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Tether will be playable at Insomnia60

Category : News


We are proud to announce that we will be bringing our debut survival horror title, Tether, to Insomnia60 next month – the UK’s “biggest gaming festival.” The 4-day event will run from April 14 – 17 in Birmingham, England at the National Exhibition Centre.

We’ve been hard at work on the game, preparing a vertical slice for gamers and the press to experience. This gaming festival will give us the perfect opportunity to get hands on what we’ve been spending countless hours working on.

For press bookings, please use our Contact page to make arrangements.

For more information about Insomnia60, check out their official site.

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Tether writer, Ian McCamant on Dealing with Immersion at Indie Revolution Expo 2017

Immersion is a large field to cover in video game design. Ian believes that by following some simple rules you can help enhance your players experience from a first person perspective.

Ian McCamant is Tether’s lead narrative director. He has helped create a universe for Tether where choice oriented gameplay helps expand the story and  where a narrative of psychological horror takes center stage.

Indie Revolution Expo is a 3 day digital convention (completely free) centered on indie games, hosted by Indie Game Riot where Tether was exhibited along side many other wonderful indies.

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Blog #5: Video Games Are Better With Stories

Category : Blog


The notion that games somehow constitute a qualitatively inferior narrative medium when compared to books or film is an idiocy repeated time and again in literary criticism, the blame for which goes, as usual, to the specialists.

Ian Bogost is one such specialist, who chose to take a turn at repeating the aforementioned idiocy in an article entitled “Video Games Are Better Without Stories,” published in the Atlantic. Bogost’s masturbatory screed weaves haphazardly around Doom and Bioshock, finally wandering through Gone Home to arrive at it’s real target, the recently released What Remains of Edith Finch. His thesis, meandering and convoluted as it is, seems to be that any story these games might have to offer would be inherently better conveyed in the form of a film or novel.


The justifications offered for this position are paper-thin and superficial, bolstered more by smug self-importance than any genuine analysis of either games or narrative, though Bogost is supposedly a lauded academic in both fields. Given that the entire piece relies upon the reader simply accepting Bogost’s vapid valuation of three distinct narrative media, the piece serves more to beg one big, pretentious, out-of-touch question rather than offer any insight into gaming. Ultimately, Bogost advocates a severely limited, stagnant fate for games as a mode of entertainment reminiscent of my paternal grandparents’ stunted outlook on television in its early years. In the hopes of wresting the discourse from the clutches of this dull myopia, let’s dive into Bogost’s claims directly.

At the outset, Bogost states in no uncertain terms that, “Film, television, and literature all tell stories better [than games].” That no explicit evidence is offered for this claim is unsurprising, given the dubious demonstrability of such a subjective claim. The closest we are offered is Bogost’s foundational strawman: taking the fantasy of Star Trek’s holodeck as an example, he argues that the end goal of narrative in games are stories which replicate one-to-one the responsiveness of real life. “It would be like living in a novel,” he writes, “where the player’s actions would have as much of an influence on the story as they might in the real world.” We can surmise, then, that what compares film and print narratives favorably to games, for Bogost, is a lack of pretense toward imitating real-world causality as a means of simulating agency. In the environmental storytelling of games, by contrast, Bogost sees only an insufficient illusion of causality.  “Are the resulting interactive stories really interactive,” he demands, “when all the player does is assemble something from parts?”

By taking these premises for granted, Bogost creates for himself a lovely set of goalposts on rollerskates. If we assume that the value of game narratives hinge on the ability of the game design to directly represent this sort of causality, than any example which pulls back the curtain and reveals the illusion behind the experience serves to bolster Bogost’s claims. Imagine such a criteria being leveled at film! Are we to say that a war film is cheapened because the scores of extras aren’t actually killed in a hail of bullets? Is the drama of a love scene spoiled by the fact that the sex is simulated and just beyond the edge of the frame lies a full film crew and catering tables? Of course not!


The crucial error that Bogost makes here is that he takes the illusion of the player experience as the truth of narrative design. He assumes that the goal is an experience which offers infinite permutations depending on the behavior of a free subject. This, however, is not a description of narrative at all, but rather an account of the logical conclusion of a strictly mechanics-based model of game design that Bogost advocates at the end of his article. “[G]ames are the aesthetic form of everyday objects,” he writes, arguing that the real purpose of games as a medium is to simply serve as a psychotic sandbox whereby certain rules and mechanics can determine behavior in response to input. The idea that this serves as a critique of narrative is absurd.

