and it is quite cool to have those weapons in there to see what combat in the game would be like. But we’ve got to be realistic and remember that to build an entire combat system with such a small team and to suitably balance the levels to accommodate combat would be a real strain on our already limited resources. It’s also a question of whether the game actually needs all this stuff?”

Darren jumps in right away to answer. “I don’t think it does. I remember playing Doom 3 for the first time and I was petrified. There was a time where I walked through a dark room and I could hear something breathing next to me, and when I got a tiny bit of light in there I could just see this bloke stood next to me! He didn’t do anything, but still, that moment was very creepy! The moment the combat started though I just lost interest in the game as it was not really what I wanted anymore. I really liked that emphasis on the fear element, I liked the uncomfortable feeling that you got from the characters and the environment.”

Angel Statue

I get a particularly insightful look into Tim and Darren’s different design philosophies when the topic of Konami’s cancelled P.T. comes up in our chat. Specifically, it’s talk of P.T.‘s metagame puzzles which sparks up an ongoing debate the two developers are still currently working through for their own game about how much help should be offered to the player in a game via the user interface. Darren wants to create a totally immersive experience in The Corridor, one that doesn’t overtly direct or influence the player by highlighting items or displaying textual hints whatsoever.

I like that feeling of total immersion where there’s just the barest minimum of UI elements present to guide the player. I like to know what I’m doing in a game without being explicitly told what I’m supposed to be doing. For example, if you see an item such as a book, if it’s part of the game you might be able to interact with it, if it’s not, you can’t. I don’t like it when you walk into a room and you’ve got two or three objects that you’re obviously supposed to interact with and they’re all shining brightly. Personally, I’d rather have those items not so directly indicated to the player,” he says.

On the other hand, Tim would prefer the UI to subtly call out important items and offer additional information to the player when necessary. “It’s about finding that balance. A lot of games will highlight important items in the game world, and we’re trying to work out what the best method is of calling out important items to the player. Do you highlight or put a glow around an item, do you change the cursor to a hand icon when it’s hovering over it? Do you put important items in more light, do you design that room in such a way that the items stand out? Do you make them aesthetically pleasing, or do you put a little red carpet running right up to each thing? There are good examples of this in games like Bioshock, where important primary narrative items had that golden glow to them, where secondary pickups like ammo and audio diaries had more of a subtle silvery shimmer. If you’re going for a totally immersive experience though, where the idea is to put the player into the game as if they were actually there, then you don’t want to have those sort of effects present. It’s a hard thing to get right!”

Darren suggests that a careful ‘less is more’ approach to the level and item design is vital for such a stripped down UI to work. “Basically it means that you’ve got to put less clutter in a room. If you put too many things in one area and people are searching absolutely everywhere, they will likely get bored, so the trick is to put less items into the environments but make them more meaningful and clear.

It’s fascinating to see how the two guys go back and forth on this tricky issue. Ultimately, they tell me that they’ve decided to go with a traditional UI and hint system, and give the players who want a hands-off experience the option to turn all UI hints off. “In The Corridor, we’re going to put the option in of being able to turn off visual hints in the user interface, so if you want you can play through without any overt visual feedback to guide you through the game,” elaborates Tim. “It’s been a point of contention, but some players will want that sort of fully immersive experience, while others will want more direction.”

“At the same time, we don’t want people to get totally stuck, to the point where it becomes frustrating. If the player has been working around for five hours and just can’t find the solution to a puzzle then you can just turn the hints back on again. I remember playing games like the original Tomb Raider, where I’d be looking for a missing cog puzzle piece for about four or five days! By that point I just didn’t want to play anymore, but then once I finally found the missing cog it was simply the best thing ever!” he laughs.

As we finish our coffees and our conversation draws to a close, Darren speaks about reconciling the contradictory schools of thought around what constitutes good indie game design. “I was reading something the other day on Facebook from Ga-Ma-Yo where one lad was giving some advice, which was basically when you make a game you need to make it for yourself. Then somebody else said no, that’s totally wrong, you need to make it for everybody! I think we’ve done a bit of both; we’ve made a game that we’d like to play but we’ve also tried to do a game that other people would really want to play as well.

Tim echoes his sentiment. “We have to be realistic. It’s bad to say it, but we’re running a business, we’re trying to make a living doing this, and you’ve got to consider the market. You’ve got to make something people want to play, something that people will want to pay money for. When you’re an indie developer, you’ve got to do something a little bit different to put yourself out there, and people will pay for quality. The good thing is that now we’ve got all the core mechanics working, it’s more a case of just building assets now and getting them all working correctly. The end product will hopefully be something that gamers will absolutely love to play.”

At the end of the day,” Darren laughs “we wouldn’t be here if we didn’t love gaming. It’d be great to get a game out there that we were involved in that people enjoy. But loads and loads of money would also be alright as well, I’ve got a wife and two small children to feed!”

Here’s hoping 2016 goes plain sailing for Desktop Daydreams. You can follow Tim and Darren’s progress over @desktopdaydream on Twitter, and keep an eye glued to their website and Steam Greenlight page for the latest updates.

Tim Newsome-Ward Interview – Desktop Daydreams

The Corridor - Brain Tank

The Corridor: On Behalf of the Dead is Desktop Daydream’s first major 3D project, and it’s currently on Kickstarter and Steam Greenlight. The Yorkshire-based (Ilkley, to be precise) studio’s game concept definitely tickles my fancy in terms of what I look for in a good horror title; an oppressive atmosphere, with emphasis on mood and tension over cheap jump scares and an interesting story at it’s core.

You play as Ri, a specialist mental detective known as a Custodian, who has to enter the mind of a suspected serial killer, using the eponymous corridor technology of the title in order to find evidence of their crimes – think something along the lines of Christopher Nolan’s Inception, only in this game you’re going into the subject’s mind to find evidence, not to plant pesky ideas as it were. Oh, and there’s also a freaky plague doctor, a creepy baby and a grotesquely fat mechanical spider-legged man wandering around in there as well to keep you company. Lovely.

I got the chance to sit down with Desktop Daydream’s Studio Director, Tim Newsome-Ward, and talk in-depth about their game, the inspiration behind it, and how horror fans can expect to be scared out of their minds…quite literally I suppose in this case.

TB (Tom Bennett): How did you first get started in the industry?

TNW (Tim Newsome-Ward): I never thought about getting into the industry until about 2007-ish. I’m a massive gamer and gaming fan, I’ve been hugely into games all my life. I was working on a building site for my brother who’s a contractor, and I thought, I’m a bit bored, I need to do something with my life, but what did I want to do exactly? That was the question.

I had worked in IT, and built computers and things like that, so I was a bit technical, but it was never really what I wanted to do. So I was looking around and, weirdly enough, I nearly joined the army – I got in to do counter-intelligence in the army as I got really good scores on my battery tests! Shortly before that happened though, I went on holiday, and I was reading an article in Edge or Games™, about games courses at university – I didn’t actually realise that you could do a degree in Games Design/Games Studies.

I was like “Ah” – it stuck in the back of my head. I got back from my holiday and I thought, right, I’m going to apply to that instead. So I sent my information off to Bradford University, I went for the interview and was offered a place pretty quickly. I couldn’t believe that I’d got in really, it was so quick.

So I was then on this BSc course doing Games Design and Interactive Systems, which was great. I learnt a mega amount, and that was my route into the industry, and that’s where I met the guys I work with now.

TB: Speaking of university, you were the Lead Developer on Big Tidy Up as a student, which won various awards from the 2010 Game Republic showcase – could you tell me a bit about that project and how it came together?

