Those Who Remain is a game that has been on our radar for many a month, with anticipation building as the May 2020 release date on Xbox One, PS4 and PC has approached. A scary game that doesn’t deal with jump scares, it’s intrigued us from the get-go and so when the opportunity came to have a little chat with Ricardo Cesteiro, the co-founder and producer at Camel 101, and one of the main driving forces behind the game, we couldn’t say no.
Hi. Please introduce yourself – what is your role at Camel 101 and on the development of Those Who Remain?
Hello there! My name is Ricardo Cesteiro, I’m a co-founder and producer at Camel 101. I’m the game designer / writer of Those Who Remain.
So sell it to us, why should gamers be interested in Those Who Remain on Xbox One, PS4 and PC?
I’d start by saying that Those Who Remain is not a classic horror experience in the traditional sense.
What we offer is an alternative approach to the genre more based on mounting tension and atmosphere, with a few gameplay twists and a deeply emotional storyline that will have the players questioning everything – especially their own actions, as they have consequences.
It’s a game that directly appeals to the primal fear of the dark. We like to think that it’s a scary game without having to rely on jump scares.
How did the whole psychological thriller idea come about? Have there been other games, films or TV series which have influenced its creation?
We wanted to do something scary, but we didn’t want to do a game based on monster chases, jump scares or hiding in lockers. We wanted something more surreal, more focused on the mind of the character, so that the player wouldn’t exactly understand what’s real or not.
While the setting was heavily influenced by Twin Peaks and Stranger Things –not exactly horror, but both feature a small town in America where bad (and strange) things start to happen – the story in Those Who Remain is darker and more personal.
The main character is a guy who’s gone through a lot. When the game starts, he’s drinking, looking at pictures and contemplating suicide – that’s how we introduce him to the player, with a bang. From here on, he’s going to have to face his inner demons while trying to understand what’s going on in Dormont, the town where the action takes place.
This broken man approach is mostly inspired by other games, like Silent Hill or The Evil Within.
Could you tell us more about the town of Dormont which plays host to Those Who Remain. Where has the inspiration for this setting come from and have you used any specific real-world locations as reference points?
Dormont is heavily inspired on Twin Peaks.
Just like Twin Peaks, Dormont also looks like a calm, peaceful and happy place where nothing special really happens. But the town is harboring dark secrets just underneath the surface, and nothing is really calm and peaceful.
I’m a huge fan of Twin Peaks and David Lynch, and I love the way he mixes simple everyday stuff with all that surreal weirdness that’s so characteristic of him. We tried to capture that surreal weirdness here too, using classic American icons like the diner, the old cars, the jukeboxes, etc.
There were no real-world locations used, but there’s a funny story about that. When we came up with the name of the town, we brainstormed a few names, and someone said Darmont. Darmont, Dormant, Dermont… Dormont. We got to Dormont, loved it, so Dormont it was. Since we had come up with the name ourselves, we never actually checked if a place with that name already existed.
As it turns out, it does. Shortly after announcing the game, we got an email from someone saying “Hey, Dormont exists. I live here”.
Luckily our fictional Dormont is in the Washington state. The real Dormont is in Pennsylvania.
And how has the main character of Edward evolved through development?
He was the character that suffered the most changes. In the initial draft, he was just some regular joe passing through town. There was nothing special about him, nothing good or bad. But we wanted to tell a deep emotional story, and you need to have a believable character to do that. So we added a dark past to Edward. And most importantly, we added flaws. He’s a human being, and human beings are flawed. We all are, we all make mistakes. Edward did his too.
You could say he’s not the classic hero you see in videogames. In fact, when the game starts, he’s heading to a motel to meet his lover. But I believe that someone like this is much more believable and relatable than the golden knight who saves everyone and is morally incorrupt.
As a dark game, light sources seem to play a huge part in what makes Those Who Remain so intriguing. Please could you elaborate on how the whole light system works?
That’s one of the main premises of the game – the player can’t go into the dark. There are shadowy figures roaming the darkness, who will attack and kill whoever gets close. And the only thing that makes them disappear, is light. Any light, from any light source.
And since Dormont is shrouded in darkness, these shadowy figures are definitely an issue.
This was actually the very first initial concept that we outlined for the game – the dark is dangerous; the player has to stay in the light. The idea was that darkness itself would kill, by some supernatural reason, and the player had to manipulate light sources to clear a path through the dark.
While this idea sounded great on paper, it didn’t quite work when we first built a protype to test it out. Light gets gradually dark – there’s not a defined outline or frontier where we could visually explain to the player where safety ended and danger started. So we thought about placing creatures in the dark. It wouldn’t be darkness itself that would kill, but the creatures that roamed in the shadows. We were writing the story at the time, and it actually connected really well with the rules that we were setting on the screen. So the premise remained, but just slightly different. The player can’t go into the dark, or he’ll die. He needs to find light sources – a lighter, fire, a spotlight, etc – to progress into dark areas.
If an area is lighted, the shadowy figures disappear. If the light fades, the figures reappear.
We understand that there is an alternate reality running alongside the main theme. How do these integrate together?
The alternate dimension is like a twisted version of our own reality. Like an ugly mirrored version. During his adventure, Edward will find strange doors that emanate a bright blue light. When he goes through them, he’s transported to the alternate dimension.
This dimension has different rules: there are no shadow figures, physics are different and so are most of the rules of “reality”. All sorts of craziness can happen here. But the number one rule is that what happens in one reality, affects the other. For example: the player might find something locked in one dimension. He travels through the portal, unlocks the door there, and when he gets back through the portal, he finds the door unlocked.
