Jordan Thomas from the Question team introduced their new game The Blackout Club, a co-op horror that will fully launch on on July 30th.
Hi! I’m Jordan, writer and level designer. Question is a small group formed in 2013, a couple of us came from the Dishonored and Prey teams as well as shipped several Bioshock games. Our first game was a very dark meta-comedy called The Magic Circle that lets you take on the role of a game designer trying to finish a massive incomplete piece of vaporware that has been anticipated by fans for 20 years.
For lack of a better term, we still call these games “Immersive Sims”. It’s what we called them back then – games which put you in a rich world with many solutions to any given problem, and they invite the player to be creative. Frequently, what players decide to do with the systems will actually surprise the dev team, and we adore that. The Blackout Club is, in a way – us coming home to horror and as much immersion as we can muster, but with a more vulnerable set of protagonists and co-op play right there at the heart.
The Idea of The Blackout Club
I’ve been tinkering with the idea of this world since I started to have trouble sleeping in 2006. The notion of entities riding us around while we sleepwalk – and which speak to us, trying to convince us to grant them more control… that was core to the universe that would eventually find its first published form in The Blackout Club. That was about adults, though – and the current story is about one group of teenagers in a small town, who know very little of these mysteries and have to team up to have half a hope of surviving the night.
We were inspired by several books – anything from The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde all the way up to House of Leaves, – and movies like The Goonies, Buffy, Stranger Things, IT, and It Follows (I call this genre Teens vs. The Truth Monster). We tend towards the horror side rather than the overtly magical – the kids have enhanced abilities of a sort, but they might just be the peak of human potential. There’s always a built-in doubt about the level of magic. A lot of the cosmic horror fiction we’re inspired by leaves the audience wondering what is real and what is a stress-borne delusion. Even our amazing Discord community is always debating that.
Our approach is to script almost nothing past the single-player intro; from there, the scares emerge entirely from systems interactions. There is a boogeyman figure with a humanoid silhouette, but the players in-game cannot see it unless they close their eyes. The timing of this is entirely under player control, so you can hear this pulsating sound somewhere in the house with you, then close your eyes in time to find it right behind you. Because that just fell out of natural play, they can’t learn all the cues and know where the scares live in every case.
The kids in the game are around 14 or 15 so their greatest tool is speed and agility, clambering all over rooftops and outrunning the stronger adults that are hunting them. A lot of their gadgets and tools will temporarily disable an enemy, but the pressure never truly comes off. Each of those acts is a sin that may attract the Angel to attack them (the kids call it The Shape, like a nickname.)
There’s also the Enhanced Horror feature, which allows the game to listen to you when you’re on a mission and responds to things you say. Players have reported very strong emotional reactions to this feature, which – without spoiling – tends to affect people in a way which is unique to them.
Help from Fans
We went into Early Access fairly quickly with The Blackout Club, and have benefited massively from a very engaged community who helped us identify larger trends in balance and feel. They also submitted tons of bug reports to us, using an in-game tool.
The truth is, the game is balanced for at least two players – if you are taken out by the Angel in solo play, that’s it – the session is over. Some players elect to do that anyway for the additional challenge and level of control over their own noise & visibility profile. But it is almost like a low-key Hard Mode.
Light & Fog
Here, I’ll quote Stephen Alexander, co-owner and art wizard.
“Light almost being a physical and oppressive presence was quite important to the art direction from the very beginning. We were lucky that Unreal added support for volumetric lighting during development as we were looking into ways to engineer it ourselves. It is a combination of tricks using translucent geometry and true volumetric fog, that hand off to each other based on distance.
There is also a fair amount of support work using particles to add a little extra visual interest to the fog and sense of density variation. In addition, the lights are all tuned individually to be more or less “foggy” to get the right balance and composition for a given area, depending on the mood we want to evoke and how much information we want the player to have.”
For PC, you can get it right now on Steam at a reduced price until the end of Early Access – or buy it at full price on July 30th, 2019 when it also releases for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. We really hope you’ll dig it! If you’re hungry for some co-op horror chaos with friends, The Blackout Club might be your jam.