It’s been a banner year for survival horror, and we’re not even out of April. Dead Space and Resident Evil 4 have all been chilling us to the bone, and we’re about ready to cuddle up and play some PAW Patrol Grand Prix as a palette cleanser.
What it shows is that there’s a huge, Nemesis-sized appetite for horror adventure games. One company who is rather happy about this is Camel 101, who have been feeding the genre with Those Who Remain and Syndrome, among others. Their next game is Beneath, which dunks you in the Atlantic Ocean and expects you to survive against Eldritch horrors.
We settled down for a chat (while keeping an eye out for any sudden movements) with Ricardo Cesteiro, the co-founder of Camel 101, so that we could discuss their upcoming chiller.
Hi, could you please introduce yourself and your role on Beneath?
Hello! My name is Ricardo Cesteiro, I’m the co-founder of the studio alongside my brother, Bruno. As for my role here, I’m a producer and a creative game/story designer. Being a small team, we have to juggle multiple responsibilities and wear different hats to get things done, but that’s what makes our work dynamic and exciting.
Could you give us a quick overview of the game?
Beneath is a first-person action horror adventure that immerses players in the depths of the Atlantic Ocean. Players will explore underwater bases, submerged caves, and the ocean floor while facing hostile soldiers and mysterious creatures.
The game’s emphasis on psychological and survival horror means that the main character has limited resources and ammunition to defend himself, all while fighting to maintain his sanity.
It feels like you have been perfecting your horror craft with Those Who Remain and Syndrome. How has making those games helped you to create Beneath?
At our studio, we’re always striving to improve and grow with each game we develop. By narrowing our focus to a particular genre or setting, we gain a deeper understanding of what resonates with our players and what doesn’t quite hit the mark.
Our previous games, Syndrome and Those Who Remain, while slightly different in their approach, both embody the same philosophy as Beneath. Therefore, we drew upon the valuable lessons learned from both games – both the good and the bad.
We’re constantly honing our skills and refining our craft, and we take pride in the fact that we’re always improving with each new game we create. At our core, we’re committed to perfecting our art and delivering unforgettable gaming experiences to our audience.
Do you believe that Beneath shares a universe with any of your previous games?
The more observant players will find that the events of Those Who Remain are mentioned in Beneath. That’s because, yes, both games are set within the same universe.
Survival horror is having a resurgence in 2023, with Resident Evil 4, Dead Space and The Callisto Protocol in recent months. There’s a real appetite for it. Does that excite you about Beneath’s prospects? And what is it about these games that appeals to an audience?
Oh, I’m absolutely thrilled about it! The survival horror and horror genre as a whole has seen significant growth in recent years, with new and exciting games popping up every year.
What draws horror gamers to the genre are the intense emotions it evokes – the spine-tingling tension, the adrenaline-pumping scares, and the unraveling of dark and mysterious storylines. These are all unique experiences that cannot be replicated in any other genre, much like horror movies.
I’m confident that Beneath will find its rightful place among the beloved horror games out there, as it has all the necessary ingredients to satisfy the cravings of horror enthusiasts.
What are your reference points and inspirations for Beneath? Are your reference points more movies than games?
When it comes to seeking out inspiration, we draw from a variety of sources. Of course, games and movies are a natural starting point, but we also take inspiration from literature.
For Beneath, one of our biggest influences came from the works of HP Lovecraft. His stories and dark, otherworldly themes helped to shape the game’s overall aesthetic and narrative tone.
While it’s certainly true that we take cues from other games when it comes to mechanics and gameplay, we find that movies and books provide a wealth of rich, diverse storytelling that we can draw upon. As avid consumers of both mediums, we’re constantly exploring new ideas and concepts that we can incorporate into our games.
What is the secret to constructing a good scare?
To truly terrify players, a horror game needs to be full of surprises. We strive to build tension by creating situations where the player expects something to happen, and then throwing them for a loop by doing nothing at all. It’s a delicate balance, but when executed correctly, it can create some of the most memorable and spine-tingling moments in gaming.
