Until Dawn

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Until Dawn
Until Dawn cover art.jpg
Developer(s)Supermassive Games
Publisher(s)Sony Computer Entertainment
Director(s)Will Byles
Producer(s)Pete Samuels
Designer(s)Tom Heaten
Nik Bowen
Programmer(s)Prasana Jeganathan
Artist(s)Brandon Kosinski
Writer(s)
Composer(s)Jason Graves
EngineDecima
Platform(s)PlayStation 4
Release
  • NA: 25 August 2015
  • PAL: 26 August 2015
  • UK: 28 August 2015
Genre(s)Adventure
Mode(s)Single-player

Until Dawn is a 2015 interactive drama adventure game developed by Supermassive Games and published by Sony Computer Entertainment. It was released for PlayStation 4 in August 2015. In the game, players assume control of eight young adults who have to survive in the Blackwood Mountain as their lives are threatened by an unknown threat. The game features a butterfly effect system, in which players have to make different choices which may lead to unforeseen consequences and influence the game's narrative. All the playable characters can survive or die in the game depending on players' choices. Players can also explore the environment from a third-person perspective and pick up different clues that may help solve the mystery.

Initially envisioned as a first-person game for PlayStation 3's motion controller PlayStation Move, the game transitioned to become a traditional title for PS4. Larry Fessenden and Graham Reznick were hired to write the game's story, and the game's original intention was to be the video game equivalent of a slasher film. The team took inspirations from a number of films such as Evil Dead II and The Conjuring, and video games such as Heavy Rain, Resident Evil and Silent Hill. To ensure that the game was scary, the team used a galvanic skin response test to measure playtesters' fear level when they were playing the game. Jason Graves composed the game's original soundtrack and Guerrilla Games' Decima game engine was used to render its graphics. Several noted actors including Rami Malek, Hayden Panettiere, Brett Dalton and Peter Stormare provided motion capture and voice work for the game.

Announced at Gamescom 2012, the title received little marketing efforts from publisher Sony. It received a generally positive reception from critics, with praise directed to its branching story, butterfly effect system, world building, characters and its use of quick time events, though it was criticized for its controls and dialogue. The game's sales surpassed both Sony's and Supermassive's expectations. It was nominated for multiple year-end accolades, and Supermassive followed the game with a virtual reality spin-off game, Until Dawn: Rush of Blood (2016) and a prequel, The Inpatient (2018).

Gameplay[edit]

In Until Dawn, players have to make quick decisions that may have unforeseen consequences.

Until Dawn is an interactive drama, in which players assume control of eight young adults who have to survive in the Blackwood Mountain until they are rescued at dawn.[1] The gameplay is mainly a combination of cutscenes and third-person exploration.[2] Players guide the characters to move around in a linear environment and pick up different clues and items.[3] Items can be further inspected to discover additional information.[4] Players can also collect totems, which give players a precognition of what may happen in the game's narrative. An in-game system keeps track of all the clues and secrets players have discovered, even if there are multiple playthroughs; these clues allow players to piece together the mysteries of Blackwood.[5] Action sequences mainly feature quick time events (QTE).[6] To hide from a threat, players need to hold their controller as still as possible when a "Don't Move" prompt shows up on-screen.[7]

The game is divided into 10 chapters, each documenting a single hour of the evening,[8] and between each chapter, there is an intermission in which players interact with a psychiatrist, Dr. Hill (Peter Stormare) in a therapy session, breaking the fourth wall.[9] Answers from therapy sessions may be incorporated into gameplay.

