“Our Goal is to Scare The Shit Out of Players”: Outlast Devs Talk PS4, PS Plus and Horror

While at E3, we were able to get our hands on the award winning survival horror title Outlast, a game that we thought was so scary that we immediately had to meet the developers behind it. PSLS talked to Co-founder/President and Game Designer at Red Barrels Games, Philippe Morin, about the story behind the studio, the game and what it is like self publishing Outlast.

Dan: Where did the concept for Outlast come from?

When we left our jobs in January of 2011, we were looking for something we could do for a project and David and I had been dreaming of making a horror game for a long time, but it just didn’t happen at Ubisoft. So, when we made a list, horror games were at the top and we both came up with the nightvision concept after watching a clip from Chris Cunningham – Rubber Johnny, a song from Aphex Twin, and so that gave us a direction. We also played Amnesia, which was only like four months old at the time and we loved the no combat approach. So, that was a starting point, and from there we just made a bunch of decisions like having the game take place in an asylum and all. Then it was, what do we do from there, [do we] have zombies? Do we have patients or something along the lines of mental illness with the criminally insane? So, what you see in the demo is just a glimpse of what is going to happen in the end. You are going to meet a lot of crazy patients and you will never know what to expect from them.

Dan: You mentioned that you wanted to go the non-combative route for the game’s core concept, but with games like Dead Space 3, or even something like Call of Duty, that shows just how much gamers embrace title that are very combat focused. Do you worry that the general consumer will respond well to not being able to fight back?

Playing hide-and-seek is one of the oldest games, when you are a child you play hide-and-seek and you are afraid of the dark. So I think the experience we have created goes back to a primal fear of humanity, and I think that the response so far is great. It is basically a stealth game with a horror context. I think people will dig it. No combat is the starting point, but the whole approach is really about making players suffer [laughs].

Dan: With the game being legitimately scarey, are you worried that it could be too much for some people? As in, some people might not want to keep playing, or not even pick up the title?

Well, that might be some of the reasons why some of the big publishers have made their games more like shooters – because they were trying to reach a wider audience. We don’t have to worry with all of the overhead that they have to, we are just focusing on making a game that we want to make and hope that enough people will buy it so we can make another one [grins].

Dan: Outlast will be available for free on PS Plus for the PS4 right?

Yes, it will be on PC at the end of summer and then PS4 early 2014. It will be available for PS Plus subscribers for a month.

Dan: What is the process behind having your game released for free on PS Plus? And, how are you able to afford to give it away for free?

Well, Sony is giving it for free, not us. [Laughs]

Dan: Do you get a sum of money from Sony?

It’s a buy-up, they give us money. Usually when you make a game free like this it is because you’re hoping to have a lot of downloads, so for us, this was a no brainer – because it is the beginning of the lifecycle of the PS4. A lot more gamers will buy the console within a few months and then a few years. So, if even more people play the game at the beginning, then it means that even more people might buy it in the future. It is more like a long term decision.

Dan: Who is going to be publishing the title?

We are self publishing.

Dan: What are your thoughts on being able to do self publishing on the PS4?

Oh man it’s awesome, we may never go back. We worked with big studios for 14-15 years and for us it was just time to move on. The problem is that we like making games, but when you become a senior, they make you spend more time in meetings talking about the game. We don’t want to talk about it, we want to make it. [We all laugh]

Chandler Wood: You mentioned that a number of the staff from your studio are from Ubisoft and Naughty Dog. You definitely have a lot of talent at Red Barrels.

We got pretty lucky, we managed to pull together a very senior team. David and I worked on Sands of Time and Assassin’s Creed – even though I didn’t finish Assassin’s Creed I went on to Naughty Dog to do the first Uncharted. Hugo was the Art Director for the first Splinter Cell and the first Army of Two. We all got together at EA to work on a new IP that eventually got cancelled. The team we have right now, more than half of the team actually, was working on that project that got cancelled. For us, when it happened, it was just life’s way of kicking our butt into making us do this. [Laughs]

Dan: How big is the development team behind Outlast?

10: 2 programers, 2 animators, 2 designers and 4 artists. We have contractors for sound and audio.

Dan: Are there any plans for post-launch content such as DLC?

Oh yeah, we are making this game and planting seeds because we have a ton of ideas for sequels, prequels and DLC. But, we will just have to see what the response is and go from there. We could be doing DLC, we have created a pretty big backstory. The Asylum is really old, so we could go back to the past and see what happened in the 60s, when it was actually the Nazi scientists who were there doing the MKUltra programs, stuff like that. We are trying to build a conspiracy, but something that is rich in terms of narrative that allows us to draw a lot of ideas from.

Dan: You spoke a bit about narrative, how are you going to approach that without spoiling the tension built up when playing the game?

You want to keep players engaged, so we need to give them more, but at the same time not give them too much so that it remains mysterious. If you give them all of the answers, then the mystery falls flat and the horror becomes less effective. So, you have to give [them] enough for people to remain invested, but not too much that they aren’t afraid anymore.

Wood: How was it working with Sony as an indie developer?

Oh yeah, they have been great. Several months ago they came to Montreal, they had a meeting to explain the specs of the PS4. When they saw the demo at PAX East it only took a few weeks, a few phone calls and they offered us a spot on the PS4, to come to E3 and be part of the press conference.

Wood: So they approached you about it?

Yeah, they approached us. Exactly.

Wood: So they were just as impressed as we were?

[Laughs] Well, I guess they were. They liked the demo.

Dan: Were you on hand to see Microsoft and Sony’s press conference?

I was backstage [at Sony] because we were a part of the group of indies that went on stage to present our game. So, I saw some bits of the press conference.

Dan: What were your thoughts on the price difference between the PS4 and the Xbox One?

Well, people seem to like it [laughs], and we aren’t complaining. The more people that buy the [PS4], the more people that will buy the game.

Dan: So have you announced a price point for when you launch?

No, we are not sure yet. We are still waiting to see how many hours of gameplay. We were aiming for 5 hours, but we may have more. So, we’ll see in the next few weeks how many hours the game turns out to have and decide from there.

Dan: So it is still early in development?

Yeah, we are between alpha and beta. But it is just so atmospheric that players might play it at different speeds. So, for instance the demo, for us it is about 4-5 minutes, but on average it takes people 15 minutes to complete the demo.

Wood: Like [Dan] took longer than I did to get through like I did at some points. [laughs]

Dan: Dude, we are in the middle of an interview. This isn’t the time for that.

[We all laugh] So we will do some playtest and see where we stand.

Dan: Anything you would like to say about Outlast before we go?

Well, our goal is to scare the shit out of players [laughs]. We hope we achieve it.