In terms of puzzles what kind of brain teasers should we expect to discover?
The two main mechanics of the game are the light vs dark and the alternate realities. Combining these two allows us to create very interesting situations that will force the player to think outside the box. For example, you might need to reach a certain area, but the path is dark, and the shadow figures are there. There’s a light source nearby, but it’s blocked by a certain object. You might be able to move that object, so that the light hits the path, making the shadow figures disappear. Or maybe the object is too heavy, and you have to find a way though the other reality, and possibly move the object there.
The brain teases don’t come solely in the form of puzzles, though. There’s a lot going on in Edward’s head.
Psychological thrillers are fast becoming a staple of the gaming scene, what does Those Who Remain have that separates it from the others?
I would say the gameplay sets it apart from the competition. But there’s more than gameplay: we put a lot of effort into the narrative, so that it’s not just one more ghost story / haunted house thing.
This is a game about choices and consequences, that will hopefully linger on the player’s minds long after finishing the game. And of course we want the player to feel the weight of his actions too, so we have three different endings based on his choices. Nothing is black and white, though. Real life rarely is black and white, everything’s in shades of grey.
It’s the same in Those Who Remain. A lot of greys, everything’s debatable.
Delving deep into the inner psyche of the player is one of the most key features of this game. How have you managed to integrate that aspect into the experience as a whole?
The game has two storylines: Edward, who’s just arriving in town, and Dormont’s own backstory. Eventually both stories intertwine, and Edward’s fate ends up lined up with Dormont.
With Edward being new in town, he’s exploring and learning about the town. As he does, he also learns new things about himself. Things that he forgot, or conclusions that he hadn’t reached yet.
This is the formula we followed: Edward is exploring both a physical world and a psychological surreal place – his own mind.
Xbox Game Pass has taken the scene by storm – have there been any discussions surrounding launch on the scheme?
We are always looking for new ways and channels in which to bring our games to wider audiences. Games Pass has been successful, it is certainly something we would consider if the opportunity came up, at the right time.
Equally as important to us Xbox gamers is the draw of achievements and Gamerscore. Could you tell us a bit more about the achievements present in Those Who Remain? Will they be delivered via story progression or are there some intriguing ones to go for?
Some achievements are awarded when the player reaches a certain area, while some others depend on specific actions. Each ending will also award an achievement, so the player has to see the three endings to earn all achievements.
There’s also one hidden / easter-eggerish achievement.
What has been the main challenge in developing for Xbox One, PS4 and PC? Has the promised Nintendo Switch edition thrown up any issues?
When we started working on the game, we were already thinking about the upcoming ports. We made sure the actions and movements would be perfectly adaptable to controllers, optimized every scene and took note of everything that might have to be changed.
This saved us a lot of work when the time came to start the ports.
We did the Xbox One port ourselves. It didn’t give us much trouble, really. It did require additional optimization, but nothing serious. The PS4 port was done by another studio (arranged by Wired Productions) but I don’t think there were any major issues either. We accompanied the process and it was fairly fluid.
We’re quite early in the development of the Nintendo Switch version, so, not too much to say there yet.
We did try running a level ourselves, some time ago, and it was working fairly well. It did require a lot more optimization, though.
Without spoiling things, does Those Who Remain leave itself open for the addition of further content down the line?
This game is the story of Edward. Whatever the ending is, his story in Dormont will end here. We do have the option of telling other stories inside Dormont, or even expand the storyline to other places.
Without spoiling too much, I can say that the phenomenon that shrouded the town in darkness, can affect other locations.
Wired Productions have a recent history for providing some high quality gaming experiences. How has working with the Wired team been? Would all this have been possible without that collaboration?
Our original plan was to do everything ourselves: development, ports and publishing. But like Mike Tyson said: “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face”. We weren’t literally punched, but we eventually understood that it was going to be a tremendous amount of work to do everything ourselves, especially since we’re a very small team.
Luckily, our paths crossed with Wired – they brought extra hands, brains and experience that helped us immensely finishing the game and doing all the logistics, marketing and publishing work. It’s been great working with them. They’re really passionate about games, and both transparent and professional.
Answering the question: we couldn’t have made a release of this scale without their help. Not only would it be humanely impossible for us to handle everything, but we also don’t have the expertise that they have in specific areas.
We’re hoping this is just the first of many collaborations between us.
And finally, Camel 101 is very much a family affair. How has it been working with your brother and what plans do you have for the studio going forward?
It’s been awesome. You can hardly find a business partner more trustworthy than your brother. We’ve been working together for more than 10 years now, obviously with ups and downs, and it’s been great. We make games, we have fun, we get to work on what we’re passionate about, and that’s just awesome. We obviously have some creative differences sometimes, but we tend to like similar things, so it’s very easy to find some middle ground when we’re discussing something.
We’re probably sticking to the horror / horrorish genre, but we plan to raise the bar for the next game. We can only do so much with a small team, so we’re going to get some extra hands to increase our output. There are a few ideas on the drawing table, but nothing concrete yet.
Huge thanks to Ricardo for spending the time to give us a bit of an insight into Those Who Remain. Our full review of the game on Xbox One will be coming your way very soon, but if you are sold on what it brings make sure you head to the Xbox Store and splash the cash on a purchase. You’ll be able to play it from May 28th and it’ll cost you just £15.99. You’ll also be able to find the game on PS4 and PC.
If you wish to know more about what Camel 101 get up to in the future then make sure you give them a follow on Twitter.