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Dave Matthews

Dave: "The whole experience is far more intimate this time around".

Conducted by Steve Conway
November 6th, 2008

It's been a few years since we saw the release of the highly successful 'F.E.A.R. First Encounter Assault Recon', the exciting action horror/sci-fi adventure video game. Well Dave Matthews from the art department is back once again and putting the finishing touches to the upcoming release of the highly anticipated sequel 'F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin'.

Now primary art lead Dave Matthews chats to us all about the new worlds and characters we're going to uncover on the terrifying follow-up, slated for a US multi-platform release this coming February 2009.

Your plot and characters obviously take many influences from Japanese cinema, but the action feels very Western. In terms of film and games, can you cite anything in particular that has had a large affect upon the game’s conception?
I love the genre, it’s tough to narrow it down to just a couple. In terms of games, the list is varied but includes Fatal Frame, Silent Hill, Siren, Resident Evil, Eternal Darkness (Which completely messed with my head) System Shock and we could go way back in time…Phantasmagoria for the gore. When I think of games for inspiration, I look to games that separated themselves from the masses at the time and helped forge new direction in gaming. Games like Ico, Shadow of the Colossus, Mark of Kri, Cookie and Cream, and Flow all brought something new to the table.

That innovation is what I find inspiring and it urges me to bring new things to the games I work on. From the stand point of movies, the list is probably longer than my list for games! Obviously our biggest inspiration has been from Japanese horror, and the notion of taking what you expect to be innocent and harmless and turning it into this amazing destructive force.

But for FEAR 2 we also draw a lot from the current trends in Eastern European and American horror which do some really cool stuff to scare audiences. The story in the FEAR universe is maturing much like Alma, and with that maturation we needed to evolve the experience. That need caused us to look for other inspirations. The whole experience is far more intimate this time around. Alma is a more active antagonist now. She’s a lot more aggressive, and she’s going to touch you more. Alma was freed from her prison at the end of the first game, and as such her needs have changed. Her interactions with the player reflect these new needs, and we can’t wait for gamers to discover everything we’ve put into this new chapter in Alma’s story.

The character of Alma is an interesting choice for a horror game. Why do you think using a child as an antagonist in horror works so well?
I alluded to this before, but that comes directly from the themes of Japanese horror. With those types of films, the story takes something innocent and turns it around. It creates a sense of discomfort in the audience because they don’t know what to expect anymore. You confront their assumptions of how the world works and they begin to think that anything is possible.

Considering the title FEAR 2: Project Origin, can we assume the player will learn more about the history of the characters, including Alma and the protagonist, Point Man?
The world of FEAR is about Alma. It’s her story. As such, FEAR 2 is all about where she goes now. For the second chapter in FEAR, Alma’s destiny takes her away from The Point Man, for reasons that you’ll discover as you progress through the game. Instead you’ll be playing as Michael Becket.

Becket is a little more difficult to talk about in detail right now, because of how much he is tied to the story. However, as the name does imply, FEAR 2 is about where Alma came from, and the circumstances that surround her fate. A few characters will be returning, and none of them are friendly. We really can’t wait for players to discover what we’ve done with the world. It’s an exciting direction for the story.

The original FEAR was lauded as a great example of psychological horror. Of course psychological horror normally relies on the fear of the unknown, by what is heard but not seen, left to the viewer’s imagination. Yet in a game that is also full of action, how do you balance revealing the horror (for the action) versus hiding it (for the psychological horror)?
FEAR 2 is unique in the way it presents high intensity fast paced first person combat with tense horror elements. Ideally, the experience is very much like an emotional rollercoaster where one minute players are fighting apparitions in the hallways of an abandoned school and the next moment they’re laying waste to their landscape in an armored battle suit. By changing up the way they encounter enemies we constantly keep gamers on their toes and never let them get accustomed to what’s coming next.

