Fearfully Awaiting the Arrival: Slender Developer Interview

In June of 2012, an unsuspecting yet devastatingly powerful horror game made its way onto the Internet, haunting scores of gamers. Now, less than a year later, Mark J. Hadley returns to the eerie landscape of Slender for another go at fear. Partnered with Blue Isle Studios – a Canadian-based independent video game design company – and YouTube sensation Marble Hornets, Hadley's Slender follow-up, The Arrival, returns players to the forest to retell the series' debut title, and to push the Slender mythos passed its humble beginnings.

Joined by Alex Tintor, Lead Designer for Blue Isle, the face behind the surprise horror title of 2012 is slowly unmasked. In an interview that Slender-heads and survival horror fanatics surely won't want to miss, Alex and I discuss the Slender phenomenon, the anxiety of developing a sequel to a pop culture smash, and the future of horror's best dressed heart-stopper.

Games Abyss: First off, I'd like to thank you for continuing the Slender saga and for the inevitable nightmares that are certain to follow. Tell us a bit about yourself, Alex, and your experience as a game developer.

Alex Tintor: I’ve been a gamer my whole life, starting at a young age playing Dune II with my dad. I pretty quickly became interested in how games are actually developed and spent a great deal of time checking out the map editors that came with some of the games I played. By the time I was in high school I began to take my level design work pretty seriously and I was hired to do a small contract job for another small game design studio. It was at that point when I realized I wanted to do this for a living. It’s extremely gratifying to spend years working hard on crafting an experience, and finally getting to see people enjoying them. Games really are an amazing art-form, you get to combine music and sound, 2D and 3D art, story, and make it all totally interactive. It’s just too awesome.

Games Abyss: Tells us about your partnership with Mark J. Hadley, how exactly did the two of you come together, and how has the relationship been thus far?

Alex Tintor: I decided to reach out to Mark after playing his original Slender game. We had heard that he was looking to expand the scope of Slender for a sequel, and our entire team here at Blue Isle was captivated by his original game. We were in a bit of a transition period at the company, so we decided this was the game we wanted to work on next. We really saw a huge amount of potential to expand his game into something bigger and better. Mark’s been really great to work with through the whole process.

Games Abyss: Where does most of the creative input on the project come from? Is it mainly Mark's vision or a combination of both his and Blue Isle Studios' ideas?

Alex Tintor: It’s really a combination of both. At the beginning of the project, Mark outlined to us what he’d like to see in the new game. He gave us an outline to work from regarding locations and characters he wants to see. He’s a very relaxed guy though; he’s been trusting us to take his ideas and really run with them. It’s a good partnership where everyone is contributing a lot.

Games Abyss: What exactly is The Arrival? Is it a sequel, is it a remake?

Alex Tintor: Good question! We’re not entirely sure what to call it ourselves because it’s a bit of both. It’s a remake in the sense that we have remade the one level from the original game, and it’s a sequel because we are expanding and adding so many more levels, story, and overall content. We think of the original game as a prototype, and The Arrival as the fully realised version of that prototype.

Games Abyss: Describe a typical day in development; what goes into creating the Slender experience? What exactly is Blue Isle Studios' role with The Arrival?

Alex Tintor: A typical day starts off with our team morning meeting; we all give each other little updates on what we’re doing and provide feedback and suggest ideas. Our role with The Arrival is to build the entire game. We started with Mark’s prototype and have taken it from there, building all of the new levels, art, AI behaviour, and so forth. Right now we are in a stage of heavy playtesting; the game is playable from start to finish now which is great.

Games Abyss: What has been, be it games, film, literature, or otherwise, your inspiration for The Arrival?

Alex Tintor: A bit of all of those really. In terms of games specifically, we take inspiration from other great games in all different genres. Amnesia: The Dark Descent is one game we all really enjoy; that game has certainly inspired some of the stuff we are doing here. On top of that, we keep looking at Journey on PS3 as a shining example of great game design. The way they combined visuals, sound, and art to create a game experience is something all developers can learn from. The Arrival isn’t your typical horror game; it’s really different so a lot of inspiration comes from genres other than horror, which is a bit unusual.

Games Abyss: What are your expectations of The Arrival, what do you hope to achieve with the remake/sequel that Mark could not with The Eight Pages?

Alex Tintor: Our goals with The Arrival are twofold; firstly, to scare the living hell out of players, and second, to give people a genuinely memorable gaming experience. There is a real lack of truly scary horror titles out there these days; Amnesia is really the only one I can think of recently. In short, if players are getting scared, we’ve accomplished our goal.

Games Abyss: Given the success of The Eight Pages does the team feel any pressure to live up to that standard? 

Alex Tintor:  For sure, there is huge pressure on all of us to exceed that game. If we haven’t improved upon the original formula, then we as game designers have failed. So far the response to our beta test has been very positive so we all breathed a huge sigh of relief when we see players are getting more scared than ever. I think the full game with all of its new experiences will really resonate with players, that is our hope.

