Pixels and Dread: An Interview with The Last Door’s Raúl Díez

Pixels and Dread: An Interview with The Last Door’s Raúl Díez - 2014-07-15 13:44:10

The Last Door is a traditional point-and-click adventure game that blends mystery and horror into a compelling—and frightening—experience. The Game Kitchen, its developer, has just released the final chapter in the serialized game’s first season, providing an ending that answers just as many questions as its raises. Now seemed like the best time to discuss The Last Door with Raúl Díez, The Game Kitchen’s PR and Community Manager. We spoke about writing an episodic game, mixing music with design, and how to scare players with pixel art.


Comics Gaming Magazine: Could you speak a bit about The Last Door’s visuals? Was the pixel art a stylistic choice before the game’s story was written or was it created to suit the atmosphere? The use of blurry, large pixels helps to make the environments more ambiguous and, for me, increased the sense of fear.

Raúl Díez: First, we love this kind of aesthetic as a form of art and expression, but it was also perfect since we wanted the game to have the “retro” look and feel [of] classic adventures games. Second, and most importantly, by using this stylistic choice we could maximize the terrifying experience we wanted the player to feel. The idea was to recreate the feelings that you have when you’re reading a horror novel, in which your imagination plays a vital role since there are no visual references. It’s the brain that generates the images, the feelings, and the [sense of] danger. By doing this, we humbly think that we’ve managed to stimulate the player’s imagination far beyond normal experiences, fading the developer’s vision into the background and bringing the player’s to the foreground. So yes, [the] pixel art was there almost since the beginning and our love affair with this style has only intensified.


CGM: The Last Door’s sound design is exceptional. I’d be curious to know if the music was written before or after each chapter was designed and plotted.

RD: We wanted the music and sound to have a prominent role and, to do that, we decided that the music and plot should be built together. Some scenes are built upon the music and not the other way around. [We] work hand in glove with Carlos Viola, our great music composer. We brief him on our preliminary ideas and then he suggests different outlines and music concepts that usually fit the game and/or the other way around. After the “briefing stage” Carlos enjoys absolute artistic and creative freedom. The only condition is that he has to submit the sketches as early as possible in the development of each chapter so the production team can listen to them while they’re finishing the story and gameplay. By doing this we reach a very good fusion between music and story. The Last Door’s sound effects are also meticulously designed to reach the same objective: complementing the visuals [to] create a terrified state of mind. [We] use  psychoacoustic and psychological qualities to place the audience in a state of alertness and expectancy.


CGM: How were the sound effects recorded? Were they pre-existing or specially created samples?

RD: We think about how we want something to sound and then we try to imagine what thing or mix of things may sound like the idea [we] have in mind. After that we search through digital libraries for those “ingredients” which match the concept. Normally it is not as simple as using a recording of a door to be used as a door. It may work better [to have] the sound of a wooden crate falling to the floor, or someone moving around a creaking chair, or a fence gate shaken by the wind. Sometimes during the search we find interesting sounds that give us ideas for new scenes. Other times we need to grab a sample and batter it to fit what we want. For instance, there is an effect in the game that is the call of a seagull, [but] really slowed down.


CGM: What’s the writing process like for the game?

RD: For each chapter our creative guys write a first version of the plot. After that, they pitch it to us and we organize a sort of brainstorming [session] where the story is subjected to scrutiny from the rest of the team. During this close inspection stage, our nitpicker side emerges and we start highlighting small mistakes or inconsistencies that we all fix together afterwards, iterating the original writing and fine-tuning it. When we all agree and love the plot the game’s design can be started.


CGM: Do you know the entirety of the story already or is the game being written on a chapter-by-chapter basis?

RD: The truth is that our writers have a storyline with a starting and an ending point but, as I guess happens in any other format, if the product works out and it’s successful the scriptwriters start to enrich the plot and to supplement it with new ideas. And in this sense, our creative guys still have much to offer. They hoard ideas and mysteries.



CGM: How many more seasons are planned?

