Bet you’ve never played a survival horror game set during World War 1.
Our latest interview takes a look at StrixLab’s upcoming survival horror game, Ad Infinitum. Players will endure the war-torn battlefields of World War 1 as they cross No Man’s Land, crawl through trenches and out maneuver deadly foes in this atmospheric and intriguing new horror game from StrixLab.
Built on Unreal Engine 4, Ad Infinitum is currently due out in 2017 on the PC.
Once you’ve completed reading the interview, you will find a link to a new Pre-Alpha gameplay trailer for Ad Infinitum so you can see the game in action in its current state of development.
ONLYSP: To start off, can you tell me a little bit about yourself as a game developer, your team and how the formation of Ad Infinitum came about?
Maik Helfrich: We all met at the game design master course at the HAW–Hamburg University of Applied Sciences. The game basically started there, which was about 1.5 years ago.
After our final presentation, we decided to go on with the game, since we already had a working proof-of-concept build of the game. Around the beginning of 2016 our team grew, since more people, all from the games master course, joined the project. We are 8 People now, from whom 6 are working full time on the project. We are more or less from all departments concerning game development: 3d/2d art, programming, sound design etc.
This is a good way to start, since we’ve all known each other for some time now.
ONLYSP: Your original trailer for the game has gotten quite a few views, over 100,000, and has had some pretty positive reception. Were you surprised to see so many people check out the game?
Helfrich: Definitely! We didn’t expect to get that much views at all. Also, there were reactions from all over the world. Many Spanish speaking people commented and we got quite a lot of coverage on Russian news blogs.
I think the setting also plays a key role. By the time the trailer came out, there weren’t too many games with a WW1 setting, and Battlefield One was not yet announced.
ONLYSP: Agreed with that one; the art style and World War 1 setting immediately caught my attention. Something very different for a horror game. Speaking of which, what inspired you to develop a horror game in a World War 1 setting?
Helfrich: One of the things for us was that the mix is quite unusual by itself. You’d probably think of a haunted house/mansion/asylum when you hear the word horror game. Also, the trench setting and the new kind of warfare in WW1 is horrific by itself. Back then, people thought of going to war as something honorful, where you meet your opponent on the battlefield face to face. That turned out pretty different and sounded like a good setup for a new kind of horror game setting.
We were also inspired by artists like Zdzisław Beksiński, who was not painting about WW1 specifically, but if you look at his paintings you get a good idea of how other creatives looked at that mixture.
ONLYSP: So, what’s the basic premise behind the narrative of Ad Infinitum?
Helfrich: Without spoiling too much of the game, you take the role of a soldier who finds himself in the middle of the battlefield, but unlike you’d normally expect you seem to be the only one there. You start looking around and find some strange things happening–for example, a sudden gas attack out of nowhere.
As you progress in the game, you’ll not only play in the trenches or No Man’s Land. We also have different settings like underground tunnels or even surrealistic landscapes. For story references, we looked at old letters and field reports, pictures and maps. We found a lot of stuff you wouldn’t expect in the midst of a battlefield. Soldiers started to build small ‘pups’ or even theater stages in those trenches just to get a glimpse of what their lives were like back home. We use these references and tied them into the story.
Since we don’t want to show a ‘realistic’ war setting, we try to use surrealistic aspects as a metaphor for certain threats or fears the soldiers had. That’s also where creatures come into play.
ONLYSP: What kind of horror game is Ad Infinitum exactly? Is it more of a psychological horror game or are there enemies to face and hide from as well?
Helfrich: I’d say both! We have psychological horror in the sense of the unknown. You learn that there is stuff happening around you; you just don’t know what exactly is happening or who is triggering it. The creatures, which will be present later in the game, are a direct threat to you, though you only have minimal direct confrontations with them. You’re supposed to hide and sneak around. This does not mean that you are instantly dead as soon as a creature spots you, but you had better not let them spot you.
One of our premises is that your are not able to wildly shoot everything that comes at you. You are probably not able to shoot at all! Again, without spoiling too much, if you look at the title of our game you might get a clue of what the basic theme of the story might be.
ONLYSP: Will the narrative be something that’s mostly up to player interpretation or is it more of a traditional narrative?
