While I was at Pax East this year in Boston, I was able to play the demo version of the Bandai Namco game, Little Nightmares. This game could be considered a survival horror game where you play the role of Six, a young girl. During the demo I met with a level designer for Tarsier Studios who worked on the game, Matthew Compher. Since it was way too noisy at Pax East, we decided that an email Q and A would be a lot easier to complete. Please join me in welcoming Matthew Compher to GamerHub.TV
How long have you been a level designer at Tarsier Studios?
I’ve been with Tarsier since 2011; almost 6 years now. I joined the team during development on LittleBigPlanet PS: Vita. I was one of several people hired from LittleBigPlanet’s community and just never went away!
For those who don’t know, what goes into a basic level design?
Level design is a very broad thing to classify. It usually starts with some vague concept or idea. The level designer takes this idea and usually creates some “greybox” test to see how it feels. The term greybox is indicative of how levels at this stage are usually constructed – with big, ugly grey boxes that essentially block out the major geometry components of the space.
From there, we iterate, test, iterate, art, iterate, etc. Did I mention that we iterate? We eventually swap out all those ugly grey boxes with proper assets and nicer textures. For Little Nightmares we utilized a very modular approach to level design; that is, we constructed levels out of smaller chunks that could be easily re-arranged.
We worked very closely with our team of level artists from an early stage to ensure that levels are compatible tonally and visually with the game as a whole. Lighting was especially important to get right, as the game is quite dark in many places.
Have you worked on a game like Little Nightmares before?
No, not really! In the past I’ve worked on the LittleBigPlanet franchise primarily. If you’re feeling generous, you could say Little Nightmares is vaguely like LittleBigPlanet in some ways. It’s been refreshing to work on something as unique as Little Nightmares. It was a challenge, but also really exciting, to work with an original game that had to be defined as we created it!
Childhood fears come to life-the theme of the game. Is that hard to work around? What I mean is that hard to create level designs for? What would you say you’re afraid of and does it appear in the game?
It is and isn’t. What I mean is that the idea of childhood fears is something that we all have a sort of understanding for; we’ve all been kids and had our fears growing up of monsters under the bed or dark spaces. But then finding a way to translate that into a game can be somewhat challenging.
What’s interesting is just how easily you can make the player feel a sense of suspense with nothing. Literally nothing. A dark hallway is about the easiest piece of level design imaginable, but the player immediately feels that suspense of the unknown. Pair that with some unnerving ambient audio, dripping water, distant banging noises… and now the player is at the mercy of their own imagination.
A dollhouse always seems like the ideal setting for a horror/evil game, why is that?
I think it’s largely the idea of taking a traditionally safe, cutesy thing like a dollhouse and twisting it to create a conflict of expectations. I wish I could see into the minds of our very talented art team who dreamed up the concept and setting. As a level designer, my job is to take those ideas and implement them. I like to think I have the easy job!
Will every level have a different fear/feel to it?
Ah, nice try! Trying to trick me into divulging the secrets of The Maw… There will be different levels, and that’s all I have to say about that.
Secrets of the Maw? There must be more to that? Able to spill any details?
[Wow, that was uncanny. I didn’t read this question prior to answering the above.]
Nope! Little Nightmares is meant to be played out like an unfolding mystery. Some secrets are apparent, some are implied, some are extrapolated. We’d never want to take away that feeling of discovery by just spelling it out for you!
Has Tarsier worked with Bandai Namco in the past?
This is our first collaboration with Bandai Namco. I will say that many Tarsians love some of the other titles published by Bandai Namco, and we’ve been very happy with our experience working with them on Little Nightmares. Hopefully this is the start of a long and fruitful relationship!
Will there be multiple ways to solve each puzzle in the game?
Some yes, some no. I won’t give away more than that. It’s not really a puzzle game, per se, but there will be some puzzle elements. We didn’t really set out to make puzzles; rather to create scenarios that are consistent with the world we’ve created and consistent with the fact that you play as a small, powerless child. Sometimes that results in the player needing to apply some critical thinking to proceed.
Six is an interesting name for the lead character. What is she all about? Is everything around her big or is she small?
It is an interesting name, isn’t it.
She’s all about getting out of this creepy place. Six is a child, and children tend to exaggerate. So obviously that table was 20 feet tall! The player is seeing the world through her eyes, so she may be a bit of an unreliable perspective at times.
From what I’ve seen online, is the design partial Claymation? Some of the larger characters like the Chef look it.
I don’t believe we set out to mimic the Claymation style, it just sort of happened organically while creating the game. The Chef was based on the work of our very talented concept artists, and the unnerving animation style does sort of feel “claymation-y”. We do love that everyone is reading their own influences, but I think it’s just part of this Tarsier style that people are getting to see fully unleashed.
Anything else you want our readers to know about Little Nightmares?
We want everyone to know how excited we are to finally show off our labor of love. It’s our first original game as a studio, and we’ve poured our hearts into it. You won’t have to wait long now—April 28th can’t come soon enough!
We’ll be releasing on PS4, Xbox One, and PC (via Steam and GOG). We’re also excited to be getting a physical release with the limited Six Edition, which contains a 10 cm Six figurine, the original soundtrack, and some other goodies.
That’s going to wrap up another installment of the GamerHub Q and A. I would like to thank my guest, Tarsier Studios Level Designer Matthew Compher. Little Nightmares is one of those classic survival horror games that will give you nightmares if you aren’t careful! Stay tuned for the next installment of the GamerHub Q and A!