Scares and Story: An Interview with the Executive Producer of The Dark Pictures Anthology

I was lucky enough to be able to sit down and have a chat across the internet with Executive Producer of Supermassive Games, Dan McDonald. He’s a guy who has a lot of heart for his craft and it shows. Read on to find the interview I had with him this month, and learn more about the team and plans behind The Dark Pictures Anthology.

There may be Little Hope, but the Information was Large

Dan McDonald is the Executive Producer behind the horror anthology series that came to consoles and PCs in Summer 2019. Most recently the team released Little Hope and another instalment is on it’s way in 2021. But, given the still fresh release of Little Hope in October 2020, I thought it was prime time to sit down and have a talk with Dan. We spoke about the series, their plans for the new consoles, and the passion driving the Supermassive Games team.

An Interview with Dan McDonald, Executive Producer of The Dark Picture Anthology

So right now your main project looks to be The Dark Pictures Anthology. Awhile back we got Man of Medan and just recently we got Little Hope, both from your team. So tell us, why are you guys passionate about making a horror anthology series and not something else?

After we finished Until Dawn we realised we had a so many horror stories that we wanted to tell. We thought the anthology format would work well. It allows us to create new and unrelated stories that explore all the different genres of horror.

All the games in The Dark Pictures Anthology are standalone titles, with different stories, settings and characters. In Man of Medan you were adrift on a Ghost Ship in the South Pacific. In Little Hope you are in an abandoned town, with open environments and buildings to explore.

All of the games in The Dark Pictures Anthology subvert different horror genres. In Man of Medan you had ghost ship mixed with paranormal and elements of home invasion. Little Hope is again very different – this time you have demons, hell and witchcraft all mixed together!  In addition to that you have completely different environments. Before you had the confines of a rusty old ghost ship stuck in the South Pacific. This time you are trapped in an abandoned town desperately looking for a means of escape whilst horrible creatures hunt you from the shadows. 

In Man of Medan, your team added a small special feature in the menu. It showed what horror books, television shows and movies inspired the team for The Dark Pictures Anthology. But I’m curious, what -games- inspired you, if any?

You’re right, we are certainly influenced by a lot of different films and TV shows. Specifically for Little Hope it was things like It Follows, The VVitch and Hellraiser plus written works such as Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. In terms of games there are titles like Silent Hill and Resident Evil. Generally across all of The Dark Pictures titles we take references from many different places TV, Film, books etc – particular favourites from recent years have been shows like American Horror Story, Black Mirror and The Haunting of Hill House.

In your games player choice is perhaps the biggest part. It drives the narrative and takes the player on a many twists and turns. How does it feel seeing players explore all these different directions in the stories of Little Hope and Man of Medan?

It’s very exciting! We love hearing from players who have completed our games many times but still find something new on the next playthrough. There is always a bit of a twist and we like to mix and subvert our horror genres. You can never be quite sure which way the game will go.  

The choices you make also effect the relationships and traits within the game, so in addition to how the actual story plays out you can find that the characters will act differently towards you based on the choices you have made in the game. We know people like to play the games in very different ways. Save them all, kill them all, play passively or aggressively – that’s the beauty of our games in that they can be played multiple times in very different ways.

Man of Medan was and is on Xbox Game Pass. What are your thoughts on all of the people your game has now reached because of that? I’ll admit, I played it through Game Pass myself. It lead me to want to play Little Hope even more.

We’re really excited to be on Games Pass and have been delighted by the feedback we’ve received from players experiencing Man of Medan for the first time. Although every game in The Dark Pictures Anthology is a standalone, separate story there are some connective tissues, small threads that run through each of them – Take a look at Conrad’s T-shirt in Man of Medan for example! We also have the Curator who is the constant thread across the series as he will appear in every game.

So people who have played Medan, we know from feedback, are very likely to want to play the next game in the series and so on. Game Pass provided a tremendous outlet to reach even more people and that is the beauty of the Anthology – you can start at any game you like and there are other games in the series readily available to continue your experience once you have finished.

Time to shift gears a bit. Had to slide this one in! Any big plans for the newly released (9th gen) consoles? Any hints on future projects you can give those reading?

It’s always hugely exciting when new consoles arrive on the scene! We’re delighted that House of Ashes, the next game in The Dark Pictures Anthology, will be coming out, and will also be optimised for Xbox Series X/S.

Unfortunately we cant give you much more information than that – we don’t want to spoil what’s coming!

Now that we are on the topic of the 9th generation of hardware, can you tell us how the new consoles excite you as developers and storytellers?

New consoles always bring new opportunities and now is no different. There are plenty of things that excite us. The SSD drive really helps with loading times which really helps keep players fully immersed in the narrative and storytelling experience. It allows us as developers to create a richer visual experience.

We always want to push the boundaries with the games we make, certainly from a graphical perspective – new console hardware allows us to go bigger and better each time and we are really looking forward to bringing our games to the new Xbox platform.

Alright, we are nearly finished, but before we end, let’s have some fun. If Supermassive Games could make any game they wanted. What would it be and why? That is, unless you’re already making it…

You’ve already answered it ? We are really excited by the anthology for The Dark Pictures. It means we can create a new story and characters every time, with a real mix of horror genres.  For example, you couldn’t get much more different than a Ghost Ship in the South Pacific (Man of Medan) and the witch trials of 1692 (Little Hope).

After Until Dawn we really wanted to make shorter, standalone horror stories but we also wanted to make them multiplayer – after prototyping and testing we ended up with a 2 player online mode and a 5 player couch coop which was born out of the way we observed people playing Until Dawn

Time for a personal one, and be honest, do you all enjoy scaring players? I imagine that if I were setting up scares and I saw the player scream, that I might laugh some. There’s good fun in frights! Something tells me the answer is “yes”.

Yes of course we do! ? More seriously, we really enjoy creating an emotional reaction to the story and characters in our games. Yes, some of that is fear but there is also laughter, empathy and many more. There’s also an art to the jump scare. The Dark Pictures does have its own approach to authoring its scares. Our approach involves a very specific treatment of lighting, cameras, audio…and timing!

It also can’t always be about just scaring and terrifying people – it’s a game so we want people to have fun whilst they are playing it – there has to be light and shade otherwise it might quickly become something un-enjoyable – but people do love to be scared which is why we do it!  We are passionate about horror here in the studio – there aren’t many horror films we haven’t watched and hopefully this comes across in the games we make.

Is there anything else you wanted to let people know before we close up the Q&A?

First of all we would like to thank everyone who played Man of Medan and hopefully they will check out Little Hope. There are some new additions in there such full 360 cameras and a new QTE alert system plus existing features like the multiplayer modes – 2 player online and up to 5 players offline in couch coop – so there’s plenty of features to get excited about in Little Hope. That’s not forgetting a great story, cast and a whole host of choices and dilemmas to navigate!  And if that wasn’t enough we have recently announced our third game in the series – House of Ashes. You can check out a short teaser trailer for the game online. Don’t play alone…..

You’ve Reached the Final Destination

The interview was a grand time and it’s something I look forward to bringing you more of in the future. There’s always more to come right here on Generation Xbox. But today, we’re talking about Supermassive and their Dark Pictures. So if you have interest in them, you can find the official website for The Dark Pictures Anthology here. This is where you can learn about all of the games in the series and purchase or preorder them! You can also catch the Supermassive team on Twitter! Lastly, don’t forget, you can find the first game in the series, Man of Medan, on Xbox Game Pass on the all new Xbox Series X|S or Xbox One family of consoles.

Stay tuned to Generation Xbox for all the latest gaming news, review and more!

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