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Interview with AgustŪn Cordes on Asylum
Release Date:2012
Article Posted:October 2011

In 2006, under the leadership of AgustŪn Cordes, Nucleosys released a delightfully creepy adventure game called Scratches. The game had assume the role of novelist Michael Arthate and explore a gloomy Victorian mansion. Scratches was commendable for its expertly crafted dark atmosphere and intriguing story. It was the kind of game that could keep players thinking even after the end credits rolled. Five years later, Mr. Cordes is working with a different team on a brand new horror adventure called Asylum. This time, Mr. Cordes invites us to explore the decrepit halls of Hanwell Mental Institute and discover the facility's dark history. As development continues on Asylum, Mr. Cordes kindly agreed to answer some of our questions and give us details about the upcoming adventure game.

[Adventure Lantern]: You were responsible for designing Scratches, a highly successful horror adventure published five years ago. What can you tell us about the journey from Scratches to Asylum?

[AgustŪn Cordes]: It was a long journey, to say the least. I always intended to start working straight on another horror project after Scratches, but the comings and goings of life made things different. While still at Nucleosys, we had the opportunity to work on a very important project, also an adventure, although it was only released in Argentina. It was overall an engaging and valuable experience, although one I wouldnít repeat since we had to work for the government. Shortly after that, Nucleosys disbanded and I founded Senscape. Asylum is looking great and I feel like weíre well underway to fulfill our vision. Scratches was a first step and as such it had its share of problems and shortsighted decisions. Iím still very happy about how it turned out, and I would never ever change its design, but I feel like Asylum is going to be a much stronger game in every regard.

[AL]: How do you think the adventure gaming scene changed during this period?

[AC]: Interesting question. Adventures have always been a rather stable genre, which of course isnít necessarily a bad thing. I donít think they have changed for the most part during those years, except in the way weíre consuming them: more specifically, the iPhone, iPad and potentially Android have become exciting new platforms to play adventures. I believe this trend will be more pronounced and the iPad may become the platform of excellence for the genre. Also, Iíve noticed that adventures are becoming more friendly and casual, although this also holds true for the vast majority of the industry.

[AL]: What can you tell us about your new company, Senscape Interactive? How did the development team come together?

[AC]: As I told you briefly before, after the second project in which Nucleosys took part (an educational adventure, by the way) the company was shut down. The core team of this project was basically split in half: some went to work in another company and others stayed with me to work at Senscape. We maintain the same values that were part of Nucleosys: to create compelling games that above all things provide a memorable experience that stays with you long after the credits fade, not just mere time killers. We care deeply about the story and the atmosphere of the game.

[AL]: When did you begin working on Asylum? Can you describe some of the early stages of the project?

[AC]: It was roughly three years ago. Even in the early beginnings, Asylum was already a well fleshed out story, so that was a tremendous help. The first thing I did is hand to all to the team a script of the story. It was nearly a short novel in length but I insisted they all read it completely before doing a single thing for the game. The next step was to create schematics of the asylum and build everything after photographs, old reports, actual blueprints and also a visit that we paid to a real mental institute. Weíre still putting the finishing touches to all the environments of the game, which should give you an idea about its size.

[AL]: You ran an extensive teaser campaign before you officially announced the project. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

[AC]: Yes, of course. The idea was to introduce the game with a bang. I believe that itís of utmost importance how you introduce your concept or story to the audience. You know what they say, the first impression is the one that counts. I always like to give people the impression that theyíre playing even before the game is actually released. Providing clues, hinting at details of the story, inviting them to connect the dots and reward their willing to observe when they finally get to play the game, I really enjoy all of that. In fact, I feel like Iím playing along with them. If you recall the second playable teaser from Scratches, it showed a portion of the story that was never included in the final game. It was basically someone that was carrying a body to a family crypt. Who or why was never stated at that point. That scene only made sense after you played the entire game, although it wasnít crucial to understand the plot. Itís the same approach that weíre using for Asylum: of course that the campaign is to promote the game, but also to invite players to become familiarized with the story.

[AL]: What can you tell us about the game's story? Who will players control during the adventure?

[AC]: Except for very few details and brief excerpts, as I told you before, I rather prefer players to know as little as possible about the story before diving into the game... But I also understand they have know what to expect. So this is the quick rundown: you are an ex-patient returning to the asylum many years after it was shut down under strange circumstances. Life was good for you, or rather acceptable after such a harrowing experience, but recently you started having hallucinations or flashbacks of some sort and are no longer at peace. These bursts of past experiences point towards something unspeakable that happened to you during your stay in the asylum, and you will have to understand what that is over the course of one night...

[AL]: I thoroughly enjoyed the creepy and unsettling atmosphere in Scratches. How would you describe the setting and tone of Asylum?

[AC]: Itís utter dread and decay. While Asylum is similar in spirit to Scratches, the truth is that itís far more disturbing and dark. Scratches had this sadness that permeated through the story, and overall your surroundings were in good shape. Asylum is a journey through decaying and dirty environments, and you can never know what to expect around that corner. It should be considerably more creepy and unsettling than Scratches.

