A few years ago Italian based Indie developer Dreampainters released a horror game called Anna. In my opinion one of the best horror games of the last few years. A very intriguing, claustrophobic setting, an intimate story and some of the best tension building I’ve seen in a long time. At this moment developer Dreampainters is working on a new horror project for Oculus called White Heaven. We already saw a teaser trailer but it just begs to find out more. Since Dreampainters doesn’t throw truckloads of info at the press constantly it’s time to start asking the developers some questions to get some answers.
I had a word with Alessandro Monopoli, founder of Dreampainters and (ex-Codemasters) Senior Programmer about their upcoming horror adventure White Heaven.
In White Heaven you play as Eric Blanc, a young man from a wealthy family. He has been kidnapped and is held in an old abandoned hotel, the White Heaven. The gang have demanded a high ransom for his family to pay to free him. One morning, Eric finds his cell door open. He is determined to escape. Just Like in Anna, White Heaven plays out in a single building.
“White Heaven is a fictional hotel based on the building in the following picture.
Which is real world in an abandoned Genoa-owned building: in these days it’s getting restructered in a huge apartment building.”
“The main inspiration for White Heaven came from “Shining”, for sure. We want to put the player in a sense of abandonment: the nature in game is definitely going to kill the player, but still it’s so immensely beautiful to behold. Looking through the windows you can see a beautiful environment, with snow falling down, the woods slightly moving to the calm wind. It’s beautiful, but you know you cannot go out, and you know no one knows you’re there.
You’re trapped in heaven.”
“We hope that the player will find himself immersed in the compelling story we wrote,”
“and that is the driving force for White Heaven. As for “Anna”, we’re more interested in the creepyness of the atmosphere and the fear of the next revelation, not much into the cheap scares. Still White Heaven is packed with truly horrorific moments, and it’s a survival horror: you don’t have any weapon, but in the hotel there’s something with you and it’s immensely more powerful than you.
We hope to instill a sense of fear in the player that will make him think about it when the game is turned off.”
But apart from the universe and the one building setting the game seems to be more of a “survival horror adventure” and less like the graphic adventure Anna was Alessandro explained.
White Heaven is a very large hotel and it’s almost fully explorable, without any loading screen bothering you. Also, it’s more of a survival horror than a graphic adventure: you will not have any weapon to defend you, but you’ll have ways to not being killed. It’s still an intimate game, slow paced, but it’s a lot more about exploring and a lot less about finding complicated object combinations. You’ll have puzzles, but you’ll notice the difference the moment you start playing.
Also, it features a day/light cycle: that indicates the passage of time and will make the character tired. Also, during the night the monster comes out, while during the day it’s all good. Too bad there are some things that can only be performed during the night
Since it’s more a survival horror experience than it’s spiritual predecessor was we are wondering what kind of horror it is. Alessandro explained it’s more about the psychological approach, tension building up to a climax, but no cheap scares.
I think the psychological approach is still extremely important in White Heaven: I don’t think there’s any cheap scare, like BUU! and you jump on your chair
We worked a lot on the story, the way it gets delivered and what you’ll find in the hotel, and all goes in the direction of making the player feel as much as possible the feeling of the character. That’s the direction we think will deliver the “horror” in the most proficient way.
While White Heaven is not a direct sequel to Anna it’s still created in the same universe. But do you need to play Anna in order to enjoy White Heaven? Fans of Anna will be pleased and surprised but newcomers will not be cut out Alessandro expained.
You’ll find out there are symbols you’ve already seen, and there’s still the “Anna” entity, with a new one (that you can see briefly in the “The whole truth” ending in the Extended edition). Also, there are references to the previous story, but nothing that will cut away new players: “Anna” players will appreciate the references.
The game is still set in a fictional version of the Ayas valley, a region in the Aosta Valley, located on the Italian Alps. There are plenty of references to the local culture and the local architecture and folklore, as there were in “Anna”.
White Heaven’s developed with the Unreal 4 Engine, which is a step up from the Unity Engine used for Anna. This opens up doors for Dreampainters so we where wondering what doors it opened and what effects it would have on the experience.
I think UE4 gave us the possibility to do the kind of game we wanted, and it would have been impossible with the previous engine we were using. Their customer support is fantastic: provides help almost in real time. You also have direct chats with them and the monthly releases makes developing with the engine an incredible experience, with bug fixes and new features coming in super quick.
Doing White Heaven with the same engine we used for “Anna” would have mean doing a stripped down version. I know that engine is used for very big games now, but I also know they have million dollars to modify, customize, make specific elements, improve it. We don’t and UE4 gives everything out of the box.
Alessandro also mentioned working with Oculus Rift. The Virtual Reality device recently bought by Facebook. He said working with it is easy, maybe even intuitive.
I think that without Oculus rift, we would have never thought to do some “in game” UI as we have now: it feels a lot more integrated and uses the 3d vision in a constructive way. Also, Ue4 integrates it natively: using it was just a matter of plugging it in.
From a gameplay point of view, Oculus rift gave us some ideas about how to handle incoming objects at you: it feels completely different. Even the handling of objects feels completely different.
About the succes of the upcoming virtual reality devices (Oculus and Morpheus) Alessandro seems to be holding back his enthousiasm. Like myself he too is still not sure whether or not gamers will be open for VR just yet.
Actually, I’m not sure. Oculus rift is cool, but it’s not the first experiment here. In horror games, VR definitely can immerse you more: cheap tricks that do not scare you anymore are EXTREMELY effective with VR: all of them will have a new life with VR, and you will always get scared by them, because you would in your life.
I literally have no idea why all people has gone crazy about it: it’s cool, but is it going to stay?
That I don’t know. 3D in cinema is almost gone away, no matter how many billion dollars have been invested. Industry is investing billion dollars in this, but are we sure people will want to sit in a chair, blinding themselves from the world, and spend an evening with the family with Oculus rift on? I understand that’s what Facebook want.
While Dreampainters has announced White Heaven for Oculus, but what about Sony’s Morpheus?
I would love that, I can tell you I think White Heaven would fit PS4 greatly, but it also requires some investement: a console port is more expensive than it seems.
Alessandro also teased me with some unannounced cryptic info.
“Ah! We have a fantastic announcement ready in our “send” buttons. Think about a VERY old IP from a major publisher, and the total reboot of this IP. That’s what I can tell you.”
He also told me about something else, apart from the reboot of the “classic horror IP” which will also be announced very soon. I can’t talk about this for now but keep an eye out for news on these unannounced horror projects by Dreampainters. We might have more to show VERY soon!
As for the release date of White Heaven, Alessandro had this to say,
“Well, right now I think that 2014 it’s the year, but I cannot really say much about the month.”
I believe Dreampainters are slowly becoming the go to developer for Indie horror games. With White Heaven coming to Oculus and two unannounced horror projects on the way these Italian developers are making sure the horror genre is far from dead. Keep checking the website for more info on all three projects!
What classic horror IP would Dreampainters be working on? Let us know what you think in the comments section or on our Facebook page!