We might be a couple of weeks past Halloween, but that doesn’t mean the spooky season has to end. For those looking to get their scares a little more interactively than watching a horror movie (and with something that doesn’t require getting COVID or needing to leave the house), the latest entry in The Dark Pictures Anthology might just be what you’re looking for.
Created by the same folks at Supermassive Games who’ve previously handled terrifying narrative experiences like Until Dawn and Man of Medan, Little Hope offers up another bite-sized adventure for those looking to effectively play out an interactive and immersive horror movie. As per usual, keeping the characters alive (or choosing not to) is entirely up to the player, and the story will continue on regardless of which ones make early exits.
But while Man of Medan covered the “ghost ship” territory, Little Hope’s twists and turns feature a little bit more of a historic side to their horror. Considering that it — like its predecessors — emphasizes narrative over complex gameplay and can easily be finished in an evening or two, Little Hope can fill that need for a scary movie night (alone or with family and friends thanks to both local and online multiplayer options) when the outside world isn’t terrifying enough.
To learn more about the sounds behind the scares, SPIN spoke with Barney Pratt, the Audio Director for Little Hope, to get his take on creating the latest entry in the annual anthology.
SPIN: What’s it like to be working on the audio for not just one game, but the entire Dark Pictures Anthology one after the other?
Barney Pratt: When The Dark Pictures Anthology was announced, it was like all of the Christmases at once for me. The fact that we — as sound guys — not only get to work on horror, but with a fantastic composer in putting together a completely different sound for each game within the anthology because each one has a completely different narrative backdrop. It’s a great thing to be involved in. With the first one that we put out, Man of Medan, we still had Until Dawn in the back of our minds — because obviously that was a huge success for us as a studio and that’s what the fan base was looking for. So soundtrack-wise, we were looking for a very solid modern take on orchestral horror. Little Hope on the other hand, we were looking at late 17th century instrumentation — not all of which worked the first time. So we had some nice experimentation to do there. The next one will be something different again, so it’s an awesome thing to be involved with.
Considering that sound is such an integral part of the horror experience, how do you make sure that each entry in the anthology stands on its own in addition to working with the others?
With horror, playing with players’ expectations is one of the best things you can do, because you can surprise people. When you look at it over a broader franchise, we can offer some comfort in similarity, and then some surprising change. For example, when it came to the choice of music for the Curator [in Man of Medan], we originally said that “Lacrimosa” — Mozart’s requiem — would be one of the perfect choices for this Curator character, who’s kind of the embodiment of many things. For the second game, we decided that when you first see the Curator again to keep “Lacrimosa,” because in that scene it offers that familiarity. Now, I think that we’ve established the Curator with that soundtrack, so for the next one we can venture into new territory with him on that first sighting in that new game.
Having the anthologies opened us up to the analysis of player expectations, and that’s not just true for the Curator’s music. That’s true for the soundtrack choices, that’s true for how we craft the scares in terms of audio, and that’s true for what source material we might use in the sound design elements to scare the player and add suspense. Each of the choices we’ll make with that source material. They’re going to be true to the narrative, but they might also be reflective of other situations elsewhere in the anthology. It’s opened up a really broad kind of opportunity to play with the players’ expectations.
Knowing that some players will go straight from one game to the next, how much emphasis goes on subverting those players’ expectations that you mentioned?
“Subverting expectations” is a great phrase, actually. What we try to do is to refresh the palette that we use from a source level [by utilizing environment and era-appropriate sounds and instruments] as much as possible. There was a great example of that in the game Dead Space some time ago. If anyone’s played that with headphones in a darkened room, then you know how that experience sticks in your head. The game was futuristic, so that lent itself to metal and dry ice as the source material to instill that fear in the players. Each one of The Dark Pictures games offers up those different opportunities pretty much right off the bat once we examine the narrative.
In Little Hope and the other Dark Pictures games, how do you score each individual character and scene given that they could drastically change depending on how each player acts?
Character themes in a branching narrative are really kind of hard to do because that character can take a different branch and a completely different set of adjectives to describe them. The breadth of the variety of options in The Dark Pictures games makes it increasingly difficult as well. What we try to do is pick out the key character themes, and focus on those. For example, Andrew in Little Hope is obviously the key character, so we were absolutely dedicated to maintaining his thing — but we still had to keep it simple because we didn’t want to insinuate anything too strongly. Hopefully when you play the game, the moments in the game will gel because of the significance of that theme. Whereas with slightly lesser characters who may not have such a strong narrative arc, quite often the situations that those characters find themselves in will lend itself to a certain mood and a certain sort of derived theme. We can often get quite lucky with that as well by matching the action for that character rather than a specific sort of motif to overlay on their moments.