The Suffering: Ties That Bind Designer Diary #2

Richard Rouse III returns to talk about creating the sinister and moody atmosphere in the upcoming horror sequel's horrific rendition of Baltimore.


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Next month, Surreal Software will deliver The Suffering: Ties That Bind, the sequel to last year's grisly prison-based horror game. In the new game, beleaguered main character Torque will move well beyond the prison walls, taking his fight against evil into the mean streets of Baltimore's inner city. In our second designer diary, Surreal creative director and Ties That Bind writer Richard Rouse III tells us how the design and art teams have worked to establish the game's version of Baltimore as an atmospheric, horrific, and ultimately realistic environment.

A Certain Sense of Place

By Richard Rouse III, Creative Director & Writer

A large part of the success of the The Suffering came out of its very particular sense of place. The game was a horror title, but what made it unique as a piece of fiction was the game being set in a maximum security prison. This was an environment which had not been used in many horror games or games in general. Beyond that, having a horror story set in a prison was a fairly unique combination in any media. This worked in our favor from the start of the game's development all the way up to shipping, since we could tell people it was a horror game set in a prison and they would immediately have a good idea of what sort of experience The Suffering would provide.

For The Suffering: Ties That Bind, we wanted to create something that really stood apart from the first game, and that meant a significant change of environment. We knew early on we wanted to keep using Torque as a main character, and we knew Torque wasn't someone who would travel to a rural area or one of the small towns common to so much horror fiction. So putting Torque in the city seemed to fit. Furthermore, The Suffering has always been about trapping the player in a real-world location where they instinctively wouldn't want to be. We want to feature locations that involve real-world horrors and thereby will complement and enhance the supernatural horror component of the game. Putting Torque in the roughest neighborhoods of a decaying inner city made so much sense that we knew we had hit on the right setting for Ties That Bind.

The team wanted the new game to take place in a setting with a rich historical context.
The team wanted the new game to take place in a setting with a rich historical context.

In the first game we had set the game off the coast of Maryland because we wanted to be able to incorporate the history of the East Coast of the US. We really want to create a sense of a lingering evil that has been resident for centuries. By placing the game in the mid-Atlantic region we could pull on historical events from up and down the coast. So we could include witch trials, something which had taken place primarily in New England, while also accessing some of the history of the South, in particular the dark legacy of slavery. With the game set in Maryland we were able to draw on historical events from all up and down the East Coast while still remaining relatively believable.

From an island off the coast of Maryland, wanting to go to an urban environment led us to one obvious choice: Baltimore. Baltimore's mid-Atlantic location means we can pull on the same historical variety that we did in the first game, and Baltimore's dark past and present is a major part of the story of Ties That Bind. Baltimore was also a good choice because it's a city that has not been overused by games or other media. At the same time, Baltimore was also favored because I loved what I'd seen of the seedy underbelly of the city in the TV shows Homicide and The Wire. Further helpful was that I had lived in Washington DC, which is a short hour away from Baltimore, and one of our lead environment artists had actually lived in Baltimore for a number of years.

But despite our experience with the location, we wanted to do further research to make sure we got the flavor of the city right. Thus a group of us went on a research trip to Baltimore, which, though short, enabled us to collect extensive photo reference on the city. We certainly captured a lot about Baltimore's distinct row-house architecture, but we also visited some of the city's rundown harbor areas, which are also a big part of the environments in Ties That Bind. We spent a lot of time looking at Baltimore City Correctional Center, a long-standing Baltimore prison which takes up a large chunk of land near downtown.

Ties That Bind's setting will allow the team to make use of Baltimore's more interesting areas.
Ties That Bind's setting will allow the team to make use of Baltimore's more interesting areas.

The prison is fascinating because of its distinct look and feel, which incorporates a wide variety of architecture styles from the various eras in which it was expanded. This facility inspired our own Eastern Baltimore Correctional Facility, Ties That Bind's urban prison, which represents a big contrast to the prison found in first game. We also wanted to have a public housing development immediately next to the prison that included the group home where Torque grew up. When we did our research trip to Baltimore we found exactly what we needed: next to Baltimore City Correctional is a large public housing development including the Latrobe Homes. It made sense to me that public housing would be located on the undesirable real estate immediately adjacent to a prison, and it was chilling to see my suspicion borne out in reality.

It's important to note that we definitely didn't create a cartographically correct Baltimore for Ties That Bind. For the needs of our action horror experience, we had to take extensive liberties with the layout of the city. But I think anyone who has visited Baltimore will agree Ties That Bind captures the architectural style and general mood of Charm City, if not the actual layout. It's also important to note that Baltimore has plenty of nicer neighborhoods, such as the Inner Harbor and the neighborhoods surrounding Druid Hill Park. However, we didn't put them in the game, since that's not exactly conducive to a chilling horror experience. Like many eastern seaboard cities above a certain size, Baltimore has the decaying and forgotten neighborhoods that make a perfect setting for the terrifying environment we needed for The Suffering: Ties That Bind.

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