Will Byles


Were there any par­tic­u­lar films or film­mak­ers you stud­ied for tone?

Sam Raimi is phe­nom­e­nal. He uses cam­eras in a very ex­cit­ing way and does things with them in Evil Dead and Evil Dead II that peo­ple hadn’t done be­fore. Also, I’ve got to say Hitch­cock, prob­a­bly one of the most elo­quent makers of film, in terms of the way he uses film lan­guage, that I’ve ever seen. And [John] Car­pen­ter!

Did the move to PS4 en­cour­age you to in­clude more but­ter­fly-ef­fect de­ci­sions?

We did de­velop those, ac­tu­ally. Ob­vi­ously, the num­ber of per­mu­ta­tions of deaths make [adding more choices] really tricky. But PS4 gave us stacks of data to be able to go through that stuff. You can get a sce­nario where there’s a branch at the end that goes one way or an­other on a life or death de­ci­sion, but also a sec­ond set of branches [per­tain­ing to] con­ver­sa­tional op­tions, and even a third set for the state that per­son is in. You’ve got to be able to hold all of those things in a stack of var­i­ous states and branch the right bit, and PS4 let us do that.

The game is trans­par­ent about the choices play­ers make. Why be so up front about it?

When I started here, we came up with a pro­to­type where that was fun­da­men­tally invisible to the player. Ev­ery­thing you did was a de­ci­sion and had a con­se­quence. But with hind­sight, it was lin­ear – I mean, really, it’s the ex­act op­po­site – but you ended up fol­low­ing a line, a story. The ex­pe­ri­ence in it­self was quite good fun, but no one felt [the di­ver­gence]. We gen­uinely hadn’t thought of that. My am­bi­tion for Un­til Dawn was to make all this invisible, to make it HUD­less, to have no break­ing of that fourth wall, but it proved to be a neg­a­tive thing. don’t know what’s in there,” Byles says. “And with games, it’s really hard to do dark. Which sounds mad, but it really is, be­cause tra­di­tion­ally you have a bake, where all the lights for an en­tire scene are ef­fec­tively baked into the tex­ture, and then the lights [for darker ar­eas] are taken away, be­cause it’s just too [com­pu­ta­tion­ally] ex­pen­sive. The game wouldn’t run.” But within what Byles calls “ab­so­lute shad­ows”, any in­ter­ac­tive ob­jects, in­clud­ing peo­ple, will glow. The an­swer was to strip back most of the pre-baked lights and at­tempt to use as much re­al­time light­ing as pos­si­ble, for which Su­per­mas­sive had to in­vent its own rig – one that es­sen­tially gave each char­ac­ter their own per­sonal di­rec­tor of pho­tog­ra­phy. “What hap­pens is you get this chiaroscuro [ef­fect], where you have th­ese nicely lit char­ac­ters in the fore­ground in front of dark­ness, with­out look­ing out of place.”

It was a cal­cu­lated risk that paid off, as was the game’s fre­quent use of static cam­era an­gles, a de­ci­sion that Byles ad­mits ini­tially met with some re­sis­tance. Res­i­dent Evil might re­main a land­mark en­try in the hor­ror game genre, but th­ese days its tech­niques are gen­er­ally con­sid­ered to be ar­chaic. Sev­eral meet­ings were held to con­vince the hes­i­tant. “It was very, very col­lab­o­ra­tive,” Byles re­calls. “Lee Robin­son, the pro­duc­tion de­signer, and I would sto­ry­board ev­ery­thing up like a film, and [ex­plain] the mood we wanted to get across, and what we were try­ing to evoke with the cam­eras we were us­ing.”

But there was more to con­sider than the nar­ra­tive mo­ti­va­tion of any given shot. If Un­til Dawn was to look like a film, it still had to func­tion as a game. It was a les­son learned the hard way, with testers grow­ing frus­trated and con­fused by shift­ing an­gles at first, but Su­per­mas­sive soon be­gan to learn the rule­set its de­sign im­posed. “We worked out that if you cut the cam­era at a thresh­old – like a door, or a [junc­tion] in a cor­ri­dor – at a 90-de­gree an­gle, peo­ple would just keep turn­ing around in cir­cles for eter­nity.” Byles also found he had to kill a few of his per­sonal dar­lings. “One of my favourite shots is when Sam’s be­ing chased by the psy­cho, and she pushes through that door that breaks, and there’s a re­verse shot that dol­lies all the way down a really long cor­ri­dor. Oh my god! But we had to use them very spar­ingly be­cause they do dis­rupt the player’s ori­en­ta­tion.”

Byles isn’t con­vinced that the fin­ished game quite achieved the elu­sive blend of artistry and prag­ma­tism it was shoot­ing for, but Un­til Dawn’s ab­sorb­ing mix of scripted frights and branch­ing story made it the most-watched game on YouTube for Au­gust, de­spite only be­ing avail­able for the fi­nal five days of the month. “We weren’t ex­pect­ing that, and we weren’t ex­pect­ing all the Tum­blr [posts], the cos­play or the fa­nart. I was talk­ing to Larry Fessenden, and at Comic-Con he had peo­ple go­ing up to him and say­ing, ‘You’re Flamethrower Guy!’ I mean, we definitely wanted to have watercooler mo­ments, but we didn’t think it would be like this.” The hor­ror genre is hardly renowned for its happy end­ings, but af­ter four years, you’d be hard pushed to ar­gue that Su­per­mas­sive hasn’t earned one.

Cre­ative di­rec­tor

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