There’s Danger In The Dark: Camel 101’s Ricardo Cesteiro on the Mysterious “Project X”
[mks_dropcap style=”square” size=”52″ bg_color=”#38005b” txt_color=”#ffffff”]I[/mks_dropcap]n 2006, two brothers, Bruno and Ricardo Cesteiro, submitted a game to a Portuguese games contest. Much to their delight, they took home first prize. Fresh award in hand, the brothers decided to take this as a sign to continue making video games under the mantle of Camel Entertainment. Fast forward to today and Camel Entertainment has reformed to become Camel 101, both brothers still at the helm. Along with 3D and visual effects artist Boris Ragusa, the team is mid-development on a mysterious new adventure game that they’re currently only referring to as “Project X.”
Hot on the heels of their sci-fi horror shooter, Syndrome, Camel 101 has been teasing their newest project on social media for the better part of the last three months. I had the opportunity to talk to Ricardo Cesteiro to glean some details about the irregular stream of screenshots and .gifs that, until now, were the only windows the public had into the foreboding world of Project X.
According to Cesteiro, the as yet untitled Project X centers around a man attempting to meet his mistress at a motel in the local village, but what he finds when he arrives is far from the torrid evening of romance he expected. Unknown to him, the town is under a curse, perpetually shrouded in darkness. Mysterious figures roam through the shadows, and light is the only safe place – the only place the dark threats cannot reach. But Project X is no survival horror tale, says Cesteiro.
“The game isn’t focused on the monster or a group of monsters, or even on the action itself or having to fight an enemy. The creepiness is there in the world. It’s all around the player. It’s in the environment, but it’s not going to harm the player unless the player goes there. It’s kind of a second layer of the environment, but it’s not an active layer. It’s more intertwined with the story than with the action itself. That’s the major difference between this and pure horror games. It’s different. It’s completely different. The survival horror genre is a genre that’s become a bit crowded, so we wanted to create something where the player isn’t running away or hiding from a monster. Instead we wanted to explore the story and emotions. We wanted the player to be able to focus on puzzle solving and exploring without thinking about a guy running around the corner with a knife or something. So, right after we finished Syndrome, we started sharing ideas and came up with this one.”
The Camel 101 team face a handful of unique developmental hurdles, the largest of which is their proximity (or lack thereof to each other). Ricardo works from Portugal; Bruno from Oakland, California; and Boris from Croatia. But such are modern times, says Cesteiro, and the process is definitely helped by the fact that two thirds of the Camel 101 team are brothers. The Cesteiros heavily rely on the trust already established between the developers, and on the certain omniscience to the other’s thoughts that comes from being related to someone. But all that doesn’t mean Camel 101’s latest hurdle will be any less challenging: making Project X fully VR compatible.
“When we started working on Syndrome, we had the idea of porting the game to VR, but we only started looking at the technical details when the game was almost finished,” says Cesteiro. “It got really complicated because there were a few gameplay issues that couldn’t work with VR. Right there we decided that for our next game we were going to begin by testing the game in VR right at the start. Otherwise, the same thing was going to happen. With Syndrome, aside from the technical issues like the frame rate, there were a few game design issues that couldn’t work, so we realized we’d have to change a lot of the game to make it work. It was very impractical. With Project X, we already have these issues in mind. So, we removed a few things and added a few others so that this game could fully support VR.”
A DARK ADVENTURE
Cesteiro and the team at Camel 101 are calling their story a “dark adventure,” inspired by such films at The Mist and The Vanishing on 7th Street. Cesteiro says alternate ideas were thrown around for different atmospheres, but it was eventually decided to keep the tone dark. As for how the ominous and creepy tone of Project X will compare to that of Syndrome, Cesteiro says this adventure will take a more atmospheric path than their previous title.
“We definitely wanted to create something different, but we liked the creepy atmosphere of Syndrome, so we started working on a kind of dark fantasy thing,” says Cesteiro. “Syndrome has kind of an old school feel where the player is in these closed spaces fighting monsters and trying to understand what’s going on. We wanted to do something along those lines and still explore within the first person genre. But, above all we wanted to do something different from most other games that were coming out. We started by creating the story, and after the story was done we started thinking about the environment and how the enemies would react.”
Cesteiro confided that one of the more common complaints with Syndrome involved an overabundance of backtracking. Quick to hear and adapt to these criticisms, the team is streamlining Project X as much as possible. It will be shorter than Syndrome, only 4-5 hours, but will be “a much more intense experience” according to Cesteiro. Replayability was also a common critique of Syndrome, but Cesteiro says that will be addressed as well.
“There will a few areas in the game where the player must make a decision. Depending on what they decide we have three different endings. There’s a good ending, there’s a bad ending, and there’s a kind of bad ending,” says Cesteiro with a chuckle. “But it’s not obvious what’s going to happen. So it will still be a surprise when the player gets there. We wanted to add more replayability to the game than we had in Syndrome. It’s the first time that we’re putting the player in the position where they have to make a decision that’s not easy. It’s not just making the good choice or the bad choice. Everything is a shade of grey. We want to see the player in a position where its hard to choose and see the outcome of their choices. I think that’s the most exciting aspect of what we’re doing here.”
Cesteiro is confident that the final product will be an extraordinary experience for players and a welcome change of pace from the wave of jump scare factories and gore-fests saturating the market right now.
Camel 101 is still too early in development to announce a release date yet, though Cesteiro hopes they’ll be in a position to do so in the coming months.