In the last part, we met some of the team and the story behind Dream Wave Games. Now it’s time for more on Absention.
“Absention is a first-person survival horror, where you’re trapped in a lake house that changes its layout each time you play,” explains Robert Bruce, lead designer and founder of Dream Wave Games. ”You’re cursed to relive the same night over-and-over while being hunted by a mysterious figure.”
Inspired by genre classics and committed to instilling terror without leaning on tired tropes, Absention isn’t a cash-in on the current horror craze.
“I’m a big fan of the horror genre in both gaming and film, with some favourites of mine being The Shining, Alien, Eternal Darkness, Resident Evil and Silent Hill,” says Bruce.
“There are so many indie horror games out there that Absention does risk being thrown in with the lot, but upon closer inspection, Absention will deliver a true survival-horror experience following in the footsteps of those classics,” he continues. “What sets Absention apart is its AAA quality visuals, the time loop ‘Groundhog Day’ mechanic, and its approach to horror without the reliance of cheap jump scares or gritty environments.
“That lingering uneasy feeling is the most effective form of horror. Jump scares and gore have a powerful reaction, but not a lasting one. In Absention there are no scripted jump scares, no gore and it’s set in a beautiful environment. The horror comes from how quickly things can turn sinister, and how looks can be deceiving. Absention will force players to go beneath the surface and explore the unknown.”
[pullquote align=”right”]”Go beneath the surface and explore the unknown“[/pullquote]
Bruce came up with the idea for Absention in 2012, and since then, has added layers of complexity onto his original concept.
“Absention began as a horror simulator where you had to relive the same scenario until you were successful in surviving the night,” says Bruce. “Since then, the narrative and gameplay ideas have evolved into something it think is very unique.”
In Absention, Bruce wanted to address the ludonarrative dissonance that arises from being able to try again when you make a mistake in video games. Horror games in the past have tried to do this by limiting saves, like Dead Space, or by being bite-sized “permadeath” experiences, but Absention builds do-overs into its story.
“The idea of running through a scenario again-and-again is something that most games do, but it doesn’t usually relate to the story,” Bruce says. “In Absention, reliving the same scenario is an integral part of the narrative. You’re cursed to relive the same night in a house you can never escape. This also means you start back at the same point after every death; there are no save points. The way you progress is by learning from your mistakes and remembering solutions for puzzles, or where you found things. This allows you to fast-track to where you were.”
The player’s story begins when they inherit Absention’s lake house from their estranged father, who went missing under mysterious and suspicious circumstances.
“The father was a successful horror writer and moved away after his marriage fell apart,” Bruce explains. “Through exploration of the house you will learn more about who you are and what happened to the father.
“Your first experience is something like this,” he continues. “You wake up to the sound of the grandfather clock and all seems fine until the power goes out. You’re in a dimly moonlit room and hear the loud sprinting footsteps of something running at you but you only see it in a brief flash of light before you die.
“You wake up again to the clock chime and immediately start looking for a torch, find matches and light candles. You hide before the power goes out and in the candlelight make out a mysterious figure carefully stalking the corridors.
“I don’t want to spoil anything but I want the player to ask questions about what the enemy might be and form their own interpretation. Is it human? Immortal? Or is it a manifestation of the character’s hatred for their father?”
[pullquote align=”right”]”Is it human? Immortal? Or is it a manifestation of the character’s hatred for their father?“[/pullquote]
Dream Wave are working hard to make Absention’s lake house memorable. In games with a striking sense a place, the setting is often said to be as much of a character as any other, and Absention is no exception. Hidden throughout the house, will be clues that paint the bigger narrative picture.
“The house essentially tells the father character’s story,” says Bruce. “Both the player and their character need to learn about the man who lived here, and everything in the environment adds up to solve that mystery.”
Since its public release in 2014, Unreal Engine 4 has revolutionised the indie-scene, allowing smaller studios to strive for the same quality visuals as the larger developers. This, along with the bank of in-depth tutorials Epic have made available, mean that high-quality game development is more accessible than ever, even for those without a lot of programming experience.
“UE4 has been amazing for me as an artist,” Bruce says. “It let me hit the ground running with basic functionality straight out of the box. “
A lot of work has gone into creating Absention’s atmosphere, building on its striking visual style with subtle use of music and sound effects.
“It’s equally important to know when and when not to use music,” Bruce explains. “Absention uses a mix of diegetic and non-diegetic music sounds. An example of a diegetic sound would be playing music through a cd player in the game’s environment. Most of what you hear is happening within the game world, and I think that really adds to the felling of immersion. We use non-diegetic sounds, more conventional game music, to add to intense situations like being spotted and chased.”
Despite its focus on story, Absention isn’t explicitly a once-through deal, with its ever-changing environment adding to the game’s unsettling feeling, as well as providing fresh challenge.
“I want every playthrough to be a unique experience,” Bruce says. “Changing up the house layout as well as item locations and puzzle solutions forces the player to always be on their toes and change up their strategy. Revisiting the game after each playthrough will offer entirely new challenges.”
More on Absention is coming soon, including a new gameplay trailer and a pre-alpha demo. Dream Wave hope to take their project to Kickstarter in the autumn, in search of funds to validate their project and take development to the next level.