The interview has been edited for clarity.
Mention horror movies, and a couple of classics will spring to mind. Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 film Psycho and Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece The Shining are likely to be mainstays on the list, so it’s no surprise that Supermassive Games found inspiration in them for their upcoming title, The Dark Pictures Anthology: The Devil In Me.
“We need a murder, a big revelation, or a twist, so we look at those movies. I’m trying to find the answers there, become they often have really cool ideas that we can borrow and subvert,” game director Tom Heaton shares in a group interview that Geek Culture attended. “We put little nods that the audience will get, because it’s entertaining for them to say ‘I understand the reference.'”
It’s a logical approach, considering how Easter eggs from popular culture have long cemented its place in the industry as a source of excitement. But paying tribute to past works is only one part of the process, and may sometimes prove insufficient to stand out from the crowd. For the studio, narrative development continues to be the magic formula here.
Just like its predecessors, The Devil in Me places a heavy emphasis on storytelling, and draws on something that has been established in the real world, such as a myth or historical fact. The title here is, in fact, inspired by America’s first serial killer, H.H. Holmes, who famously said during his sentencing trial that he was born with “a devil in me”. In fictionalised accounts, he was described to have murdered his victims in a hotel dubbed the Murder Castle, but there was never any proof of this lure-and-kill execution, which presented an opportunity for the team to toy with the idea.
That eventually materialised into a literal murder castle in the game, one that’s filled with grotesque traps and brutal appendages. Saw is a major source of inspiration in this regard, offering a pool of ideas across its nine-movie franchise. Want to turn a victim in a human popsicle? Saw III‘s freezer trap has got you covered. How about chaining characters by their ankles to metal pipes on opposite sides of the room? The bathroom trap is your solution.
Trapped inside are the employees of a small TV production company, who are making a series called Architects of Murder about notorious American serial killers. While working on the last episode focusing on Holmes, they receive a call from an individual, and are later whisked to a replica of the Murder Castle…or so they think.
It’s not just the fear of death that awaits players in the claustrophobic space, however. The final entry of The Dark Pictures Anthology is also ramping up the panic level with the new addition of puzzles, which brings an added layer of survival horror.
“It fits in with the theme very well. You know, H.H. Holmes or someone that tries to confuse his victims, trying to disorientate them — some puzzles work perfectly for that,” the man explains. “Our killer is learning from Holmes; he’s teasing in a way, he doesn’t just want to kill people. He wants to kill people in interesting and innovative ways.”
“He wants to tailor the death for the particular person and he wants to get them in the mood. And the puzzles serve the purpose of confusing them, of making them vulnerable, of playing and screwing with their head before he comes,” he adds.
These anxiety-inducing moments involve finding hidden codes, untangle or defusing boxes, and finding a way of mazes, but they aren’t meant to be unsolvable. Heaton assures that the puzzles, while challenging, won’t cause players to be stuck at certain points of the story and deprive them of the overall narrative.
“Sometimes the puzzles do severely impact the branching of the story up to the point of a character dying, but there’s still plenty of time because it’s not about how dexterous you are,” he emphasises. “It’s about your brain, and can you work out the solution to this puzzle; whether you solve it or not, you’ll still get a good story.”
Beyond the brain work, the leg work now allows for greater maneuverability. Players will be able to interact more with the world by climbing and vaulting over obstacles, squeezing through tiny spaces, balancing over narrow beams, pushing or pulling objects, and sliding under the bed to hide from danger.
Apart from running and walking, characters can now carry special tools in the all-new inventory feature, of which one will be directly related to their jobs. The camera operator, for instance, is able to take pictures of various scenes and gather evidence for the crimes, while the show presenter can use a reporter’s pencil to shade over torn paper and reveal hidden information.
Despite the introduction of new mechanics, The Devil in Me still makes sure to honour its roots. In line with the other Dark Picture games, it dishes out the reminder that all choices will have consequences, which can range from making people fall in love to getting others killed. Herein lies the influence of Saw: the deaths here will be the most gruesome, extravagant, and over-the-top in the anthology.
“[Players] may be a little bit worried about the new features, but they’re still gonna get all the things they really like about our games. They’re still gonna get intense drama scenes. They’re still gonna be making conversational choices and trying to steer their way through relationships,” reaffirms Heaton. “They’ll still be making massive branching choices that have life or death consequences. That is all still there, and it’s all still a really big part of the game.”
The Dark Pictures Anthology: The Devil In Me is set to launch on 18 November 2022 for PC, PlayStation 4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X|S.