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The Terrifying Tale of Amnesia

Thomas Grip | 12 Jul 2011 14:20
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The story of Amnesia: The Dark Descent starts just as we were hard at work with Penumbra: Black Plague, a project that had been close to doom only a few months before. After various financial problems, Paradox Interactive had stepped in to provide the funds needed to complete the game.

We knew that in order to keep the company stable we had to make sure our entire work force (four of us at the time) would be be able to start working on a new project as soon as Black Plague was completed. Because of this, we started doing the basic tech work for what was to become Amnesia several months before Black Plague was done. We did not have any solid ideas on what to do next, but we were sure of one thing: The process of making our previous games had just been too hard for a small company like us and we were set on doing things a lot more simply in the future.

The release of Black Plague came and we were not nearly ready enough to start on something completely new. We had some basic technology working, but it was still far too much in its infancy to let the non-tech part of the team work. At this point Paradox approached us and wondered if we were keen on doing some sort of expansion for Black Plague. This was a great opportunity and a way to keep the entire team occupied until the basic tech got more mature. We were pretty fed up with creating Penumbra games though, and decided to make the expansion, subtitled Requiem, into a more puzzle-oriented experience instead.

...We started focusing on making the horror game equivalent of Super Mario...

In the Beginning
While Requiem was in full production we started brainstorming ideas for the next big project. An early decision was to do another horror game, as it was a genre we felt confident in. Similarities to our earlier games stopped there, though, and focus was instead turned on making a simpler and more casual experience. There was also a major emphasis on coming up with a design that would be easy to pitch - we had already had enough financial problems and were set on doing something we could get stable funding for.

Mechanically, we started focusing on making the horror game equivalent of Super Mario: short levels, simple gameplay, repeated mechanics, easy to understand goals and an experience well suited for bite-sized chunks of entertainment. "Torture-porn" movies like Saw and Hostel were very much "the hot thing" at the time and lent themselves nicely for a thematic hook. Paradox Interactive liked the idea but despite initial interest, both sides agreed to wait on formal agreements until Requiem was done and released in August.

Around Spring 2008 we settled on a game set in the 18th century, which would provide an uncommon time period setting and open the possibility of using a lot of levers, large cogwheels and the like, allowing us to more easily create interesting physics puzzles.

We sent in an application to the Nordic Game Program, a government program that grants money twice a year to game developers. The game was titled Lux Tenebras, very kludgy Latin for "light and shadow," a name we chose to make the game sound more simplistic and less violent (making an NGP nomination more likely). Also set at this time was an "afraid of darkness" mechanic: The idea was basically that the darkness itself should be an enemy, and the title of the game was a reference to this. We were immediately dissatisfied with the name though, especially since it was nearly the same as Penumbra (which essentially means the area between light and dark).

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