The Butterfly Effect
Supermassive Games’ Pete Samuels and Will Byles held a behind-closed-doors session during gamescom to give us a better look into upcoming PS4 horror title Until Dawn. During that session they explained how their PS3 Move-only campy teen horror title transformed into a PS4 adult horror, starring top-tier actors and featuring high-end technologies.
Until Dawn is all about player choice, offering thousands of play paths that lead to hundreds of possible endings. A lot of this is tied to one of the game’s mechanics called the Butterfly Effect.
As eight friends stranded in a mountain getaway work to survive, you’ll control each of them, making choices for them. The paths you go down take every action into consideration, from small choices, like choosing to pick up a book, to large moral dilemmas. You might have to decide to shoot your friend in the head, for example.
This is important as Until Dawn was designed so that every character can survive and/or die. And if they die, they stay dead — no restarts here. The game will adapt the story if a character dies, so every decision you make can alter the story completely.
During some of these choices, a small butterfly icon will appear in the upper right side of the screen. This indicates that the Butterfly Effect is underway. Pulled straight from chaos theory, the butterfly effect has it so that any one small change can bring about larger changes further down the road. For the purposes of Until Dawn, any one choice you make can have you going down any one path, eventually ending up at one of any of the hundreds of endings.
To demonstrate, Samuels shared a great visual that I wish we had a copy of. Using an image of a butterfly, its very center represented the story’s origin. Highlighted veins branching from that center represented the first few choices, and all of the subsequent branches fanned out to the very ends of the butterfly’s wings, with each end representing the hundreds of possible endings. The branches fanned out and connected at various points along their length, representing the thousands of possible paths.
So opening the wrong door, picking up the right clue, or saying something when you should have said something else will take you down your own path. There’s a good chance that your path and ending will be nothing like your friend’s path and ending. As the game progresses, there’s a good chance that two people won’t see the same scenes or hear the same dialogue.
Believe it or not, Supermassive shot and recorded every possible scene and outcome for these branches and endings. They believe that being able to experience your choices adds to the suspense and horror of Until Dawn so they went to the trouble of auditioning 200 actors before getting to their current cast, which includes TV star Hayden Panettiere. They wanted only top actors to fit with the high-definition capture and high volume of voice work required. From what I saw, they’ve done a nice job with both the casting and capture.
Supermassive has come a long way from the campy PS3 Move game they showed here at gamescom two years ago. They went from flashlight scares to a full-fledged PS4 playable horror movie that lets the player decide on its story and outcome. What an overhaul!