Exclusive Interview: Til Mornings Light Director/Designer/Writer Adam Tierney

While Halloween may have come and gone, that doesn’t mean people aren’t looking for a good scare. Which brings me to Til Mornings Light, a spooky game from WayForward Technologies for iOS, Amazon Fire Phone, and Amazon Fire Tablets. Though in talking to WayForward’s Adam Tierney — the game’s director, designer, and writer — it seems the idea behind the game isn’t just to freak you out. Well, maybe a little.

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To start, what is Til Mornings Light and where did you get the idea for it?

The original idea of Til Mornings Light was something we came up with about five years ago. Over the years, we’ve done a handful of creepy games — including LIT, Bloodrayne: Betrayal, Alien Infestation, and Silent Hill: Book Of Memories — so we liked the idea of doing a traditional “haunted house” story wherein you control a vulnerable teenager, Erica, who gets trapped overnight and must fight her way to survival.

What other games do you think Til Mornings Light is similar to, and what makes it different?

It’s an amalgam of many things. If you look at the gameplay progression, it’s very similar to such games as Silent Hill or Resident Evil. You begin in a limited area, and through your accomplishments, you gain keys that give you access to more and more areas. The combat takes inspiration from games like Elite Beat Agents and Buddha Finger, though there’s also a very heavy narrative that’s similar to what you might find in adventure games.

But speaking broadly, the game pretty much takes all the genres and mechanics that I love and rolls them into a single, spooky experience.

It kind of sounds, from the press materials, like this game has its roots in point & click adventure games. Am I wrong about this?

To an extent, yeah. We knew going in that we wanted to have a very strong, persistent narrative, so that you’re not just collecting and utilizing items you find in the house, but that there’s also a solid story rationale for why you’re doing everything. There’s definitely a lot of DNA shared between this game and something like Day Of The Tentacle or Grim Fandango, which are two of my favorites. I think any fan of classic LucasArts adventure games, or more recent games by Tim Schafer, will find a lot to like here.

One major aspect of Til Mornings Light are the puzzles. In devising them, did you base them on something you saw in another game or somewhere else?

It was a blend of all approaches, really. Most of the puzzles were devised by myself and our lead designer, Nick Garcia. Some of them we came up with based on the mechanic first; how you’d interact with the elements. Some we came up with based on the theme or story-component first. But our hope was ultimately to create a wide variety of memorable, yet intuitive puzzles that all matched the “haunted house” theme.

Speaking of which, when it came to the horror aspects of Til Morning’s Light, what books, movies, comics, TV shows, and other games were an influence on the story and the scary elements, and why those things in particular?

It’s hard to single out just a few works. Really it’s the culmination of thirty-plus years of horror films and games from my life, I suppose. Some that spring to mind as primary influences are Coraline, which is a younger horror film, but still felt dangerous, and such games as Clock Tower, where you have a vulnerable female lead. Some of our story beats are also reminiscent of the films Mean Girls and The Craft. There’s a lot of humor in the game, too, but I think that just stems from WayForward’s tendency to have funny and charming moments in our games whenever possible.

Okay, but be honest, how scary is Til Mornings Light, really? Is it poop your pants scary like Dead Space, jump out and yell “boo!” scary like the early Resident Evil games, or it is some bullshit not scary kind of scary like Casper The Friendly Ghost’s First Christmas?

That’s an interesting question, and it’s something that we got on the same page with Amazon about right at the start of production. Til Mornings Light isn’t really a “horror” game as much as it is a “spooky” one. There’s no blood and gore in the game, other than a few scratches on Erica, though there is plenty of “gross” stuff like splattering green monster guts. We definitely made an effort to create an unsettling, immersive environment, and it was great when we heard that people who’ve played the game have been genuinely frightened. But to be clear, the game isn’t your typical M-rated, bloody, gory, horror game. Like Coraline, it’s creepy and dangerous, but something generally appropriate for a wide audience.

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The Fire Phone version of Til Mornings Light uses the phone’s Dynamic Perspective to aid the hero, Erica, in her investigations. For someone who doesn’t own a Fire Phone, what is the phone’s Dynamic Perspective and how do you use it to aid the hero, Erica, in her investigations?

In a nutshell, Dynamic Perspective uses the four cameras on the face of the Fire Phone to watch and track the player’s head. As the developer, we’re able to tell which way the player leans their head, and whether they move their head closer to or further from the device.

We use this technology in a number of different ways throughout the game, the primary one being that at any point during gameplay, the player can tilt their head around to angle the camera. This allows them to control Erica via the touch controls, but at the same time angle the camera to keep an eye on patrolling enemies, or search for hidden objects around the room. It’s very useful because it adds another layer of control, without requiring the player to juggle more touch-controls. And it’s very intuitive, essentially like looking through a window. If the player wants to see higher up in the room, they just angle their head down, as though looking up through a window, and the camera adjusts to reveal that area accordingly.

Another major use of Dynamic Perspective in the game is in a special mode where the player searches for lost spirits. In the game, Erica takes out her phone and the player is transitioned to seeing through the phone’s camera. The player then slides their phone around in space in front of them, and the in-game camera moves 1-to-1 with the actual phone’s movement. The end result feels as though the player is searching for ghosts right in front of them, and the phone is simply revealing another world, like looking through a supernatural magnifying lens. It’s pretty rad.

Will there be a similar mechanic on the iOS version?

The game features the same content across all versions, including iOS. The only difference is play control. On Fire Phone, the above-mentioned areas are controlled by a combination of touch control and the Dynamic Perspective cameras. On iOS, those areas are controlled by touch control only.

So does Erica have a Fire Phone?

She does.

Does that mean she could play Til Mornings Light, or would that destroy the space-time continuum?

I imagine that Erica would play a cool game like Til Morning’s Light on her Fire Phone, and the Erica in her game would also be playing Til Morning’s Light on her Fire Phone…on which another Erica is also playing Til Morning’s Light. However, the universe shouldn’t implode until about the seventh or eighth Erica, so we should be safe…for now.

Great, thanks. The press materials also say that Til Mornings Light features a cast of “veteran VO actors.” Can you tell us who and why you hired them to be in your game?

I’m very proud of the cast we got for this game. It includes a great mix of VO actors I’ve always wanted to work with. We have Stephanie Sheh as Erica, the main character. Stephanie is currently starring as Sailor Moon in the new cartoon, though I fell in love with her voice as Mamimi in the anime FLCL. We also have Cam Clarke, who’s known for portraying Liquid Snake in the Metal Gear Solid series, Leonardo in the ’80s TMNT cartoon, and Kaneda in Akira. I’ve wanted to work with him ever since I first saw Akira as a kid, and wrote this role with his voice in mind.

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Finally, since Til Mornings Light is not your first game, if someone really liked it, which of your other games would you suggest they play next and why?

I would definitely recommend people check out WayForward’s Shantae games. Our most recent release is Shantae And The Pirate’s Curse on the Nintendo 3DS, which is the third game in the series and essentially a conclusion to the initial trilogy.

As for the titles I’ve personally directed, I think players who enjoy Til Morning’s Light might also enjoy LIT,  Alien Infestation, and Silent Hill: Book Of Memories. All three of those are spooky titles as well, and each had some level of influence on where we took Til Mornings Light.

 

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