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The Inpatient

A Supermassive chat on The Inpatient, narrative, and VR

Best known for Until Dawn, Supermassive has had a prolific output of games in recent years.

Jump scares is something that tends to divide players and one could argue they're even more divisive in VR. What's your stance and how do you go about striking the right balance of putting the player on the edge and not overdoing it?

Pete Samuels: We're conscious that we shouldn't rely on them too much but we think jump scares have a place in the types of horror stories that we develop. At the most basic level they serve as a sudden release for the player's anxiety at an appropriate moment in time. However, we do understand that every player has a different tolerance for shocks and so aim to strike a balance that we believe most will appreciate. More generally it's not always easy to find the right balance between terror, horror and gross-out, because the balance is different depending on what the experience is trying to achieve. We don't use gore gratuitously and have tried to minimise the gross-out in the work we've done so far. However, it can serve a serious narrative purpose in conveying a future possibility for a character. Whilst often the most effective tool in horror, the terror is the most difficult thing to achieve and sustain.

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Another recent release from the studio was Hidden Agenda, in some ways the polar opposite of The Inpatient as it encompassed a social narrative experience. How would you compare these two projects?

Pete Samuels: Designed for group play, with smartphones replacing PlayStation controllers, Hidden Agenda is a very different kind of experience to The Inpatient. However, for both titles the narrative was still critically important, as was the dialogue, and we were keen to get the right scriptwriters on board. So we turned again to Larry Fessenden and Graham Reznick, who bought their sharp, smart dialogue style to both Hidden Agenda and The Inpatient and, once again, really helped bring the characters to life and helped keep the script tight across numerous branching storylines.  Hitting a high visual fidelity in both games is something that was very important for us too.

The most significant similarity of The Inpatient with Hidden Agenda is that the nature of the branching narrative means that player-choices will have consequences in their story, be they immediate consequences or longer lasting effects on the narrative, including the permanent loss of characters. Players' choices will still have a very profound effect, with life and death decisions in their hands.

The Until Dawn franchise now spans three wildly different titles. How do you regard the franchise in terms of overarching themes. Is there a roadmap for it or ideas for more in the future?

Pete Samuels: We've returned to the world of Until Dawn twice already in VR with the PlayStation VR launch title, Until Dawn: Rush of Blood, and the VR prequel to Until Dawn, The Inpatient. We are very fond of the world we created in Until Dawn and we never say never! Right now though we're very busy with some other projects that we're really excited about, so that's where our focus is.

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Supermassive Games has a quite diverse catalogue of titles from Walking with Dinosaurs and Doctor Who, to Until Dawn, Hidden Agenda and Bravo Team. What would you say they have in common and what's the focus moving forward for the studio?

Pete Samuels: It's fair to say that some of our earlier titles reflect us finding our feet as a studio - but we've always been keen to innovate in whatever we do. Our first game Tumble was one of the launch games for PlayStation Move while Until Dawn bought movie quality visuals and script to the PlayStation 4. These are very different games but both reflect our push for innovation. High quality storytelling is another important focus and we have a studio-wide passion to create stories and experiences that fully immerse our players.

How would you describe the process of working with actors on a game like The Inpatient? How important is their contribution and was there anything that stood out in your recording sessions?

Pete Samuels: The performances of the actors in games like Until Dawn, The Inpatient, and Hidden Agenda is an incredibly valuable piece in the whole storytelling effort. We've been very fortunate to work with the likes of Peter Stormare, Hayden Panettiere, Rami Malek and Katie Cassidy, but every actor we've worked with has managed to bring something special to our storytelling. There have been many stand-out moments in our performance capture sessions. Some actors, like Hayden, bring huge energy to a session that uplifts everyone in the room. One of Rami's performances in Until Dawn was so powerful that it left the whole set in a stunned silence, immediately followed by rapturous applause. Bruce Gray, as Jefferson Bragg, brought a vast amount of acting experience to The Inpatient set. At times he would edit his own script with humorous results.

What's next for Supermassive? Having just released The Inpatient and Bravo Team for PSVR, we can't help but wish they'd get a shot at a full-on sequel to Until Dawn next...