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Until Dawn is a 2015 interactive drama adventure game developed by Supermassive Games and published by Sony Computer Entertainment for the PlayStation 4. Players assume control of eight young adults who have to survive on Blackwood Mountain when their lives are threatened. The game features a butterfly effect system in which players must make choices that may lead to unforeseen consequences and influence the narrative. All playable characters can survive or die, depending on players' choices. Players can also explore the environment from a third-person perspective and find clues that may help solve the mystery.

Until Dawn
Until Dawn cover art.jpg
Developer(s)Supermassive Games
Publisher(s)Sony Computer Entertainment
Director(s)Will Byles
Producer(s)Pete Samuels
Designer(s)Tom Heaten
Nik Bowen
Programmer(s)Prasana Jeganathan
Artist(s)Brandon Kosinski
Writer(s)
Composer(s)Jason Graves
EngineDecima
Platform(s)PlayStation 4
Release
  • NA: 25 August 2015
  • PAL: 26 August 2015
  • UK: 28 August 2015
Genre(s)Adventure|Horror game
Mode(s)Single-player

The game was initially envisioned as a first-person game for the PlayStation 3's motion controller PlayStation Move, but became a traditional title for the PlayStation 4. Larry Fessenden and Graham Reznick were hired to write the story with the intention to create the video game equivalent of a slasher film. The development team took inspiration from films such as Evil Dead II and The Conjuring, and video games including Heavy Rain, Resident Evil, and Silent Hill. To ensure the game was scary, the team used a galvanic skin response test to measure playtesters' fear levels when playing it. Jason Graves composed the soundtrack and Guerrilla Games' Decima game engine was used to render the graphics. Several noted actors, including Rami Malek, Hayden Panettiere, Brett Dalton, Nichole Bloom, and Peter Stormare, provided motion capture and voice acting.

Until Dawn was announced at Gamescom 2012 and released in August 2015. Although the title received little marketing effort from Sony, its sales surpassed expectations. The game received generally positive reviews; it was praised for its branching story, butterfly effect system, world building, characters, and use of quick time events, but criticized for its controls and dialogue. Until Dawn was nominated for multiple year-end accolades and Supermassive followed the game with a virtual reality spin-off, Until Dawn: Rush of Blood (2016), and a prequel, The Inpatient (2018).

Contents

GameplayEdit

 
In Until Dawn, players have to make quick decisions that may have unforeseen consequences.

Until Dawn is an interactive drama in which players assume control of eight young adults who have to survive on Blackwood Mountain until they are rescued at dawn.[1] The gameplay is mainly a combination of cutscenes and third-person exploration.[2] Players guide the characters to move around a linear environment and find clues and items.[3] Items can be inspected to discover additional information.[4] Players can also collect totems, which give players a precognition of what may happen in the game's narrative. An in-game system keeps track of all of the clues and secrets players have discovered, even if there are multiple playthroughs; these clues allow players to piece together the mysteries of Blackwood Mountain.[5] Action sequences feature mostly quick time events (QTE).[6] To hide from a threat, players must hold the controller as still as possible when a "Don't Move" prompt appears.[7]

The game is divided into 10 chapters, each of which documents a single hour of the evening.[8] Between each chapter, there is an intermission in which players interact with a psychiatrist, Dr. Hill (Peter Stormare), in a therapy session, breaking the fourth wall.[9]

The game features a butterfly effect system, in which players have to make choices that range from small decisions like picking up a book to moral choices that involve the fates of other characters.[10] The dialogue choices are sometimes vague and some decisions are timed.[11][12] Making certain decisions may unlock a new sequence of events and may cause unforeseen consequences; for instance, a weapon previously picked up by a character can be used for self-defense tool.[12] These choices also influence the story's tone and relationships between characters.[13] Players can view the personality and details of the character they are controlling, and his or her relationships with other characters.[11] It is possible for players to keep all eight characters alive and to have all of them die.[14] Characters' deaths are permanent; the game's narrative will adapt to these changes and continue forward without them.[13] The strict auto-save system prevents players from reloading a previously saved file to revert to an earlier point in the game if poor decisions have been made. The only ways to change the player's choice are to restart the game and to continue to the end and start a new game.[15] There are hundreds of endings,[16] which are the outcomes of 22 critical choices players can make in the game.[11]