Games Abyss: As it stands, The Arrival's gameplay details are (understandably) being kept under wraps. That being said however, what are you allowed to share about The Arrival's mechanics?  How would you compare it to The Eight Pages?

Alex Tintor: The forest from STEP has been entirely recreated, you can actually check that out now in our beta test. I don’t want to give away any details from the new game, but I can say that there is a lot more to do this time. The biggest point I want to get across is that we’ve taken the brilliant and simple gameplay mechanic from the original game, and expanded on that in so many different ways. Each level presents something new, whether it’s a new enemy, a new environment, and new gameplay mechanic, we wanted to keep the experience fresh.

Games Abyss: What can you tell us about The Arrival's other enemies in terms of behavior, etc.?

Alex Tintor: I don’t want to ruin any surprises here, all I can say is that players are in for some brand new experiences throughout the game – stuff they are not expecting.

Games Abyss: YouTube sensation Marble Hornets has joined the project to pen The Arrival's storyline. How did the partnership come about, and what has it been like to work with the likes of Joseph DeLage, Troy Wagner and Tim Sutton?

Alex Tintor:  From day one, we all knew that wanted to get the Marble Hornets crew on board. We had all watched a lot of their series and knew that they could offer a huge amount of detail and backstory to our game. The decision to work with them was very easy to make; they are great and we wanted their experience on the team. Joseph, Troy, and Tim have been really cool to work with; great bunch of guys. I think our collaboration with them has produced some really interesting results; people are going to love it.

Games Abyss: On that note, tell us about The Arrival's story; set the scene for us.

Alex Tintor:  You are alone, you are isolated, and you are lost. You have questions and need to find the answers. That is all I can say at this point – I don’t want to ruin any of the story surprises we have in store.

Games Abyss: What can you tell us about The Arrival's sound design? Is there soundtrack in the works?

Alex Tintor:  There certainly is a soundtrack in the works, being written by Mark. He did all of the music from the original game, he’s a professional composer and he’s doing a great job. On top of that, we are taking sound effects very seriously. It’s remarkable to see the difference that great sound design can make in a horror game like this.

Games Abyss: With The Arrival, Blue Isle Studios is becoming a part of the Slender phenomena. What was your reaction to playing Slender for the first time? Did you expect such a simple title to have such an impact on the survival horror genre?

Alex Tintor: I’ll tell you honestly, when I read all of the articles about some indie horror game titled Slender being the scariest game of all time, I was really skeptical. I downloaded the game and went into it thinking “what’s the big deal?” Ten minutes later I was running away from my computer in horror; it’s a really terrifying experience. I can’t say I am that surprised that it’s had the effect it has so far, it’s proven to a lot of game designers all over the world that you can do something really simple and experimental, and still have it be a worthwhile experience. It’s a lesson in simplistic game design, executed brilliantly.

Games Abyss: Share your thoughts on the state of the survival horror genre; what do you feel is its biggest issue?

Alex Tintor:  It’s on the upswing, I have no doubt about that. In terms of indie developed survival horror games, things are only getting better. Over the past few months there’s been so many indie horror titles announced, I’m personally really excited to check all of them out. I think survival horror is in the process of being reinvented and fans of this genre have a lot to look forward to.

Games Abyss: Is this the last we'll see of Slender Man, or is The Arrival the start of franchise?

Alex Tintor:  This is something we’ve talked about a lot. If we think we can provide more new, fresh, and worthwhile experiences with Slender in the future, then we’ll do it. If there is nothing genuinely new that we can contribute, we won’t make another sequel just for the sake of putting something out there. We don’t want to cover ground that’s already been covered, we don’t want to make a sequel if it’s going to be the same gameplay over and over again.

Games Abyss: A PS3/360 release is being taken into consideration, any chances for a 3DS/Vita release?

Alex Tintor:  I’d say those are a bit more unlikely, but I won’t rule anything out. We don’t want to do a cheap port to a handheld device just for the sake of increasing sales. If we can take our time to do it right, then we’ll do it and pour everything we have into it.

Games Abyss: Finally, is there anything you would like to say to all the anxious Slender fans out there?

Alex Tintor:  All I can say is thank you. On behalf of myself, all of Blue Isle, as well as Mark, we’d like to say thanks to everyone who’s been so positive, so supportive over the last couple of months. We know it’s been a long wait for the new game but we are nearly there. We’ve got a lot of surprises, a lot of scares, and a lot of memorable experiences that we cannot wait to share with all of you.

 Slender enthusiasts won't have to wait long for The Arrival as the faceless forest stalker's follow-up is going to be available for PC & Mac download on March 26 for a mere $10. For those who interested and haven't already done so, a pre-order of the anticipated first-person horror title comes with a generous 50% discount of the game's retail price – and $5 is one hell of a deal for a title so graphically stunning and so eager to scare.

Written by Andreas Asimakis, Editor-in-Chief. Questions for the author? Send an email to andreas@gamesabyss.com. Follow him on Twitter:@pantsguy.

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