By Marty Mulrooney
Asylum is ‘a psychological horror adventure inspired by H. P. Lovecraft and set in a massive, decaying mental institute.’ Currently being developed by Senscape, the game was successfully crowd-funded via Kickstarter in late February 2013. Agustin Cordes, the man behind the cult horror adventure game Scratches (which sold over 250,000 copies), seems determined to make this an equally terrifying, albeit much more polished experience for fans of the genre. There will be an entire asylum, with close to 100 rooms, to explore. Alternative Magazine Online is therefore proud to present an exclusive online interview with independent video game designer – and founder of Senscape – Agustin Cordes!
Hi Agustin, thank you for your time and welcome to AMO!
My pleasure, glad to be in touch with AMO, and thank you for this opportunity!
Can you tell our readers a little bit about yourself please?
Certainly. I’m a long-time fan of the adventure genre, by far my preferred type of games. Over the years I became very involved with its community and eventually I went on to develop adventures myself. I happen to like horror very much, which has been my focus so far.
When did you first discover your love for adventure games?
I remember as if it was yesterday, even though I was 7 or 8 years old: I discovered adventure with King’s Quest, a title that completely changed my perception of games. Until then I had spent time playing stuff like Space Invaders or Zaxxon. The first Sierra game I played was revelatory for me, and I’ve been a huge fan of the genre ever since.
Is it true that you started working in the gaming industry as an adventure game journalist?
Indeed. It was a hobby for many years, in which I occasionally wrote articles and reviews for the Just Adventure website. I have very fond memories of that time. These days I have a blog where I like to post ramblings about cult movies and games, but it hasn’t been updated in a while.
You later went on to work as the designer and programmer of Scratches, the first commercial adventure game ever to be made in Argentina. For those who have yet to play this cult classic adventure game, what can you tell us about it?
It was quite a ride that took us over two years to complete without a budget. It also was the first title I designed while the game industry in Argentina was still in its early stages, so there was a lot of pressure. However, I’m very happy how things turned out. Barring technical difficulties and unfortunate bugs, it’s really the game I wanted to make, and I’m still amazed to this day how many fans it has earned.
It clearly shows the influence by H. P. Lovecraft and Hammer Films, and thus my approach to subtle, brooding horror. It was too difficult though and badly paced at times, and while I wouldn’t change its design now, those are things that perhaps I should have improved back then.
Scratches was released in 2006, followed by a Director’s Cut in 2007. What have you been up to since then?
During 2007 and half of 2008 I worked on a large educational project called Risk Profile. It was requested by the government of Argentina to teach children about social responsibilities. The development was a fun, albeit very stressful experience, and the resulting title was well received by kids and adults alike, with many still clamouring for a sequel. Unfortunately, the game was only released in Argentina and was never translated to any other languages.
You recently announced your latest horror adventure game, Asylum, via Kickstarter. What can you tell us about this exciting new point-and-click adventure?
Actually, Asylum was announced a while ago, but it’s true that it gained more attention with the Kickstarter campaign. It’s similar in spirit to Scratches, especially in execution and approach to design, but different in many other ways. It will provide a more disturbing experience, and it’s a far cry in a technological sense from Scratches. While it boasts a simplified interface which is more comfortable to play with, the game remains a traditional adventure at its core.
When was Senscape founded? Who else will be working with you to create the game?
The company was founded in 2010, but truth is that we were already working on Asylum for some time already. The team mostly consists of some of the same folks that worked on the Risk Profile project. Right now we’re four people, and thanks to the successful Kickstarter I’m bringing more team members to the project. However, for a long time we were just two guys working on the game, which is why it’s been delayed for so long.
The story is being kept mostly under wraps – what are the reasons behind this decision?
I want to see players engaging Asylum with as little information as possible. This is an approach that worked really well in Scratches — players didn’t know what to expect (they thought the game was going to be a “typical” haunted house experience), but it soon became apparent this wasn’t the case.
Similarly, the story in Asylum is very intricate and will provide some genuinely surprising revelations. But, the less you know about it, the better. It’s difficult to pull such things these days with the Internet and the need to disclose information, but so far we’ve managed to kept the details of the story tightly under wraps.
How scary are you aiming to make Asylum?
Very. Scary and jarring. We’ve been careful not to cross the line, but we come pretty close at times. We are creating scenes that will haunt you for years.
How difficult is it to evoke the emotion of fear with traditional point-and-click adventure gameplay?
Not difficult, depending on the type of horror you prefer. If you want to create a sense of danger and anxiety, then you’re better off with a survival horror game. But I want to focus on the story and a kind of horror that slowly grows on you and operates inside your head. For that, the adventure genre form is just perfect.
The scope of the game seems massive – how long had Asylum been in development before it was announced via Kickstarter?
Around three years, and it’s going to be four with this one. It’s a massive project alright.
What is the technology powering the game?
We developed our own engine called Dagon. It’s especially tailored for adventure games and performs very smoothly. Just as importantly, it’s very portable, something that was missing in most dedicated adventure engines. It also happens to be free to use and open source.
What made you decide to crowd-fund Asylum and what made Kickstarter the perfect platform to do so?
Simply put, we were running out of money. Sounds clichéd, I know, but you don’t have a choice if you want to do a large game with expensive graphics. We could have sought investors or tried to strike a deal with a publisher, yes, but I decided to try my luck with our community and remain independent, and the outpouring of support has been amazing. I do believe Kickstarter is the best platform for crowdfunding.
What can you tell us about the main character that the player will be controlling?
He’s an ex-patient returning to the allegedly abandoned Hanwell Mental Institute, the asylum where the game takes place, to seek answers about the bizarre hallucinations he’s suffering. And that’s all I’m saying!
You asked for $100,666 and ended up raising $119,426 – how will this money be spent? The 666 was a nice touch!
Hiring more people, renting an office so that all of us can work together (up until now we were working from our homes!), and paying many expenses. It’s the only way we can ensure that Asylum will be completed in a reasonable time. Otherwise, it could have taken years, and the whole development was in danger.
What rewards can backers look forward to?
The main focus has been on giving backers the opportunity to participate in the game themselves, be it in the form of visitors, inmates, or doctors (staff in the asylum) in a way that doesn’t interfere with the story. Many people had been asking for this, given the detailed and lifelike environment we created for the game, since well before the Kickstarter. Other than that, we offered the soundtrack, t-shirts, beta access, etc.
What platforms are you planning to release Asylum on?
We have confirmed Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, and maybe a bit later iPad. We’re also going to work on Android, but that’s all I can confirm for now.
What have been your favourite adventure games of the past few years?
Thank you for your time – I backed Asylum and I can’t wait to play the finished game!
Thank you so much! You won’t be disappointed. Each passing day we’re ensuring that Asylum will be an experience that you won’t easily forget!