PlotEdit

Rami Malek voices Josh Washington
Hayden Panettiere voices Sam Giddings

On 2 February 2014, Josh Washington (Rami Malek), his sisters Beth and Hannah (Ella Lentini), and their friends Sam Giddings (Hayden Panettiere), Mike Munroe (Brett Dalton), Chris Hartley (Noah Fleiss), Ashley Brown (Galadriel Stineman), Emily Davis (Nichole Bloom), Matt Taylor (Jordan Fisher), and Jessica Riley (Meaghan Martin) have a party in a lodge on Blackwood Mountain. Mike, Emily, Jessica, Matt, and Ashley play a prank on Hannah, causing her to run into the woods. Beth chases after her. They are pursued by a fire-spewing individual who corners them on a cliff, from which they both fall.

On the first anniversary of his sisters' disappearance, Josh invites the group back to the lodge. The group quickly splits; Mike and Jessica walk to the guest lodge, Matt and Emily return to the cable car station to retrieve one of Emily's bags, and Sam goes upstairs to have a bath. After Mike and Jessica arrive at the cabin, an unknown creature attacks and drags Jessica away. Mike pursues them into a mine but he cannot rescue her and may be unable to prevent her death at the kidnapper's hands. He follows a Stranger into an abandoned sanatorium and learns about an incident in 1952, in which 30 workers were trapped in a cave-in. Chris, Ashley and Josh use a generic spirit board to contact the afterlife, and receive messages from Hannah asking them to visit the lodge's library and investigate her death. There, Chris is knocked out; he wakes to find Ashley and Josh chained to a giant saw blade deathtrap by a masked man, which results in Josh being bisected. After learning about Josh's fate, Emily and Matt try to leave the mountain via the cable car but find it locked. They climb to a radio tower, during which Matt may be slain by nervous deer, and contact a park ranger who says help will not arrive until dawn. Some of the creatures that kidnapped Jessica pull down the radio tower, and Matt and Emily fall into the mineshaft. Emily survives but Matt is either separated from Emily or killed outright. At the lodge, Sam is stalked by the Psycho and is either knocked unconscious or escapes into a workshop.

As Sam and Mike discover Chris and Ashley stuck in another deathtrap, the masked psycho reveals himself to be Josh, who was pranking the group in retaliation for his sisters' disappearance. He says he arranged for the lodge to appear haunted but denies killing Jessica; Mike and Chris tie him up and leave him in a shed. In the mine, Emily finds Beth's head; she may also find Hannah's personal effects, discovering that Hannah survived the fall and had eaten her sister's flesh to survive. She encounters the Stranger (Larry Fessenden), a rugged survivor who helps her flee the creatures in the mineshaft; during the escape, Emily is either killed by the creatures or bitten by one of them. The Stranger then confronts the main group at the lodge and says the mountain is inhabited by wendigos that were created when the caved-in miners were possessed by evil spirits after engaging in cannibalism to survive. He says they can only be killed in a few ways, one of which is by fire. Chris and the Stranger go to retrieve Josh but find him missing. The Stranger is killed and Chris may be as well. The survivors regroup in a basement, where Ashley notices Emily's wendigo bite if Emily is present; the player, as Mike, may choose to shoot and kill Emily in fear of a zombie-esque contagion.

