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.
“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.”
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.