Supermassive Games has a unique problem. As with its horror game Until Dawn, where every character could die a horrific death, Man of Medan — the first in its Dark Pictures Anthology — will carry on that tradition. Keeping those deaths fresh, however, keeps the team on its toes. “It’s s a real big problem because killing people — it’s easy to just kill people,” says game director Tom Heaton. ‘We have to kill people in really entertaining ways.”
Man of Medan is a riff on ghost ship stories, in which a group of friends wind up trapped on a haunted vessel in the South Pacific. The choices players make will decide who survives the trip, and who dies in one of the developer’s unique gruesome deaths. That may sound slightly deranged, but Heaton — who noticeably lights up at the subject — explains that people are coming to them for a specific experience. “They want horror,” he says of players. ‘They want really horrible deaths. They’d be disappointed if they don’t get that.”
In order to plot original deaths, Heaton says the team has planning sessions called “death meetings,” where they go through every single death and brainstorm how to make them stand out. It’s a process that starts discussions over what might be the most interesting and moves into what best fits the scenario. There’s often a sense of poetry to a character’s death.
The room is a judgement free zone — “That’s one of the rules,” he says. “We leave that at the door” — but the team does have limits to what they’ll include. “We wouldn’t show really gory stuff,” Heaton says. “But we might pull the camera away at the last minute. The other thing we’d stay away from is anything coercive or things like that.”
“I thought they were joking when they told me about one of the possible endings.”
Shawn Ashmore, who plays Conrad, says that he has two favorite death scenes in Man of Medan. His character is brash and over-the-top, and one particular death plays into his weaknesses, Ashmore says. “He has certain proclivities and an attitude toward certain people, and there’s a death that sort of reflects that.” As for the second, it was one that utterly shocked him. “I thought they were joking when they told me about one of the possible endings,” he says. He describes acting out these scenes as physical performances, an effort to go as big as you can. “We all have to basically scream and run and do our own death scene that was as big as it gets ... Literally, you’re like rolling on the ground, doing whatever you can do.”
As for what makes a good death, Heaton says it’s a layered answer. Something violent is good; something violent in an unexpected, creative way is better. More importantly, it should suit the character. “That’s a thing we think about: what is the right death for this character? What’s that character’s personality? How’s it reflected in their death?” he says. A little humor or dramatic irony never hurts either. “At the same point, you’re thinking ‘Aw that’s horrible,’ but there’s a bit of you going, ‘Oh that’s funny.’”
Man of Medan launches August 30th for PS4, Xbox and PC.