Mike goes to the sanatorium to find Josh and the cable car key; he gets into a fight with the wendigos, which the Stranger had imprisoned there, and may choose to destroy the sanatorium to kill as many of them as possible. Sam and the others read the Stranger's notes and learn more about the wendigos—killing them releases the evil spirits to infect new hosts, they can mimic human voices, and their bites are not contagious—and chase after him with the information. Ashley and any others turn back; Ashley and possibly Chris may fall victim to a wendigo's voice trap. Mike and Sam find Josh, who has been hallucinating the intra-chapter interviews with Dr. Hill, and observe his fate: he may be slain by the lead wendigo but may also be kidnapped if the player has discovered enough clues to determine that the wendigo is Hannah. Matt and Jessica, if alive, awaken separately in the mine; they join together if both are alive and reach safety without rejoining the others. Mike and Sam return to the lodge and whichever combination of Chris, Ashley and Emily are still alive; they find it overrun with wendigos, including Hannah. The creatures, which are now fighting among themselves, cause a gas leak; the survivors ignite the escaped gas with an electrical spark. This destroys the lodge, kills all of the creatures, and can result in the deaths of surviving characters including Mike and/or Sam. Outside, at dawn, rescue helicopters arrive to take the survivors away.

As the credits roll, the death scenes of deceased characters are replayed while the survivors give interviews about the incident to the police and warn them of creatures in the mines. If Josh survived, a post-credits stinger depicts him eating the Stranger's head. If at least one other character survives, the police discover Josh, who attacks them. If nobody else survived, Josh looks at the player.

Development and releaseEdit

 
The game was initially designed for the PlayStation Move motion controller for the PlayStation 3.

British developer Supermassive Games led the game's development, which began in 2010.[17] The game's creative director was Will Byles, who joined the studio in the same year. The studio began discussing an idea for a new game for the PlayStation Move, which had a greater emphasis on narrative than Supermassive's previous titles like Start the Party!. The proposed game would be a horror game that resembled a slasher film and it would be designed for a younger audience that publisher Sony Computer Entertainment had courted with Move.[18] Supermassive hired American writers Larry Fessenden and Graham Reznick, both of whom had worked on horror movies,[19] to write the game's script because Byles felt the company's British writers wrote in a "parochial" way that is inappropriate for the horror genre.[18]

The game was initially exclusive to PlayStation Move, meaning players needed to buy the Move controller to functionally play the game. In this version of the game, the only way to navigate and progress the game is moving the motion controller. Moving the wand guides the movement of the flashlight held by the characters as players explore the location from a first-person perspective. The wand can also be used to interact with objects and solve puzzles.[20] In this version of the game, players can occasionally wield a firearm.[21]

A segment of the game shown at Gamescom 2012 received positive comments from the gaming community. Byles said the enthusiastic response was due to the game's unique tone, which was thought to be "fresh" compared with that of its competitors. One of the most common complaints received was the game's status as a Move exclusive; most people did not want to purchase a controller for the game. At that time, the game had reached the alpha development stage.[22] Byles experimented with the game's debug camera and realized the potential of changing the perspective to third-person, which would change the game from a first-person adventure game to a more cinematic experience. The game also switched platform from PlayStation 3 to the PlayStation 4 and expanded the game's scope to include more mature content and shifted its target demography to include older adults. Sony approved the idea and allowed the team to develop for the PS4 and changed the game's genre.[18] The changes allowed an enhancement of storytelling which, according to Ashley Reed of GamesRadar, gave more "space to let the score, character personalities, camera work, and settings shine through".[23]

With these changes, the team partnered with Cubic Motion and 3Lateral to motion capture the actors' performances.[24] The team also needed to change the game's graphics. They used the Decima engine created by Guerrilla Games and had to rework the lighting system, which was already in place. To achieve a chiaroscuro effect, the team used real-time lighting while giving each character a personal photography director, enabling the characters to be brightly lit in dark areas.[18] The team also extensively used particle effects and volumetric lighting as the light source for the game's environments.[25] Despite the third-person perspective, the game adopted a static camera angle in a way similar to early Resident Evil games. The approach was initially resisted by the development team because the designers considered the camera "archaic". Byles and the game's production designer Lee Robinson, however, drew storyboards to ensure each camera angle had narrative motivations and prove their placements were not random. Initially quality assurance testers were frustrated with the camera angle; Supermassive resolved this complaint by ensuring drastic camera transitions would not occur at thresholds like doors but the team had to remove some scenes to satisfy this design philosophy.[18]

