Tarsier reveals the creepy origins of its grotesque new game, due in 2017
Those of you that know a little about us already, may already know the story of how Tarsier got started, but maybe the beginnings of Little Nightmares are less familiar. As with any good origin tale, it all starts with a flashback…
Although we didn’t know it at the time, the first seeds of Little Nightmares were sown in 2012 with a tech demo called ‘dollhouse’. With a cylindrical building as its focal point, it gave players the ability to pan, rotate, and zoom in to a bunch of individual, interconnected rooms, and managed to feel both playful and downright creepy. It was a simple premise, but one that captured our imagination. So, naturally, we did nothing more with it!
Over the next months, other cool ideas started to show up in different parts of the office. There were concept sketches of vast, organic sea vessels; and of grotesque characters gorging themselves. There were nostalgic discussions about games where players were trusted to play, free to explore, and abandoned to fear. And there were stories that we wanted to tell. Stories that went somewhere new, unpleasant, and unexpected. And, of course, there was the ‘dollhouse camera’.
As these different elements found each other, so too did our understanding of what this game could actually become. Focusing on a young skinny girl trapped in the middle of a grotesque feast, the game was primarily about greed, and consumption, and the general unpleasantness of food. So we called it Hunger, not stopping to think for one second about the potential pitfalls of searching for ‘Hunger game’ on Google!
Coming up with names can be tough. It can seem such a small and trivial thing, but it’s a real balancing act. Pay it too little attention and the whole thing can just feel crap and cliché; but if you overthink it, everything feels weighed down by its own self-importance.
Six was a name that just fit the character we were creating. It had an androgynous quality that we enjoyed. We weren’t making a game about a girl in peril, just a kid. A mysterious kid. Six told us nothing, but asked plenty of questions.
The Maw worked in a similar way. Beginning life as some sort of petri dish where we would put unpleasant things and leave them to evolve, this was a place that could eat you up and spit you out in far too many ways. As arguably the game’s two most important characters, Six & The Maw felt right. They might not like each other, but they certainly work well together!
So the first step was out of the way, we thought all this could be cool, but the next step was the hardest – convincing other people! To do this, we knew that we needed some sort of prototype, and to do that, we knew that we needed some sort of money.
Luckily for us, there was hope on the horizon, in the shape of Nordic Game and Creative Europe, whose support helped us develop both a prototype and a teaser trailer, and this gave us something solid to show off when meeting publishers at Game Connection. One of the publishers we talked to was Bandai Namco Entertainment Europe who, quite simply, were very cool. They got the vision, and they wanted to help us achieve it. In the end, it felt like a very natural fit.
As is often the case, the original concept evolved over time, and began to encompass more than just the foul delights of food and flesh. With a character like Six, stuck in a place like The Maw, it started to feel natural to explore themes of childhood. Looking back on our own memories of childhood, we realised that playfulness, adventure and fear could – and should – exist together in the same world. Needless to say, Hunger as a title just didn’t fit the bill anymore, and after a long, painful renaming process (where I think we emptied the world of Post-It Notes), we eventually found our Little Nightmares!
There’s way more to say about the game – the art direction, the gameplay, and the characters you’ll meet – and we will get to that, but for now I hope you at least have a better idea of how it all started. We never really had a masterplan for getting to this point, just a bunch of little ideas that we had a good feeling about. Sometimes that’s all you need.
But signing with a major publisher helps a bit too!
Oh, and if you simply can’t wait ’til the game is released next Spring, you could always have a go at the interactive demo and guide Six through the foul kitchen to redeem an exclusive DLC mask for her at game launch.
Here is a little teaser to help you make the right choices.