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The making of As Dusk Falls: "It's shit, shit, shit, shit, shit for a very long time"

How Interior/Night turned an idea into an award-winning interactive adventure

We often hear it's a miracle games even get made, but it's a statement I understand a lot better after speaking with the developers of As Dusk Falls, one of my favourite games from last year. "The script is the equivalent of twelve movies," Interior/Night's CEO and creative director Caroline Marchal tells me. "Twelve hundred pages of script. It's big, it's very big." As the team developed that script through countless drafts, they did frequent writer's rooms across three years for As Dusk Falls, but with frequent plot changes, backyard trailer shoots and the sheer grind of making it to the finish line, Marchal and studio director Charu Desodt reflect on just how ambitious it was for the studio's debut game.

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Plotting the story started with nailing the big tentpole choices, the ones that really make you sweat. These moments could be choosing whether certain characters live or die, for example, and sometimes disagreements within the team at Interior/Night would help them settle on the best options. Desodt jokes that these decisions sparked some big arguments. "Caroline killed off my favourite character, and I was like, 'I'm sorry, I don't think I can work on this anymore,'" she laughs.

One particular argument that stands out in their memory came toward the end of Episode 2, where Dale takes Vince outside during the police confrontation. Depending on your actions, both Dale and the motel owner Joyce can be shot dead. For Marchal, such strong reactions to these explosive moments helped her settle on including them. "I was hesitant at the beginning," she says. "It means you lose two characters at once, but then I saw Charu's reaction."

As Dusk Falls screenshot showing two men wearing bandanas to hide their faces holding people hostage in a motel.

By the time all the right pieces were in place, Marchal recalls that it felt like they'd "redone the game five times" at that point, despite that not being true in practice. That's partly due to As Dusk Falls' visual style, which uses painted watercolour stills to depict each scene, rather than live performance capture. This made it easier to tweak and refine dialogue on the fly, for example, but Marchal also noted that these changes continued throughout development. "We thought in beta we'd be much more stable than we were in terms of story structure, but we made big changes, extensive ones."

The pair share that it's hard to make all of these changes early on, when things are still wonky. As things became more polished, such as adding music or completing visuals, it also unearthed more aspects that potentially needed changing. Some early user tests even had dialogue performed by the team rather than professional actors, which makes it harder to form an opinion on the final version. "I was Sharon, and it was the worst acting ever," says Desodt. "No one was going to believe that."

As the script started to take shape, other parts of the team were able to get to work. That meant shooting film clips, before adding the sets, characters, lightning and audio, for example. Marchal shares that their ambitions would sometimes push the tech to its limits, however.

As Dusk Falls screenshot showing Sharon and Dante talking while surrounded by police cars.

"You see in a chapter for example, there's no loading screen," says Marchal. "Very intentional, it was a requirement as well. But the code team sometimes hated us because we were like, 'Zoe's in the bathroom right now, so we're going to put a flashback of her 20 years ago in the motel.'"

Marchal mimics her colleagues' reactions. "'Are you nuts?! We can't do that, we can't load the two environments together for two seconds for a flashback!'" Eventually, though, they found a solution. "For the flashbacks, we said there's no way we can load these two environments at the same time, with all the VFX and the fire and stuff, so we’re going to make a video of this specific section... Yeah, the story pushed the technical limitations sometimes to its breaking point."

Marchal continues to say that this stage of constant iteration was often the toughest part of development. "It's that phase I really don't love, when the game looks crap for a long time. It's barely playable, it crashes, and everybody was tearing their hair out. The grind of 'It's shit, shit, shit, shit, shit for a very long time', like over a year, but you’ve got to have faith. We've been through this cycle with other games before, you know it's going to come out, but for the team it's not great. 'Oh god, it's so bad, why are we even making this? Is it going to work at some point?'" Having gone through that cycle now, though, Marchal feels more optimistic about the future. "Next time it happens, we can be like, 'Oh, remember that February night? How crap it was?'"

Vanessa and Jay stand in a dimly lit house party in As Dusk Falls.

The pair also agree that, unsurprisingly, the pandemic was a challenging time for the studio. "Making sure you're working with the right people, that they feel okay, they feel good, was challenging during the pandemic," says Marchal. "People are not with you in the same space, you don’t know what's happening in their life really. They're on Zoom but sometimes not on camera, you don’t know how they’re doing."

Desodt continues: "Suddenly, you know, we were trying to anticipate what was going to happen. It was like, 'Oh, we're coming back in two weeks, aren't we?' and then we didn't."

"It's like being in the trenches and crawling," adds Marchal.

At one point, they even resorted to filming part of the game in Desodt's back garden. "We shot Zoe in your garden, that’s true," Marchal recalls. "They weren’t allowed to come into your house, even for a loo break."

"There was a side to get to the garden, through the side gate," says Desodt. "They were having a party in my garden. I was really worried. They put music on, there was three of them really happy to see each other, and I was like, 'The neighbours are going to call up, the police will come, we have to be really serious, this is emergency work we’re doing.' Very few people were allowed to meet at that point."

As Dusk Falls image showing Zoe walking down a shadowy street.

Reflecting on all of these challenges, Desodt reflects on what they set themselves up for. "New studio, original story, it's our own IP ... it's huge, like you say, 1200 pages of script, when you tell that to an actor, that's a huge script!" she laughs. "Having all of those stacked up as your debut game is quite a feat. But we've done it."

Their ambition seems to have paid off, with As Dusk Falls winning the Game For Impact award at last year's Game Awards, and more recently being nominated for a BAFTA. Unsurprisingly, then, the pair seem more than happy with its overall reception. "I love it. Did we have somebody make Jay's face in toast or something?" says Desodt, laughing. "I'm sure there was a tweet like that."

"I think when you're making something, you don’t always think about the reaction of the person playing it," she continues. “That's been really, really nice to see. Caroline’s really good at sharing these messages as well. People are like, 'I really loved it,' or, 'I cried at this moment,' or, 'Thank you for making this game!'"

A close-up shot of Jay in As Dusk Falls.

Marchal shares this sentiment, while briefly looking to the future. "I'd say we want to make an even bigger impact. I think it's great as a debut game, [we're] super proud of it. It's hard to let go as well, because we've been working on it for so many years, and suddenly... Everyday we used to boot the game up, play the game, or watch the game, recordings and stuff. Suddenly, you don't have to, that's strange. Like letting a child go. It's odd."

"We know how difficult it is to make games," Marchal continues, before jokingly adding, "I think it’s more difficult than making a rocket. For every studio or any team that puts something out there, you know, I think the first accomplishment is that you did it ... You can’t make three games a year. You have to pick what you’re working on, and truly believe in the entire team because you can spend several years on the same thing. So, it has to matter, it has to be great."

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