To correct this, we must first understand that the end goal of narrative design in games is not the Borgesian nightmare that Bogost proposes, whereby the story of a game simply serves as a direct representation of how events proceed via causality in reality. In fact, narrative serves games best in the role of a limiting contextualization which imbues the rote mechanical actions with meaning. It is not crucial that games behave precisely as the real world does; Bogost is right that this is impossible. Indeed, he might be surprised to learn all the ways in which what he believes he is experiencing when he watches a film is actually the product of carefully crafted illusion, or just how much he actually suspends disbelief when reading that novel that strikes him offhand as being so viscerally real. The trick is not to create a virtual world that perpetually behaves precisely like the real world, but rather to craft an experience in which a sense of agency is conveyed to the player within the bounds of the design. Thomas Grip puts it perfectly in a post on the Frictional blog:

This is the power of narrative context. By wrapping gameplay actions in storytelling the experience that emerges exceeds the sum of its parts. Taken solely on their own merit, the gameplay mechanics don’t feel very engaging. But when used in the right environment they work far better at providing the intended experience…

That this passes over Bogost’s head is unsurprising, given the feeble account of gaming history he offers. Jumping from a pair of first-person shooters to a walking simulator, he completely circumnavigates point-and-click adventure games, a genre that remains influential to this day. He uses soccer and Monopoly to exemplify the rote, mechanical nature of games that he advocates as the true essence of the media, but he never once mentions the elaborate pen-and-paper RPGs that gave rise to some of the greatest game stories of all time. To be sure, why would he bring these up when it’s so much easier to cherry-pick gaming’s diverse history and dismiss the entire field of narrative design with a snarky quip about how uncommon good writing is in video games?


In the last portion of his article, Bogost attempts to dismantle any claim that a game like Edith Finch demonstrates the narrative power of games. He lists off a number of ways in which the gameplay in Edith Finch serves in symbiosis with its narrative ends, before dismissing them all on a spurious basis.

These are remarkable accomplishments. But they are not feats of storytelling, at all [sic]. Rather, they are novel expressions of the capacities of a real-time 3-D engine. The ability to render light and shadow, to model structure and turn it into obstacle, to trick the eye into believing a flat surface is a bookshelf or a cavern, and to allow the player to maneuver a camera through that environment, pretending that it its a character. Edith Finch is a story about a family, sure, but first it’s a device made of the conventions of 3-D gaming…

It is inexplicable to me why narrative conveyed through a given medium is somehow devalued because of the very traits of that medium. You could just as easily say that the Coppola’s The Godfather is not a feat of storytelling, but a feat of moving cameras around, filming actors with lights shining on them, and editing them all together in the cutting room. You could argue that Toni Morrison’s Beloved is less a feat of storytelling and more a feat of syntactical and grammatical arrangement of words. The idea that somehow the use of the medium’s formal qualities to tell a story would cheapen the story itself, or even the very notion of storytelling within the medium, is beyond inane. Here, Bogost is simply a lost soul grasping at straws, left behind by the progression of the very disciplines in which he is supposed to be so credentialed.

Nowhere is this clearer than when Bogost describes his thought process while playing Edith Finch. “Yes, sure, you can tell a story in a game. But what a lot of work that is, when it’s so much easier to watch television, or to read.” This notion is the peak of Bogost’s hubris, not only that his own laziness should set the standard for how a story should be told, but that the stories of books and film are stories meant for consumption by the lazy. It certainly leads one to wonder how little work was required on the part of Bogost to achieve all of his academic titles. While others were poring over texts, piecing together analyses, carefully crafting tales, perhaps he was kicking back in front of the TV while the scholarly commendations stacked themselves.


By the end, Bogost tries to put a positive spin on all of this, presumably to allay the concern that a professor of interactive computing and game designer might not actually care that much for games. It’s not that games shouldn’t ever tell stories, he says, it’s just that storytelling itself isn’t all that great a goal. Indeed, I’ve not played any of Bogost’s games. They may be quite good. It’s not uncommon that a creator’s work is more articulate than the creator themselves. I’m sure The Howard Dean for Iowa Game is utterly enthralling, and that Cow Clicker’s satire of social gaming is ingeniously scathing. What is abundantly clear, however, is that Bogost has an incredibly limited view of how games can achieve greatness. After dismissing narrative, Bogost opts for an equivocal prescription: games must “[take] the tidy, ordinary world apart and [put] it back together again in surprising, ghastly new ways.”