Big Tidy Up - Title Screen

TNW: Oh yes! That was a module in the final year of university, and it was called Design For Industry. We had five of us students come together in a team, and we had to approach someone in the industry and pretty much ask, can we make something for you?

So one of our team members Kwame [Bannerman] approached Keep Britain Tidy, the charity, and said we’re a team of university students, we’ve got this module – would you like us to build you a game? Have you got an upcoming campaign that we can relate the game to?

He got a reply from Keep Britain Tidy, and they were doing the Big Tidy Up campaign at the time. They had three themes that they wanted to get across to people; there was dropping litter out of cars, picking up dog poo…(laughs) and recycling was a massive thing. The idea behind it was that we had to fit those three themes within the gameplay. Because the age range was so massive for the game, we had to come up with a way of fitting all those themes into something that would be appeal to everyone. It took a long time, but we came up with the idea that it was going to be local multiplayer, so that everyone could get involved, and that it was going to have a cartoony theme. We took those three elements, and we came up with the three game modes of Wastefall, Carnundrum and, of course, Poodamonium.

We wanted to keep the games quite short and competitive, with all these weird power ups in, like bringing shutters down on the others’ view of the screen. The design phase took ages, everyone contributed really well and there was a really good dynamic to the team.

Big Tidy Up - Wastefall Gameplay

The guys on the team were great. We had Louie [McLaughlin], who was our Primary Coder, Chris Owens, who I work with now, who was an FX coder, and Chris Trott and Kwame did the artwork. I did the design and fitting all the team stuff together. It was a really good experience. They actually coded the engine from scratch, and it was a full-blown project. When we presented it for our final module, it got really good praise and it fulfilled the brief – It’s all about the brief really, integrating with what the Keep Britain Tidy campaign was about, and the game fitted that brief perfectly.

We got a first for the module, and afterwards, Kaye Elling, our tutor at the time, approached us and asked if we could enter this Game Republic event. I don’t think any team from Bradford University had ever been before; I think they might have just had a couple of individual students who went along previously. We had no idea what to expect, but it was absolutely amazing because there was Rockstar North there, Stewart Gilray and Just Add Water, Team 17, Sumo Digital – all these big guns in the industry!

We had to set up our little booth and get all the artwork up, and the first people to come up to us were Rockstar North, and they asked us what we had got – we were just totally not expecting it. They sat down and played Big Tidy Up and had a bit of a laugh, then Martyn Brown [Team 17 Co-Founder] came over and enjoyed it, Stewart Gilray [Just Add Water CEO] loved it – yeah it was really interesting. We got to the end of the night, when the awards were coming out. The award for Game Design was first up and we came second in that, we got first place for technology, second place again for Best Team, and third place for Game Art. It was just so mind-blowing because we were up for every award, and it was quite humbling really, because these guys who have been in the industry for God knows how long, doing all these amazing things, were saying we were pretty good. We were pretty chuffed with that.

TB: I downloaded it myself and I thought it was pretty good too!

TNW: I’m glad you liked it – we didn’t intend to release it on Xbox Live actually. When we finished university, we did some extra work on Big Tidy Up. Kwame did that intro video after the Game Republic event, and Louie did a lot of extra work to get it ready for Xbox Live. I think we did some extra design work and stuff like that, but it was mainly those guys who took it and put it on Xbox Live. It was cool to put it on there. It was really challenging getting environmental issues across in a game, but it works, and I’m glad people enjoyed it really.

TB: What were your early inspirations and influences as a gamer and developer?

TNW: I suppose my influences were, from being really young, Nintendo…I had the Amiga, the Commodore 64, Commodore 16s, Ataris – those really early Atari 2600s. I used to love sitting and playing on them. The games that I really remember are ones like Final Fantasy VII, that was amazing, the first Tomb Raider, the first Silent Hill – those kind of genre defining 3D worlds were absolutely mind-blowing. That’s kind of where I got into it – I think that’s where it triggered something in my head about wanting to go into Games Design. I’ve always been a massive movie and comic fan too, so all these influences sort of simmer away in the pot that stirs around in my head all the time! It’s the same with the guys I work with.

TB: On that note, how many people currently make up Desktop Daydreams altogether then? What different roles do they have, and what influences do they bring to the table?

Desktop Daydreams - The Team

TNW: There’s myself, Darren Flowers is our Creative Director, Chris Owens who is our Programmer/Coder/Scripter and Andreea Lintaru who is our Animator. We all get involved in the development and design process, we all sit down and do the team meets and go through ideas, chuck ideas out, that sort of thing. It’s quite a tight team actually, we have had other people who’ve worked with us in the past, but that’s the core team with where we’re at with this project.

In terms of their influences, Darren’s especially into that original PlayStation and Dreamcast era. Chris is a bit younger, so he’s more into the PC gaming world, and Andreea is really into her horror games. She’s actually a university student that we’ve taken on, she’s a great animator, and she’s really enjoying working on The Corridor. That’s where our team is based influence-wise, and we’ve all got a passion for what we’re doing at the minute, which is really good. We’re quite lucky to be working on something that we all love.

TB: Well yeah, that’s kind of the dream isn’t it?

TNW: It is!

TB: How did you go about initially starting up Desktop Daydreams as an indie studio then, and what was the inspiration behind the name?

TNW: After university, I was working with Darren, we were doing some freelance stuff at the time, and I had mentioned to him that I had this idea for an indie studio called a Desktop Daydream – because you’re always sat at your desktop, daydreaming about making games. There was an indie sort of feel to it, and he said “Yeah I like that”. So we stuck with that, and that was back in 2010. The inspiration was basically that we wanted to be making and building games – that was it really.

I guess the thing is, just what exactly does ‘indie’ really mean these days? In our case it’s two guys setting up a home office studio pretty much, and we’re still a home office virtual studio, although we have toyed with going into a proper studio office and making the game on site. The name Desktop Daydreams is meant to reflect the indie roots of the studio and the pure passion behind being sat at a desk and coding, animation, doing artwork and making this experience – the name came from that really, just wanting to make games, and it stuck.

So yeah, after leaving university, we were looking for work, and it was a bad time just when we left because it was during the crash, so there just wasn’t any work going. We were like “What do we do?” We decided to get experience and start working on stuff for other people – we thought it’s all learning and experience, and getting a wage coming in.

We started working under that Desktop Daydreams banner for other people, doing work on 3D assets, 2D assets; we didn’t really do any coding to begin with, because Chris wasn’t with us at the time, it was just me and Darren at the start. We basically set the studio up, and we were trying to fish out jobs, working crazy hours, trying to get these little jobs coming in. We worked on a lot of artwork and design work for other companies in the beginning; just little bits here and there, building up some portfolio work. We got a little bit of work doing some 3D games, and then we took Chris on, and we thought let’s start small and try making full apps and we got into the app market.

It progressed from there, we did some work for clients, and then we decided that we wanted to be doing our own thing. We did some client apps, but it wasn’t really what we wanted to do. We got to a point where we were thinking the app market had changed. Well, I mean, there’s still some great stuff on there, but it wasn’t really where we wanted to be. It had been in the back of our minds all along that we wanted to do our own thing. So we thought right, let’s draw a line under that and think about what we really want to do. That’s when we started thinking about working on a 3D project; although it would be bigger in scale and more ambitious than anything we’d done before, it was something that we really wanted to do. Darren is more 3D art focused, 3D worlds is more my sort of thing too, and it’s the same for Chris, so it was a case of let’s go for it.

