Back in 2015, I was on the lookout for some interesting gaming news when I stumbled across an interesting indie horror titled, ‘The Land of Pain.’ This was set to be an adventure game focused on story, investigation and atmosphere.
While providing no exact date, The Land of Pain developer, Alessandro Guzzo confirmed the title as a late 2015 release. After a short period of radio silence, Guzzo released a couple of rather reserved images; purportedly revealing the in-game user-interface. The developer’s comments and screen shots left the Steam Greenlight community speculating on what was next for The Land of Pain.
It’s was now 2016 – late in the year, when Guzzo finally released a demo for everyone to check out. I sat down with the demo in late October. This was probably the most suitable time of year for anyone to play an indie horror, with the long nights starting to smell of burning tea lights, and pumpkin seeds, and cinnamon spiced lattes.
Atmosphere is perhaps the most important aspect of any video game, whether that’s produced through forlorn, ethereal environments like those developed by Team Ico; or the ‘gothic uncanny’ atmosphere of Hidetaka Miyazaki’s Souls series. Without atmosphere, a game can feel empty. It’s just another one of those make or break elements for indie developers to strive for; especially when it comes to producing another underground sensation.
When I sat down with Alessandro Guzzo to conduct an interview, I thought it would be important to ask him questions in relation to atmosphere, storytelling, and – more broadly speaking – the waxing and waning of the horror genre, in general.
Hi, Alessandro, thanks for joining us in an interview. It feels like a long time since we heard much about The Land of Pain, how are things?
Hi Alex, the development is proceeding very well, thank you. Over the last year I worked hard; the whole game has seen an improvement in every aspect, with the story amplified with many details to discover. Even the AI has been enhanced. Right now, I am working on the final touches, and perfecting the game through feedback that people gave me about the demo.
What strikes me about your latest demo is the game’s obvious attention to detail. The use of ambient noise was especially good at capturing an environmental atmosphere, for example. If video games have taught me anything, it’s that ambience plays a huge part in generating the right atmosphere. Is that something you had planned from the outset or something that crept in to the game over time?
Yes, it is something that I had planned. I have always aimed to bring out details – because I think they make the difference. In addition to this, I strived to create the right atmosphere, and the sound plays a fundamental role in providing an immersive gaming experience.
Graphically speaking, the lighting was really good too. That seems to be one of the central themes in The Land of Pain, the contrast between the dark and light – the duality of night and day. Is that correct?
Yes, that’s right. This contrast is thought to transmit conflicting emotions in the gamer. It is an important aspect of the game.
Am I right in assuming the story will be told exclusively through diary entries?
Diary entries will play an important role in the game’s story – but I cannot tell you if it will be the only means that will allow people to discover what is going on.
It seems diary entries are a very popular mode of telling a story, especially with independent developers who want to promote atmosphere over anything else. Obviously, telling a story through diary entries has always been a corner stone of video game narration. But is there something about the epistolary style that works well with video games, or do you think it’s just a good entry point for developers who want a story, but lack the resources to do anything else?
Well, I think that it all depends on the kind of game you are going to create. In my case, it’s just related to a style choice.
With so many video games emulating cinema, do you think this way of telling a story is a kind of middle finger to that mainstream way of doing things?
No – I think that every game has its own way of telling the story; and that depends on both the kind of game you’re making, and the developer’s stylistic choices.
I can’t talk about The Land of Pain, and not ask you about the popularity of the indie horror genre. Growing up in the late 90’s, the market was flooded with horror titles, and then one day, practically overnight, it was like they disappeared altogether – until games like Amnesia, and the rise of the YouTube jump scare. How much of your process was influenced by that sudden resurge in popularity?
My choice doesn’t depend on this resurge in popularity. I have always loved the horror genre and it is a source of inspiration to me. I wanted to transmit certain emotions through fear and mystery. At the same time, I think developers should follow their own tastes, and shouldn’t necessarily be influenced by the mainstream.
There were moments in the demo that reminded me of the things written by H. P. Lovecraft. Out of interest, was he a major influence on your narrative and style?
Yes, Lovecraft influenced my narrative and style. I have always been fascinated by his literature and his style. Infact, The Land of Pain is inspired by some lovecraftian tales.
With that in mind, what experience would you like people to take from The Land of Pain?
The Land of Pain has been created with the purpose of involving the gamer as much as possible. The protagonist won’t be, as it often happens, omniscient, but people will feel like they are there. Actions will have a logic depending on what is going on. I think these aspects play a fundamental role in involving the player and, at the same time, increasing the anxiety and the fear of what you can expect to encounter.
And finally, when can we expect to see a finished product?
The release date is not set yet, but it will be between the end of 2016, and the beginning of 2017.
Thanks, Alessandro. We look forward to hearing from you soon.
(This interview underwent light edits to give a better reading experience.)