iPhone and iPad games aren't known for their frights, but the new Unreal Engine-powered The Dark Meadow is looking to scare your pants off.
Set in an abandoned hospital, The Dark Meadow combines the FPS potency of Rage with the melee combat of Infinity Blade.
In a Pocket Gamer exclusive, we talked with Phosphor Games Studios, a small group of console veterans taking their knowledge to the small screen.
Company co-founder and project lead Chip Sineni as well as studio art director Jarod Pranno chatted with us about the chilling horror storyline, the crossbow controls, and the game's diverse influences.
Pocket Gamer: How long have you guys been working on The Dark Meadow?
Chip Sineni: Only three months. It’s been a crazy schedule, but we have so many Unreal Engine experts from console development that there was virtually no learning curve.
So you must have come across some limitations compared to the console engine.
Chip: Not really, as every tool is identical to the console version. The only restrictions are in the art. If you do it right, you can make it just like a console game.
Jared Pranno: We ran into a few speed bumps with the hardware, but we have advantages because we’ve worked on PlayStation 2 hardware in the past. And, compared to that, we have lots of power.
So The Dark Meadow takes place in an abandoned hospital gone wild. What was your inspiration?
Chip: We don’t think we borrowed too much from other iOS games, but what we did was create a modern fairytale. In hindsight, [the movie] Pan’s Labyrinth is pretty similar, though Jared, who also developed the story, hadn’t seen it at the time.
Jared: Pan’s Labyrinth is similar in that it wasn’t a direct horror experience, but more of a fantastical fairy tale. On the game front, Infinity Blade was a big influence since it worked out a lot of the kinks with the platform.
Chip: Infinity Blade may have created a new genre. It gave a very adult experience and also mastered the touchscreen controls. Others are trying to emulate console games with eight buttons, two virtual joysticks, and so on. You can do it, but do you want to?
It’s an FPS at heart, so can we expect any multiplayer?
Chip: If we do multiplayer, it won’t be at launch. We will do what people want us to do, so we’ll wait for feedback.
The main weapon in The Dark Meadow is a crossbow - How does the mechanic work?
Chip: We looked at a ton of ranged-combat games, from Doom and Rage to Time Crisis. The problem was that either your finger blocked the target or you had to do a slide move to shoot. However, the best iOS games are gesture-based.
When you use the crossbow, you touch the screen, gesture to pull the arrow back, and let go where you aim – kind of like Angry Birds in 3D. It feels good!
We’re not trying to accurately model a crossbow, but to make quick gestures easier. Early in the game you get a little helping scope, too, kind of like the Gears of War grenades, so you have an idea of where your arrow will land.
And other weapons?
Chip: Your other weapon is a sword. We even looked at Fruit Ninja for inspiration since it was so elegant. In fact, you can say we borrow from Angry Birds and Fruit Ninja, along with, of course, Infinity Blade for the ducking, parrying, and other moves.
Jared: The inspiration for the combo was really from horror movies. You know the scene where the monster is down the long hallway and it’s coming for the hero? He’s unloading all this ammo into the monster and it slows down a bit, but the monster still ends up reaching him. Then the hero needs to pull out an axe to finish it off.
You guys were working with a really tight schedule. Time aside, what was the biggest challenge?
Chip: We had a few.
First, it was all agreeing on the story. With bigger games, we have eight months to debate and craft a story. Here, we had, like two weeks. We were getting mad and arguing!
Jared and I didn’t see eye to eye right away, but we realised we wanted the same thing but were going at it from two different directions. We eventually met in the middle and made an even stronger storyline.
From a development standpoint, the light RPG elements like buying stuff made it more difficult to balance play. We tried to put a ton of replay in the game, and that took time.
You probably will hate this question, but about how much run-through time should we expect?
Chip: That’s actually a key difference between us and Infinity Blade. We’re actually closer to Dead Rising where you don’t see the majority of the game when you play it the first time through. I’m guessing within the six-hour range.
Jared: We see it as a real opportunity here: To have a console-level story and production on the mobile. We’re aiming to bring the quality of BioShock or Half-Life to the mobile.
So is it going to be both shooting and platforming?
Chip: Definitely shooting, but the added element will be exploring. Items can be found, kind of like a hidden object game. All of it is optional, but it adds a richness to the gameplay.
And it’s coming out in August - do you guys already have DLC planned?
Jared: We have a ton of ideas for DLC with The Dark Meadow. We had to cut a few things to execute it well, so there is definitely some cool stuff we can throw in later.
Thanks to Chip and Jared for their time. The Dark Meadow will be out next month for iPhone and iPad.