[AL]: What can you tell us about the Hanwell Mental Institute? What kinds of environments can players expect to explore in the game?

[AC]: Itís huge. I think Iíve mentioned that several times before. We devised Hanwell as an actually functioning asylum, that is, we made sure that all the necessary rooms were present if it was a real asylum. So you have offices, a laundry, kitchen, hospitals, laboratories... and of course, dark and cold cells. In addition, you have more special rooms such as a morgue, library, a museum, workshops, and a few more things underground. During our visit to the real mental institute, we confirmed that all the places that we are using are common.

[AL]: While Scratches was primarily a game of solitary exploration, phone conversations played an important role in the game. Can we expect similar dynamics in Asylum? What kind of a role will character interaction play in the game?

[AC]: Yes, Asylum is primarily a game of solitary exploration. You do have some interactions with characters, for example with Lenny who is rather well known by now, but they are secondary to the gameplay in the same way that phone calls were secondary in Scratches. That said, interaction with the characters is still more important this time as they are crucial to the story. Lenny in particular will be key to solve a few mysteries of the asylum. Iíve always said that the story in Scratches worked in two levels: the past and the present. In a way, learning and doing. Michaelís actions never had too much impact in the storyline, he was more like an observer. This time your actions have clear consequences during the present in Asylum, but learning the past is still extremely important.


[AL]: One of my favorite things about Scratches was that the puzzles were nicely blended into the environment. Many of them felt like natural extensions of the player's exploration effort. How would you describe the challenges in Asylum?

[AC]: Iím happy to say that weíre using the same approach in Asylum. The puzzles in Scratches were generally well received but with reservations. Itís true that they were well integrated (to a point that many complained there were NO puzzles whatsoever!) but the player was often at a loss about what to do next. We are making things a bit friendlier this time while retaining the challenge. Puzzles will never feel out of place and be there strictly to move forward the story. One of the earlier problems, for example, is a madman on the lose who is wreaking havoc in the cafeteria. You can get rid of him by pure observation and deduction, just like many of the challenges in Scratches.

[AL]: Can you describe the game's interface? How will players interact with the environment?

[AC]: If you are familiar with Scratches, you can expect just that: a very simple interface that never gets in the way. I share the philosophy that there should be minimal GUI elements in order to maintain a high level of immersion. You know, the more 'game-y' stuff you see, the more it detracts you from the experience. So here it basically feels like itís you and the asylum. There is an inventory screen like Scratches and you will be able to use items in a good old fashioned way, but the core gameplay is about exploration and investigation.

[AL]: How do you think Asylum compares to some of the other recent adventures?

[AC]: This one is difficult. I havenít been playing much recent adventures (although Iím trying to fix that) but, as I said before, the trend seems to be casual and accessible. In a way we are addressing those concerns, but donít get me wrong, we want to make Asylum a very lasting experience. Itís been a long time since I played a game that really feels mature and serious, and that goes for bestselling console titles as well. Yes, they are more violent and gory, but those arenít the ingredients for true horror but rather pure shock value. Asylum will have its share of shocking moments alright, but for the most part itís a very mature and complex storyline. Now I should make clear that I love lighthearted adventures as much as the next guy, I just feel like there are too many of them at the moment.

[AL]: What were some of the challenges you encountered while working on the project?

[AC]: The situation in Argentina is already difficult by itself: all is becoming more and more expensive and there is a generalized sense of uncertainty. The biggest challenge, however, seems to be time. It just doesnít feel like thereís enough time anymore. Weeks fly by and weíve come to the realization that we must hurry things up. I probably need a larger team but unfortunately that isnít possible right now.

[AL]: How would you describe a typical work day, if there is such a thing for you?

[AC]: I must warn you: thereís nothing exciting or glamorous about it. I simply sit down at my computer and either code the engine or write dialogs or story. I probably send about a dozen mails a day, check out websites, make sure everything is up and running at the Senscape site and my blog... Then I chat with the team, see how things are going, and then itís back to coding/writing. It sounds boring like that but the truth is that each day presents a different challenge. There are way too many things that have to be done in a game, too many areas to take care of, and therefore itís hard to get bored.

[AL]: When can we expect the game to be released?

[AC]: Ah, the golden question. Our initial plans were to release the game by the end of 2011 but Iím afraid we wonít make it. We arenít ready to announce a solid date yet, so for now itís sometime in between 2012. We are preparing a few things to release before that to appease the wait, though. Every single minute invested in the game will be worth it, thatís for sure, and weíre convinced it will provide you with chilling nightmares for months to come.

Adventure Lantern thanks AgustŪn Cordes for taking the time to answer our questions about Senscape's upcoming adventure game Asylum. Judging from Mr. Cordes's responses, Asylum is shaping up to be an impressive horror-adventure offering. The prospect of returning to a rundown mental institution as a former psychiatric patient is certainly intriguing. It should be interesting to explore the old building and see what kinds of sinister puzzles Mr. Cordes and the rest of the Senscape team have in store for us. Asylum could prove to be a worthy successor to Scratches and an excellent adventure game in its own right. Be sure to check out the game's official Web site for more information and watch the game's trailer.