TA Interview with Syndrome's Camel 101

By Mark Delaney, 2 years ago
A few weeks ago, we covered the news that the formerly PC-only indie studio Camel 101 will be making its console debut in 2016 with the first person survival horror, Syndrome. The response that our readers gave to the announcement was very enthusiastic. With Halloween approaching shortly, we figured that it was a great time to reach out to the developer to discuss what gamers can expect from their first foray into the only genre that makes us sleep with the lights on.

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This week I was able to correspond with Bruno Cesteiro, one of the three founders of the independent studio, to discuss the details of Syndrome, why they went down the horror route, and why gamers do the same.

TA: Thanks for sitting down with us, Bruno. For starters, could you tell us what your role is on the development team? How many others are working on Syndrome?

I'm the lead developer and one of the producers. We have two more team members working full time: one is a 3D artist and the other is a game/story designer and producer. We also have some outsourcers that do specific things, like 2D art, music, sound design and voiceovers, from time to time. We're also working closely with another team from Bigmoon Entertainment, which is porting the game to Xbox One and PS4 and also helping us with specific console problems. Counting all, I would say around 10 - 15 people.

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TA: Camel 101 has several PC games under its belt, but this is both its first console release and its first horror title. What made you decide to do a survival horror game?

Our last two titles were strategy/tactical games. Although these are genres that we love, we wanted to try something that could reach a broader audience. Additionally, we always wanted to make a first person game. The first project that we worked on as a team, back in 2005 before we were even a company, was a first person action adventure. Back then we didn’t have the experience or the resources to complete it, and ended up selling it as a graphical engine. Today we can do it with the quality level that we want. But we didn’t want to make a simple shooter, we wanted more exploration and survival than combat.

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TA: What influences -- games or otherwise -- helped inspire Syndrome, and in what ways?

There are several influences, both from games and movies. I can name a few games like System Shock, Dead Space and Resident Evil. Although Dead Space is a bit more action oriented than what we want, these are all great horror titles can make the player feel isolated and vulnerable, but not helpless. They all have a strong exploration component, but also combat.

Speaking about movies, I could name a lot of them. We’re both sci-fi and horror geeks, so we’ve watched almost everything there is in this genre. To name a few: Alien, Pandorum, Event Horizon and Virus. All these movies have great settings that keep the viewer on edge until the end. That’s what we want to do too.

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TA: A lot of recent horror games have found success with "hide-and-seek" gameplay, where the player can't fight back and can only avoid threats using stealth, running away, and hiding. In Syndrome, what balance do you strike between offensive combat and evasive maneuvers like those mentioned?

We want the player to feel alone and vulnerable, but we don’t want him to feel completely helpless. Which means he won’t always have to run, but he also can’t kill everything he sees. There are several weapons that can be used, but ammunition is limited. It can be picked up around the ship, but there’s not enough to kill everyone.

And some enemies will be really tough – these are probably best avoided. So it will come down to the player’s decisions. Save the ammo for later conflicts, or use it right away and run and hide if someone shows up?

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TA: What can you tell us about the story? How much of it is nailed down and how much is still open to being reworked between now and the game's release?

Well, I don’t want to spoil the story but I can say how the game starts. The main character wakes up in a spaceship, confused from the effects of cryosleep. Soon enough he finds out that most of the crew is dead and that he’s in great danger.

Both the story and the dialogs are complete, from beginning to end. The dialogs have been changed a couple of times and will probably be reworked a couple more until release. It’s one thing reading them on paper and then inside the game; sometimes we notice that we’re giving too many clues, or that something is not making too much sense and we rewrite it. This will probably keep happening for a few more months.

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TA: We haven't yet heard the protagonist talk. Will he or she be a silent protagonist?

This is something that we discussed a lot between us -- a silent protagonist is great to enhance the feeling of isolation. But we felt that it would make more sense in our story to have dialogs between the main character and other survivors. So no, he won’t be silent.

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TA: Syndrome plans on allowing for VR support with the Oculus Rift. As a developer, how do you think the upcoming VR revolution will be received?

We feel both VR and AR are the future of gaming. There were several VR experiments in the past, but nothing like what we’re seeing today. The technology is here, it’s accessible and it really does take the player inside the game. It’s amazing. I think the gaming community is as excited as we are, but maybe a bit cautious about the prices.

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TA: As a huge fan of all things horror, I feel like VR is a perfect fit for the genre, more so than many others. Some people wonder if these new experiences will actually be too realistic and, in cases like Syndrome and other horror games, too scary to actually play. Having worked with the technology yourself, do you find it hard to "shake off" the game when you remove the headset?

I'm a huge horror fan myself, so when I first tried VR (more specifically Oculus Rift), the first thing I imagined was a horror game. Having tried it, I can say that it really is a thrilling experience. But I wouldn't say that it's too scary to play. It all depends on the person, of course. Some folks can't watch horror movies because they find them too scary.

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TA: What is it about survival horror that people are attracted to? Why do you think gamers like putting themselves through such experiences?

It’s probably the thrill of fear, just like folks watch horror movies or go to horror attractions to feel afraid. There’s something about feeling vulnerable in a hostile environment, surrounded by monsters, cannibals or murderers that makes your blood boil. Some people hate it and run away from the experience. Others - like myself - love it.

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TA: When people have completed Syndrome, what's the one word you hope they use to describe their experience?


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TA: When will we be able to play it on Xbox One?

We’re aiming for a multi-platform release on late Q2 2016.

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Look for Syndrome on Xbox One's digital store next year.
Mark Delaney
Written by Mark Delaney
Mark is a Boston native now living in Portland, Oregon. He's the Editorial Manager on TA, loves story-first games, and is one of three voices on the TA Playlist podcast. Outside of games he likes biking, sci-fi, the NFL, and spending time with his fiancée and son. He almost never writes in the third person.