Fresh off the console release of his first-person survival horror game Emily Wants to Play, developer Shawn Hitchcock (great last name, by the way) was kind enough to answer a few of my questions via e-mail.
I picked his brain about past projects, his taste in horror, and what games he likes to play in his free time, which you can read all about below!
What games influenced you to become a game designer?
Shawn: “I pretty much loved every game growing up and I was drawn to computers and programming at a very early age. The idea of making something move across the screen was always very fun to me. I would write many lines of code to literally draw a line diagonally across the screen and play a sound effect. That simple effect amazed me.
I literally played every game that I could, so it is hard to decide which influenced me the most, but a few games do stick out that really interested me. The Final Fantasy series (particularly III and VII), Herzog Zwei, Street Fighter II, and Resident Evil. I know that’s a strange mix, but I remember writing pages and pages about those games. I would write about what I would improve, think of new characters, and write new stories for them. I loved the story line of Final Fantasy and Resident Evil and the real-time quick thinking action of Street Fighter and Herzog Zwei.”
Is Emily Wants to Play your first project?
Shawn: “Emily Wants to Play is my first “First Person 3D Game” type of project, but before Emily, I created a bunch of little 2D games on the iPhone like Evil Quiz, Razed, Raining Balloons and Mad Monkey to name a few.”
What made you want to make this style of horror game?
Shawn: “After I decided that I was going to make a scary game, I wrote out what I would like to include in it. I wanted it to stand out from other horror games, but also include cliche tropes that would hopefully scare players (like dolls). The style fell into place while I was working on the game. Here are some of the traits I imagined it including: scary, unique, non-linear, no gore, not always dark, simple controls, include gameplay mechanics, monsters that actually get you, very little instruction, and a creepy story. I started from there and then along the way came up with more ideas like allowing the dolls to control the lights, play children’s games and work together. Then at some point, I decided to make sure that the way you defeat each doll will work together. Slowly the game prepares the player how to handle each doll until the end where they face them all. Players must know the dolls’ mechanics very well in order to win the game. It is similar to a complicated Super Mario Maker or Geometry Dash level.”
What are some of your favorite horror films? Can we see any of that in Emily Wants to Play?
Shawn: “Well I am not sure about a “favorite” horror film, because I would prefer watching a comedy! But here are some of the most scary films to me: The Exorcist, Chucky, Dolls, Dolly Dearest, Poltergeist, The Ring, and Paranormal Activity. Every one of those movies scare me in some way. As a kid I was scared of dolls, mannequins and definitely the idea of supernatural evil. The thought of not being able to physically fight or hurt the “monster” is stressful to think about and evil children are just terrifying!
There was definitely some inspiration from those movies. I don’t remember specific scenes, but I remember things like a creepy crawling child or a doll running around. Those are scary thoughts, so I added things like that to the game.
A direct inspiration for Kiki’s movement is an episode of Dr. Who called “Blink.” A person in the Work In Progress forum mentioned that to me, plus a few others in the comments on Steam. They said it would be terrifying, if I could make one of the characters only move when you aren’t looking at them. So I tweaked Kiki’s programming and now she only stalks you while you aren’t watching, which did turn out to be very scary for many people.”
A key focus of your game is the variety of dolls the player must approach in specific ways to avoid “getting caught.” What influenced the aesthetic choices for each of the dolls (personal fear of clowns, perhaps?)?
Shawn: “Each of the dolls are based on what I think would be scary. Japanese yūrei, clowns, evil ventriloquist dummies and a strange child that stares at her parents while they sleep and crawls around the house…Those are a definite “NOPE!” to put it in the words of Emily Wants to Play fans.”
Emily Wants to Play has been available for a while now on other platforms, but what made you want to bring it to modern consoles as well?
Shawn: “I didn’t have any plans to get the game to consoles, but I was getting comments and emails from people that were interested in playing it on PS4 and Xbox One. I decided to email Sony and Microsoft about Emily Wants to Play and see if it was possible. They both approved the game and I began working towards releasing on the consoles. I initially thought it was going to be really easy to just add my game to their stores. But it wasn’t easy at all. It took months of work, and was overwhelming for me at times, since I am the only one working on this project. I stuck it out and I am glad to have gone through the whole process and learned a lot from the experience.”
Now that the game is available on Xbox One and PlayStation 4, is there anything you wish you’d added, or perhaps any plans you can talk about concerning future updates?
Shawn: “I would have loved to add a bunch of new things, but it took so much longer than I anticipated to get the game on both systems. I didn’t have time to add anything new. I am pretty sure I would have already finished another game on PC by now. I do not plan on releasing any console updates, but you never know what will happen. I didn’t even think the game would ever be on the consoles in the first place.”
Do you see yourself turning Emily Wants to Play in to an ongoing series? If not, what’s next on your agenda?
Shawn: “I think it will become a series. I have had so much fun working on Emily Wants to Play, and there will definitely be more. New places, more story, more characters, and more scares! And after Emily, I already have ideas for new scary games and VR experiences.”
With Emily Wants to Play already available in VR on the HTC Vive, is it safe to say you’re an advocate for VR as the future of gaming, or are you merely testing the waters a bit? Any chance us sewer dwelling console heathens will get to experience the game on PSVR when that launches in October?
Shawn: “I am definitely an advocate of VR as the future of gaming and at the same time I am testing the waters. I really hope I get the time to create a VR only game. It seems like a really fun endeavor. It is such a different experience for the players and also for developers creating the games.
I don’t have the PSVR development kit at the moment, so I am unable to work on it. If I did, I would have probably supported at least the current Emily Wants to Play using the head mounted display and a PS4 controller. Just that alone puts you so close up with the dolls, and it really changes the game.
I’m sure that the PCMasterRace thinks that console gamers are “sewer dwelling heathens”, but to me a gamer is a gamer no matter which system they prefer.”
I know game development is a busy, busy profession, but in your free time, what other games have you been playing lately?
Shawn: “Super busy, but playing games is still one of my favorite ways to take a break. I love playing Street Fighter, any version. I played Super Street Fighter 4 until I was in the top 800 players online. I also built an arcade a few years ago with every version of Street Fighter on it. So, I think it must be my favorite game. I also like RTS games like the Warcraft and Starcraft series. I have Warcraft 3 installed on every computer in the house, and sometimes the whole family plays together. Plus I have played most of the Call of Duty and Modern Warfare games. My favorite is Black Ops II, where I had a diamond riot shield and knife! I am definitely a gamer at heart and wouldn’t mind spending 12 hours a day playing games.”
Thank you Shawn for answering all of my questions! I had a good time playing and reviewing the game, and I’m glad I had the chance to pick his brain a bit about a few other things.
My review of Emily Wants to Play can be found here at Cheap Boss Attack.