Interview With Tarsier On PS4 Exclusive "Hunger": "Suspense Adventure Meaning, Comparison With Limbo" & More Explained
In February 2015, Tarsier Studios announced their brand PlayStation 4 exclusive title, "Hunger". The overall concept of the game was pretty simple, "A young girl is trapped in a labyrinth full of monsters and wants to escape. It will be your job to help her do this." The debut trailer was very well received by PlayStation fans as it looked absolutely incredible and Jaw Dropping. For Hunger, Tarsier Studios describe the genre as "suspense-adventure", and this word raised the curiosity to know more about Hunger.
So, Gamepur recently got it touch with Dave Mervik (Senior Narrative Designer at Tarsier Studios) to know some more details about Hunger and what PlayStation 4 gamers can expect to see.
Gamepur: Hi Dave and thanks for this interview! Would you spend a word or two to describe your role in the Hunger project and what you guys at Tarsier are doing now?
Dave Mervik: I'm the Narrative Designer on Hunger and it's my job to make sure the story, characters, and world of The Maw all fit together nicely. Right now, we're trying to scrape ourselves off the ceiling after the unbelievable reaction to our teaser video, but apart from that we're carrying on with the Hunger Prototype, making sure that it does exactly what we said it would!
Gamepur: How much time have you been spending on the project before showing the world the first info and trailer? It was in-game, so could you already share a perceptual of completion for the entire title?
Dave Mervik: The project as it stands right now has been worked on since we got the funding from Nordic Game and Creative Europe. Before we got that though, a handful of us spent a few months on a Unity prototype to prove that this type of approach to gameplay and atmosphere could work. It did, and that gave us the extra confidence to really sell the idea to others both inside and outside the company.
Gamepur: What did you mean exactly when, describing it, you defined the game a suspense adventure? We are expecting more than a "simple" platform now...
Dave Mervik: And I should hope so too! There will be aspects of platforming, but this is not a platformer, nor is it a horror, it's very much a fusion of styles. To be effective as a suspense-adventure game, Hunger is borrowing elements from a number of different genres - the tense, unnerving atmosphere of survival horror; the excitement and exploration of dventure games; and the playful use of the environment that you find in platformers. For Hunger to do what it's set out to do, it can't stick to one genre, needs to strike a balance between several.
Gamepur: Talking about the trailer, I was surprised by the fact that in all of the scenes there was something moving in the background. Having elements moving in every location is a precise design choice of the team? Shall this have an impact on the gameplay?
Dave Mervik: Most definitely. From the very beginning, we've wanted this world to feel alive and filled with things to explore, interact with, and trigger the player's curiosity. They shouldn't be able to walk into a room, figure it out, and get out straight away. For us, that devalues the environment - a massive part of the experience - and makes it nothing more than an obstacle to vault or a box to tick. There's no sense of adventure or suspense in a world that feels irrelevant.
Gamepur: Lot of Hunger reminds me of Limbo. For example, the sense of abandon that from the scenes of the trailer, Six's journey to leave a nightmarish world she might not know how she got in... Limbo looked anyway more desperate and metaphorical while Hunger seems to show the real, practical effects of any action, maybe because of the horror vibe... Based on what you are doing on the game, do you agree with this consideration?
Dave Mervik: That's a really interesting question, and you've probably phrased the question better than I can answer it! It's actually been interesting that the majority of people who have watched the teaser, talk about it as a side-scroller or a 2D platformer like LIMBO. Only a handful have realised that this is a game with full 3D movement. They're getting a whole extra dimension for free! The LIMBO comparisons are extremely flattering, and I guess there are similarities to be drawn, but they are also two very different beasts. The biggest inspiration for us, though, is that it proved that games can be both individual and still hugely successful.
Gamepur: I have a passion for names: what about "Six"? Could you share more details about this character?
Dave Mervik: Me too. Names can be a really quiet and effective way of planting ideas that you want to build on. All that said, Six actually started life as a character in a different game! With no Hunger yet on the horizon, I went rogue and did a treatment on something else, and Six was the name of our main character's little brother. Then as now, I loved its androgyny and ambiguity, and it felt a shame to consign it to the mothball sack. Now that it's a part of Hunger, the meaning behind the name is ever-evolving, and the player will be free to interpret her name as they see fit. They won't be short of clues, or red herrings.
Gamepur: On Tarsier's official website, you state that Hunger is sort of a spiritual successor to The City of Metronome (E3 2005's concept). Would you explain what you mean by saying that?
Dave Mervik: I guess we shouldn't have called it a successor since The City of Metronome never actually came out, but it means that this type of game is in our genetic make-up. Tarsier Studios effectively began with Metronome and the people that have since joined were all drawn by that same desire to make this type of game. It is something that resonates within all of us here, and something that feels very natural and instinctive.
Gamepur: LittleBigPlanet has been a great adventure of yours, but you have been working on a more mature concept since the first teaser of The City of Metronome. Did you enjoy your time on Sony's series or was it a bit frustrating not being able to express the real soul of Tarsier?
Dave Mervik: In so many ways, the LBP series has been instrumental in where we find ourselves right now. Working with the incredibly creative folks at Media Molecule, and learning from the experience of Sony XDEV has proved invaluable and something that we appreciate to this day. There was never any frustration working on LittleBigPlanet, because you go into it with your eyes open from the start. This is somebody else's baby, and a project that most companies would give their eye teeth to work on, so you treat it with the respect and love it deserves. Of course, you can't help dreaming of one day expressing your own vision and it's getting there with Hunger - but I like to think we brought a bit of that Tarsier flavour to LittleBigPlanet: PSVita.
Gamepur: Tarsier has been awarded over 200,000 in development support from both Nordic Game and the Creative Europe Programme of the European Union - that is great. Before seeking those funds, did you have talks with any publisher?
Dave Mervik: Yes, as the idea started to take shape, we talked to Sony XDEV about it, but it was still early days and we wanted to find the absolute core of the concept and prove that it had legs first. The support from Nordic Game and Creative Europe was the perfect opportunity to do this. What was very cool was that Sony XDEV recognised our passion for this concept straight away, and they did not stand in our way when the chance to apply for funding arrived. I think that's a real testament to the level of trust and respect that has grown between us over the years.
Gamepur: European Union and Nordic Game funds allowed you to become a true indie developer. At this point, do you still plan to publish your game exclusively on PlayStation platforms or are you open to PC and Xbox? You should have known I was about to ask that...
Dave Mervik: Of course! And it's the question that has filled the message boards since the teaser came out. Right now, the platform is unconfirmed. I can't stop you reading too much into that, but it is quite simply that we are yet to make an official announcement.
Gamepur: Talking about PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, did you read the recent discussions about the resolution of next-gen games? People seems to care more about 1080p rather than the game mechanics, such as gameplay itself or narrative, as shown by the latest Nielsen survey. Which is your position about this matter? Do you have any technical milestone set for Hunger (like 1080p, 60fps etc.)?
Dave Mervik: For us, the gameplay and feeling comes first, because if people don't enjoy playing Hunger and it doesn't connect with them, it won't matter if we've made it look really nice. The look of Hunger comes through more in its stylistic choices. That being said, higher framerates and resolution are of course nice.
Gamepur: One last question about the release window for Hunger: do you already have plans about the launch?
Dave Mervik: No firm plans as yet, but we're definitely planning to release this one!
Good luck to you and Tarsier on this new adventure, and thanks for your time, Dave! Gamepur readers will surely appreciate.