INTERVIEW: Creating Horror with Bloober Team’s Laura Bernaś

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Bloober Team — But Why Tho

We attended Digital Dragons 2023, Poland’s premiere gaming industry conference.  Bloober Team is a developer based in Krakow, Poland, known for Layers of Fear, Observer, and The Medium. With Digitals Dragons taking place in Krakow, it’s only appropriate for one of the biggest developers in the city to be in attendance, especially since the developer has also won awards at previous Digital Dragon events. This year Bloober Team were focused on recruitment as well as panels, like the Science of Horror, which featured their director, Wojciech Piejko, and other professionals talking about what makes a good horror game. We sat down with Laura Bernaś, PR Manager for Bloober Team to discuss what goes into developing a horror game and the company’s future.

The interview was edited for clarity and length after the transcription.

LAURA BERNAŚ: Bloober Team is in this city (Krakow). We like to say Krakow is the capital of horror in Europe. Those are big words, but we’re all about horror.

BUT WHY THO: I love horror movies, but I’m a big wuss when it comes to horror games. Sometimes it becomes too much, and I have to tap out.

LAURA BERNAŚ: Especially I don’t know if you’ve played VR, but that totally happens. People playing VR need longer breaks because the brain needs a break from immersion.

BUT WHY THO: What VR Projects have you worked on recently?

LAURA BERNAŚ: We’ve done some VR in the past. Layers of Fear was one of them. Coming down the pipeline now is the new version of Layers of Fear for June 15th. And yesterday, we released the demo on Steam…[The demo] is only 15 minutes if you’re fast, but for me, it was like 30 minutes. [The demo] has very cool moments from the game…It’s horror, but it’s not with jump scares. It’s more about the terror, atmosphere, and sound design. It’s composed by the incredible Arkadiusz Reikowski. He’s a very well-known musician and artist from Poland who just won an award yesterday for a different game, BLACKTAIL. He’s very well known [in Poland], so our music and sound design are very great.

BUT WHY THO: I did attend the Science of Horror talk, and it was very interesting that they brought up jump scares being cheap and how [horror] is about building atmosphere and suspense.

LAURA BERNAŚ: Yes, the writer there is from our time. Wojciech [Piejko] is our game director for Observer and The Medium game. He’s a pro when it comes to generating horror.

BUT WHY THO: Another topic of discussion was the difference between developing a horror game and creating a horror film. The developers have less control over how a player experiences the narrative. Can you go into that a bit?

LAURA BERNAŚ: When it comes to games, we like to call it having the power over the decisions that you make. So basically…we like to scare people, not because we are sadists or anything like that, we want to scare people because we want to show them the truth about themselves. Every decision you make in a horror game, lead them, to a better understanding of themselves. When it comes to fear, psychologists say that most people are afraid of what they do not know. So our games work like this. You’re not scared because of the jumpscares, and you’re not scared of those magic tricks that you see everywhere…You’re scared because you don’t know whats in the next corridor or the house that you are entering.

That is the magic that you need to balance in the game. That was something that was mentioned in the panel yesterday. And you need to find the right balance between the deep story, the deep characters, ad the dark side of the human psyche. This balance is so that you don’t make people who are playing the horror games overwhelmed. We don’t want them to say, “Oh I can’t do that because it’s too much for me.”

BUT WHY THO: How do you test out what works? One would assume that the process is different than testing out an adventure game.

LAURA BERNAŚ: The technical aspect is definitely the same as other developers. We do silent reviews, mock reviews, and look at people’s reactions. One time during our event for Blair Witch the game, we created a special dark room to see people’s reactions and how they react [physically]. We connected them to things that to check their heartbeats just to check that reaction. So basically, we just checked the feedback from the players, even on the internet, and streamed everywhere…We try to remember what we learn from talking to people and implement it into our next titles.

Layers of Fear (2023)

BUT WHY THO: So every project builds off of the last?

LAURA BERNAŚ: Oh definitely. Because every horror game is bigger. So basically, like with the new Layers of Fear, we are bringing the franchise back. The first Layers of Fear [game] was in 2016 and was our first psychological horror [game]. That was the moment that [Bloober Team] decided to go with this focus. So now, we are going back to this game and we’re going serious grounding work, you can say. It will be done on Unreal Engine 5; it will be bigger, it will be visually more pleasant, etc. So basically, [now], we’re not doing games just based on story, but we’re balancing between story and action [now], making every game we produce bigger.

BUT WHY THO: So how is your take on Silent Hill going to differ from previous versions?

LAURA BERNAŚ: Actually, we’re trying to stay very true to the original version… There is a lot of this buzz for [Silent Hill 2], and we’re working with Konami, who is the publisher, on the original outcomes.

BUT WHY THO: Do you plan to do any movie adaptations?

LAURA BERNAŚ: We are thinking about going beyond games. We started a cooperation with the American agency called the Creative Arts Agency, CAA…They will help us do something with our games to make them more mainstream in the games. Collaboration with actors and with the movie industry, so we will probably go beyond gaming. But whatever we do, it will be horror.

BUT WHY THO: I’m not sure if it’s a thing [in Poland], but in the US we have the 4DX theaters where the chairs move, and water can get thrown in your face. IS something interactive in the future?

LAURA BERNAŚ: An interactive movie? That would be awesome! You know, we don’t close any doors. Basically, we want to do a lot of stuff besides gaming, but whatever we will do, it will be horror. That’s in our DNA.

Horror gets reimaging with the new Layers of Fear from Bloober Team, releasing on PC, Xbox X|S, and PS5 on June 15th, 2023.

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