RD: Many people ask us about this but, to be honest, we don’t really know. The Last Door was designed to be a web series so it [doesn’t have] a predetermined number of seasons. If our community of fans and players continues supporting us—and provided that the series makes sense from the point of view of the story/narrative—we will keep on producing more and more seasons.


CGM: Does the team ever worry that extending The Last Door’s story in this way could weaken its effect? There’s obviously a lot of room to expand on the concept of the game, but, if it goes on too long there’s also the chance that the plot could lose focus.

RD: Absolutely. This is one of our main concerns. The game has to have a narrative purpose, otherwise The Last Door would be closed. We are quite [self critical] and if we reach a point where the game doesn’t maintain itself from a plot perspective we would prefer to call off the series. We’re not interested in producing “empty-headed” sequels.

Adventure Games Live On, Even As They Change

Adventure Games Live On, Even As They Change - 2014-07-11 15:43:09

As easy as it is to believe that the genre of adventure games is dead, there is plenty of proof that they’re just as—if not more—popular than ever before. In the last week alone I’ve reviewed a horror-themed, traditionalist point-and-click with The Last Door, enjoyed a slightly modernized version of the same puzzle-solving style in Valiant Hearts: The Great War, and finished up the latest episode of Telltale Games’ pseudo-adventure series The Wolf Among Us. From this vantage point it seems that adventure games haven’t gone away at all—that they are, in fact, a greater presence in videogames than they have been in years.

When Tim Schafer’s Double Fine Productions launched a Kickstarter for the production of a back-to-basics point-and-click game back in early 2012 it was because the major publishers apparently weren’t interested in financing new entries to the adventure genre. The millions raised through the crowdfunding effort showed that there was an audience for a throwback of the sort that Broken Age, Double Fine’s release, turned out to be. Just the same, the project seems to have been a one-off. Probably it was Tim Schafer’s pedigree as an adventure game designer that helped Broken Age’s funding effort. Maybe it was that players really only need occasional doses of nostalgia—are content with only one traditional adventure game in a blue moon and not several of them each year. Regardless of the reason for the Kickstarter project’s success, the adventure genre, at least in its point-and-click form, seemed destined to remain stuck in a niche.

Fans of this style of game bemoan this fact and have to be content with sporadic point-and-click releases. They see one of their favourite genres fading into obsolescence, not noticing just how well adventure games of a different sort are doing. It’s unlikely that traditional adventures will achieve mainstream success anytime soon, but that doesn’t mean that the genre is dead. As made clear by the attention garnered by Double Fine’s Kickstarter, players are still interested in the gameplay staples found in adventure games—quality dialogue, interesting characters, and an emphasis on logical thinking—can find them, even if traditional takes on the genre aren’t as popular as they used to be.

Telltale Games, a developer that has enjoyed a sort of renaissance over the last few years on the strength of the great gameplay design and writing of its episodic The Walking Dead series, is evidence of this. No doubt helped along by the popularity of the comic books and television show it’s based upon, Telltale managed to attract audiences indifferent to the game’s source material by overhauling the adventure game mechanics it had been indebted to for so many years. I believe The Walking Dead was such an overwhelming success because it was made by an adventure developer willing to experiment with the genre. Rather than adhere to older design principles, Telltale boiled the style of the game down to its basics, concentrating on storytelling and dialogue-based decision-making as the key elements of its version of the zombie apocalypse. While many die-hard adventure fans surely see The Walking Dead (and Telltale’s similar series, The Wolf Among Us) as blasphemy, these games are a necessary modernization of a genre that was previously at risk of fading entirely into the past. They’re the result of an experienced adventure game developer using the lessons learned from prior releases to change a game’s style in a way that makes it accessible to a wider audience.

Genres can only maintain relevance through change. While traditional adventure games deserve to live on and will always have a place within the medium, it’s good to see the genre adapt to modern sensibilities and find a place in the mainstream. It may not seem like it from the outside, but the fact that games like Valiant Hearts: The Great War and The Walking Dead manage to capture so much attention means that a whole style of game is making a healthy transition from past to present. Far from being dead, adventure games are very much alive and well. It’s just that now they take a different form than what we’re used to.