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The Hum – A Sci-Fi Horror Game Set in a Post Alien Invasion World | Exclusive Interview



The indie scene has really exploded to fill the horror niche that triple-A studios’ neglect left. Ariel Arias is one of these indie developers, currently working on The Hum, a horror game relying on unease and oppression in a world invaded by aliens. Taking a relatively unexplored idea for a horror game of a total alien invasion, Arias is hoping to create a moody, tension filled horror game that relies on loneliness and anxiety to set players on edge. We chatted with Arias about The Hum and how he plans to build a world dominated by an alien force.

The Hum is described as “a horror game set up in a post alien invasion world.” It’s an invasion with little warning, one that happens after days of an inexplicable, worldwide humming heard from the sky. “Our character is a survivor who does not even know why is still alive, and what is happening actually with the world, with the invaders and with any other eventual survivors.” Arias explained. The story plays out through in-game character voicing, but, more importantly, through the way the player interacts with the world and what happens in it.

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Concept Art

“I don’t want to spoil so much yet, but, basically, they are not just destroying everything. They are in control. Absolute control. That mean that, with their advanced technology, the rulers of course should be able to find you without problems. So… what’s happening? Maybe they are not even interested on you or maybe they know about you too much.”

The plot itself is secondary to the overall sense of immersion. Arias is placing emphasis on the player being in the mostly urban world. “If you don’t feel that you are inside, I’m failing.” Arias told us. “And when you are inside a story, the story just grows around you. You feel yourself as the centre of the universe, even if you are just an insect in the real size of what is happening. I hope The Hum achieve that feeling.”

Arias and the team are still in discussions about the finer points of gameplay. There is a strong love of survival games, with Arias telling us of his love for Don’t Starve and The Forest. “I like inventories,” Arias said, “I like open worlds, I like the feeling that you are really there in that world, so much of the gameplay we are experimenting with is pointing to that side.”

Arias hasn’t revealed just how long it will take to play through The Hum, saying that it will depend on the decisions of the player, as well as how much content they add to the final game. He largely considers length a non-issue, though. “I don’t believe that the length is a matter.” Arias told us. “I don’t want a player who says ‘it was fun, it was like any number of hours of fun’. I really want that the people who live The Hum’s experience could remember it for years. And I don’t think that it is just a duration matter.”

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WIP Screenshot

Aiding this will be The Hum’s procedural nature. “This is another evolving thing in the development.” Arias told us. “I don’t want to make a linear adventure. I want that the players really feel the consequences of their decisions and even of the luck against randomless events.” Still very much in alpha, Arias is experimenting with non-random procedural generation. Currently he is testing this with “a background server that collects info and helps us to improve the procedural generation of levels and story while the player is playing.”

The Hum’s horror will not rely on the traditional jump-scares of the genre. Instead, Arias is aiming for a more insidious form of fear – loneliness, abandonment, anxiety, misgiving. “I think that the real fear can take many forms.” Arias explained. “The experiences are very subjective from one person to another. But scares will be not the only fear-feeling I’ll try to bring to player.”

“[T]here are no many games that I think are what I want to do. But, that is a dangerous factor for us too, because I didn’t find a well-known formula to use. I love survival games, I love good storytelling, but I don’t like a very linear experience, jump scares for the sake of jump scares – I still like the justified ones – and games without substance. I’m sure that The Hum will differ from other horror games in things like timing and fear approach. I not aiming to gore or jump scares. I want to make procedural experience too, a good one, I will be not satisfied until the player really feels that they are actually immersed.”

Arias’ fascination with the alien began early. “The very first [influence] is The War of the Worlds 50s movie,” Arias revealed, “which I saw when I was only 2 years and I never could forget. I still remember every scene, and 28 years has passed!” Since then, aliens have fascinated him. TV shows like Star Trek, Stargate SG1, and The X-Files, along with films like Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Alien hold a place in Arias’ heart. “But, maybe, the bigger influence are all the tales about abductions and UFO crashes that you can find around internet and magazines in my childhood.”

The Hum’s creature and tech designs are still mostly in the conceptual stage, but Arias has already laid the aesthetic guidelines that the final product will follow. And he’s promising to reveal some new creatures and objects “soon”. Audio design is also in infancy, with Arias opening lines of communication with a composer, although there are no music samples ready to share just yet.

