In 2012, Sony and Supermassive Games announced a horror title for PlayStation 3 that worked exclusively with the Move controller. After that reveal, the game disappeared until Sony's Gamescom press conference earlier this week.
We had a chance to get an in-depth rundown from Until Dawn's executive producer Pete Samuels and executive creative director Will Byles. Supermassive Games has been hard at work on Until Dawn and a number of other Sony projects.
The team assisted with a Project Morpheus demo at E3 and worked closely with Guerrilla Games bringing the original Killzone to PlayStation 3 in HD. Supermassive also built maps for Killzone: Shadow Fall and created every playable level kit for both LittleBigPlanet and LittleBigPlanet 2.
The studio's re-revealed Until Dawn borrows some sensibilities from its earlier Move incarnation, with gyroscopic control of the game's flashlight. Everything else has been retooled for the Dual Shock 4. "The first thing I want to ask of you is to forget everything you knew about Until Dawn before this week," Samuels says. "Imagine instead a tense and terrifying horror that is realistic and believable and where you can create your own horror story through the decisions that you make and actions that you take."
At face value, Until Dawn is a combination of teen slasher flick and Quantic Dream jam. The title stars Hayden Panettiere (Heroes), as she and seven friends meet up for a vacation on a mountain. Until Dawn's hook is the "butterfly effect," an on-screen notification that appears when you've made a decision that has altered the story's path.
At the end of each section, you'll see your current story path, of which there are hundreds, illuminate on the butterfly. Once you finish the game, you can return to any previous decision point and make a different choice (similar to Virtue's Last Reward on 3DS and Vita). Each full playthrough will take approximately nine hours, and based on the layout of the butterfly map, there are four key branches early on that lead in different directions.
In the demo we saw, these include minor elements like finding clues or weapons, to major choices that could permanently end the life of one of the cast members. Until Dawn is built on three core principles: any character can die, any character can survive, and once a cast member is dead, that's it.
Supermassive have studied the genre, and took some time to lay out their understanding of terror, horror, and disgust as the pillars of creating a frightening experience. “All great terrifying horror is a mix of different types of fear,” Samuels says. “The ratio of the mix varies, but the most effective is terror. What we mean by ‘terror’ is the dread of an overwhelming, but unseen threat, rising and falling in strength, but always there. The second category is horror. Horror is the culmination of terror that happens when you come face to face with the reality and the cause of the terror. The third and least used category is disgust. Disgust is the nauseating, gory reminder of just how fragile human flesh is, how easy it is to tear or cut. It’s a reminder of your vulnerability.”
Supermassive says it is using galvanic skin response to test player fear levels as they are playing. The machine measures electrical conductivity to determine stress. These readings are plotted against on-screen content.
Using those guiding elements as the set-up, we find two characters at the mercy of the game's villain. This masked foe knows their names and knows the tragic history that saw the death of a friend at the same hotel just a year before. Supermassive closes the demo with one of the title's more challenging moral choices.
One of the characters must decide whether to shoot himself or a friend sitting restrained across from him. If he doesn't choose, spinning sawblades will come down on both of the victims, and neither will survive. Until Dawn looks to be a gritty terror-filled mystery that is very different than many of the horror titles currently available.
The ensemble cast and summer horror movie vibe offer a different take on the genre. It’s shaping up to be a gorgeous, bloody experience that may have been well worth the wait. Until Dawn will be out in 2015 for PlayStation 4.