During this years EGX show in the UK, I got hands on with the upcoming puzzle platformer from Swedish based developer Tarsier Studios, Little Nightmares and spoke to their CEO, Ola Holmdahl. Their pedigree is clearly visible as they have created downloadable content for Little Big Planet and worked with Media Molecule on Tearaway.
The stand publisher Bandai Namco UK put together was a wonderfully realised oversized, somewhat grotesque, kitchen that helped put you into the role of the main protagonist, Six. This young girl will pull you back to those childhood fears you thought were buried deep in your subconscious.
You control her through a series of environments that have some wonderful interaction with objects as you are encouraged to explore the ‘dollhouse’. Standing out in your bright yellow rain coat, the ominous surroundings make you stand out until darkness arrives and you have only a lighter to see your way forward.
The muted colour palette coupled with the vignette effect and whimsical almost nightmarish soundscape put you at unease from the start. But its when you’re introduced to the ‘Chef’ that it begins to become truly unsettling. This is where you need to manoeuvre Six avoiding the beady eyes of the slovenly giant for fear of being caught and perhaps being cooked up in the next dish. Keep an eye out for the other little creatures that scurry about into the shadows as they try and avoid a similar fate.
When I asked Ola about the original concept, he told me that back in 2013 they had sketched out two characters, one small and vulnerable, the other large and overbearing…and from this they took inspiration to craft a story that will evolve into the story of Six and the larger than life creatures she will meet along her adventures. The original prototype and working title of the game, HUNGER, can be seen below where the style, artwork and soundscape developed.
When I pointed out the steady and unsettling side to side motion (which you only notice after a minute or so) of the screen, Ola revealed that you are in fact trapped inside the depths of an iceberg that is floating on the ocean. Its from this ‘prison’ which you must escape.
During my playthrough, I’d experimented, albeit against my will, with the death mechanics the game offers and I was keen to ask Ola if the deaths in the game would be as gruesome as the mood of the game would suggest. This is one of those titles I’d love my kids to experience, but he told me it was a conscious decision by the team to present a ‘fade to black’ when Six meets an untimely end. Because the player is disconnected from the character via the dollhouse perspective, Tarsier Studios wants to draw you in and showing footage of Six coming to a grisly end would only further distance the player. A creative move that will no doubt open up the audience and may make your nightmares a little more bearable after playing this in the dark.
The demo ends as we fall into a room full of old shoes…reminiscent of some of the most horrific images during our worlds recent history of war and unrest. Its then that your mind starts to wander and think back to the Chef’s ingredients he was chopping up earlier…. is this some sort of ‘Sweeny Todd’ moment?
Ola told me the team did experiment with their own in house engine, but chose to use the Unreal Engine 4 because of its ease of use and wide ranging support it offered. This is allowing them to focus on the final elements of the story development as they aim for a Spring 2017 release on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC.
I cant wait to get back to the world and see how Six’s story unfolds.
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Here’s the original prototype Hunger Trailer from Tarsier Studios.