We’ve found that because of this, it actually heightens the horror elements of the game. People are in an agitated state to begin with after barely surviving an enemy encounter, so when we suddenly begin to screw with their heads, they are in the perfect state of mind to scare the hell out of them!

Related to this, if psychological horror is a building of tension, then action can be argued to be the release of tension. Do you think this rhythm of building tension then releasing it through action sequences is what makes the FEAR series so appealing? Was this the original purpose behind the innovative mix of genres?
I guess I kind of answered your question already. But to reiterate, the mix of horror and combat is absolutely intentional. I think it’s safe to say that the tension created from combat is different from the tension created by horror, but either way it creates an excited emotional state in players that make them very susceptible to being scared.

It’s been mentioned that FEAR 2 will be more of an open-world experience than its predecessor. Can you give an indication of how open? For example can we expect a similar experience to STALKER: Shadows of Chernobyl, or are the characters, narrative and action more tightly plotted than that?
We’ve opened the world up for sure. The constant hallway and cubicles of FEAR seemed to get repetitive, and this relates back to my answer about constantly keeping players experiencing new things so they don’t become inured scares and combat. The same applies for environments that players navigate through. Additionally, we wanted to open the world up more and show players what happened after the explosion from FEAR. We wanted to give a sense of scope to the devastation it wrought, and to the power that Alma now has.

In relation to this, the original relied quite heavily on the claustrophobia of the small offices and tight corridors to create horror; how do you now maintain the horror in an open-world structure?
That’s an interesting question, because our expectations of what would happen differ from what actually happened. One of the blessings of the close quarter combat was the way it created moments of incredibly high intensity, fast encounters. It was just the nature of the space and how players ended up utilizing it. When we opened the world up we found that encounters changed as a result. They weren’t the same frenetic combat experience as before. That’s not to say it wasn’t fun, it just means that players were forced to change their strategies and find new ways of overcoming foes who aren’t as easy to flank due to the space, which once again ties back into my discussion of keeping the game fresh. As I’m sure you can guess, variety was one of the key design tenets of FEAR 2 when we began development!

In the original the protagonist had a few superhuman abilities up his sleeve; can we expect to see an extension of these abilities in the sequel? How will they impact the gameplay?
We haven’t added anything new to our combat moves, instead we’ve tried to enhance what we have and make them all the more effective in game. There’s nothing quite as cool as stunning an enemy with a blast of your shotgun and then jump kicking them in slow motion. It’s a cool element of our game that you don’t see anywhere else, and we didn’t want to risk making it more complicated or less effective to use.

Audio is always an important aspect of any game, but in horror it is absolutely vital. How are you using sound to enhance the horror experience?
Sound design is without a doubt a fundamental component of any horror game. Creating sounds that seem unearthly, and yet not entirely unfamiliar creates an odd discomfort with players. Then of course sudden loud sounds are also effective! And while shock scares are great, FEAR 2, and FEAR before it, prefer to build upon the suspense and grab players when they least expect it. The famous static effect comes to mind, but also the disembodied voices that you will hear and the general creepiness of the world are all being worked on and will be much refined. I don’t want to spoil it, but some of the sounds that the more unconventional creatures manifest are unlike anything! They’re great, and the moans and screams alone are enough to terrify.

The ability to manipulate the environment has become a large part of the first-person shooter experience since arguably Half-Life 2. Will FEAR 2 allow the player to manipulate the environment around them to their advantage?
Interactivity in the environment is something we are paying a great deal of attention to. Not only are we allowing for dynamic environment destruction when using the huge EPA or the APC mounted turret, but we’ve added all kinds of interactive objects that the player can use to change the combat space and gain the upper hand.

Will there be any opportunity for multiplayer or is FEAR 2 strictly a single player experience?
We recognize how important being able to compete with your friends online is for FPSs, and it’s something we definitely will be including for FEAR 2. Unfortunately we cannot go into detail at this time but we will be talking about multiplayer soon!

"Thank you ever so much for taking part in this interview Dave.
And we wish you the very best of luck with the release of 'Fear 2'."

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