Camel101's first console title Syndrome is a survival horror game set on board a spaceship that is drifting through space. You wake up with no memory of what happened and with most of the crew dead or insane you have to find out what the hell happened. With weapons and ammunition severely limited your best chance of survival is to run and hide. Wth Syndrome scheduled for release in June I grabbed Camel101's Bruno Cesteiro for a quick Q&A.
1.Hi Bruno, thanks for taking the time to speak to us. Can you give us a little background on Camel 101 and how you came up with the idea for Syndrome?
Camel 101 is a 3 men studio that’s been around since 2009. The company was founded in 2009, but we’ve been working together since 2005.
When we started we had big ambitions to create a huge game, but we soon found out that we had a lot to learn about development, production and the gaming business in general.
We took a step backwards and started working on simpler games – casual titles with match-3 and hidden object mechanics. After a few years we had gained precious experience and felt confident enough to tackle different types of games. In 2012 we released “Gemini Wars” (our first Steam title), in 2015 “Mechs & Mercs: Black Talons” and this year we’re releasing Syndrome, our first PS4 and Xbox title.
We are a 3 men studio, but we obviously don’t do everything ourselves.
We usually have the help of different outsourcers for specific areas like music, sound and illustrations.
2.Your have released several games on PC. Why did you decide that Syndrome was a good fit for your first console release and how easy/hard was the decision to hand it over to Bigmoon Entertainment to handle the port to Xbox One?
Our two latest titles (Gemini Wars and Mechs & Mercs: Black Talons) were both strategy games. This is a genre that we all love in the team, but we felt that it was the time to try something different, and that could also be a good fit for consoles.
We’ve always wanted to work on something played in first-person, but we didn’t want to make a shooter. So after some brainstorming, it was obvious: we’ve been working on sci-fi games for a few years now, so why shouldn’t we add another genre that we all love in the team? Horror.
When we started working on the game, the idea was to work on all versions internally. But we soon got to the conclusion that it would be hard to release the all the versions at the same time with such a small team.
That’s when we got in contact with Bigmoon. We know them personally for several years, and they already have several releases in consoles.
The partnership seemed natural to us: we could focus on the game development, while they could help us bringing the game to consoles.
3.Survival Horror games are all the rage at the moment. What distinguishes Syndrome from the titles that are already out there?
The first thing that comes to mind is the use of weapons. That’s not exactly new, but it’s something that’s been lacking in the latest games, with the usual “run and hide” gameplay.
We combine that gameplay with combat. But we don’t want Syndrome to become a shooter, so weapons are limited and sometimes not that effective.
We don’t want the player to feel completely helpless, but we don’t want him to feel like the Doom guy either. What we want is the player to plan his moves and carefully manage his resources.
4.Syndrome was originally called Sleepers. Why did you change the name?
The name Sleepers had a subtle meaning that we can’t explain without spoiling the story. It was a perfect fit, but we were a bit unsure if we should use it because of the movie with that same name.
Sleepers is a 1996 movie about child abuse, and our game is a sci-fi horror story, so we thought that no one would make the connection. But as we released the first trailer, we noticed several comments talking about the movie.
We didn’t want any association with the movie (or a lawsuit ), so we decided to change the name to something similar that could also relate to the game.
That’s how we got to Syndrome.
5.The gameplay trailers really evoke a sense of claustrophobia that reminds me of the original Alien film and more recently Alien Isolation. Were these an influence on you and your team?
We’re huge fans of the Alien franchise since the first movie.
Alien was perhaps the first movie to create that amazing claustrophobic feeling of a group being hunted down one by one by a mysterious creature.
Then came Aliens, showing that a group of tough marines armed to their teeth didn’t stand a chance either.
Both movies inspired a number of other stories in different media, from movies to books and games.
Being sci-fi and horror geeks like we are, and working on a sci-fi horror game, it’s impossible not to be influenced by this great franchise.
6.The Resident Evil series focuses on monsters for its scares but at the other end of the scale SOMA focuses more on the game's narrative than the creatures you come across. How difficult have you found it to strike a balance between the two?
It’s been a challenge, but that balance has been our goal from the start.
We have some horrible and disgusting enemies, but that’s not enough for what we wanted.
We’re creating a strong story where everything is shrouded in mystery.
As the player progresses, he’ll learn more and more about what happened in the ship where the action takes place. Finding these pieces of information, the stories of lost crewmen and their accounts is part of the horror and tension.
As someone said, imagining what happened is worse than seeing it.
Then we have the monsters and everything else that’s going on, on the ship.
Like I said, it’s been a challenge. We can’t have too much action or else it takes the focus out of the narrative, but we need to have enough action to keep the player on his toe, fearful about what to find behind that door.
7.The emphasis seems to be more on evading your enemies rather than tackling them head on due to the lack of ammunition. Was this mechanic something you decided early on?
This mechanic was decided from the start.
One of our inspirations for Syndrome is Resident Evil (not the latest games, but the first 2 / 3 titles). It had the same premise of “some guns but not enough ammo” that we have here.
We obviously have more options available than Resident Evil had. In Syndrome the player can create distractions, move stealthy, hide inside or behind some objects, run etc.
We feel a horror game must be like this: strong enemies that are hard to defeat (at least some of them), making the player think twice about attacking them head on.
8.On your Dev blog you state how important it is to you that the game sounds right and that you have 3 layers of sound. Can you explain what each layer is and what effect you are trying to achieve through them?
The 3 layers of sound are very important because we need to mix several sound effects / music related to what’s going on in the game.
For example, on layer 1 we have an ambient sound of the ship’s engine.
On layer 2 we’re playing a selection of random drones, and on layer 3 we’re playing random 3d positional sounds.
Imagine the player enters a new room and he sees hanged bodies in there.
We slowly fade out layer 2, and fade in a specific tune.
Now imagine there’s a creature in this room.
As the creature approaches, we fade out layer 2, and fade in a tense music, along with heart beats.
Layer 3 fades out at this moment, as we don’t need any 3d positional sounds in this situation. What we do instead is fading in sounds that mimic danger and tension, like heavy breathing.
Each layer has its own specific use, and we manipulate each of them dynamically in every situation so that we can transmit the feeling that we want: tension, fear, etc
Sound is one of the most important things in a horror game.
Syndrome may as well be the game where we’re investing the most time and resources to create a truly immersive audio experience.
9.Are there and features you had to sacrifice that you didn't want to give up and if so do you have plans to incorporate them into a new project or maybe as DLC for Syndrome?
Having to sacrifice something from the initial plan happens a lot of time. Fortunately this isn’t one of them. Not only did we do everything as it was envisioned, but we also added some new things along the way that weren’t planned from the start.
So for now we aren’t really thinking about DLCs or new projects.
10.The gaming industry moves at an incredible pace. Where do you think the games industry will be in the next 5-10 years?
The gaming industry is relatively new, but it’s always changing and evolving at an incredible pace. During the course of a couple of decades, we’ve seen the rise and fall of different platforms and genres, associated with new technologies and devices.
It’s hard to say where we’ll be in 10 years. Virtual and augmented reality will probably play a bigger role in the industry, with more and better games and devices coming out during the next years.
A lot of new game studios will be opening, trying to get a cut of the “easy riches” of game development, and a lot will be closing, after learning that it isn’t so easy after all.