Category Archives: Blog

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Blog #3: Balancing Act

Category : Blog


My dream is to make my living creating games. It’s easier said than done. The industry is incredibly exclusive, and the increased accessibility of engines and editors has created a market saturated with people who share that dream, leading to fierce competition just to be noticed and find an audience.

I’m a sociable person, which has helped me find a place in the indie community and release two games for PC and a number of small mobile projects. These projects have given me the privilege of working with fantastically talented people from different cultures and backgrounds, forging relationships across the globe around the common goal of game development. And I’ve done this all, essentially, on nights and weekends, because I have a day job.

This is a simple reality for many indie developers. We are starving artists. We have service jobs and office jobs, and we make games out of a passion for the craft rather than guaranteed compensation. We dream of one day being able to devote ourselves to our craft full time, and that drive keeps us going despite long hours in the face of exhaustion.

I think it comes down to three factors: motivation, organization, and sacrifice.

The motivation I’m talking about is along the lines of obsession. This isn’t a “get rich quick” scheme. It’s not a quest to be a millionaire and live in a mansion. It’s a true desire to become a working game developer. My previous projects taught me not to chase that big pot of gold. I feel a lot of people get caught up in that mindset, including myself when I started out. You better learn quickly, and if you don’t have that deep-seated compulsion to make games, you won’t stick with it. Life will catch up, other things will take priority. But if you have that singular motivation, then you won’t be able to do anything else. You’ll have no choice but to stay the course.

I’ve been hindered in the past by a lack of organization. I’m a bit of a scatterbrain–always looking ahead to the next problem, then the next, and so on. Improving documentation has helped with that, and implementing a project management tool into our production pipeline and getting the team on board to using it has saved me precious time in the last three months. Instead of working off of pure initiative and chasing people around, we just create ‘tasks’ that we need each other to do. I hate to think of the countless hours I’ve wasted pinging messages across various channels to get a simple update on something. It’s crucial for a team to organize around a solid, unambiguous workflow and clear documentation. When the darker times in development come, you can look back at it and say, ‘Crap, look at how much we’ve actually done!’ This kind of discipline affects the quality of your work as well and demonstrates a capability to operate professionally, beyond the level of a hobby.

Sacrifice will come in many forms. Your leisure time will be usurped by development. It will steal you away from your family and friends if you let it. Unfortunately, there just aren’t enough hours in the week to fulfill your obligations to your employer and to your passion without your personal life going down the toilet a bit. That’s the nature of development–it’s not simply time-consuming, it’s life-consuming. We’ve all been there: a bug we expected to be a quick fix has suddenly eaten into a day, maybe two, and in extreme cases even longer. Your friends, your significant other, your parents, your dog–they don’t see much of you until you emerge from your lair for food or air or a fleeting moment of social contact.

It can be easy to get lost in the vortex, so as you juggle motivation, organization, and sacrifice, it becomes very important to not neglect self-care entirely. A friend of mine, who used to be an independent artist and now works full-time on games, offered me a piece of advice: “work smarter not harder”. This means don’t work 6 hours from 6 pm until midnight and produce sloppy work because of fatigue. Instead, do 3 hours where you feel energized, and you’ll produce better work that doesn’t need re-evaluating later. Make sure you sleep well. This is so important. The human brain can only endure so much in a single day, and working on games is mentally taxing. Make sure to factor in breaks every now and again away from the PC, console, or phone. Take a walk, go out for a meal, see the family, etc. These are important facets that are overlooked when all you can think about is your game. The result can be poor work, which means you’ll waste more time re-doing it later on.

Pursuing passion is hard, and in a craft as complex as game development, it can seem impossible. Managing the necessities of life while trying to make your dream a reality is truly a balancing act. Never overlook what a project management application can do for organizing you and your team. Make sure to take care of yourselves, as the better you feel (this means sleep) in yourself the better work you will produce. Sometimes the crunch cannot be avoided but at least you’ll be prepared and mentally ready to face it without fighting pre-existing exhaustion. But even in the roughest times, don’t lose that singular, driving motivation that drew you to game development in the first place.