The irony here is that this description could just as easily describe the art of storytelling, the chief goal of which is to mold reality into a fascinating experience. Games provide a visceral, immersive take on that, both in spite of and even because of their artificial nature. It would be truly a shame if gaming were to abdicate its position on the cutting edge of narrative media.

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Blog #4: Built for Sin – Guilt as Gameplay

Category : Blog


The agony of choice is all the rage in modern story-driven gaming. Moral and ethical decisions have become the go-to method of injecting substance and weight into interactive narrative, and the trend shows no sign of stopping. Indeed, choice is unique to interactive media, and is arguably its most fundamental aspect. What is interactivity if not some level of choice in how one experiences an environment? Even something as simple as selecting the right weapon to slaughter a demonic posse in Doom demonstrates that agency is always at the heart of interactivity.

The exploration of agency has come a long way over the short life of video games as narrative media. While the possibility of games with multiple endings was already being explored in through the 1980’s, from Nobunaga’s Ambition to Sweet Home, the concept of an ethically-driven choice system would develop through the 90’s, and particularly in the RPG genre. The offerings of Interplay and BioWare, including such classics as Baldur’s Gate, Planescape: Torment, and Fallout, introduced characters with independent agendas who would react to the player’s behavior in the world. This could lead to all manner of emergent narrative developments, with characters abandoning or even attacking the player for veering too far along an opposing ethical axis. With the popularity of Fable, the notion of a binary morality system became standard issue in many RPG’s, and was soon picked up by shooters like BioShock.

As the medium matured, however, there emerged a certain disillusionment with these dichotomous systems. The cracks began to show in its narrative applicability. The choice became less about immersive, situational decision making and more about commitment to one of two paths. BioWare’s Jade Empire provides a particularly egregious example, allowing the player to go through the entire game before the final decision rockets you all the way to one end of the morality scale. While it can be great fun to choose between life as a saint and life as an utter bastard, it hinders interesting storytelling by glossing over the gray areas that makes morality so fascinating in the first place.

Active & Passive Feedback

When we talk about how choice has developed in games over the decades, what we’re really talking about is feedback. When I make a decision as a player, how does that affect the progression of my experience? Is it a simple matter of life or death? Does it affect my character’s personal arc? Are the ripples of my choice felt throughout the whole world? One approach to choice-feedback is to have an event-based system of consequences that actually changes the outcome of one or more of the game’s story arcs. It may be the death of a beloved character or the fall of an great empire, or even the unlocking of a unique ability or item. The more responsive the game world, the more likely a player is to feel powerful within that game world. We’ll call this “active feedback,” in which the game explicitly responds to a given player choice.

Another sort of feedback emerges from the design of interesting dilemmas in themselves. This means that the player is presented with a choice that is contextualized by the narrative substance of the game world. While this choice may or may not tie directly into an active feedback mechanic, the heavy lifting is done on the part of the player based on the ideas the ethical choice presents. Adventure games like SOMA and Kentucky Route Zero have deftly applied this sort of choice system, which allows the player to define the interior world of the character rather than the external game world.

For instance, in SOMA, the protagonist, Simon, learns that he is simply a copy of his own brain from a century ago, transfused into a robot body. In one of the game’s subtler moments of choice, Simon finds the computer where his brain scan is stored and can opt, with little prompting, to delete the file. The decision has no bearing on the outcome of the game, but it is given significance by the narrative context, and so it gave me lengthy pause when I came across it. I debated over what to do, and it’s a decision that still stands out to me. The game effectively communicated consequence without a direct supporting event. We’ll call this “passive feedback.”

From a narrative perspective, crafting an interesting dilemma is far more valuable than simply providing the player with the opportunity to “opt in” to either good or evil. There’s little drama in being presented with a flagrantly Good or Evil option and then having the outcome reflect the prescribed morality of the choice. Even in titles such as Fable III, where a sort of tragic irony colors the moral binary, it does more to demonstrate the latent sadism of a binary ethical system than it does to offer anything truly innovative to the concept of choice and consequence in games. We as humans are conflicted, doubtful, anxious beings, and in life we never come across simple moral binaries. Our ethical dilemmas are defined by their agonizing, tragic quality, and the passive feedback of an ethical choice should reflect that complication and depth. The pain of such decisions is  the spark of good drama.

But we can go one step further, and say that this pain is also central to morality itself, and how human beings experience satisfaction from making moral judgements. As game designers, understanding the philosophical basis for this satisfaction can be useful in constructing systems of morality within our games. For that, we should look to Immanuel Kant, the quintessential moral philosopher.