The thing for an indie studio is, we always have to be worrying about where our money is coming from, our cashflow. So when we took on the idea of doing our own massive kind of 3D game, we were a little bit worried about money. We had enough to start the The Corridor – that was about eight or nine months ago when we started thinking about game.

That was pretty much about the time I went on holiday and whilst I sat on the beach I had this idea about these corridors, these massive endless corridors that you could walk down and you come across booths or hatches on either side. In those booths, you could experience anything – you might be in an old warehouse, go to the beach, go to the moon, you could be underwater, you could be in someone else’s head – anything at all. That’s where the idea developed that this could be a metaphor for actually accessing people’s thoughts or memories, which was really cool to us. I came back and told Darren about it and he was like “Oh I like that.” That was the seed for the actual design of The Corridor.

TB: So, let’s move onto your current project, The Corridor: On Behalf of the Dead. I understand that the initial idea for the game came from when you imagined this never-ending corridor while sitting on the beach?

TNW: Yeah that was the core idea of getting in the hatch mechanic. The story grew from that idea of going down these corridors into this whole virtual world.

The Corridor - Corridor

The game’s backstory is that there’s this cataclysm that has happened and what it’s done is that it has forced the survivors to sort of think how are we going to start society up again. How do we live, what do we do? There’s a lot of looting, battery and violence, with no police force in place and no army, just this civilisation left behind. A new justice system, or some kind of law and punishment is one of the primary things that’s needed, and that’s where this corridor comes in.

There’s still functional technology in the world that this cataclysmic event didn’t destroy, but it’s all a bit mangled and hashed together – it’s got this old/new feel to it. There’s a lot of chunky, old technology that we want to get across in the game, that we’ve shown in the videos. This corridor technology is developed by this company, the Memory Observation and Modification Bureau – MOM for short – they’re the organisation that’s been tasked by the remaining government to set up some kind of justice system. We’ve got a character called Dr. Polanski, who’s the main sort of doctor in charge of all this. He’s the genius who created the idea of this technology program.

The Corridor - MOM

The corridor is the virtual computer program that the Custodians use to walk inside criminals’ minds. Basically you get these kids, called Custodians, who are tested throughout their childhood to see what their inclination will be, how they will mentally react to things. They’ve got to be a certain kind of person to be awarded this Custodian label. If they become a Custodian, they get segregated from the populous, and they’re not allowed to be involved with anyone. They’re kind of locked away. They are trained to enter the minds of these criminals – any kind of crime in the future will be punished by this corridor system. As soon as you’re arrested, that’s it; you go into this chair, these big pipes go into your brain, and you get connected to a Custodian. It’s like an interrogation, only inside your head. They basically go into your head and rummage around in all of your memories for evidence of your crimes. The player’s character, Ri Anderson, is a hardened Custodian who has examined a lot of criminal minds in his time.

These Custodians act as both judge and jury; they sentence you whilst they are in your head. It’s a little Judge Dredd-y, there are certainly some influences there. We liked the idea of these people who have the unique ability to detach themselves from everything else. They are kind of loners, but at the same time they are mentally strong and they can make these cut-throat decisions when viewing this mental evidence in criminal’s heads.

Custodians also get this thing called the Hack. It’s a piece of code which is sort of an integrated, manifested object from the subject’s mind, and it helps the Custodian when it is in the subject’s head.

The Corridor - The Hack

It allows for a much more coherent connection between the brain of the criminal and the brain of the Custodian. The Hack is almost like a bit of a guide while you’re in a mind; it might not say things and might just point things out or wander around, or look at something you might need to pick up. It depends on the head you’re in as to what this Hack will be. The Hack in this game-

TB: It’s that little creepy baby isn’t it?

TNW: Yeah he’s the Hack, and he’ll speak – or not speak – depending on what the situation is.

TB: It’s cool that you’ve left it ambiguous as to what it does and how it interacts with the player.

TNW: I can’t really tell you more about that as it will ruin it, but he will be involved a lot as you get into the head of this guy, woman or whatever you might be in. That’s pretty much all I can say for now.

What we’re hoping to do is to create a non-linear experience. In the corridor program, you’ve got these elevators that you use to travel between the levels of the subject’s mind. The elevator is a metaphor for the connection to the group of memories that you might be going into. Every player who comes out of the lift will probably experience something completely different.

They might be similar memories, but they’ll be in a different kind of order, so everyone will experience a disjointed game. You might go to your friend “Oh I’ve just played this level where so and so happens”. Then they might go “Really? I was just doing this, so what’s that one about?” It’ll create this mood of “Ooh I don’t really know what that memory means”. It’ll be disjointed, but as you go through hopefully you’ll start stitching together the story, and see that there’s a link there.

I want to say more but that’s pretty much all I can say for now. There will be a couple of layers in there – it won’t be just the usual singular linear story.

TB: Yeah I appreciate that you don’t want to give away too much with the game being so narrative and story-based. On that note actually, I think the non-linear Pulp-Fiction like story stuff you’re doing is a really cool idea. When you think of a story-heavy game like Bioshock for example, for a lot of gamers, it’ll be a single playthrough for them, where they experience the main beats of the story, and then they’re done.

TNW: Yeah, I mean I love Bioshock – Ken Levine is god to me! I watched one of his talks at GDC [Games Developers Conference], Building Blocks for Narrative [Narrative Legos], and it was a really interesting talk about systemic gameplay and how you can change experiences by using the same assets. I watched that after coming up with the idea for The Corridor, and I thought, actually, that’s got some crossover to what we’re doing.

We can kind of do a similar thing in The Corridor, as you’re accessing different orders of memories when playing the game, and the corridor is the link to those memories. So you can go in and experience something different to what somebody else might have experienced; you might eventually come across the same memory, because the memories will always be the same because that’s how the criminal remembers them. It works in that way, but it’s how you experience their memories which will be different every time you play.

That opens up to us adding more memories at a later date if the game is successful. We can do DLC for it, we can add some more memories in there, or even create an entire new storyline using those things, which is something we will probably look at later on down the line if people enjoy how it works.

TB: That sounds like a good way of doing DLC without having to forcefully ret-con the story, or have it feeling like an unnecessary bolt on thing, or a piece of the game that has been held back to be released later.

TNW: Yeah, you could see an entirely new sort of perspective. You could be a different Custodian going into the same mind experiencing something totally different, or go into a different mind that uses links to the other mind. It could really kind of get a bit “Woah!”

Which is something we hope players would enjoy. Being an indie, we need something that’s going to be a bit different as well. It’s getting the name out for the game; you want something different for it, we don’t want to just re-hash other things. It’s why we took a long time in the beginning to think about the story, and do something unique and cool with it.

As you go through the mind, there will be these other things that pop out and you’ll go “Uh oh!” Not everything is quite as it seems. It’ll hopefully be cool as you go through the levels.

TB: It all sounds good. I’ve read the journal extract you’ve posted online from the Custodian Ri Anderson, the player controlled protagonist, and it really gets across that feeling of constant dread that you’ve spoken about online. I really liked how gripping and detailed that written extract was – how do you plan to deliver the majority of the narrative to the player? Will it be through character narration or similar journals, audio logs etc.?

TNW: It’ll be a bit of a mix. Ri is a complex character; like I say, he’s this hardened Custodian, he’s been in hundreds of minds and he’s seen lots of decay and dread.

The Corridor - Ri Anderson Large

TB: Oh yeah, “Necrotic matter” from the extract.