The game features a butterfly effect system, in which players have to make different choices. These choices range from small decisions like picking up a book, to moral choices that involve choosing the fate of other characters.[10] The dialogue choices are sometimes vague and some decisions are timed.[11][12] Making certain decisions may unlock a new sequence of events and cause unforeseen consequences later on. For instance, a weapon previously picked up by a character can be used later as a self-defense tool.[12] These choices also influence the story's tone and the relationships between characters.[13] Players can view the personality and details of the character they are controlling, as well as his or her relationships with other characters.[11] It is possible for players to keep all eight characters alive as well as having all eight of them die.[14] Characters' deaths are permanent, as the game's narrative will adapt to these changes and continue forward without them.[13] The strict auto-save system prevents players from reloading a previous save file to an earlier point in the game if they regret an in-game decision they have made. The only way to change the player's choice is to restart the game from the beginning or continue to the end and start a new game.[15] The game features hundreds of endings,[16] which are the outcomes of 22 critical choices players can make in the game.[11]

Plot[edit]

Rami Malek voices Josh Washington
Hayden Panettiere voices Sam Giddings

On 2 February 2014, Josh Washington (Rami Malek), his two sisters, Beth and Hannah (Ella Lentini), and their friends Sam Giddings (Hayden Panettiere), Mike Munroe (Brett Dalton), Chris Hartley (Noah Fleiss), Ashley Brown (Galadriel Stineman), Emily Davis (Nichole Bloom), Matt Taylor (Jordan Fisher), and Jessica Riley (Meaghan Martin) have a party in the Washington Lodge on Blackwood Mountain for their annual winter getaway. Mike, Emily, Jessica, Matt, and Ashley play a mean-spirited prank on Hannah, causing her to run away from the lodge into the woods, and Beth to chase after her. They are pursued by a fire-spewing individual who corners them on a cliff, which they both fall off.

On the one-year anniversary of his sisters' disappearance, Josh invites the group back to the lodge again. Once there, the group quickly splits, as couples Mike and Jessica walk to the guest lodge, Matt and Emily return to the cable car station to retrieve one of Emily's forgotten bags, and Sam goes upstairs to have a bath. After Mike and Jessica arrive at the cabin, Jessica is dragged away by an unknown creature. Mike pursues them into a mine, though he is not able to rescue her from captivity. He follows a Stranger into an abandoned sanatorium and learns about an incident in 1952 where 30 workers were trapped in a cave-in. Chris, Ashley and Josh use a generic spirit board to contact the afterlife, and receive messages from Hannah informing them to visit the lodge's library and investigate her death. There, Chris gets knocked out and wakes to find Ashley and Josh chained to a giant saw blade deathtrap by a masked man, which results in Josh being bisected. After learning about Josh's fate, Emily and Matt try to leave the mountain via the cable car, only to find it locked. They climb a radio tower and contact a park ranger who says help won't arrive until dawn. The tower is then pulled down by some of the creatures that kidnapped Jessica. They fall into the mineshaft; Emily survives, but Matt is either separated from her or killed outright. Back at the lodge, Sam is stalked by the Psycho and is either knocked unconscious, or escapes into a workshop.

As Sam and Mike discover Chris and Ashley stuck in another deathtrap, the masked psycho reveals himself to be Josh, who was pranking the group in retaliation for his sisters' disappearance. He confesses to rigging the lodge to appear haunted but denies killing Jessica; Mike and Chris tie him up and leave him in the shed. In the mine, Emily finds Beth's head; she may also find Hannah's personal effects, discovering that Hannah survived the initial fall and that she had eaten her sister's flesh to survive. She encounters the Stranger (Larry Fessenden), a rugged survivor who helps her flee the unknown creatures in the mineshaft. The Stranger then confronts the main group at the lodge and reveals the mountain is inhabited by Wendigos, humans that were possessed by evil spirits after engaging in cannibalism; he explains that fire is one of the only ways to kill them. Chris and the Stranger go to retrieve Josh, only to find him missing. The Stranger is killed, and Chris may be as well.