Morality is Pain: Kant

Kantian morality is complex and multifaceted, and the philosophically inclined should read The Critique of Practical Reason to understand it fully. For the sake of simplicity, we can say that it’s less about what is moral and more about how morality is determined in the first place. For Kant, morality is a logical form, a set of criteria by which human reason determines an ethical course of action. This opposes Kant to the common assumption that what is “good” is determined by a goal or objective, i.e. happiness, pleasure, ensuring future good, etc. Kant argued that morality must be more than a means to an end. It must be universally and unconditionally good in itself,  independent of any consequences.

This is particularly interesting, since it separates moral choice experientially from the rote, reward-based logic that generally governs how we think of game design. We can see this at play in a title like TellTale’s The Walking Dead. The game is an endless succession of “damned-if you-do” moments culminating in devastating tragedy, and yet we remain absolutely rapt even in the absence of a definitive win-state or reward. According to Kant, this isn’t a fluke. It’s the entire point. Given that a morality is opposed to any self-interested inclination, he determines that there is only one form of feedback that tells you without a doubt that you are being moral:


Physical pain, psychological pain. It doesn’t matter what sort of pain as long as it hurts. It sounds brutal and sadistic, and it absolutely is, but it creates, as Kant notes, a quality of morality whereby we can appreciate it intellectually even though viscerally we experienced it as suffering. In his introduction to The Critique of Practical Reason, Stephen Engstrom explains that this pain gives way to “a feeling of respect for the moral law, a feeling that can come to have a positive aspect to the extent that we recognize that it is in the judgment of our own reason. Through this recognition, the feeling of respect takes on a certain elevating and ennobling character, insofar as its object is recognized to be a law that has its source in our own rational nature.”

To my mind, this concept perfectly accounts for the power of meaningful choice in games. Players are engaged by challenging, ethically complicated decisions against which they can apply judgment reached through their own reason. To have this effect, these decisions must confront us to some degree with a tragic pain. In the context of a game’s narrative, this pain manifests as  guilt. The way in which the player considers this guilt, from an intellectual standpoint, is what allows the experience to resonate with the player and gives depth to their engagement with the game.

Guilt as Passive Feedback

It is important to understand the primacy of passive feedback in the implementation of guilt as gameplay. While there can certainly be active feedback systems to support them, the narrative design and the implications of the choices within the context of the story must effectively convey passive feedback, ensuring that the decisions made have gravity, and stick in the player’s mind long after the deed has been done. An active feedback system that is devoid of any passive feedback, which allows you to simply select between desired outcomes, does little aside from propping up a superficial fantasy. By contrast, passive feedback can color a player’s experience by playing with how they experience the context of their journey. Well executed player choice fully embraces this, relying upon the cultivation of guilt for its emotional yield.

In his talk at GDC 2014, Unreal 2 and Dead Space 2 designer Matthias Worch explained how agency is afforded to players in combat scenarios through an interplay of complicating mechanics which can be learned and beaten through applied knowledge. This deployment of guilt in the context of deep, ethical dilemmas ultimately serves the same purpose, of creating systemic challenge against which the player can apply their rationality, thus granting the player ethical agency.

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Tether at Insomnia60

Category : Blog


This past weekend, we brought Tether to the Insomnia60 gaming festival in the UK. After pouring many hours into preparing a vertical slice of the game for the event, it was immensely satisfying to see attendees play it for the first time. Oh, and to see them jump out of their seats was also a delight!

You can check out images from the event below!


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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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Talking game design with IGR

Tags :

Category : News


When we set out to develop Tether, we didn’t want to make just another first-person psychological horror game. We wanted to create something meaningful. We wanted to tell a personal story that works hand in hand with engaging gameplay. Hand in hand like a mother and her child. Which brings us to our game’s theme: motherhood.

How could a mother function being away from her kids? How could she function when “away” translates to being separated by the uncaring blackness of space itself? That question is at the core of Tether.

The game’s Creative Director, Mark Gregory, and Co-Writer, Ian McCamant, recently spoke with Indie Game Riot on the latest episode of their podcast. They gave some great insight into the development of Tether and game design in general, focusing on thematic concepts.

Check it out! Their segment starts at 0:19:09.

Don’t forget to follow us on social media!




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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.

Twitter – www.twitter.com/freespheree
Facebook – www.facebook.com/freespheree
Instagram – www.instagram.com/freesphereentertainment
YouTube – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCjcB9oHquK6VK4uP-4PzGuQ

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