Think about the classic fridge scene in horror movies. We’ve all seen it before: a character wanders to the fridge in the dead of night, and the camera lingers on the fridge door before it closes. Just when we expect to see someone or something behind the fridge to jump out and attack the character, the moment passes uneventfully. But that doesn’t mean the scare won’t come later, when we least expect it.
In modern horror movies, this technique has been turned on its head, with the scare coming later, when the viewer is least expecting it. This is the kind of unpredictable twist that we strive to achieve in our games, but it’s not just about catching the player off guard. The scare also has to make sense within the context of the story, and feel like a natural progression of events.
This is what makes a good scare truly effective. It needs to be well-timed and make sense within the context of the story. We’ve all experienced those cheap jump scares that feel forced and out of place, like the constant banging of doors or the sudden appearance of ghosts screaming in our ears.
We understand the importance of pacing and subtlety in creating a truly chilling experience. We’re always striving to create scares that are well-placed, well-paced, and meaningful to the story at hand.
You mention sanity as something that you have to manage in Beneath. We’ve seen it as a resource in board games and card games, but not in gaming. How can you treat Sanity as a resource that you have to preserve in a first-person action game?
To put things in context, the main character is psychologically unstable. He’s been deeply affected by the events unfolding around him, and the psychic influence of a particular entity has only made things worse.
As players progress through the game, they’ll notice that certain things trigger the character’s growing insanity. It might be a particular object, a nearby psychic creature, or simply low health. As his sanity slips away, the character’s vision becomes blurry, sounds become distorted, and his aim suffers. In some cases, serious events can be triggered, including the sudden appearance of powerful creatures.
Fortunately, the character’s sanity level will slowly return to normal if he’s not in immediate danger or combat.
Think of it like a handicap that can swing from minor inconvenience to outright danger. It’s one more layer of gameplay complexity.
There are also mentions of adaptive enemy AI. How far does this go? How intelligent do the enemies get?
The human soldiers in the game exhibit a dynamic behavior, with each soldier given a unique set of options that can be chosen based on his and his squad’s situation. They work together as a team, with some units attempting to flank the player while others opt to shoot directly at them.
Each group can have its own distinct tactics, with one squad prioritizing defense by firing from behind cover and another squad choosing a more aggressive approach by launching an all-out assault on the player upon detection.
Destructible environments are also called out. What kind of impact can a player have on the locations of Beneath?
The game’s immersive environment reacts directly to gunfire and explosions, with shattering glass, crumbling monitors and tables, and billowing steam from damaged pipes. Lamps swing precariously from the ceiling and may even come crashing down, while barrels can become deformed by the impact of bullets.
Although players won’t be able to blast their way through walls to create new paths, they can certainly indulge their destructive tendencies by laying waste to an office or two.
We’re excited about the prospect of wandering about on the ocean floor. How difficult has it been to convey the sense of walking around in deep-sea diving kit?
Creating the feeling of being immersed in a deep-sea diving suit has been a challenge for us, as we aim for a balance between style and realism. While we do take some liberties with creative freedom in this sci-fi setting, we want to maintain a high level of realism.
Despite not having firsthand experience, we believe the underwater environment to be both awe-inspiring and unnerving due to the darkness of the ocean floor. Our research has revealed footage that almost makes the setting appear otherworldly.
Can you narrow down the release date beyond 2024?
We’re trying to avoid narrowing the release date – but if I really must, I can say that it won’t be early in the year.
And finally, you’re stuck in the same situation as the main character. What’s the first thing you do?
Unfortunately I don’t have deep diving or weapon training, so I would probably be in a bad spot.
But since it’s a fight or flight situation, and there’s nowhere to run to… I guess I’d go along with it!
As you can see, we have some time to wait before Beneath lands in our hands. It gives us a bit of time to get the New Game+ modes complete for Dead Space and Resident Evil 4. Still, this one looks promising, and we suspect that we’ll be keeping the lights on when we play this in over a year’s time.
Huge thanks go out to Ricardo at Camel 101 for giving us some time and allowing for the chat. We’ll keep you looped as to how this one progresses but expect it on Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 5 and PC (Steam) in 2024.