Mike goes to the sanatorium to find Josh and the cable car key; he gets into a fight with the wendigos, whom the Stranger had imprisoned there, and may choose to destroy the sanatorium to kill as many of them as possible. Sam and the others, perusing the Stranger's notes, learn more details about the wendigos -- that killing them releases the evil spirits to infect new hosts, that they can mimic human voices, that their bites are not contagious -- and chase after him with the information. Ashley and any others turn back, during which Ashley and possibly Chris may fall victim to a wendigo's voice trap. Mike and Sam find Josh, who has been hallucinating the intra-chapter interviews with Dr. Hill, and observe his fate: he may be slain by the lead wendigo, but may also be kidnapped if the player has discovered enough clues to determine that said wendigo is in fact Hannah. Matt and Jessica, if alive, awaken separately in the depths of the mine, join together if both are alive, and reach safety and not rejoining the others. Finally, Mike and Sam return to the lodge and whichever combination of Chris, Ashley and Emily are still alive; they find it overrun with wendigos, including Hannah. The creatures, now fighting amongst themselves, cause a gas leak, which the survivors ignite with an electrical spark. This destroys the lodge, kills all of the creatures, and can result in surviving characters, including Mike and/or Sam, being slain. Outside, rescue helicopters arrive at dawn to take the survivors away.

As the credits roll, those who did not survive have their death scenes replayed, while the living friends give interviews about the incident to the police and warn them of creatures in the mines. If Josh survived, a post-credits stinger depicts him and eating the Stranger's head. If at least one other friend survived, Josh is discovered by the police and he attacks them; if nobody else survived, Josh looks at the player.

Development and release[edit]

The game was initially designed for the PlayStation Move motion controller for the PlayStation 3.

British developer Supermassive Games led the game's development, which began in 2010.[17] The game's creative director was Will Byles, who joined the studio in the same year and the studio began discussing an idea for a new game for the PlayStation Move, which had a greater emphasis on narrative unlike Supermassive's previous titles like Start the Party!. The title would be a horror game that resembled a slasher film, and that it would be designed for a younger audience that publisher Sony Computer Entertainment had courted with Move.[18] The company hired American writers Larry Fessenden and Graham Reznick, both of whom had experience working on horror movies,[19] to write the game's script because Byles felt that their own British writers wrote in a "parochial" way that was inappropriate for the horror genre.[18]

The game was initially exclusive to PlayStation Move, meaning players need to buy the Move controller in order to functionally play the game. In this version of the game, moving the motion controller is the only way to navigate and progress in the game. Moving the wand guided the movement of the flashlight held by the characters, as players explore the location from a first-person perspective. The wand can also be used to interact with different objects and solve puzzles.[20] In this version of the game, players can also occasionally wield a firearm.[21] A segment of the game was shown at Gamescom 2012, and it received very positive comments from the community. Byles believed that players' enthusiastic response was due to the game's unique tone, which was thought to be "fresh" when compared with its competitors. However, one of the most common complaints received was the game's status as a Move exclusive, as most people did not want to purchase a controller for the game. At that time, the game had already reached the alpha development stage.[22] Byles experimented with the game's debug camera, and realized the potential of changing the perspective to third-person, which would transform the game from a first-person adventure game to a more cinematic experience. The game also switched the target platform from PlayStation 3 to its successor, PlayStation 4, and expanded the game's scope to include more mature content and shifted its target demography to include older adults. Sony approved the idea and allowed the team to develop for their new platform and changed the game's genre.[18] The new perspective enabled an enhancement of storytelling, which gave more "space to let the score, character personalities, camera work, and settings shine through".[23]

With this transition, the team partnered with Cubic Motion and 3Lateral to motion capture the actors' performance.[24] The team also needed to fundamentally change the game's graphics. It used the Decima engine created by Guerrilla Games and had to revamp the lighting system already in place. To achieve a Chiaroscuro effect, the team shifted to use real-time lighting while giving each character a personal photography director. This enabled the characters to be lit brightly in dark areas.[18] The team also used particle effects and volumetric lighting extensively as the light source for the game's various environments.[25] Despite the third-person perspective, the game adopted a static camera angle, similar to older Resident Evil games. The approach was initially met with resistance within the development team as the camera was considered by designers as "archaic". However, Byles and Lee Robinson, the game's production designer, drew up storyboards to ensure that each camera angle had narrative motivations and prove that their placements were not random. Initially quality assurance testers were frustrated with the camera angle. Supermassive resolved the complaint by ensuring that drastic camera transition would not occur at a threshold like doors, but the team had to cut certain scenes in order to satisfy this design philosophy.[18]