TNW: Yeah, all sorts of weird stuff, and he’s been through the minds of murderers and other criminals. He’s kind of seen it all, but still, every time he goes into a mind, he’s got that apprehension – what’s he going to see this time? The idea is that there’s been a spate of killings in the real world and this is linked to why he’s going in. What we’ll probably have in terms of narrative is to have Ri’s thoughts written in his journals, he might actually say things as well, as we’ve got an actor who’s going to do Ri’s voice – we’re actually working on another trailer with him now.

That’s one thing I don’t think we’ve got across. We’ve added more with the journal, we want to show that there’s a bit more to the story. The Hack will probably chime in every now and then with some narrative and some narrative information as well. You’ll also get communication from MOM, sometimes they’ll chime in. One thing we wanted to do was to make you feel like you’re always being watched while you’re in this corridor. MOM is always watching you, Big Brother style, so you’ll come across cameras that will follow you while you’re in there; they won’t interfere with you, but they just have that eerie presence to them.

We’re throwing in all these things that people are afraid of, Big Brother being one of them, but we like this idea where justice has been completely privatised, and MOM pull the strings. If they see something in a mind, they can use that however they want. They are always monitoring those memories; even if it’s something not related to the current case, it might come up later on and it could be something they could use. Have you seen the Doctor character who appears in the game?

TB: Ah yes, Doctor Crow?

The Corridor - Doctor Crow

TNW: He’s a hallucination that has some kind of connection to the corridor as well. He’s always trying to tell you something – that’s all I’ll say there! The whole idea with those shaky and static hallucinations is that your connection to the corridor is being disrupted by his presence there. That’s how he gets through the corridor to make himself visible to you.

He’s actually a piece of code; he’s a real person – I hope I can say this and Daz doesn’t kill me (laughs) – who’s programmed himself into the corridor to appear to you virtually. He’ll throw in some narrative, and tell you things. It’s up to you whether you take that as help, or if it’s his own agenda instead. There’s also these Guardian creatures who guard key memories in there, Fat Man being one of them.

The Corridor - Fat Man

TB: Yeah Fat Man looks like some great nightmare fuel!

TNW: These creatures are all things that are materialised – they don’t really exist in the real world, they are sort of pulled from the mind that you’re currently in; this might be something that they were scared of, or they had nightmares about this weird mechanical fat guy chasing them. There might be other things they were frightened of too…but I don’t want to spoil it!

The dread will really be created from the environments, where you actually are in those environments and the premise of where you are. There will be a lot of auditory and visual help with that, increasing the dread. We always want to make you feel uncomfortable, like you don’t really want to be wandering down a darkened corridor, just in case there is something around the corner, or thinking “Ooh if I go through this hatch, where am I going to be? Am I going to be in some weird pit, or underwater, in a cage, in a box, underground?” It could be anywhere.

The Corridor - Dark Room

Also, you might come into a beautiful environment, with blue skies, but there might be something sinister in that area, which will balance the whole good, nice, clean and cosy feeling with something a bit creepy. There’s going to be a lot of environmental storytelling, and that’s where the dread will come from hopefully.

TB: Using those other much more pleasant scenarios alongside the more horrific ones sounds like a good dichotomy and a way to mix things up for the player. It seems to me that one of the things that you’re really tapping into is that powerful fear of the unknown.

TNW: That’s spot on, because that is one of the key things that I think humans, on a base level, instinctually fear. If you don’t know about something, it’s like “Ooh.” It’s kind of a survival instinct, flight or fight. If you don’t know what something is, I think it’s human nature, our sort of safety instinct to think I might just back off a little bit from that until I know what it is.

We looked at a lot of aspects of fear, specifically what generates fear and horror. From when I grew up, films I used to watch were things like A Nightmare On Elm Street and Alien. A lot of them, like say Nightmare, have a lot of gore, but there was also that question of just who the hell is Freddy Krueger, and why is he in my dream? Its was cool how Wes Craven, over the course of that film, told you about this guy who had a sincere reason for what he’s doing. His reasoning, you know, behind killing these kids was because he wanted revenge – he might have been a sick crazy old guy, but he was killed in that sort of way that made him want that vengeance. I think that’s even scarier. Even when you’ve killed this guy off, he still comes back to get you. I thought that was brilliant.

Ridley Scott is a big influence for us as well with Alien and Blade Runner. That’s another thing as well, we want to get across that sci-fi element. We don’t just want to make a horror game that is…well, we are sci-fi fans so we wanted to chuck in as much sci-fi as we could and make it have these different tones to it. There’s the technology you’ll be able to see, the psychic TVs, all sorts of other stuff in there, like PDAs that you can pick up. These will be related to Ri, so they won’t be just like a random PDA, they might be something you can use. (Pause) I’m trying to not give too much away!

TB: Yeah, I think one of the game’s strengths is that you’ve created this really interesting meld of the horror and sci-fi genres in terms of both the story and the art direction. Typically when you think of horror, the first things that usually jump to mind are on more of a gothic kind of level aesthetically, and not usually futuristic and high-tech.

The Corridor - Machine

TNW: That’s something we didn’t really want to do. I mean there’s been some great games using that theme, obviously Amnesia: The Dark Descent, that’s fantastic, and Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs as well. We wanted to be…I wouldn’t say unique, but we wanted The Corridor to have it’s own sort of identity. For us, personally, the gothic thing wouldn’t have worked for our kind of project. The way it went when we were talking about it, the whole premise of this corridor and these hatches, it more suggested that the place didn’t really exist, and it was more in someone’s imagination. It kind of led down the path of thinking what if it’s the technology? These are memories that you’re actually accessing. That sort of sprung out to us – that’s the sci-fi, it’s all kind of based around technology. The whole idea of having control over someone’s head, I know it’s been touched on before in other things, but we wanted to kind of mix it all together with a bit of horror. This game is set in a civilisation where there would be a lot of homeless people and food shortages. People might steal some food, and if they get caught that’s it; you get put in this corridor system. Even if they find other things on you; you might have done some other things that you aren’t accused of and the authority still might punish you for it. What’s the punishment? That’s another thing, what would be the punishment? The sci-fi is a key element. It’s the base of the whole premise. It’s probably more of a sci-fi horror, than a horror sci-fi.

When we’ve been getting the word out about the game, we’ve been saying it’s sci-fi and horror. I think that’s why people so far have really enjoyed the idea of it, and I think that’s probably why, because it’s not doing something which has already been done, like you say with the gothic, or running round a wood. There have been some great games that have done that brilliantly, but we wanted to try and do something slightly different and tell an original story with it, which is key to the premise.

TB: Awesome! I like how you’ve also combined more ghostly and spiritual eastern horror with very western David Cronenberg style body horror. You don’t normally see both together.

The Corridor - Woman

TNW: I’ll give kudos to Daz for that because he’s a massive fan of Japanese horror. He loves things like the original Ring. I have watched those as well, so they are an influence as well, but Cronenberg is a huge influence on Daz. There’s another film Jacob’s Ladder

TB: Oh that’s a great film!

TNW: We’ve used a lot of that kind of imagery. It’s hard isn’t it – you think of horror and it conjures up different images for different people. We’ve made it personal for us. What things freak us out? Hopefully, people will enjoy what we’ve gone for, and I think that they will, because like we were saying, we’re trying to throw in things like the unknown and weird stuff, more freaky things…rather than something like a monster coming out of the darkness and grabbing you. Which is cool, but it’s been successfully done in other games. There will be things kind of just loitering around, maybe not doing anything, but they will just create that sort of weird feeling. “What the hell is that over there in that corner?” It’ll be more like “Eurgh – I don’t really want to be in this room with whatever that is over there”. That will create the dread, and there will be all sorts of other things.

