Mixing atmosphere and tension in the sci-fi horror Moons of Madness
Considering their previous content portfolio, this may seem rather out of character for the studio responsible for colorful, fun-focused projects such as Shiftlings, but expanding its horizons and challenging itself to make a horror game has allowed the team to pursue its true passion.
“We wanted to grow a bit as a company and admit a bit more about what we like to do,” said Henning Ludvigsen, Art Director and Lead Artist at Rock Pocket Games. “Making the game scary, it was nerve wracking in the beginning because we have to create a vertical slice and when you don’t have all of the assets in place, you have some gray boxes - it’s hard to get the right mood.”
As horror fans know, atmosphere plays just as an important role in the experience as the characters, but developing this within the game world can often be a challenge, especially as a first attempt for a studio new to the genre. Fortunately, the team had a clear concept of what it did, and did not want to do. ”I think what makes a good horror game is to not rely too much on jumpscares,” said Aaron Dintino, Lead Designer. “It creates fear on a really personal level; creating an unnerving atmosphere, creating feelings of dread.”
Crafting this type of environment isn’t easy, which was why the team leveraged the quick iteration tools in UE to find the exact mood they were looking for. “When you’re trying to create atmosphere, there’s so much more that goes into that,” said Dintino. “It relies on sounds, it relies on the proper lighting. So there’s a bit more set up to these things. And Blueprints really helps with that because the designers are able to quickly go in, setup what we need, throw them it into the level, and see the results.”
Another aspect of Unreal Engine that helped the team achieve its goals was having access to the engine’s source code, something that the experienced developers knew the importance of. “Well, having access to the source code is awesome,” said Ivan Moen, CEO, Creative Director at Rock Pocket Games. “You can extend the editor. If you have a feature in a new version of the Unreal, if you know what you’re doing, you can implement that in your version. When you’re getting close to the [finish] line, if something happens, you know if you need to, you could go into the source code and do the changes yourself. This is our first horror game so we want to do this right and seeing people’s reactions, see that they react to the atmosphere and see that they react to the scares.”
There was certainly great gratification that came with seeing players become truly frightened by the experience they crafted, but it's the satisfaction that accompanies completion of an all-new project for a small studio that Rock Pocket will remember the most. “Three years of my life dedicated to one thing...coming in everyday and just focusing on making this the best damn horror game that we could possibly make,” said Dintino. “Yeah, it’s been a pretty wild ride.”