The Hum began life on Unity, but the team made the decision to shift to Unreal Engine 4 and have never looked back. “I just can say that UE4 is great.” Arias told us. “I have worked with many engines in the past, and many liked me, but UE4 was an amazing experience since the beginning.” Initially, the decision to shift to UE4 was a difficult one, as the team had already made assets for Unity, and UE4 was a new, still in development product. “But,” Arial said, “I can say that we did the right thing.”

Arias has noted some of the criticism the trailer has brought, mostly around “defects the trailer’s shown”, as he called it. “I hope everybody can understand,” Arias explained, “that we are in a very early stage and, by the moment, we are a very very small team. But we can do great things, and I don’t want to release a mediocre game.”

The project was initially projected to release sometime around the last quarter of 2014 but Arias thinks it will be delayed. “The project evolved a lot, the idea, the scope, the interest, and I totally prefer to make something good than just release a shitty game to make some money.”

The Hum is currently only confirmed for PC and Mac with Oculus Rift support, however Arias has been in contact with Sony and Microsoft, both of whom “showed interest” in the project, about potentially bringing the game to consoles. Arias told us that he should have “a clearer picture” on the matter after this year’s Gamescom, which he should be attending.

Thanks very much to Ariel Arias for taking the time to talk to us about The Hum. We’ll keep track of the project and see how it develops.

Former Editor in Chief of OnlySP. A guy who writes things about stuff, apparently. Recovering linguist, blue pencil surgeon, and professional bishie sparkler. In between finding the latest news, reviewing PC games, and generally being a grumpy bossyboots, he likes to watch way too much Judge Judy. He perhaps has too much spare time on his hands. Based in Sydney, Australia. Follow him on twitter @lawksland.

Exclusive Interviews

The Occupation Designer Reveals Game Length, Talks Design, Inspiration, and More



The Occupation promo

After a protracted development period, fixed-time thriller The Occupation is set to release in one month’s time. Between its retro aesthetic and immersive sim-inspired gameplay, the game is shaping up as one of 2019’s most unique titles.

In light of that, OnlySP recently spoke to Pete Bottomley, designer of The Occupation and co-founder of developer White Paper Games to find out more about the promising project.

OnlySP: I thought I’d start off with a fairly obvious question. Given the real-time nature of The Occupation, how long can players expect a single run through to last, and by how much can that time be shortened or prolonged by the player’s actions?

Bottomley: The core gameplay is designed around 4 hours of play. There are some sections that are untimed, whether it be for narrative impact or tutorialisation for the player. As we’re playing through the game as a team, it’s taking us around 6.5 hours to play through the game.

The Occupation

OnlySP: How many endings does the game have?

Bottomley: The game’s outcome is a reflection of the steps the player took through the game. I think when playing games, you always want the outcomes to reflect your approach and we’re massively inspired by how games such as Dishonored can tackle that. Our hope is that the ending you experience feels like it reflects their approach and actions.

OnlySP: Tied to that, approximately how many playthroughs would be required to see everything that the game has to offer?

Bottomley: Our intention wasn’t to design a game that required multiple playthroughs. I’m personally the type of player that plays through a narrative, gets an outcome, and that’s my story. That being said, we’ve tried to fill the world with a lot of content, and because of the real-time character simulating actions, hopefully with second and third playthroughs, players will uncover different ways to solve challenges or narrative threads they hadn’t picked up on before.

OnlySP: How did you come to settle on the politicised premise of an Act robbing citizens of civil liberties?

Bottomley: Since we invest so much of our lives into making games, you have to work on something you feel is meaningful and rewarding of your time. At the time of concepting The Occupation, there was a lot of friction between what was happening in the UK and abroad. It affects us all and we wanted to work on something that may put people’s views into perspective.

Our previous game Ether One dealt with the difficulties of seeing a family member suffering with dementia and our aim is to continue these important themes throughout all of our games.

The Occupation screenshot 3

OnlySP: Also, issues surrounding privacy and freedom of speech, among other civil liberties, are pertinent right now. How close to your mind were the modern concerns about the topic while you were concepting the game? And have real-world events impacted the story of The Occupation across the development period?