Helfrich: A little of both. We lead the player through the game up to a certain degree. This way we have more control over what happens when in the game, story and gameplay wise. So there will be a little bit of a traditional narrative, but we also want to have some open ties for the player to fill in on their own. For example, it’s not clear (and also not important) of what nationality the character is. We mix references from different sources and from different countries and put them together. This way, the player can imagine his or her very own background story.
ONLYSP: Have recent horror games like Alien: Isolation, Outlast or P.T. had an influence on development of Ad Infinitum?
Helfrich: We definitely looked at other games in that genre. Not only in terms of atmosphere but also in terms of gameplay. Outlast and Silent Hill were a huge inspiration, so we tried to look at many of those games. Of course, we also tried to handle certain things differently in our game.
ONLYSP: How has the game been shaping up since you originally showed it off last year?
Helfrich: As I said earlier, our team has grown since then, which gave us a huge leap forward graphically and also in terms of programming. We are able to produce more assets now and we implemented a better workflow by creating production tools that help us in level design, set dressing, etc.
We also stripped down the original concept of the game, which had a planned playtime of more than 10 hours. For a first-timer, filling a game with content for 10+hours can be a big problem. We are looking for an overall play time of 4-6 hours now.
ONLYSP: Have you had any playtesters for the game yet? How scary of a game do you anticipate Ad Infinitum to be?
Helfrich: We’ve had a few internal play testing sessions, first to look at the general feeling of the game. We showed minor puzzles to see if players could find out what we expect them to do. The general feedback we got concerning atmosphere where also very good. In terms of scariness, we want Ad Infinitum to be quite a scary game! Since a surrealistic war setting gives us a lot of opportunities to do that, you should have a fresh pair of underpants ready.
ONLYSP: You mentioned puzzles. I’m curious to see what kind of puzzles you come up with in the World War 1 setting you’re working with! Any examples you can tell me about?
Helfrich: In our proof of concept build, for example, we had a puzzle where you had to decode a Morse code message to get information you needed to open a blocked path. One of the gameplay elements of Ad Infinitum is that you find various items throughout the game like a gas mask, a wire cutter, a shovel, and so on. So, some puzzles are based around the use of those items.
The gas mask for example interferes with you ability to see clearly. That plus clouds of gas make it difficult to navigate and find you way in the labyrinth-like trenches. Also, we are working on a little bit more action-oriented parts where you have to dodge attacks and find out where to take cover, for example.
ONLYSP: Interesting. Do you plan to release the game this year or are you looking at 2017 for release?
Helfrich Right now we are looking at a release in Q3 2017, so a year from now.
ONLYSP: Any plans to bring the game to Kickstarter or Steam Early Access, or are you looking to release a completed project when you do release the game?
Helfrich: We had several discussion about that. We think that Early Access is probably not the best way, since we have a spoiler heavy story which we want to release as a whole. We are also talking to industry people at the moment to see if and how a publishing deal is possible. If this becomes possible, we prefer that over a Kickstarter campaign.
ONLYSP: Since the game is in the Steam Greenlight program (concepts), do you have any plans to bring the game to consoles as well or is that all based on the success of the game?
Helfrich: Since we are on UE4, the basics for porting the game to consoles is there. But, we are a small team and we’re focusing on a PC release first to ensure a good gaming experience as a whole.
But you also have to see that the big players (Sony & Microsoft) have made their platforms more and more accessible to indie teams, which we want to make use of in the future. Also, a publishing deal would probably make porting a lot easier.
ONLYSP: Awesome! Is there anything else you’d like to let our readers know about Ad Infinitum that we haven’t touched on yet? Maybe when we’ll see the game in action?
Helfrich: We cannot say when we are ready to show more of the game. Right now, we are preparing for Gamescom to meet with industry people there. We plan to release a more specific gameplay trailer after that though. We will also be more frequent in posting developer insight on our blog and social media channels.
Apart from that, we’d like to thank the gaming group in the history department of the University of Hamburg, with which we worked closely together to get a decent idea of the historical facts and how to integrate them in the game. We’d also like to thank all of the people interested in our game who commented and posted about us so far.