Sound is key. We’ve been looking at using mechanical noises, a bit like the Silent Hill series did with their scores, with grating, slamming, winds, moaning, but mixed together in a nice way. That’s one of the reasons we’re looking forward to using Unity 5, because they’ve got a brand new audio part to their engine which will really be cool for us to create. Audio is going to be a key part of the design.

TB: The sound clips that you’ve posted online sound really good. I can imagine them layering well together.

TNW: This is the problem with Kickstarter as well, it’s that you want to tell everyone everything about what you’re doing, but you also want to keep it on a leash as well. Sometimes, when we put a lot of those music clips on, we were thinking maybe it’s taking it out of context when you just listen to them on the page, but we think they work. You get that feeling of what we’re going for.

TB: To jump back a bit to what you were saying about having things in The Corridor‘s environments that won’t be necessarily hostile to you, I think that was one of the key concepts that made Outlast so terrifying, having that uncertainty of how the other inmates would react to you.

TNW: Yeah, we’re also thinking from the perspective of the Custodian, he’s almost like a visitor in the mind of the criminal. The Custodians are looking for this evidence in the criminal’s mind, memories of these acts being carried out, and the Guardians will be protecting these specific memories that you need access to.

The Corridor - Storeroom

We also came across this idea of the fact that you’re not actually there; you’re just a voyeur, if you like, a visitor in the mind, so things that might be inhabiting these guys memories…if they’ve got twisted minds, there might be just weird things, sat there talking to the mind they are in, and you’ll be just like “What the hell is that?” You might be able to go right up to it and it will totally ignore you, and you can just look at it muttering and twitching to itself, or whatever it may be – it may be just a goldfish in a tank just doing something weird!

TB: So you’ve got these creatures inhabiting these environments, and the aim is to avoid confrontation at all costs – how does that work in the moment to moment gameplay? Are there any specific stealth or evasion mechanics in place?

TNW: We have ummed and ahhed about the stealth mechanics. We started working on a hide mechanic, where if something was approaching/running at you/coming for a slice of you, you could almost run and hide in something. Again, we didn’t want to be taking pages out of other people’s books, so we’ve gone down the road where you are avoiding contact. There will be things that will come for you. I must admit, we are still kind of nailing down the exact specifics of how those encounters will play out; because we’re still at a pre-alpha stage and we’re still throwing in mechanics and playing with things. We did come up with the fact that if anything did attack you, that would be it, you’d be completely gone. That still might happen, because it is a horror game and it might be like a learning curve for the player.

We’re also thinking on the fact that if you don’t antagonise a creature, it won’t come after you and attack you, so that might be something that stays in there as well. We might just throw in a combination of different things.

Mechanics like that were one of the key things we sat down and talked about. Gameplay is obviously massively important, so we did talk about whether it’s going to be enough to be just exploring this mind. Is it going to be enough to be just reading about these memories, or will people need some kind of combat? You will have to take out these Guardians in some way or another, which is probably where the combat…well, I say combat, but you’ll probably need to dispatch them in alternative ways, not direct confrontation.

The Corridor - Window

Because you are a visitor in another’s mind, you don’t really necessarily have the power to kind of attack something head on. That’s how we’ve approached things. These memories are locked away by the mind you’re in, and this mind will be fighting back.

So, this person’s mind you’re in, they are conscious of the fact that you’re in there and rooting around, so they’ll be trying to mentally stop you from accessing their memories. That’s where Fat Man might come in; he’s one of these Guardians that might manifest as part of a mental defence mechanism.

We have come up with this idea of this device you can find, which…this is still in the testing/thinking about phase where you might be able to find pieces of this device which will allow you to modify it each time you find a new part, which will be able to help you fight these Guardians. We want to make it a bit different when you deal with these Guardians, so you can get them out of the way in order to grab this memory they are protecting.

You see, all these memories you’re collecting are pieces of evidence that will lead up to a decision you have to make at the end of the game; guilty or not guilty. It’s what the whole thing will lead to, and depending on what decision you make, there will be multiple endings.

TB: With that in mind, if you miss a vital memory/piece of evidence, will that have a major impact on the story or will it just progress on the same linear path?

TNW: Yeah, because we’re going to leave it up to the player to make that final decision, and that will be based on what they’ve seen, what they’ve been told, what they’ve experienced in that game. We are going to have a logbook for the player where you’ve got your collected evidence and you’ll have notes, pictures, things you found, so you’ll get a chance to review everything before you make that final decision. You might have met people, or heard things which might sway your decision and you think “What do I do here?” We want that to be a really key part of the gameplay.

There will be things in there that you might miss; we want people to explore that darkness and really get every nook and cranny out of it, and find hidden things. It is all evidence, it is all memories, but there might be reasons why they’ve done these crimes, which might come out in the memories that you didn’t know about; There might be an insanely good reason for why they’ve done these things. We want to throw that morality into it because you’ve got this responsibility of judging these people as a player, based on what you’ve seen in their head. The multiple endings and the morality choice at the end are key components, you’ll have a weight of choice at the end, and you’ll get a different ending depending on what you’ve chosen.

TB: So the game won’t just funnel you down the same path if you miss something then?

TNW: No, because of the whole non-linear thing as well. You might come out of the lift and you come down this corridor and you see a hatch on your right. You enter this hatch and you get transported to a memory. Maybe you’re in this shop, and someone is talking to someone else, or you just hear the ghosts of the voices and memories that are there, and you think “Ah right, cool”. That might be all that there is in that room. You go back out into the corridor, and you find another hatch, or you see something else in the corridor that might be of use.

The Corridor - Pig Head

What we’re also thinking of doing is dropping in missable memories – maybe not a lot, as it’s hard to do when you’ve got to create all the assets, but we might have little things that you might miss, or you only experience if you play through the game again, so there is a bit of replayability, so you could see it from a different perspective almost. Every time you play the game, you will experience those memories in a different sequence – which may lead you to a different decision, which is what we’re trying to go for. It’s a key thing for us…I mean, that’s the beauty of games, you can experience a story in a non-linear fashion. That’s the holy grail I suppose for game design is to make these interactive narratives different using the same kind of assets, and creating something that is unique to the player as well, so they’ll experience it in their own way.

You’re obviously limited by what you can do art wise and coding wise, you’ve got a time frame, so people will experience the same memories, but they will experience them differently in a different order each playthrough. It’s something that we’ve wanted to do, and just play with it and hopefully people will enjoy it.

TB: I’m sure they will. How do you plan to keep the experience really tight and focused story wise, and yet also allow for the free will of the player to just go wandering off? Will it be a case of rewarding adventurous players with these missable memories and other items?

TNW: So if they want to know more about this mind or…something else (laughs), we didn’t want people to just have this exploration mechanic where they could wander five, ten, fifteen minutes off the beaten path and find absolutely nothing. Some gamers do love to find every nook and cranny, so we will most likely reward people for exploring and taking their time and finding things, because that will help give a bigger picture to the decision they have to come up with at the end.

You don’t always want to be reading stuff though – sometimes you might want to go off and just look down that way, look around an environment, look at the sunset, listen to the birds tweeting in the background, and just experience the world. It ties in well with the Custodians; they don’t always manage to get outside, so it’s almost a bit of a jolly for them. They can go out on a virtual jaunt and maybe have a picnic in this guy’s head! They kind of almost enjoy the job, because although they are in these weird situations dealing with these depraved memories, they almost enjoy it.