Bottomley: The world around us always inspires us, but we don’t really rely on specific events to drive any part of the game’s narrative. When you’re developing a game that tries to get its own narrative across but ground it in the real world, you have to try to distil them to focus on the story you’re trying to tell. In a sense, real world stories inspire us but it’s more of an observational thing rather than a particular event we want to depict faithfully. We tend to focus on the emotional and societal impact of the event itself.

OnlySP: How present will those sorts of themes be within the average player’s experience? Or should players expect to be able to lose themselves entirely in the investigation without really leaning on the context?

Bottomley: We aim to put context on all of your actions in the world otherwise there’s not much meaning behind the choices being made. That being said, you can choose to follow certain narrative threads over others, which allows the player to follow the most interesting lead they come across.

OnlySP: Players take the role of a journalist in the game; how accurate would you say your portrayal is of the technologies and general aesthetic of late ‘80s Britain? How much research went into getting the language and atmosphere of the era right?

Bottomley: It’s interesting you raise that point as we’ve just been speaking about the world limitations in this game. In our previous game, Ether One, we aimed to deliver a grounded narrative that had certain sci-fi elements. With The Occupation, we wanted to go even more grounded and aim to deliver a world that belongs in the ’80s so any aesthetic and technological choices were always taken into consideration. Surrounding yourself with these limitations can create really cool gameplay mechanics such as our pager as a message delivery system, public payphones to update your objectives, and fax machines to deliver information.

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OnlySP: The game has been delayed twice now, both times quite close to the scheduled release. Is there any chance you could shed some light on the causes of the delays?

Bottomley: Delaying a game is a gut wrenching decision. You’ve put a promise out there and you push yourself to deliver. We’ve aimed incredibly high on this game both technologically and in the game’s design. On top of this, we wanted to deliver the game in as many languages as we could along with sim-shipping on PC, XB1, & PS4 and doing a retail disc submission so that people could pick up the game in stores if they wanted to hold a physical representation of the game. Because of these platforms, the game has to be ready a couple of months in advance to help distribution and all the different regions to have the version of the game you intend for them. With complexity always come more bugs and since our last game shipped in a buggy state, we didn’t want to make the same mistake twice. We’ve QA’d the game for months and had support from our publishers in helping to identify the issues. As with any game, we’ll no doubt spot some issues on launch, but we’ve already put processes in place to address these as quickly as we can and hopefully the execution of the game will immerse people and keep players engaged so that nothing disrupts the experience.

OnlySP: I recall on Twitter that you once wrote that you were testing the possibility of a Switch port. How seriously have you looked at that possibility and what’s the likelihood?

Bottomley: Right now we have a Switch development kit frustratingly gathering dust in our studio. Since we’re a small team, it can be a tough choice trying to figure out where to best use your resources. We’d absolutely love to get the game onto Switch but we’ve not tested a build yet. It’s the first thing we’ll be moving onto in March so we should be able to update people as soon as we know how The Occupation runs on it. Thankfully using Unreal Engine makes this process a lot more straightforward and we’ve seen a lot of developer friends find success on the Switch so it’s a great opportunity to reach a larger audience.

OnlySP: How does it feel for you and the team to be just about ready to wrap development after four years of work?

Bottomley: It’s not quite set in yet. Although we’re done with the game and excited to see the reception it gets from people, it’s really only 50% of the work, especially when you’re in a small team. We’re currently planning all the marketing and PR opportunities along with reflecting on the development cycle and figuring out what we can do better (to hopefully not spend another 4 years on a game!).

The Occupation screenshot 1

OnlySP: Finally, do you have any closing comments for our readers or anything else you’d like to say about The Occupation?

Bottomley: The whole team has put an incredible amount of energy into The Occupation. If you look at our previous game compared to The Occupation, you can see how far we’ve come. It’s been a huge learning curve for the studio both technically and in production and we’re excited to move onto another game to push ourselves. We’re unable to do that without game sales. It sounds corny, but we really can’t develop games without our community’s support. We value each purchase and we want to grow and keep pushing to create more interesting games. We have a lot of goals and drive and we’re focusing on growing and creating more experiences for the player. If you’re reading this and have purchased any of our games, thank you. It absolutely means the world to be able to wake up in the morning and be excited to develop games. Thank you.

The Occupation is set to release on March 5, 2019 for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.

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