From Gunheart on the Rift Platform to Robo Recall: Unplugged on Oculus Quest, the VR community has come to expect good things from Drifter Entertainment. So when the Seattle-based indie dev started teasing a new title on February 25, people’s curiosity was piqued. Today, we’re excited to announce Lies Beneath, a brand-new survival horror game coming to Quest on March 31, with a Rift Platform release scheduled to follow on April 14.
With a visual style ripped from the pages of the team’s favorite comics, Lies Beneath plunges players into a macabre mystery in the heart of Slumber, Alaska. We sat down with Executive Producer Hunter Hudspeth, Audio Director Ken Kato, Creative Director Brian Murphy, and Art Director Kenneth Scott to learn more.
What was the inspiration behind Lies Beneath?
Hunter Hudspeth: Oh man, lots of things. Two things that we knew were really important early in development were an intriguing narrative and a unique setting. Narrative isn’t something Drifter has focused a lot on in earlier games, and we wanted to really focus on telling a deeper story with this one. The thriller/horror genre has its own set of rules for telling an interesting story, so we’re careful about what we say explicitly vs. what we want players to deduce on their own. It’s been a really fun process. With the setting, we wanted to take players somewhere they weren’t familiar with, not just in real life but also somewhere they haven’t seen in many other games. After playing with a few different ideas, we realized very early on that mid-20th century Alaska had so much potential.
Kenneth Scott: Collectively, a lot of us are fans of the genre, and it’s been heartening to see public interest return in both film and games. I’ve personally been itching to make something like this for a while, so it didn’t take a lot of convincing. If you’re nice, we’ll make another one. :)
Brian Murphy: Games like Silent Hill and the Resident Evil Series were huge early influences for the gameplay. We loved how these types of games blend a master class in creepy mood setting, punctuated with terrifying action sequences that challenge and surprise you over and over. In terms of the world we’ve built, it pretty obviously draws inspiration from the comic world. I think of it as a kind of a cheeky mid-century American Creepfest, mixed with profoundly disturbing Junji Ito-style Japanese horror comic weirdness.
Ken Kato: Resident Evil and Silent Hill were inspiration for sure. I watched a lot of zombie movies and TV shows. I was inspired by shows like The Walking Dead for its use of cinematic and intimate music. And lastly, there was a phase during my youth when I really got into Japanese horror comics, and I wanted to imagine what they would sound like if they were made into games.
How long has the game been in development? Any favorite anecdotes to share?
HH: Production started just shy of two years ago, but ideas had been bouncing around for a while before that. The most memorable moment of production so far for me has been the first focus test we had. We had people going through some of the more unsettling parts of the early game, and getting to see their reactions told us we were on the right track. Our narrative designer, Miko, and I would come out of the conference room after a playtest to tell the team how it went, and we’d often be met with, “Yeah, we heard the screams. We know it went well.”
BM: My favorite thing about building a horror game is trying to scare the crap out of my co-workers. Throughout the project, I was always looking for opportunities to add a little extra scare to my prototypes and routine playtests to see if I could make my fellow jaded game devs yelp like frightened children.
What influenced the character design and overall art direction?
KS: Very early on, we adopted horror comics and horror manga as our creative rudder. Allow me to cheat a bit here with a little ctrl-V action, with an excerpt from our Art Vision document:
EVOKE the semi-representational nature of the modern graphic novel. This narrative medium is second only to books in its ability to employ the user’s own inventiveness and imagination. Get comfortable being non-literal.
That kicked off a lot of great source material. We looked at Bernie Wrightson’s articulate, spooky linework, Mike Mignola’s bold, graphic black and whites, Junji Ito’s stomach-turning body horror, Shintaro Kago’s savage surrealism, the painterly genius in Warren Publishing’s Eerie and Creepy anthologies, Sanjulián, Esteban Maroto, Dave McKean, Sandman, Hellblazer, DC’s Vertigo line, and EC Comics—most importantly, EC’s stamp on anthology-style narrative.
This intersected nicely with the platform constraints and some emergent technologies we’ve been looking at, especially around AI and neural network style transformation. PBR and Next Gen rendering is GREAT™ and it is a huge, expensive way to look like everything else. (I am technically, and legally, considered old now, and I’m allowed to have crotchety, cane waving opinions about things.) I’m bored of it, get it off my lawn. We were able to offload a good chunk of the texture pipeline to the diligence of cloud robots and remain stylistically consistent and illustrative across the project. Outsourced to Skynet, as it were. There’s still a lot to do there, but I'm glad we took some early steps.
To the character work specifically, there’s some neat stuff to talk about. Again, we took advantage of more new, oven fresh technologies. In this case, the Oculus-developed VR sculpting tool Medium. Our character pipeline walks from concept to source asset in the ground truth, getting our spatial and experiential understanding of it in VR very early. If I can make myself uncomfortable and uneasy in the headset in the concept phase, it’s a good, early gauge of success.
Who did you work with on the soundtrack and sound design? What was that experience like?
KK: On the music side, we worked with Kazuma Jinnouchi (Halo 4, Halo 5, Metal Gear Solid 4, Pokémon: Detective Pikachu) and a young composer, Richard Williams. Kazuma and I have worked together on several projects now, so it was a no-brainer to bring him onto this project as well. Richard and I also worked previously, and I really enjoyed the highly iterative and experimental way of working with him.
As for sound design, it was all in-house, mostly by me. Two-thirds of the way into the project, I brought in a tech sound designer, Carsten Ronshaugen, to help with implementation and some object interaction sfx design.
Giving players immediate feedback to fighting against enemies was a core mantra to the sound design direction. Our game’s enemies are very vocal compared to other horror games, and that was very intentional.
How did your previous work in VR help inform your work on Lies Beneath?
BM: Every time we dive into VR, we learn a ton about how to build in the medium. For instance, with our previous games, we learned that nailing great locomotion options is possibly the most important design consideration we’ll make at the beginning of a project. Since comfort levels in VR are very diverse and personal, we knew from the get-go we would need to support a huge variety of options. Having shipped every scheme imaginable in our previous titles, that experience really gave us a leg up when building this one.
The other system that probably benefited the most from previous experience was our physical interaction system. Lies Beneath is a much more intimate, close quarters game than our previous stuff precisely so that we bring everything into arm’s reach. As much as possible in this game, we tried to make it feel like if you could touch it with your hands, it would react naturally.
KS: Shepherding Robo Recall to Quest was a great way to understand the platform early on. Quest turned out to be quite a bit more powerful than we initially assumed, and we carried that new courage into Lies Beneath.
KK: It’s an obvious answer to the use of audio in VR, but interacting with objects and environment always brings a sense of grounded reality to the experience, so we just did more of it. I thought it was really important for this game to provide players with a heightened sense of danger and dread set in close proximity, so having that distinct contrast of real vs. unreal sounds was something I wanted to hit.
Why did you decide to develop Lies Beneath as a “Quest-first” title?
BM: We knew from the very beginning that we wanted to create a combat system that was visceral and active, and the cordless nature of Quest makes it the absolute best in class for motion control-based games.
KS: Drifter was founded around our collective excitement for new frontiers and emergent technologies. New toys and shiny things are always going to turn our heads and hearts, and Quest offers a lot of fun new challenges and learning as a developer. That’s our playground, and that’s where we shine.
We’ll have more to share about Lies Beneath as we get closer to its launch on March 31 for Quest and April 14 for the Rift Platform. In the meantime, visit slumberalaska.com to whet your appetite and join the official Discord for all the latest.