Dressed in a causal grey shirt and denim jeans, game designer Justin Ng exudes an air of quiet nonchalance, forming the impression of being a calm and collected individual. His easygoing nature and friendly disposition quickly emerges, however, as he begins introducing himself. With a slight smile, he extends his arm out for a handshake, then leads the way to the office.
It is a small space, yet homely and comfortable. The entire team of Gattai Games – where Justin works at – sits together, screens flashing with game designing and programming software. Located in a corner is a PlayStation console and virtual reality (VR) headgear for their soon-to-be-released game, Stifled.
“I think we have a very good team, (with) good dynamics as well…we cover one another’s weaknesses – there’s a lot of good synergy, which is really nice,” he expresses.
Stifled serves as the successor to the team’s final-year project in DigiPen, which was known as Lurking then. Inspired by a video that showed a little girl using sound to find her way around the world, the sound-based title features a uniquely simple design; white lines against a pitch black background. And striving for such quirkiness is exactly what the company holds in high regard.
Justin explains, “We all share the burden of this company, and it’s true we cannot pay very well, but we can always guarantee we can give people something interesting.”
And Stifled is very interesting indeed; labelled as a mic-enabled stealth thriller, it sees the player creating sounds though the microphone input to reveal the hidden world via ‘echolocation’. However, doing so comes with a risk: undue noise may attract the attention of creatures lurking in the darkness instead. As such, players will have to tread the line between making sounds to see, and staying quiet to remain hidden.
It is thus no wonder that the game already has many prestigious awards under its belt, such as the ‘Judges’ Choice’ in GameStart Asia 2016, and ‘Best Innovation’ at the Taipei Game Show 2017. In fact, Lurking was the first Singapore game to be nominated for a category at Tokyo Game Show, and the rest is, as they say, history.
While the game is supported across all main platforms (PC and Mac via Steam, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One), the experience differs quite vastly when the VR element is involved. While the overall atmosphere exudes a sense of unnerving eeriness on the former platforms, it intensifies tenfold with the VR function – each footstep is like a step closer to damnation, every little sound a call to greater peril.
Gattai Games does a good job at planting seeds of fear into the player’s mind. Apart from the black-white-red danger signs, hints of the story are also peppered throughout the game, in the form of voice transmissions from various objects. These sounds can range from soft, chilling whispers to full-blown blood-curdling shrieks, which then linger around the darkness-laced pathways before slowly fading away. By then, the fear would have already set in, allowing for a thrilling and more immersive experience.
That is not all for horror enthusiasts, however. Stifled makes use of the age-old concept of lulling the player into a false sense of security, before springing surprise jump scares. The kick? They occur at the most unexpected of times, with none of the clichéd executions that some horror games adopt. The game’s design mechanics definitely serves as a plus point, adding a fresh spin to the genre.
When asked about Stifled‘s similarity to first-person adventure game Perception, which also features the common concept of navigating through a world blind, Justin lets out a wry smile and shrugs off any concern regarding the competition between said game titles.
“Perception is a lot more narrative-driven and exploration-driven…with Stifled, we keep the narrative quite down-low, (but) we feel like it has more gameplay mechanics,” he elaborates, stating that each has their own strengths, and that Stifled is “different enough that it can stand out on its own”.
Having said that, he remains humble and praises the creators of Perception for the narrative chops.
“…in our case, we’re hoping that the mechanics are done well; whether we do that better than them isn’t really that important to me. As long as we do it well, we’ll let the player judge,” he goes on to explain.
Yet, under the nonchalance hides Justin’s deep passion and love for his job. While there are no plans for a sequel anytime soon, Gattai Games is currently working on a multiplayer game to create more “cool, novel, and interesting experiences”, which fits in the team’s aim of being “genre-less”.
To aspiring local gaming developers, he advises, without mincing his words, “If you are nowhere near (the level that you to reach), then stop wasting time, honey. And if you’re nowhere near, get good at it before trying to make it full-time.”
It is harsh, but an undeniably realistic outlook on the industry, especially in Singapore.
At least one consoling factor is that work becomes fun if one enjoys it, and I’m sure Justin enjoyed my reactions to the game, namely plenty of shouts.
Stifled is scheduled to be released in 2017, and will be coming to PC and Mac via Steam with support from Vive and Oculus, PlayStation 4, PlayStation VR, and Xbox One. It is set to launch at US$20 for Steam, though the local price has yet to be confirmed.
Akiba Press would like to thank Justin Ng and Gattai Games for taking the time off for the interview. All the best for Stifled’s launch, and here’s to more games to come!