Xbox Series X Makes Horror Game The Medium's Key Feature Possible, Developer Teases
Wojciech Piejko, lead designer of the Xbox Series X exclusive horror game The Medium, says he had a secret feature in mind that kept it from being made for almost a decade.
Bloober Team has made its name on horror games like Layers of Fear, The Observer, and Blair Witch. During Microsoft's most recent Inside Xbox presentation, the studio debuted its latest tense thriller, an Xbox Series X exclusive called The Medium. GameSpot spoke with lead game designer Wojciech Piejko about how the studio approaches its ideas, how it's taking advantage of the next-gen technology, and the secret feature that kept this project from being made for almost a decade.
Piejko started by explaining how, like most horror fiction, all of its games are fundamentally metaphors for larger themes.
"We at Bloober are specializing in creating psychological-horror games, but we are not doing it only to scare the shit out of people, but also to tackle a specific subject," he said. "Layers of Fear was about work versus family. Of course it's still a horror game, but at its heart, it's telling you about more mature and more important topics. Then we created The Observer with Rutger Hauer, and this [was about] what makes us humans. And then we developed the Blair Witch game, which tells a story about the inner guilt that burns you from the inside. That's our philosophy of making games."
"The Medium is a game about points of view. So nothing is simple, nothing is black and white, and everything depends on the perspective and the information we have. Playing as a medium will give us a very unique vantage point that's beyond the reach for ordinary people."
The protagonist of The Medium, Marianne, is haunted by visions of a child's murder, so she travels to an abandoned hotel looking for answers.
In a much more literal sense, The Medium changes Bloober's usual perspective. Piejko noted that while the studio has traditionally made first-person games, this one switches to a third-person perspective with fixed camera angles--similar to early survival horror games like Resident Evil or Silent Hill.
"The decision was made to provide a more cinematic experience for the players," he said. "So basically we are designing the game like a movie, we're trying to find the best or most disturbing camera angles for the upcoming events. And the switch to the third-person perspective also giving us tools to have a more immersive, more cinematic experience, and show other emotions than we did before with the first-person perspective."
For example, he said, if someone is dying in the arms of Marianne, you can't see the emotions on her own face using a first-person perspective.
The Silent Hill connections don't end at the forced perspective. The music is being crafted by Silent Hill composer Akira Yamaoka. The studio met with him after Tokyo Game Show, when both The Medium and the Blair Witch Project were in development.
"We said to him that we are, right now, working on the two projects and we would really love to show The Medium to him," Piejko said. "He just put the headphones on and watched our gameplay there. And I was sitting there, waiting and nervous. I was like, 'Oh, hope he will like it. Hope he will like it.' And then Akira put the headphones down and said something like, 'You guys mentioned that you're making two games. I want to make both of them.'"
As for the power afforded by the new generation, Piejko is excited about the increased hardware power. He said the tools allow Bloober to model its spirit world after the artwork of the Polish artist Zdzisław Beksiński, known for his dystopian surrealism. He said the spirit world is "not based in any religion" and instead looks "even more sinister" and surprising.
Another next-gen feature Piejko is looking forward to is the solid-state drive. Since Bloober's games are so connected to their mood and atmosphere, it's important to deliver games without interruptions like loading times.
"For the immersion that is crucial in our games, it was the best feature and it was delivered by Microsoft. And of course the raw house power is great," he said. "So we are now able to deliver our vision of The Medium for the first time just how we imagined it."
In fact, The Medium has been in development--at least as a concept--since 2012. Piejko said it's only now that the technology has caught up with the studio's vision--but he's tight-lipped about exactly how.
"The idea was like in 2012, I think, the first iteration of it," he said. "Of course the game changed and our approach changed, but only next-gen is able to handle our vision. So yeah, we've been waiting for this.
"I can't tell you right now about our most important feature, because we will have to save it for later. But the gameplay mechanic built around those two worlds couldn't be fully realized on current-gen hardware. This is something that I think will distinguish our game from any other. It's also even patented. So yeah, the game simply cannot work the same way on current-gen platforms. And that's why we are developing the game for Xbox Series X, plus PC."
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