To increase players' agency, the team envisioned a system named "butterfly effect", a term first proposed by meteorologist Edward Norton Lorenz. Every choice in the story helped shape the story and ultimately, led to different endings. Byles stated that "all of [the characters] can live or all of whom can die in any order in any number of ways", and that this gave rise to a huge amount of permutations of events to unfold. He further added that no two players would get the same exact experience, as certain scenes would be locked away should the player make a different choice.[26] Byles believed that this would encourage players to replay the game to discover more about the story.[27] The dynamic choices and consequences system was inspired by Quantic Dream's Heavy Rain.[28] With a branching story, Supermassive developed software that recorded every possible choice in the game, and that each choice would cause different events to unfold and ultimately lead to more choices. Byles described chart as a series of "nodes" that enabled the team to keep track of the story they intended to tell. However, due to the branching nature of the game, every time the team wanted to change details in the narrative, the writers needed to take a day to look at the possible impacts the change have on subsequent events.[26] The team avoided doing substantial rewrites and instead focused on adjusting the game's pacing and direction once the motion capture and shooting process had begun.[18] The game's strict auto-save system was designed to be "imperative" instead of "punitive". Byles believed that even though a character had died, the story would not end until it reached the ending and that some characters may not have really died despite being hinted at implicitly. Certain story beats were designed to be indirect and vague so that the narrative would gradually unfold. Byles recognized the design choice as "risky" and that mainstream players may be disappointed by it, but he felt that it enhanced the game's "horror" elements. The game's pacing was inspired by Resident Evil and Silent Hill. In these games, there were quieter moments with no enemy encounter, but they nonetheless helped enhance the game's tension.[26] Tom Heaten, the game's designer emphasized that an unsuccessful QTE trial or one single wrong choice would not directly lead to a character's death, though it would send the characters to "harder, more treacherous paths".[29]

The game was designed to be similar to a film, and it incorporated a kill camera that showed the death of the characters from the murderer's viewpoint. Byles described the game as "glib" and "cheesy", and that the game's story and the atmosphere were similar to a typical teen horror movie.[17] The film was inspired by a number of classic movies, as they observed different horror tropes and clichés that can be subverted in their game. These films included Psycho, The Haunting, The Exorcist, Halloween, Poltergeist, Evil Dead II, and The Conjuring.[30] Fessenden and Reznick wrote a script of nearly 10,000 pages. The writers wanted to use dialogue to explore each character and facilitate their growth. The playable characters were typical archetypes, but as the narrative unfolded, these characters would show different qualities and gradually became more interesting. The writers felt that unlike films, games can use quieter moments for characters to express their inner feelings. With the game's huge emphasis on players' choices, players can no longer "laugh" at characters decisions, as they have to make these decisions themselves. It enabled the player to relate with the characters and make each character death more devastating. The number of dialogue was significantly trimmed when the team began to use the motion capture technology, which facilitate storytelling through acting. The story was written in a non-linear fashion, with chapter 8 being the first completed story arc. This caused some inconsistencies in the story.[31] As a horror game, the team wanted to invoke fear and ensure the game has a right proportion of terror, horror, and disgust. Terror, which was defined by Byles, as "the dread of an unseen threat", was the fear element Supermassive utilized the most.[32] To ensure that the game was scary enough, the team used a galvanic skin response test to measure playtesters' fear level when they were playing the game.[33] Byles considered Until Dawn as a game that took "horror back to the roots of horror", as unlike many of its competitors, tension, instead of action, was more emphasized.[32]

Jason Graves is the composer for the game.