The Custodians get this drug called cohesion. We’ve gone through a lot of different iterations with it, but this cohesion basically loosens their mind up a little bit to be more susceptible to what’s going on, but they are also addicted to it. It’s kind of a trade-off. They get enjoyment from taking it, because it gives them that lucidity, but it also makes them addicted. Once you become a Custodian, that’s it for life, because you can never come off cohesion. You’re pretty much giving up your life to be a Custodian, but then again, it’s an honour. You’re a judge and jury, you’re doing service for the people…well that’s what we make it out to be! (Laughs)

TB: The idea for the cohesion hypo syringes having a limited shelf life is a great twist on the usual item mechanics of survival horror games such as Resident Evil, and one that isn’t explored very often in the genre. How did that idea come about, and are there any other subtle gameplay tweaks that are of a similar nature?

TNW: I did a lot of research into what gamers love about horror games, and one of the things that kept popping up was resource management, and having, like you say, Resident Evil with the herbs and the bullets. We didn’t want to have weaponry in The Corridor – weaponry will make an appearance, but you won’t be able to use it.

Health is another thing. We were thinking about the fact that you’re playing as a mental representation of yourself in somebody else’s mind, would you have health? You don’t technically exist, but then we got onto thinking if you’re suffering mental pain, the psychological traumas that you’re experiencing, like for example when Doctor Crow appears, it’ll be a trauma to your head. You will suffer pain from that experience. So as a result, that will cause physical pain. You will feel physical pain – again we want players to have the mechanics that they are used to, but do something different with them.

That’s where the cohesion hypos come in. Chris came up with the idea of having fridges that they are stored in, so that led to the thought of thinking maybe we could have out of date ones, and what would happen if you took an out of date cohesion? What will it do?

TB: That sounds awesome!

TNW: It will almost be helpful to take out of date cohesion in certain situations; you might come to a dead end and think “Ah…I might need to take some out of date cohesion here and something may happen.” Like I’ve said on the Kickstarter, it’ll have interesting side effects.

One thing I was keen on, from a design perspective, was that we wanted to keep the player hunting around for cohesion. There’s out of date cohesion and inert – so once it gets to a certain period of time it’s useless, you just have to discard it, so you have to hunt around and find some more. So we’ve got these cool (literally – Tom) refrigeration units we’ve actually just put in. You open them up and you can see the vitals in there.

Also, if you look on Ri’s arm, you will see little track marks from where he’s taken cohesion all his life. You might be able to see them very briefly in the video, so that’s how that ties in with the hypos. The Custodians start taking it from a very young age, so they are building up their use of it, and they can get to a level where they can start entering minds. That’s all mixed with the corridor technology.

The mind, the hypo and the technology are the holy trinity to get that working thought access to the head. So you’ve got to have the right mental profile to be able to be a Custodian, you have to be able to handle cohesion and interface with the technology. That’s the feel behind it.

A lot of people when playing horror games like to go around and just resource hunt and collect all the resources and hoard them, and that’s something we didn’t want to do, because we wanted to put an emphasis on exploration and the story. It all links back to the story.

One thing we are playing with is having your cohesion levels always dropping, so you are forced to keep hunting around for more. Again, that relates back to horror and dread – if you don’t keep hunting, you’re going to die.

TB: Yeah you’ve got to keep pressing on.

TNW: You’ve got to keep moving around, which is something we can play with later on as well if you’re always hunting around for stuff.

TB: It sounds ace! There’s very few games which actually strip your resources away in a creative way, rather than to be just artificially difficult for the sake of it.

TNW: That’s something we didn’t want to do as well. We thought a lot about the difficulty, and with it being a horror game, people expect that adversity; that feeling that everything is against you. You’ve got nothing – like Resident Evil, you’ve only got a few bullets, you’ve only got a few herbs, or like Silent Hill, you’ve only got…

TB: A stick!

TNW: Yeah, it’s like “What am I doing with this stick?” (Laughs) But yeah, those are massive influences to us. I think when we originally played them in the ’90s, those little touches were just ace, and that’s a really massive part of how we’ve gone with this. Looking at how the classics did things, and really sitting back and thinking about what would be cool to do, whilst also bearing in mind whether it would fit within the premise of our game. That’s key to us, keeping that premise of the whole experience of being in someone’s head.

We’ve played with loads of ideas – we’ve chucked some things in, we’ve chucked some things out. We’re still at pre-alpha, so we are still playing with mechanics, and that’s why we are talking about it now to get initial feedback and see what people think. Generally, it’s good so we’re quite happy. The Steam Greenlight is going brilliantly.

TB: Yeah you’re really whipping up those charts .

TNW: If it keeps going, hopefully we’ll be in the top 100 before long. We were at 55% of the way there this morning, and that’s after 20-ish days. The Kickstarter isn’t doing brilliantly well, but I think that’s because we haven’t given enough story information out, so we’re trying to work out a new story video. But generally, everyone is enjoying what we’re doing so hopefully we’ll be able to keep going and take it forward.

TB: Another cool thing you’re doing on the gameplay side of things is the anchoring system – I think that sounds like another great idea. It looks like a good way to stop cowardly players like me from ‘save-scumming’ their way through the game – can you explain a bit more about how it works?

TNW: That’s my thinking! One thing I hate – I don’t know about you, but I don’t really like checkpoints. I think for this game you’d have to have checkpoints, unless you were being really cruel.

TB: In a rogue-like way?

TNW: Yeah! I mean, these days, people don’t have a massive amount of time to play, so checkpoints are like that safety net. You have to find typewriter rooms in Resident Evil, and the red squares in Silent Hill­ – those are like key areas that you have to find in order to save. So we were thinking, what if you could take those areas with you?

You might find this anchor device, which will be some sort of old technology – you don’t start with it, you have to find it in each level. In each new memory section you’ll have to find it again, because it will be related to that area. When you find it, it would anchor you to that area. You could drop it anywhere you wanted, and it’d save you, but if you left it there, if you’d forgotten it, that would be it – that’s where you’d respawn if you died.

We’re also talking about the idea that you might be able to transport yourself to that area using that device. That’s something again in flux, but we’re working on that kind of premise. We wanted to keep that conceit to not save all the time but to make it fit with the world; because you’re in someone’s head, you’re having to anchor to that memory. It’s just to try and mix it up a little, and do something different, so hopefully that will work well. We probably won’t know whether that’s working well until we get a bit more into testing and into the beta phase, when we’ve got a lot more gameplay that’s flowing. Hopefully it will just do something a bit different with the saving system. Because it’s a horror as well, you want that dread – I’ll drop the anchor here, there might be something round that next corner. You’ll be able to use it tactically as well, and it gives you a bit more freedom. It’s trying to balance out not over-saving, but also giving you a bit of freedom to save when you want.

TB: I think that combined with the cohesion hypos will work really nicely in tandem. The Eternal Darkness style metagame scares sound interesting, where you can lose control of your character temporarily. How do you keep these sorts of surprises fresh and unpredictable for the player without them quickly becoming stale?

TNW: That’s a good point. One thing we’ve thought about with jump scenes is that we don’t want to overdo them. You want to be feeling on edge whilst playing it, but we don’t want to throw in a jump every few seconds. When there is going to be a jump scene it will be decent and it will be a unique and effective one, and that will be the only time you’ll experience it in the game.