Mark Gregory – Creative Director & Co-Owner


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Blog #2: Beyond Stealth – Keeping Horror Fresh

Category : Blog


In 2010, fresh off the cult success of the Penumbra series, Swedish indie Frictional Games put out Amnesia: The Dark Descent. The game was the epitome of the sleeper hit: ostensibly a niche title, it worked its way to household-name status and its influence permeated the industry. In horror gaming, where the groundwork laid by Alone in the Dark and its immortal progeny Resident Evil and Silent Hill had allowed itself to be carried away by a broader current of third-person shooting galleries,  Amnesia’s no-combat stealth represented a bit of an oddity.

Though Frictional lead designer Thomas Grip has notably claimed Resident Evil as a key inspiration to his approach to horror, Amnesia was, by my estimation, distinguished by a determined return to the philosophy of Clocktower. Focus on fleeing or hiding, rather than fighting, was a staple of the old Clocktower games, and such mechanics were largely ignored by the horror genre, especially as it found its way inevitably into the heavy hands of AAA American development magnates. With Amnesia, Frictional reminded us that shooting things was not necessarily as scary as hiding from them, and thus revived a waning focus on vulnerability within survival horror.

For Frictional, vulnerability is stealth based. Their elegant hide-and-seek mechanics have taken horror gaming by storm. Games such as Alien Isolation, Outlast, and Slender have found great success with only minor variations on Frictional’s approach. Even Shinji Mikami hopped aboard the low-combat stealth bandwagon with his two excellent Evil Within DLCs, The Assignment and The Consequence. Now, Resident Evil 7: Biohazard has exploded onto the scene, still clearly riding the shockwaves of Amnesia’s six-year-old impact.

The trend has been a good one, overall, refocusing horror gaming on the fundamentals. There is a risk, however, of the formula creating complacency on the part of game developers. Having “found the antidote,” so to speak, studios can replicate the sensation of horror by following a certain rubric of mechanics. Though the games may be quite excellent when presented properly, there’s still a stagnation. To continue to indefinitely produce low-combat stealth horror begins to give the impression that horror is low-combat stealth.

But this can’t be. The essence of horror is more than simply ducking from monsters in dark rooms, no matter how wonderful the execution may be. Indeed, many like myself can remember being thoroughly creeped out by horror point-and-clicks such as Amber: Journeys Beyond, Dark Fall: The Journal, Scratches, and Barrow Hill. Such games relied on little more than oppressive atmosphere to convey a sense of unease and dread. And yet, even in the absence of a proper failure state to threaten, these games still evoked fear.

To understand this ostensibly transcendental element of horror, not easily pinned to a specific set of mechanics, we should look to the essence of horror itself. In her book Horrorism: Naming Contemporary Violence, Adriana Cavarero carries out an etymological investigation of “horror,” particularly as contrasted to “terror,” and turns up some interesting definitional qualities.

For Cavarero, “terror” is rooted in survival. She writes:

Among the many ways of experiencing fear, or to be precise, the sudden start of fear called ‘fright’ in English […] terror connotes the one that acts immediately on the body, making it tremble and compelling it to take flight. […] Acting directly on them, terror moves bodies, drives them into motion. Its sphere of reference is that of a menace to the living being, which tries to escape by fleeing.

But wait. The heightened pulse, the pumping adrenaline, the visceral compulsion to flee–aren’t these the sensations we associate with contemporary horror games? To be sure, good horror games can inspire terror, and the paradigm put forth by Frictional prioritizes that in its mechanics. But for Cavarero, this is not true horror.

Horror, she says, is not about fleeing. Rather, it is about immobility, and inevitability.

Violent death is a part of the picture, but not the central part. There is no question of evading death. In contrast to what occurs with terror, in horror there is no instinctive movement of flight in order to survive, much less the contagious turmoil of panic. […] Gripped by revulsion in the face of a form of violence that appears more inadmissable than death, the body reacts as if nailed to the spot, hairs standing on end.

The epitome of such an inadmissable violence, which causes such revulsion, Cavarero identifies as dismemberment. The brutal disfigurement of the body inflicts horror upon the body through the medium of agonizing immobility. I think it’s safe to say that, while disfigurement certainly has a very literal place in horror, we can extrapolate the concept into the figurative. Disfigurement can take many forms, both somatic and psychical, and immobilizing revulsion can be exacted by all.