To increase players' agency, the team envisioned a system named "butterfly effect". Every choice the player makes in the game helps shape the story and ultimately leads to different endings. Byles stated that "all of [the characters] can live or all of whom can die in any order in any number of ways", and that this gives rise to a huge number of permutations of events to unfold. He further added that no two players would get the same experience because certain scenes would be locked away should the player make a different choice.[26] Byles said this would encourage players to replay the game to discover more about the story.[27] The dynamic choices and consequences system was inspired by Quantic Dream's Heavy Rain.[28] With a branching story, Supermassive developed software that recorded every choice in the game; each choice would cause different events to unfold and would lead to more choices. Byles described chart as a series of "nodes" that enabled the team to keep track of the story they intended to tell. Due to the branching nature of the game, however, every time the team wanted to change details in the narrative, the writers needed to examine the possible impacts the change would have on subsequent events.[26] The team avoided substantial rewrites and instead focused on adjusting the game's pacing and direction once the motion capture and shooting process had begun.[18]

The game's strict auto-save system was designed to be "imperative" instead of "punitive". Byles said even though a character had died, the story would not end until it reached the ending and that some characters may not have died despite their deaths being hinted at. Some story beats were designed to be indirect and vague so the narrative would gradually unfold. Byles recognized the design choice as "risky" and that it may disappoint mainstream players but he felt it enhanced the game's "horror" elements. The game's pacing was inspired by that of Resident Evil and Silent Hill, in which there were quiet moments with no enemy encounter that help enhance the games' tension.[26] Tom Heaten, the game's designer, said an unsuccessful QTE trial or one incorrect choice would not lead directly to a character's death, though it would send the characters to "harder, more treacherous paths".[29]

The game was designed to be similar to a film; it incorporated a kill camera that showed the deaths of the characters from the murderer's viewpoint. Byles described the game as "glib" and "cheesy", and said the story and the atmosphere were similar to a typical teen horror movie.[17] The film was inspired by a number of classic movies; the developers observed horror tropes and clichés that can be subverted in the game. These films included Psycho, The Haunting, The Exorcist, Halloween, Poltergeist, Evil Dead II, and The Conjuring.[30] Fessenden and Reznick wrote a script of nearly 10,000 pages. The writers wanted to use dialogue to explore each character and facilitate their growth. The playable characters were typical archetypes but as the narrative unfolded, these characters would show different qualities and gradually became more interesting. The writers felt that unlike films, games can use quieter moments for characters to express their inner feelings. With the game's emphasis on players' choices, players can no longer "laugh" at characters decisions because they must make these decisions themselves. It enables the player to relate with the characters and make each death more devastating. The dialogue was reduced significantly when the team began to use the motion capture technology, which facilitates storytelling through acting. The story was written in a non-linear fashion; chapter 8 was the first completed story arc. This caused some inconsistencies in the story.[31]

The development team wanted to invoke fear in the player and ensure the game has the appropriate proportion of terror, horror, and disgust. Supermassive made most use of terror, which Byles defined as "the dread of an unseen threat".[32] To ensure the game was scary enough, the team used a galvanic skin response test to measure playtesters' fear levels when they were playing the game.[33] Byles described Until Dawn as a game that took "horror back to the roots of horror"; unlike many of its competitors, tension rather than action was emphasized.[32]

 
Jason Graves is the composer for the game.

