How first time devs RedG Studios is using mystery to fuel horror in S.O.N.
In S.O.N., players take on the role of Robert Alderson, an unemployed, hard-nosed father who drowns out his past demons with alcohol - neglecting everyone and everything. You’re tasked with rescuing your son, Jay, who was taken out of his home to the mysterious forest known as “South of Nowhere.” Here, Robert will unravel his son’s disappearance while confronting his own true nature in the process.
We connected with RedG Studios Founder Jordan Davenport to learn more about the project, discuss a few of the fears that first time developers face, and talk about the highs and lows of showing your first game to the world. RedG is a brand new studio. Tell us a little bit about what the team's motivation was to jump into the world of indie development.
RedG Studios originally started out with just me from about late 2016 all the way until mid-December 2017 when my current Lead Programmer Sterling Zubel came onboard. When I started RedG, I had the dream of making video games that stayed with people. Games that connect with people and progress along with them in life, which isn’t the most common answer I’ve found. Regardless, those two things meant a lot to me starting out in development because they are continuously significant, regardless of the era or console generation.
I see what games like The Last of Us, Metal Gear Solid, Uncharted, and God of War (to name a few) have done to impact people’s lives far outside of gaming. Those games manage to make characters that aren’t just characters — they’re so well-developed that they are relatable to the player. Almost as if the person playing the game is that actual character, whether it’s Nathan Drake, Kratos, Snake or Joel. Graphics and environments are pretty to look at and can be important to a good story in itself, but to me, personally, it’s about how much you can give the main character a story, a solid background that is relatable, good or bad. That was our reason to truly pursue game development, to make games that last for decades that stay in the minds of those who play them.
Coming soon to PS4, a lot of people likely haven't heard of S.O.N. Can you fill us in on what the game is about?
Absolutely! S.O.N is a first-person horror game where players take on the role of Robert Alderson — a struggling father who uses alcohol to drown out his inner demons daily, often neglecting his wife and son. Players will travel with Robert to the infamous Pennsylvania forest, ClarenCaster, which is home to the world’s most notorious section of woods fearfully referred to by locals as “South Of Nowhere.” His reason for journeying to such a terrifying destination is to rescue his son Jay, who was snatched by terrors unknown straight out of their home and into the forest.
The reason is unclear, but as the game progresses, players will find out the intentions behind the apparent kidnapping. South Of Nowhere had over 600 people go missing in 2016, ranging from missing adults to missing children. Inside the forest, players will also explore the Caves of Stacy, where old legends claim the caves aren’t caves but another world, another dimension that brings things in your life, good or bad, to life themselves; an “upside-down” version of what life is like above ground.
Will players get a chance to learn more about Robert? Is there any chance at redemption for him along the way?
All through the game, players will learn what makes Robert the way he is. What makes him tick, what sets him off, what makes him...him. Players will also see significant parts and moments in his life, and in his family’s life, that elevated Robert to be labeled as a “bad father.” As for redemption, we will let the game answer that. Players will experience and hear things that, when the game is over and finished, they’ll be able to come to a conclusion if Robert was a good or bad father on their own, which ultimately is our goal. We want players to hear the story, see his actions, then let them decide internally if Robert, in the end, deserves what is inevitably coming to him.
How much experience did the team have with Unreal Engine 4 when you started on S.O.N? What are some of the ways that Unreal Engine made first-time development approachable for a new team?
When Sterling and I came together, we had combined maybe three months of experience. Sterling had been using Unity for the most part and wanted to jump into Unreal Engine. The bigges task for me was simply learning the engine as a whole, taking those first steps into something unknown.
As soon as I opened Unreal Engine and saw the interface, I 1,000 percent got nervous and even a bit discouraged. I saw a million things on the screen and had no real idea about it, even prior to reading a book and watching a few YouTube videos. I found out that Unreal Engine had videos online and through the Epic Games launcher that made things a million times easier. It wasn’t a whole lot at the time, but it was enough for me to get a grasp of what I was doing. I would watch YouTube videos of people teaching it, but because they already knew what they were talking about they often kind of blew through things too fast for someone new. Epic took the time to explain what buttons did, why it's like this, what Blueprints is, what the little trinkets are. It really made it easier on both Sterling and me. A lot of people see the engine at a first glance and they are kind of in shock, but if you just take the time to watch the videos, you’ll be just fine.