To be sure, horror, understood this way, has defined memorable moments within contemporary gaming. Both Outlast and its Whistleblower DLC come immediately to mind. Richard Trager in the former and Eddie Gluskin in the latter each star in marvelous scripted sequences in which the player’s physical body is tied down and subjected to violent disassembly. But this seems almost a mechanical truism: immobility represented by a cutscene. Simply wresting control away from the player and splashing viscera here and there is a ham-handed approach to a paralysis that can be just as existential as physical. Sometimes, immobility is not merely about the inability to move, but about the terrible uselessness of movement in the first place. Hopelessness is a kind of paralysis.

This is the next step. Designing horror means designing existential paralysis. It means creating situations that thematically or literally represent immobility in the face of revulsion. It also means bringing these concepts out of cutscenes and into the realm of full, immersive interactivity. We must be able to create this sensation without grabbing the controls from the player and forcing it down their throats. As an interactive medium, gaming is uniquely poised for a deep inquiry into mobility and how it can be manipulated to create experiences.

One example which jumps immediately to mind is underground developer Kitty Horrorshow’s horror gem Anatomy. Many reviews are quick to note Anatomy’s lo-fi atmosphere, exquisite sound design, and bizarre writing when discussing what makes the game so nail-bitingly effective, but only Chris Priestman, in his review of the game for Kill Screen, really zeros in on its design formula:

Whereas a lot of videogame horror lets you walk into a room and then have a monster spring out on you unexpectedly—a cheap scare—ANATOMY whispers in your ear that there’s probably a monster in a room before you enter it, letting your own expectations grind you down to a tense wreck of a person. That it does this again and again draws the debilitating effect out, masterfully building up the terror but constantly denying you the begging release of a scream. It’s the kind of horror that gets so deep into you that it seems to scratch away at your bones. I’d liken the effect to being dragged perpetually across a saw blade.

It’s fitting, in a way, that such a simple game as Anatomy manages this effect so effortlessly. Horror is a genre predicated on base, primal emotion. Only once we strip away the fluff can we really understand what makes the genre work. Not that there’s no place for production value, but the design foundation needs to be strong or everything falls flat. To that end, much thought is being put into horror design at Freesphere, both for our current title, Tether, and for future titles as well.

Ian McCamant, Co-Writer

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Studio Update #2: December 2016

Well, we did it – Tether has officially been Greenlit by the Steam community. I just want to thank everyone that voted for us. Personally, it means the world to me knowing that we have the backing of the PC community. It gives you a good feeling inside when you see nearly a year’s worth of hard work being recognized. The positive comments from the Steam community and PC press alike is such a boost, not just to myself but to the team as a whole.

As I eluded to before we’ve been working on Tether now for nearly a year. You wouldn’t believe how much the project has evolved in that time or how quickly it’s all come together. We’re currently putting the finishing touches to our demo, which we hope to have completed before Christmas, so we can all enjoy a break over the festive period.

In honesty we had hoped to have our demo done by now but we decided to update too Unreal Engine 4.14 and implement PerForce as we were running into revisioning issues. It’s something that took a little longer than anticipated to get working correctly but well worth the trouble (software revisioning is king).

So what’s next? As we head into the new year, we’ll be looking to try and secure some funding (publisher or crowd funding were undecided), and look to bring one or two more experienced heads in, to aid help us make the best experience possible.

Once again from everyone at the studio thank you for voting for Tether.

Finally be sure to check out all our social media channels (links below) and sign up to our newsletter to keep up to date.

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I hope you all have a very Merry Christmas, don’t forget to spend time with your loved ones and play some video games.


Mark Gregory – Creative Director
Twitter: @MGregory666

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Studio Update #1: July 2016

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Category : Blog

I started the Freesphere Entertainment in May of 2016 with the view of blending mechanically interesting games with deep and interesting worlds with compelling stories. After creating many prototypes over the last fourteen months we’re very close to officially revealing our first game.  

Myself and the team have released games before with other studios, but we’ve all craved the creative freedom to make our own decisions – no longer having our fate tied to someone else’s decisions. That was the reason for starting Freesphere, to give us the freedom we required to make the games we wanted to make, how we wanted to make them.

As I previously eluded too, it hasn’t been an easy process; being major fans of horror and storytelling we’ve all gravitated towards the same ideas. A horror experience, joined with a believable story surrounding interesting characters and themes. Initially we started off like a house on fire, we’d concepted a project and we’re deep into the development when another project came out of the blue and stole our thunder – same settings, similar story, similar design, same engine. It was totally uncanny. It knocked the stuffing out of us – me the most. Being indie you always crave to be different and I knew we couldn’t be. So with it being so close to Christmas, we decided to enjoy the holidays with the family and pick it up in the New Year.