Jason Graves began working on Until Dawn's music in 2011 and the scoring process lasted for one year. Graves talked with Barney Pratt, the game's audio director, for three hours to get a clear idea about the direction of the soundtrack. He first composed the game's main theme, which he felt represented what the team was trying to achieve, and used it as the demo pitch to Supermassive Games. The music was reactive; it would become louder as the player character approached a threat.[34] When composing for the game, he mixed both the melody and atonic sounds together. The music was influenced by the work of Krzysztof Penderecki and Jerry Goldsmith. There were tonally ambiguous themes to mirror the game's mysterious storyline.[35]

With butterfly effect being an important mechanic of the game, Graves used film music editing techniques. He divided each track into segments and had the orchestra play it piece by piece. He then manipulated the recordings and introduced variations of them in the recording studio. For the game's mountainous setting, he used a "goat-hoof shaker" to perform the mountain theme and many of the key tracks. He also extensively used synthesizers to pay homage to John Carpenter's work.[36] Only 30 minutes of themes with melody and chord progression were recorded in three orchestral sessions because most of the time was spent on recording atmospheric music and sounds that Graves later layered to invoke different emotions in different scenes. The Decima game engine was programmed to determine how the music was layered depending on players' choices in the game.[26] The game's soundtracks were nearly 15 hours long.[36] The theme song, "O Death", was performed by Amy Van Roekel.[37]

Until Dawn was officially announced at Gamescom 2012 and it was initially scheduled to be released in 2013 for PlayStation 3.[38] After the game was retooled, it was rumored Sony had canceled it but Supermassive CEO Pete Samuels refuted the claim.[39] The game was re-revealed at Gamescom 2014.[40] Sony did not market Until Dawn extensively; most of its marketing effort was spent on promoting third-party titles.[41] On 31 July 2015, Sony confirmed the game had gone gold, indicating the team had completed development and it was being prepared for duplication and release.[42] It was released for the PlayStation 4 in August 2015, two years after its initial proposed launch. Players who pre-ordered the game received a bonus mission featuring Matt and Emily. As well as the game's standard edition, an extended edition and a steelbook edition were available for purchase.[43] Because Until Dawn features graphic violence, all of its death scenes were censored in the Japanese version of the game.[44] Supermassive hosted a time-limited Halloween event in late October 2015, in which 11 pumpkins were added to the game as collectibles.[45]

ReceptionEdit

Critical responseEdit

Reception
Aggregate score
AggregatorScore
Metacritic79/100[46]
Review scores
PublicationScore
Destructoid7/10[47]
EGM8/10[48]
Game Informer9/10[7]
Game Revolution     [49]
GameSpot8/10[50]
GamesRadar+     [51]
IGN7.5/10[52]
Polygon6.5/10[53]
VentureBeat90/100[37]

Until Dawn received a generally positive reception based on 103 reviews, according to review aggregator Metacritic.[46]

Jeff Marchiafava from Game Informer enjoyed the butterfly effect system because some choices significantly affect the game's narrative and wrote that Supermassive Games had "polished the [adventure game] formula to a triple-A sheen".[7] Jessica Vasquez from Game Revolution described the system as a "welcome limitation" because players would not know the consequences of each choice until they reach the ending. Alexa Ray Corriea from GameSpot liked the system for its effective and impactful choices, and the "paranoia" it invokes during critical choices that risk the lives of certain characters. She also admired the system's complexity and intricacy, which made the game very replayable because players can discover new scenes.[50] Dean Takahashi from VentureBeat stated that replaying the game would no longer surprise players.[37] Mollie L Patterson from Electronic Gaming Monthly said the system is a "fantastic" inclusion but it never reached its full potential.[48] Chris Carter from Destructoid called the butterfly effect system "gimmicky" because the choices did not significantly influence the plot.[47] GamesRadar's Louise Blain said most choices players make in the first half of the game are meaningless and irrelevant, though she noted that the stake increases significantly in the latter half.[51] Polygon's Phillip Kollar respected Supermassive's decision to prevent the player saving the game manually, though he found the decision to be punitive because accidentally failing a QTE can result in a character's death.[53]