One of the things Daz is very keen on especially is not overdoing jumps. I know people love the jumps, because it’s like “Arrrrrgh!” In The Corridor, the Doctor Crow is more like a hallucination, someone is trying to tell you something with him, so he will have an entrance every time he appears, but it will vary and it’ll do different things, and he’ll do different things when he appears to you. The one in the Kickstarter video, he’s kind of pointing at something, maybe behind you or in front of you. He’s always pointing you to things or trying to tell you things about what’s happening in the bigger picture.

We didn’t want to just put someone in there for the sake of it; he’s actually there for a reason, he’s not just for an effect. He’ll have quite a significant part in the story as well.

TB: On the topic of scares, how has the development process for The Corridor been with developing for the Oculus Rift/Project Morpheus tech, and how has it influenced the design of the scares? Did you have to design the same sections of gameplay differently according to whether or not the player is using a VR headset?

TNW: One thing we think we might have done wrong with the marketing of The Corridor is that a lot of people think the game is Oculus Rift only. That might have had a bit of an impact on the Kickstarter itself.

It is an immersion tool. I don’t know if you’ve seen on the video, those zoom ins on Doctor Crow? There will be subtle things like that. When you’re in the OR, you’re fully immersed, so those kind of things where you are zooming in are really effective. So we’ll keep these effects as they work out of the Rift as well – they are there to complement the Rift if that makes sense? It’s mainly for the immersion; people who do have a Rift will be able to experience these visual effects and get completely immersed, especially when combined with the 5.1 surround sound, that stuff will be really cool. You’ll be able to hear things…again, it’s a case of not saying too much! (Laughs).

The Corridor - Colour TV

Yeah we’re also thinking about Project Morpheus as well. That might be a while off, but hopefully it will be a similar kind of setup to the OR. If the game is successful and people enjoy it, we’ll hopefully port it to PlayStation 4 and use the Morpheus as well.

TB: Sony seem to be really prioritising Project Morpheus now, with a lot of focus on games like Until Dawn, so it sounds like the PlayStation 4 could be a good home for The Corridor on consoles.

TNW: They are pushing it, yeah – Until Dawn looks great! At the minute, we’re still putting things together, so what we’ll probably do is we’ll test The Corridor with the Rift as we go through, and see if we can tweak it to work better with VR, but also make sure that everything works how we want it to work outside of the Rift. It’s trying to get that sort of balance right, between people who have the Rift and people who don’t.

I do think that the Rift is a really cool thing, and what it’s doing for gaming, especially in the horror genre with that first person perspective, it’s absolutely amazing! So if you haven’t got a Rift, go get one! The problem at the minute is getting hold of one, but they are slowly filtering out to developers now though. We’ve got a DK 1, the first generation unit that we’ve been using to test with, and that’s what we’ve captured the first bit of footage from. Obviously, Unity supports the Rift really well, and Unity 5 will support it even better.

Once we get the DK 2, with the better resolution screens and low latency, it’ll just be wicked hopefully! If we get kickstarted as well, we’ll probably get a couple more OR kits, and then start getting some testing done, and hopefully get people involved in the process to see what they think. If we don’t get kickstarted then it’ll probably take a bit longer!

TB: Well, I was going to ask you about that – if you do get kickstarted, how long do you reckon the development of the project will take? If the Kickstarter isn’t successful, what’s the plan then? Are you hoping to re-launch the campaign at a later date?

TNW: This has been a massive point of discussion amongst the team over the last couple of weeks, as you can probably imagine. We’ve got to a point where obviously funds are running out, and we’re thinking that if we don’t get some kind of backing, then we’re going to be struggling. We sat and thought about what happens if the Kickstarter doesn’t work. We did a lot of research into Kickstarter and Indiegogo and the crowdfunding scene to see what was going to work, so we started to build up our community with quite a good following on social media. We started using Twitter a lot more, getting involved with people, and we’ve got the dev blog to post updates. All the press we’ve had so far has been really positive, which is great for us.

Everyone who’s seen the video and read the descriptions has given us really good positive feedback which is humbling really, because when you’re locked up in your loft, working on something for a year – you’re like “Is this any good?” We made that decision to get it out on Kickstarter, see what people think and take it from there. At the minute, I think we’ve 9 days left, and it’s about 4% funded! So it’s not looking too good!

I think the problem is that on the Kickstarter we’ve only had about 2800 views or less, but on the Steam Greenlight we’ve had about 10,000 unique visits and nearly 3000 green votes – it’s far more than what Kickstarter is getting. For some reason, the views from Greenlight aren’t translating over to Kickstarter. One reason we’re thinking for that might be because the Oculus Rift has been mentioned – no disrespect to the OR because it’s cool – but I think people might think “Oh, I don’t have an Oculus Rift, so I won’t be able to play it.” It may be that, it might be something else, but until it’s kind of finished, it’s really hard to analyse. I’m sure we’ll do a post mortem on what happened and why, but I think if we don’t get the game funded, and we get it greenlit for example, then there may be other options. We might look at talking to some publishers, or the other option is to take on some part-time work again and sort of fund it ourselves, which is probably what we’ll end up doing.

Me and Darren have talked about it, and we’re probably willing to move into part-time work and maybe take it a little bit further, then release another Kickstarter, or an Indiegogo and get some funding. Or maybe start some sort of on-going crowdfunding, like a pledging system where you can pre-order the game and keep it pledged constantly until its release, maybe do some early access and stuff like that on Steam. It’s all ifs and buts at the moment because we’re hoping Kickstarter will pick up; most people’s Kickstarters do pick up in the last week.

We’re working on a new story trailer which is from Ri’s perspective, so hopefully it’s not too late, as it takes a while to get everything together. We’ve got another gameplay pre-alpha video which shows that the footage is working, and some more environments. I think we’ve got about five full environments built at the minute, a few characters, and we’ve got bits of gameplay working. We’ve been asked a lot for playable demos, which is interesting, but because we’re in a pre-alpha, it’s just not ready to show yet. That might take us another six months to get it to a point where we are willing to let someone play it. We don’t want to put it out when it’s not ready for the public to see, because it’s still a lot of work in progress, but we have got bits working which we are going to put together as a video.

Because it’s had such positive interest, it makes us think let’s keep going. It’s a unique story; it’s something that we want to do. So that’s what we’ll probably end up doing – developing it part-time like we have been doing up to now, and chucking in other jobs as we can. It’s not ideal, because we want to fully ramp up the development with the full four-strong team. You see, Chris and Andreea are almost freelance, so they’ll probably have to look for other work and projects as well.

TB: It would be nice to keep the full team together though wouldn’t it?

TNW: Yeah absolutely, because they’ve worked on it for so long now that it would be nice to pay them a full wage, and we can relax then and not worry too much about where our funding is coming from.

For release time, we were thinking December next year, maybe sooner, but we want to give the whole thing a good length of time, so we can get it polished and make it a cool, full experience for the players. So that’s kind of December 2015/January 2016 – hopefully December so we can get it out for Christmas. It’ll be out when it’s ready though, when we’re happy with it!

TB: I think having a pledging system sounds like an interesting idea.

TNW: There’s things you can do, like IgnitionDeck – WordPress have this system where you can set up a continual crowdfunded campaign, so you keep promoting it all the time, and have people pledge as you go along.