Jason Graves began working on the title's music in 2011 and the scoring process lasted for one year. Graves talked with Barney Pratt, the game's audio director, for three hours to have a clearer idea about the direction of the soundtrack. He composed the game's main theme first, which he felt was representative of what the team was trying to achieve in the entire game, and used it as the demo pitch to Supermassive Games. The music was reactive, in which music would become increasingly loud as the player character approached a threat.[34] When composing the game, he mashed both melody and atonic sounds together, and the music was influenced by the work of Krzysztof Penderecki and Jerry Goldsmith. There were also tonally ambiguous themes in order to mirror the game's mysterious storyline.[35] With butterfly effect being an important mechanic of the game, Graves utilized film music editing techniques. He divided every track into different segments and had the orchestra to play it piece by piece. He then manipulated the recordings and introduced different variations of it in the recording studio. With the game's mountainous setting, he used a "goat-hoof shaker" to perform the mountain theme and many of the key tracks. He also used synthesizers extensively to page homage to John Carpenter's work.[36] Only 30 minutes of themes with melody and chord progression were recorded in three orchestral sessions, as most of the time was spent on recording atmospheric music and audios that Graves later layered together to invoke different emotions in different scenes. The Decima game engine was also programmed to determine how the music was layered depending on players' choices in the game.[26] The game's soundtracks were nearly 15 hours long.[36] The theme song, "O Death", was performed by Amy Van Roekel.[37]

Until Dawn was officially announced at Gamescom 2012, and it was initially scheduled to be released in 2013 for PlayStation 3.[38] After the game was retooled, it was rumored that the game was cancelled by Sony, though Supermassive CEO Pete Samuels refuted the claim.[39] The game was rerevealed at Gamescom 2014.[40] Sony did not market the game extensively as most of their marketing effort was spent to promote third-party titles instead.[41] On 31 July 2015, Sony confirmed that the game had gone gold, indicating that the team had completed the title's development and it was being prepared for duplication and release.[42] It was released for the PlayStation 4 in August 2015, two years after its initial proposed launch. Players who pre-ordered the game would receive a bonus mission featuring Matt and Emily. Besides the game's standard edition, there are also an extended edition and a steelbook edition that is available for players to purchase.[43] As the title features graphic violence, all death scenes were censored in the Japanese version of the game.[44] Supermassive hosted a time-limited Hallowen event in late October 2015 in which 11 pumpkins were added to the game as collectibles.[45]

Reception[edit]

Critical response[edit]

Reception
Aggregate score
AggregatorScore
Metacritic79/100[46]
Review scores
PublicationScore
Destructoid7/10[47]
EGM8/10[48]
Game Informer9/10[7]
Game Revolution4/5 stars[49]
GameSpot8/10[50]
GamesRadar+3.5/5 stars[51]
IGN7.5/10[52]
Polygon6.5/10[53]
VentureBeat90/100[37]

The game received a generally positive reception based on 103 reviews, according to review aggregator Metacritic.[46]

Jeff Marchiafava from Game Informer enjoyed the butterfly effect system as some choices significantly affected the game's narrative. He felt that Supermassive Games has successfully polished the template for adventure games previously established by Telltale Games.[7] Jessica Vasquez from Game Revolution described the system as a "welcome limitation" because players would never know the consequences of each choice until they reached the ending. Alexa Ray Corriea from GameSpot liked the system for its effective and impactful choices and the "paranoia" it invoked during critical choices that risked the lives of certain characters. She also admired the complexity and intricacy of the system, which made the game very replayable as players can discover new scenes.[50] Dean Takahashi from VentureBeat disagreed, as he stated that replaying the game would no longer surprise players.[37] Mollie L Patterson from Electronic Gaming Monthly felt that the system was a "fantastic" inclusion though it never reached its full potential.[48] Chris Carter from Destructoid called the butterfly effect system "gimmicky", as the choices did not influence the plot drastically.[47] GamesRadar's Louise Blain complained that most choices players made in the first half of the game were meaningless and irrelevant, though she noted that the stake significantly increased in the latter half.[51] Polygon's Phillip Kollar respected Supermassive's decision of not allowing the player to save the game manually, though he found the decision to be too punitive as accidentally failing a QTE could result in a character's death.[53]