Carter liked the game's world-building, which he said is extensive and intriguing; he also liked the cast's performances—singling out Peter Stormare's performance as therapist Dr. Hill—and the intermission sessions that became disturbing as the game progressed.[47] Ray Corriea also enjoyed the cast's performances and Graves' soundtracks, which she said elevate the game's "panic, terror, and anguish".[50] Kollar wrote that the acting is hampered by inadequacies in the game's motion capture technology.[53] Marchiafava enjoyed the story because it is compelling; he applauded the developers for successfully using different horror tropes while introducing several twists to the formula. Both Marchiafava and Takahashi liked the characters, who show genuine growth as the narrative unfolds.[7][37] Correa added that players can relate to these characters.[50] Both Blain and Patterson called the title a "love letter" to horror films,[51] and Patterson noted the game's similarities to a "B-grade teen slasher flick".[48] Andrew Webster from The Verge agreed, saying the game combines elements of both horror films and games, and transformes them into a terrifying experience. The high level of interactivity makes Until dawn "special".[54] Lucy O'Brien from IGN, however, said the game's strict adherence to genre tropes dilutes the game's scary moments and that it "revels in the slasher genre's idiosyncratic idiocy". She also criticized the game's inconsistent tone.[52] Kollar disliked the game's writing and he criticized the "awkward cuts, long moments of unintentionally hilarious silence and hopping between scenes and perspectives with no regard for holding the player's interest".[53]

Carter called the gameplay of Until Dawn unimaginative,[47] though critics generally agreed the quick time events are well-handled because they help players become immersed in the game;[7][49] Ray Corriea chose the "Don't Move" prompt as one of the player inputs that further heighten the tension.[50] Marchiafava called its use one of the best in gaming because button prompts were often timed and successful attempts required precision.[7] Patterson described the gameplay as conventional; he enjoyed the inclusion of QTEs and said they match with the game's overall theme and atmosphere. He noted, however, the game's cumbersome controls and suggested the shortcoming may originate from the game's origin as a PlayStation Move exclusive.[48] Ray Corriea was disappointed by the game's linearity and the lack of interactions players can have with the environments, which she said had wasted the game's setting.[50] Blain praised the game's quieter moments, in which the player-character simply walks and explores the environment, and the fixed camera angles that contribute to tense and frightening moments.[51] Takahashi criticized the camera for making navigation annoying and clunky.[37] O'Brien lamented the game's poorly-implemented motion control; she also disliked the QTEs, which she considered as tedious at times.[52] Level design and location diversity were commonly praised by critics.[47][7][49] The collectibles were regarded as meaningful additions to the game because they give players insights into possible future events in the game.[49][50][7]

SalesEdit

According to Chart-Track, Until Dawn was the second-best-selling retail game in the UK in its week of release, trailing only Gears of War: Ultimate Edition.[55] It was also the seventh-best-selling game in the US[56] and the top-trending game on YouTube in August 2015.[57] Sony was surprised by the game's critical responses and the number of players posting videos of it on YouTube or streaming it on Twitch.tv. Shuhei Yoshida, President of SCE Worldwide Studios, called Until Dawn a "sleeper hit".[58] Samuels added that the game surpassed the company's expectations, though the exact sales figure was not announced.[59]

AccoladesEdit

Date Ceremony Category Recipient(s) and nominee(s) Result Ref.
2015 Golden Joystick Awards PlayStation Game of the Year Until Dawn Nominated [60]
The Game Awards Best Narrative Nominated [61]
2016
SXSW Gaming Awards Excellence in Technical Achievement Nominated [62][63]
National Academy of Video Game Trade Reviewers Performance in a Drama Supporting Brett Dalton as Mike Nominated [64]
Use of Sound, New IP Until Dawn Nominated
British Academy Games Awards British Game Nominated [65]
Game Innovation Nominated
Original Property Won
Story Nominated

Spin-off and prequelEdit

Sony announced a non-canonical spin-off titled Until Dawn: Rush of Blood at Paris Games Week 2015; the company described it as an arcade shooter. The new game's development began halfway through Until Dawn's development. Until Dawn: Rush of Blood was released on the PlayStation VR on 13 October 2016.[66] In June 2017, The Inpatient, a prequel to Until Dawn that is set in the Blackwood Sanatorium sixty years before the original, was announced.[67]

ReferencesEdit

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