Monday, 2 December 2013

Behind the Horror: Scratches - Agustín Cordes

I managed to get an interview with Agustín Cordes, the co-founder of former studio Nucleosys, whom created the point-and-click horror adventure game, Scratches. I just wanted to thank him again for taking the time to answer my questions, as he is a busy guy. Thanks, Cordes!

If you haven't yet read my review and have no idea about the tense African enigma that envelops the Blackwood mansion, what are you doing here? Read it!


Ready to go? Perfect. Head behind the horror with the latest interview on Noble Gaming:

Tell me a little about yourself, Agustín Cordes.
Well, I'm the co-founder of Senscape and I've been in the game industry for about ten years. I happen to be a huge fan of adventure games and feel it's a privilege being able to work in this genre these days. My previous and short-lived company -- Nucleosys -- produced Scratches, a game that has been generally well received but tends to be divisive: some hate it while others are rabid fans. It's safe to say the game has become a cult title which, particularly for me, is the best result I could have hoped for.

How did you get into game development?
Ever since played King's Quest that I wanted to make similar games, so my earliest desire to do actual development is around seven or eight years old. It wasn't until I was ten or so that I actually began programming. I remember doing some small and cheap ASCII text adventures with Pascal, and eventually something more fledged out when I was in high school. That was a serviceable graphic adventure called Shipwrecked which unfortunately is lost forever after a 5 1/4 disk went faulty.
My first "proper" release, though, was a weird text adventure called Valpurgius and I, shortly after which I began working on Scratches. After becoming involved with the adventure community, I thought I was ready to tackle a bigger and more ambitious project.

What is it that drew you to horror games?

Generally, I was drew to horror since I began reading H. P. Lovecraft, curiously (or perhaps not) also at the age of seven. His moody works and indescribable horrors have stuck with me ever since. Similarly, I was quite devote of horror movies such as Hammer Films, Italian Horror like Fulci or Argento, and of course, Friday the 13th. Pretty much all slasher flicks of the 80's. I like the genre very much, so it's natural that I look for the same dark themes in games.

Scratches is one of the most atmospheric games I have played in a while, not only in terms of tension, but also loneliness. How did you set out to achieve these intense emotions?
Thank you! I've always asked myself what was that "secret ingredient" that made Scratches such an atmospheric title. On one level the graphics, music, and slow-paced gameplay came together to form this strong atmosphere. But I think that on a deeper lever, the story, slow-burning horror and implied passage of time gave players the impression that they were really spending three days inside Blackwood Manor. In other words, the mix of routine (stumbling into everyday problems, sleeping, etc) and ever growing mystery made players feel attached to the mansion. Some told me they happened to be very sad during The Last Visit, the additional chapter, when they revisited a decaying and vandalized Blackwood Manor.

A large part of the narrative revolves around an African curse. Was this completely fictional, or were you influenced by something in real life?

It was indeed fictional, and this element wasn't part of the story in the first place. It was added later, as the plot progressed and became more complex. Many sources can be attributed to its inclusion: I was fascinated with African culture myself, which I believe is very mysterious, and it was also present in some Lovecraft's tales. But the major source of inspiration was likely The Ghost and the Darkness, which might sound weird because it isn't horror, but I'm positive it's a movie that left a very lasting impression on me, and the reason why I wanted to explore the theme.

The sound design for Scratches – and its successor, Asylum – is nothing short of amazing. How important do you think sound is to horror?

Extremely important. In fact, a bad sound design can break games, and especially those that rely on horror. Similarly, a memorable soundtrack has the potential to elevate decent games to classic status. When done right, ambiental sound effects can bring a lot of depth to the scenes, for example when you make the most out of reverb, and also provoke disquieting emotions. The sound of scratches in the middle of the night, growing louder as you went near the source, is another good example. In the case of music we're particularly careful to ensure every track fits with the scenes, and sometimes even colours evoke certain moods and sounds.

What do you think point-and-click gameplay brings to a horror game?

I think it's perfect; for games likes Scratches and Asylum that have strong doses of slow-burning horror and quick reflexes aren't required, point-and-click is the ideal control scheme. I'd rather have players focusing on the environments and the component of exploration rather than fiddling with the controls. I like most type of horror subgenres, really, but psychological horror is my preferred one, and adventures happen to be the ideal vehicle for it, as they allow players to focus on the story and atmosphere.

What did you learn when making Scratches that has influenced the development of your next indie-horror, Asylum?
Quite a lot. Scratches was a flawed game in some ways. It did things wrong just as it did things right; for example, the first day was excruciatingly slow and badly designed, forcing players to visit locations and do certain actions in specific orders. Things did take flight in the second day with a better approach, but that first chapter was the nail in the coffin for many players. Similarly, puzzles were unforgiving and somewhat obscure in some cases, although always logical and down to earth. Asylum will be much more dynamic in its first moments, and a bit friendlier for players, but still a challenging and slow-paced experience like the one many fans of Scratches loved.

Do you have a favourite horror series?
In the realm of games, Alone in the Dark and Dark Fall are series I have enjoyed a lot. Though not specifically horror, I'm also a great fan of Gabriel Knight. In the case of movies, Friday the 13th is hands down my favorite series, with Evil Dead closely trailing behind.

Anything else you'd like to tell lovers of horror?

Yes, LONG LIVE THE NEW FLESH! Also, that everybody at Senscape is extremely grateful for your support and patience while you're waiting for Asylum. Believe me when I tell you, the wait will be more than worth it!

Want to know a little more about Senscape's upcoming point-and-click horror, Asylum? Check out my thoughts on the demo here.

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