The interesting thing with Steam is that we’ve only got a few pledges – it’s hard translating those greenlights into Kickstarter pledges. There’s a big difference between placing a greenlit vote and pledging £10, say, towards a game. That’s a massive stretch, so hopefully we’re trying to get people who’ve greenlit The Corridor on Steam to get involved with the Kickstarter campaign, but it’s very hard to see if people from Steam are moving over to Kickstarter page. I don’t know if that translates across very well, because you can’t tell who’s looking at Kickstarter with the analytical tools that we’ve got at the minute. It’s tricky to know where to target your efforts.

The beauty of the thing is that going on Steam was a last minute thought. It was a case of “Oh maybe we should put it on Greenlight?” We never really thought about it weirdly enough. We got it up there, and it was nearly 50% voted in, in about two weeks – judging from what I’ve read, that’s really quite good!

TB: Yeah, impressive!

TNW: It’s quite hard to judge what you need specifically to get the rest of the way to get greenlit, but if we do get greenlit that will be a fantastic thing for us because there will be more coverage for the game, and hopefully get more people involved pledging and supporting us. That’s the thing when you’re an indie; you’ve just got to think about where the support is going to come from. It’s a huge thing for us, and you don’t always have the resources to just sit on Twitter all day. I’ve spent so long just talking to people on there; it takes up a massive amount of time, but it’s great, because I met you on Twitter, and met some other guys on there who have been really supportive of the game.

The thing with Twitter is that it just moves so fast – you’ve got to be in that timeline all the time. It’s just not having the time, especially when you’re developing and having a Kickstarter on the go as well, it’s just promo, promo, promo! No life! (Laughs) But there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s cool, it’s good talking to people about the game. It’s the nature of the beast.

TB: Well yeah, fingers crossed then! I think you’re in a good time and place to be making an interesting horror game like this, because there’s been a noticeable mainstream resurgence in horror games very recently. Horror games have always been popular on the indie scene, but if you look at this year, two of the most anticipated games for this Christmas period are The Evil Within, and most particularly, Alien Isolation. What do you think this increased mainstream interest in the horror gaming genre can be put down to?

TNW: That’s a damn good question actually! I think people like to be scared. I don’t know why. It’s like with horror movies; why do people watch horror movies? I don’t know – we have this morbid thing with fear I think. It’s almost like this morbid fascination rather.

To me personally, I think that’s why we make games and books and films. It’s like we are exploring our inhumanity if you will. That’s quite deep, but we make these games, projects, books; we write about things like that and it’s almost like we are exploring our inner selves. Why do we bother making games? Why do we bother making multi-million pound films? What’s the point? Yeah I know, for entertainment, but I think there’s also something else underneath it.

I think with horror games, they speak directly to our primal instincts; fear is one of our primal survival mechanisms. It’s really interesting; they keep making games and people keep wanting to experience new things in fear, action and story. Story ties it all up; everyone wants to be in a story and experience something outside of their world. It all goes back to escapism, going into somebody else’s shoes. That’s one of the beautiful things games can do – to put you in somebody else’s shoes and let you experience it all for yourself. When you take that feeling away with you afterwards – it’s brilliant.

I suppose it’s a process of exploring ourselves, when we play these games and watch films and stuff. I think it’s a really complex issue, but a fascinating one. I do think it’s to do with that idea of escapism and our base instinct to explore our inner nature. Fear is tied up in that, and love. The strong emotions are all tied up in that kind of exploration.

Again, with every cycle of new consoles, or generation of platforms, you can do much more with them, it’s always pushing that envelope – what they’re doing with Alien Isolation looks absolutely great, and The Evil Within looks great too. It’s a case of what can we do now with this technology? It’s like what we’ve tried to do in The Corridor is to do something that pushes things a little bit further, try and do something a little bit different so that experience is unique and fresh.

TB: Do you ever think that with ever increasingly more powerful consoles and more graphically realistic games, combined with this renewed focus on VR technology, that we will end up at a point where horror games become so realistic that they’re almost too scary or intense for a player to handle?

TNW: Interesting. I read something on the BBC recently about the future of fear in video games (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/27790865). It’s going to be interesting to see where the VR thing goes, because it’s cheap enough now, and it’s especially exciting with the stuff the Oculus Rift guys are doing with the DK2 and what Valve is doing with the low latency stuff. I think another thing is getting people to actually experience it themselves, because once you’ve had a go on it, it’s cool. Have you played it yourself?

TB: No, unfortunately not yet.

TNW: When you get chance, have a go, because it’s definitely different, and it takes a bit of getting used to, but I think that’s like anything isn’t it? My only worry is that…I wonder if it’s a safe thing? You know, people playing it safe with consoles, they know how it all works; they’ve got the joypad, or on PC they’ve got the keyboard and mouse. I mean Valve are making their own joypad.

TB: Oh yeah with the two haptic touchpad wheels.

TNW: Yeah, that’s interesting what they’re doing there. It will be interesting if things get ‘too scary’…I suppose it’s how you monitor that exactly. There’s a project they’re doing in the States which we’ve been talking to, called The Nightmare Machine, which is a VR haunted house.

TB: Oh wow!

TNW: They asked us to create something using The Corridor, but we just haven’t had the time unfortunately, which would have been cool. You basically walk around with these wireless Oculus Rifts on, and there’s 5.1 surround sound playing as you walk around this room, and it’s like you’re in a haunted house which is absolutely cool. The only problem with it is that I think it’s localised to Seattle where the developers are based, but that is ace! Stuff like that is cool, but again though, for me, there’s something about being sat, playing a horror game, in the dark, with headphones or surround sound turned up. I know it’s kind of geeky, but there’s something about it, you get that level of immersion which is absolutely fantastic. I mean, that’s why we make games isn’t it, that’s why we do what we do.

I don’t know if things will ever get too scary, because I think people are always looking for that next thing to push the envelope, but it is interesting! A lot more people now, even going back to Silent Hill, are using psychological research in their games to really pull out primal fears, and really get to the heart of what makes people afraid. That’s the key to any kind of great horror I think. Even with horror films, they pull on the strings of that deep fear that’s so primal to people. I think that’s why they work so well; people want to feel that adrenaline rush. I hope things do get scarier!

TB: Yeah me too!

TNW: I can’t imagine putting a game on and thinking “Ooh I don’t know if I can finish that”. I suppose it’s how much you get involved in that world as well; whether it really connects to you as a person. I mean there’s some films that I can’t go back and watch because you have that emotional attachment to them, and you don’t want to re-experience that emotion by watching them again. So maybe games can do the same thing.

TB: Funny you should mention that actually about films that you can’t go back to watch, one of my favourite films is Mulholland Drive, but I’ve not really been able to watch it since my first viewing because of that horrifying ‘man behind the diner’ scene. I knew David Lynch’s other work and his style going into the film, but I was just so utterly freaked out by that scene as I wasn’t expecting it whatsoever! In that moment, I was genuinely frightened out of my mind for a few moments, and I could feel my flesh crawling on my arms! Not nice, but I’m looking to get the same kind of feeling out of The Corridor as well! (Laughs)

TNW: Well I hope so! That’s the thing, can you get that emotion? I think if you can connect emotion to something, you’ve done your job. It’s like a great story or a great film or piece of music, there’s that strong emotive power behind all those kind of things. Which is what we’re trying to do; to create something that makes people really go “Argh I really don’t want to play that, but I do at the same time!” (Laughs)

The Corridor - Hatch

The Corridor: On Behalf of the Dead is currently on Kickstarter and Steam Greenlight; Back the game and give it a green vote if, like me, you’re interested in being scared witless by Doctor Crow and Fat Man. You can follow Tim and the rest of the Desktop Daydreams team on their Twitter and Facebook pages to keep up to date with the latest from them and the game.