Carter liked the game's world-building, which he thought was extensive and intriguing, and he liked the performance of the cast, singling out Peter Stormare's performance as Dr. Hill, the therapist. He also liked the intermission sessions which became significantly disturbing as the game progressed.[47] Ray Corriea also enjoyed the cast's performance and Graves' soundtracks, which she felt had successfully elevate the game's "panic, terror, and anguish".[50] Kollar felt that the acting was hampered by inadequacies in the game's motion capture technology.[53] Marchiafava enjoyed the story for being compelling and applauded the team for successfully utilizing different horror tropes while introducing several twists to the formula. Both Marchiafava and Takahashi liked the characters, who showed genuine growth as the narrative unfolded.[7][37] Correa agreed and added that players could relate to these characters.[50] Both Blain and Patterson called the title a "love letter" to horror films,[51] with Patterson noting its similarities to a "B-grade teen slasher flick".[48] Andrew Webster from The Verge agreed, saying that the game combined elements of both horror films and games and transformed them into a terrifying experience. The high level of interactivity made the game "special".[54] Lucy O'Brien from IGN however felt that the game's strict adherence to genre tropes diluted the game's scary moments and that the title "revels in the slasher genre's idiosyncratic idiocy". She also criticized the game's inconsistent tone.[52] Kollar disliked the game's writing, and he criticized the "awkward cuts, long moments of unintentionally hilarious silence and hopping between scenes and perspectives with no regard for holding the player's interest".[53]

Carter called the gameplay unimaginative,[47] though critics generally agreed that the quick time events are well-handled in the game as they helped players to immerse into the game,[7][49] with Ray Corriea singling out the "Don't Move" prompt as one of the player input that further heightened the tension.[50] Marchiafava called its use one of the best in gaming as button prompts were often timed and successful attempts required precision.[7] Patterson described the gameplay as conventional, though he enjoyed the inclusion of QTEs and felt that they matched with the game's overall theme and atmosphere. However, he noted the game's cumbersome control and suggested that the shortcoming may originate from the game's origin as a PlayStation Move exclusive.[48] Ray Corriea was disappointed by the game's linearity and the lack of interactions players can have with the environments, which she felt had wasted the game's setting.[50] Blain praised the quieter moments in the game in which the player character simply walk and explore the environment and the fixed camera angles as they contributed to tense and frightening moments.[51] However, Takahashi criticized the camera for making navigation annoying and clunky.[37] O'Brien lamented the game's poorly-implemented motion control, and she disliked the QTEs, which she considered as tedious at times.[52] Level design and location diversity were commonly praised by critics.[47][7][49] The collectibles were regarded as meaningful additions to the game as they gave players insights of what may happen in the game.[49][50][7]

Sales[edit]

According to Chart-Track, the game was the second best-selling retail game in the UK in its week of release, only behind Gears of War: Ultimate Edition.[55] It was also the seventh best-selling game in the US[56] and also the top trending game on YouTube in August 2015.[57] Sony was surprised by the game's critical response and the number of players posting videos of the game on YouTube or streaming the game on Twitch.tv. Shuhei Yoshida, President of SCE Worldwide Studios called the game a "sleeper hit".[58] Samuels added that the game had surpassed the company's expectations, though exact sales figure was not announced.[59]

Accolades[edit]

Date Ceremony Category Recipient(s) and nominee(s) Result Ref.
2015 Golden Joystick Awards PlayStation Game of the Year Until Dawn Nominated [60]
The Game Awards Best Narrative Nominated [61]
2016
SXSW Gaming Awards Excellence in Technical Achievement Nominated [62][63]
National Academy of Video Game Trade Reviewers Performance in a Drama Supporting Brett Dalton as Mike Nominated [64]
Use of Sound, New IP Until Dawn Nominated
British Academy Games Awards British Game Nominated [65]
Game Innovation Nominated
Original Property Won
Story Nominated

Spin-off and prequel[edit]

A non-canonical spin-off, titled Until Dawn: Rush of Blood, was announced by Sony at Paris Games Week 2015; described as an arcade shooter, the game's development began in the middle of Until Dawn's development. It was released on the PlayStation VR on 13 October 2016.[66] In June 2017, The Inpatient was announced as a prequel to Until Dawn, set sixty years prior within the Blackwood Sanatorium.[67]

References[edit]

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