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The success of Outlast in 2013 made Red Barrels Studio the poster child of indie success, it’s not hard to understand why considering the team’s AAA pedigree and ‘no filter’ sense of humor. We caught up with Senior Technical Artist, Alexandre Sabourin to get a glimpse at behind the scenes of Outlast 2 and find out what it’s like to be working at Red Barrels.
What do you think made Outlast so successful?
Before Outlast was even released, we had good coverage: ‘Former Ubisoft employees create their own horror game”- it’s catchy to start with. We were amongst the first to be successful in Montreal. We had a contract with TriplePoint PR, so they got us a lot of interviews with key journalists. Next thing we knew, we were at E3 right next to Sony. Sony brought us on stage as part of the presentation for their new console. All we needed to do was make the game.
Okay, I guess we really nailed the beginning of this game. We still recognize that horror pacing was one of the best we could have achieved. We worked on it for so long, you can’t even imagine. I think our success also has to do with the demo we used at E3. We worked on it over and over again until it was perfect. We were arguing over everything in there. We really worked it to the smallest detail.
Tell us about the creative process for Outlast 2
An asylum is a cliché environment to deal with and there are so many movies out there so, if you do it, you have to do it right. I studied lighting and playing with sound. I would even put sound first but there’s a lot of things that you can do with lighting. Pacing also needs to be considered and environment as well. Most people said that Outlast was stressful the whole game, so we should have done a little more of a slowdown, which is what we’re doing in Outlast 2. This game is so different. We’re in a different ballpark. Like I said, it was a cliché to work in an asylum, now, it’s set in an Arizona village of a Christian priest. We are dealing with multiple stories at once so it’s even harder to keep pace because not all the players are experiencing horror at the same time. In the film, you have the shots, and you have one thing to look at so you control everything. In the game, you don’t control that stuff, so it’s really difficult.
Then you have gore. Of course, you have to gauge the amount of gore you want to put because if you put too much, people are going to get used to it.
When you do a jump scare, you can’t do it cheaply, most of the jump scares you find on the Internet get your face close to the screen, and the next thing you know- boo! It’s not expected. It’s cheap to do it all of a sudden. I could start screaming right now, you would think, “Whoa! Is he crazy?” But if you hint that something might happen, over time, the player’s heart is going to start pounding more because they know something’s coming up. They know it, but they don’t know when. When you fire the jump scare, the player will feel guilty. They will be mad at themselves because they knew it was coming.
How do you measure if something is scary enough?
We do lots of playtests but we have to trust our guts, too. We have people playing our game, so that’s one way to know. It’s still difficult because you watch them, you can see them jump, but you don’t see other aspects like fear, dread, or stress. You have to ask the players questions. This is the hardest part because you don’t want to imply anything. You have to let them talk.
What kinds of ‘tricks’ did you use to make the game scary?
When the wind picks up, it’s always a sign that something’s coming up. When it’s quiet except the sound of fluorescent lights and all of a sudden you hear a door creaking, you start to get stressed. That’s it – you don’t need to go far. If you do too much, you’re going to throw it off, so you’ve got to go with little things.
If you’re being chased with high, tense music, with high pitch notes and you stretch it for a good amount of time, your heart is going to be racing no matter what, because you’re trying to do things properly. You have to jump over, turn right, but things are always tight, and you know if you mess up anything, you’re getting killed and you have to start over. It’s not like there’s a guy chasing you with a knife. He’s a 3D character in a video game. It scares you because all of that build up lead to this moment. You close the lights when you’re playing for that reason. The player participates a lot in making the game scary.
How has 3ds Max helped you get what you needed to be done in Outlast 2?
I would say, 3ds Max has a lot to give. I modeled sand in Max. I did all the Outlast 2 ground in Max. There is no texture. It’s just colors and 3ds Max modeling. There are so many things you can do with it. I’m not doing much of the modifiers because I do it all in Max Script now. Max Script is still so amazing. I could spend my life in there. It feels so great.
What was the most fun part of making Outlast 2?
Discovering new technologies and bringing new ideas of how this game could evolve is always the best part. Right now, we’re in the worst part, which is shipping the game. We’re just executing tasks that need to get done. The beginning of development is definitely the best part of it where you could go left or right, you don’t know. You can decide it. It’s incredible. I still can’t believe we did that, but we did it. When you have everything to lose and everything’s on the line, you just focus and get it done.
What is it like to work at Red Barrels?
It’s a circus 24/7, where so many funny things happen. That’s the best word I can use. After playing Outlast 2, you’ll understand that there is no filter in our studio- zero filter. Same for Outlast 1, but we have to keep the dialog going if we want to push the bar.