Over the course of development, what's one tool in the Unreal Engine 4 suite that proved to be the most valuable?
I would say the most valuable tool throughout this entire process would be how simple it is to not only drag and drop but to size, move, and rotate things. That’s a pretty basic and amateur answer, but I can’t tell you how simple that was for me as a level designer. I don’t have to type in a certain coordinate for it to be placed, I just click on those and Unreal Engine 4 does all the work me. That’s a blessing for someone who places a million and more props in places that need that type of attention. Originally, when I started learning Unreal Engine, I was that guy who would literally mess with the X/Y/Z locations to get that perfect spot without just simply using the move tool. So it was a big time saver and I just think it’s a good simple tool for beginners.
Horror games are very dependent on darkness to help immerse the player into the game, but players won't get very far without some guiding light. How did you incorporate dark and light elements into S.O.N?
Horror thrives in the dark. If you can’t see, you fear what’s waiting for you, what’s watching you, what’s following you. However, I believe it’s the atmosphere you create that makes the player truly scared. It's conditioning the mind to believe something is about to happen or to believe something is there, but in reality isn’t.
As you said, lighting is a huge part but in that same breath, I believe the color of the light plays a significant part in horror. In S.O.N, instead of giving the player a flashlight, we let them use the strategically placed lighting that shines on and off objects placed all around the caves. Almost as if that object is telling you, ‘“Hey...come over here.” Maybe something happens, maybe something doesn’t. We wanted to make the player question each and every lit and unlit area they come across. To me, this feeds into the mind-game aspect of what makes horror truly great and fun to work in. In S.O.N, we worked in darkness by, at times, placing a light far down a hallway that is dark in between where you are standing and where the light is located. We also use objects to light rooms, but only to a certain extent because, you know, those $10 lamps can only go so far!
Getting your very first game to market is quite the challenge and you've likely learned a ton along the way. For aspiring developers who would like to emulate your journey, what advice would you give them? If they're jumping into learning Unreal Engine 4, what advice would you give to make that process easier?
Before anything else, please realize that it is a marathon, not a sprint. If you want to create something special, it is going to take a ton of time, a ton of dedication, and a ton of sacrifice. If you can get over that first mental mountain, the second mental mountain to conquer (and arguably the biggest one) is to never lose hope. All through the journey in developing your first game, you need to stay motivated, stay inspired, and remember why you started, and who you are doing this for. What I mean by this is when you post what you think is a cool screenshot on social media from your game and you get no attention for it, don’t let that discourage you. When you post your first trailer and people online in the comment sections tear it apart, don’t let it define you. Don’t get upset to the point of stopping. A lot of people will love your game, and a lot of people will probably hate your game. This is just how it works.
I can remember being so upset because I truly believed that what we were making was special and no one seemed to care, and by no one I mean big companies and mass audiences. Even after reading some hurtful comments, it really struck me as if I truly didn’t know what I was doing. Don’t ever do what I did because, after a while, I realized as long as I smiled making this, that’s all that matters in the end. Don’t make something you don’t believe in because people can sniff that out right away. Passionate work is always noticed. If you are excited about your game, people will catch on to that. I have faith in you — just stay the course and when times get hard, put one foot in front of the other and just keep going.
Lastly, learn, learn, and learn some more. It will literally change your life. Watch the videos that Epic provides, it will only help you become that much better of a developer. Learn as much as you can about game development, from level design all the way down to programming. Don’t be a one-trick pony. Learn it all or as much as you can handle. All the videos Epic has to show are valuable and useful ones. Take advantage of that.
Where are all the places people can go to keep up with RedG Studios and S.O.N?
You can catch up with all of RedG at the following spots:
We love the feedback (almost too much) and listen to the community (literally every notification)! We would like to thank Epic Games and the whole Unreal Engine team for helping us get to where we are today.