A funny side note, that game was actually Allison Road – odd how things turn out isn’t it.

After a short break we began talking and brainstorming ideas, but nothing was clicking. We’d go back and forth with ideas which we liked, but then we’d do what we usually do, and pick holes in it (believability is everything to us). It was amazing how many times during this process we came back to PT and how currently the genre is filled with PT clones. This is not the route we want to go down again as there is enough competition in this space.

The infamous Allison Road

Instead, we’ll be focusing on going our own route pulling ideas in from multiple genres across video games to make our games. Games are constantly evolving and so should developers, staying with tried and trusted patterns is how we end up the stale world of AAA game development at the moment.

In the future we can expect more general posts like this about the studio and more game designed focused ones, like our previous post on how to scare players.


Until next time.

Mark Gregory – Creative Director
Twitter: @MGregory666


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Blog #1: How To Scare Players

Category : Blog

As an indie game developer with a passion for horror I have been wanting to make a blog post talking about my personal game-design philosophy. In this post I will define what I believe haunts and scares a player.

So, let’s start out with a definition of both the terms that are important here:

To Scare: To frighten, to strike with sudden fear, to alarm.

To Haunt: To cause repeated discomfort or anxiety.

Looking at both of those definitions, we can say that a scare is a temporary feeling when you are made aware of something unexpected. A scary feeling can also be created when you know what something has done or could do and you feel threatened because of this. Let’s take a look into some games of the past to get a good feeling of what has been scary.

One of my favourite examples is the famous dog scene in Resident Evil. When the player reached a certain area in the hallway the dog jumps out of the window in front of the camera, something that startled most players.

Why did the player get startled when this happened? Because up until this point the player has never encountered a dog. Sure the player saw them earlier in the game through a cinematic, but the player knew they would not be interacting with the dog at that moment. However, when the dog jumps through the window, the player panics. The player had thought all they had to worry about was zombie’s, because the dogs were outside. No windows had been broken before, and in all likeliness this thought had never really entered the player’s head. But when all of this happened, it broke all the rules that had been subconsciously established in the player’s head up until this point.


The classic of all jump-scares. The Resident Evil infamous dog scene.

If the player feels comfortable, then break what they ‘know’ about the game. This is the classic jump scare technique, as used effectively in Resident Evil.

However, if you keep breaking the rules and re-use the jump scare too often, you risk losing the tension you have created thus far. As a result, players will subconsciously learn when to expect the next scare. Earn your jump scares. It’s interesting to see that in the remastering of Resident Evil, the dog scene was removed as players knew when to expect it.

Let’s open the door into another game, a more recent one, Soma. This game thrives on building up the anxiety of the player. While this game does not have much use for jump scares, it uses tension and anxiety built up in the player over time to create something that haunts the player.

Frictional Games uses a mixtures sounds, musical queue changes, visuals and other clever techniques to build up this anxiety within the player. It’s not until later in the game that you even encounter something that can harm you (the player). But until that point the player does not know this. The player does not know
what an enemy looks like, when it’s going to show up, or what it does. They know nothing. This only amplifies the tension brought out by the sounds, visuals etc. If you give the player no knowledge of a monster in a horror game they are forced to create one by themselves. Welcome to the imagination.


SOMA does a good job of creating player tension.

Your imagination is more powerful than anything any developer can do to create fear in a player. This is what makes Soma so impactful (narrative excluded for which it excels again) and what makes it so widely talked about as one of the scariest games of all time. So the longer we don’t show an enemy, the more time it gives the player to ‘create’ their own enemy from the depths of their imagination, which believe me, can often be more horrifying than any creature made by developers. The idea of this technique being that the player will begin to ‘see’ things in the darkness and build up that ever important tension themselves.

It’s easy to scare players when they don’t know what’s around the corner or behind the door. But does that leave a lasting impression on the game? Will players remember a game strictly consisting of just jump scares? Probably not. However, if we can build up fear and tension using a range of techniques (which I will explain in later blog posts) then the scare has more of a lasting impact. If we can create lasting moments of horror and tension we can let the players imagination take over. When the imagination takes over. The possibilities are limitless.

Mark Gregory – Creative Director
Twitter: @MGregory666