Stifled

Adrenaline seekers, get ready for a new fix. Singapore-based gaming studio Gattai Games has found a way to one-up the fright level of other survival horror games — by leaving players as blind as a bat.

In its new video game Stifled, the protagonist is equipped with bat-like sonar abilities. Players are required to make sounds through their mic to ‘see’ in the game. A registered sound sets off a wave which illuminates the game’s vector-like environment.

For the uninitiated, the survival horror genre taps on negative emotions such as shock, fear and terror to validate its entertainment value. The more spine-chilling the experience, the higher the ratings. Some of the successful survival horror game franchises include the Silent Hill and Resident Evil series.

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Instead of being armed to the teeth like in most video games, players are often rendered helpless, equipped with only the bare minimum to survive; they often have to hide, sneak around, conserve bullets, or run from supernatural enemies. There are also other unsettling elements such as the music, voice acting, ominous lighting and camera angles — all designed to scare the living daylights out of gamers.

e27 spoke to Justin Ng, a Co-founder of Gattai Games to find out more about the history of its game studio, the team’s motivations and inspirations behind Stifled, and his general thoughts on the game development climate.

Can you give me some insights on your and your team’s background? What inspired your team to pick up game development?

Our team of five — all of us 27 years old — are made up of graduates from DigiPen Singapore. I believe it was our love for games (all of us grew up as gamers) which led us to pursue game development.

Is there a meaning behind Gattai?

Gattai means combine in Japanese, which is a play on our vision of bringing people together through the games we make. Also, giant combining robots are really cool.

What kind of games did you guys play growing up?

I think there is a good mix, and it’s gonna be hard to list them all. Action, platformers, shooters, strategy, fighting and rhythm are some of the bigger genres that come to mind!

I tried out Stifled at GameStart Asia 2016 and it’s really cool and unique. What is the story? Why focus on the horror genre?

Stifled is based on our award-winning student game, Lurking. Lurking was originally sparked by this video, and the team found the idea of a sound based game interesting and started prototyping a bunch of mechanics around sound.

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It was only when we came up with the black and white art style that horror fell into place. The risk and reward between sight and being detected by the enemy created a natural and powerful tension. The microphone input pushes that concept even further by allowing the enemies to hear the player’s real world screams.

What kind of horror films/games did the team draw inspiration from?

Every member had their own picks. I think the big ones for me were the film, The Conjuring, and the video game, Amnesia: Dark Descent.

Speaking of horror, what were the craziest challenges you had to face during the process of designing the game

We went into the development of Lurking and Stifled blind as none of the team members were horror enthusiasts nor had experience in making horror games. We are pretty numb to horror at this point after watching hours of horror films and gameplay videos.

Describe to me what led to the design of using AR/VR and the challenges you faced in adopting this new technology.

Lurking’s production begun during the early days of the VR resurgence, and the microphone input was our jab at creating an immersive experience with a cheap and widely available peripheral. Couple that with our unique art style, we felt we could truly transport players into another world, which led to us to supporting Head Mounted Displays.

Mobile gaming is one of the fastest growing gaming verticals, and even major video game developer Konami is shifting focus to it. Do you plan to develop games for the mobile, and why did you choose to focus on desktop?

The mobile game market is predominantly freemium, where games are given away for free and monetised with micro-transactions. The only way to make money in such a model is to build skinner boxes that keep players hooked, coming back and eventually spending money.

This model changes the core value proposition, players no longer ‘pay’ us for a product and an experience. They, in the words of a good friend of mine, Gerald, become the product.

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This is why we decided on a blue ocean strategy and targeted the PC and Console market. [We are] focusing on making a quality game for an audience that is more likely to understand, appreciate and be willing to invest in a worthwhile experience.

That said, we are not writing off mobile development completely, we’ll make a mobile game on our own terms when an idea comes up that we think is worth the risk.

Aren’t you worried that the game development scene in Singapore is nascent or unprofitable? What are your thoughts on the local game development scene?

I wouldn’t say it’s nascent. It’s been around for awhile, but only just coming back into the limelight thanks to games and events like Masquerada and GameStart. Yeah, profitability is definitely a worry, but it’s a risk and sacrifice we take knowingly in exchange for the creative freedom and autonomy.

I think we are growing at a good pace; the missing piece is the perspective on the global business and the appetite for risk. Knowing how to make a game is not good enough. Teams need to understand how to position and market the product. We also have the tendency to follow trends that trickle in from other regions, but following a trend almost always means you’ll be missing the train.

What advice would you give designers/programmers looking to pursue game development?

Expose yourself to many and varied things. Creativity can stagnate when you keep yourself in a bubble. Also, learn a bit of everything. If you are a designer, learn to do some art and code. If you’re a programmer, build your design sense. The ability to understand and communicate effectively within the team is immense.

What are the skills required to become a game developer (both soft and hard skills)? Is being a hardcore gamer a necessary pre-requisite?

You don’t have to be a hardcore gamer to be a developer, but interest in the medium is a really good to have. But, making games != playing games.

Any plans to develop games in other genres, and/or with no VR component?

Yep! We don’t limit ourselves to any genre or platform and will develop whatever we think is fun and cool!

Are you seeking funding or acquisition?

For Stifled in its current state, no. But we do have plans for a new game and creating a VR experience around Stifled, so if making fun things with a small team is your cup of tea, hit me up!

Are you guys are in this for the long run (5 years or more)?

It’ll depend largely on how Stifled and the next game does, but yes, if we have the option to make games and never grow up forever, we will.

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Image Credit: Gattai Games