Cutscenes “remind the players they are merely actors in the script that’s already written, and this is not something a game designer wants,” says Ethan Carter dev

Joe Donnelly September 25, 2013 - 4:00 pm

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is set to be another entry into the increasingly popular psychological horror genre. Adrian Chmielarz, one of the game’s creators, has spoken of how dropping cut scenes helps “maintain the illusion of freedom” and how there is a subtle difference between immersion and engagement.


The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is a psychological horror game, inspired by the “weird fiction stories and other tales of macabre of the early 20th century.”

The game’s developers, The Astronauts, want to leave their own unique mark on the ever-growing landscape of indie horror by drawing influence from source material somewhere between pulp and surrealism.

In an interview with Gamasutra, developer Adrian Chmielarz spoke of “immersion” and “presence” as key to sustaining a horror game, and thus opted to omit cut scenes. “Obviously we’re not very original here,” says Chmielarz. ”Half-Life 2 hid its cut-scenes under first-person scripts and so did Call of Duty. And it works.

“When you think about it, it’s kind of really weird to have cinematics in an [first-person perspective] game. You role-play someone, and you have almost perfect control over the character: you jump, you shoot, you crouch, you move…But every now and then that is all taken away from you, a cut scene plays, something happens, and then you’re given that control back.

“That reminds the players they are merely actors in the script that’s already written, and this is not something a game designer wants. So the entire trick is to maintain the illusion of freedom, and make sure that no immersion or sense of presence are ruined. Total holodeck freedom won’t be possible for a long, long time.”

Chmielarz continued, explaining the difficulty of implementing this aforementioned ‘immersion’ into videogames – particularly when it involves so much ambiguity. “People are often confusing engagement and immersion, for example,” adds Chmielarz. ”Immersion to me is forgetting the reality and teleporting our full attention to a different, made-up reality. By itself, it’s not unique to video games, we can easily be immersed in a movie or a book. However, the way you achieve immersion in a video game is different.

“For example, the key is to avoid, or at least hide, a black box design, as [Amnesia creative director] Thomas Grip calls it. Black box is about players optimising the system that a video game focused on mechanics often is. A good example is fighting against an enemy that is hiding behind cover.

“The players focus on figuring out the rules of enemy behavior: [the enemy's] peeking-out interval, the amount of pixels that will be visible when the enemy pops his head out, etc. But that’s not immersion, that’s engagement. You’re thinking about a system, an AI bot and how to best explore the game system to your advantage, and not about killing a poor guy who’s afraid of you and would preferably just be back at home with his wife.

“In Ethan Carter we focus on three core elements: engaging narrative understood as a fusion of story-telling and gameplay, the sense of presence, and the general atmosphere. I hope that in our case these three things combined will provide for a great immersive experience.”

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