We've sweated over the specs for months. Now, finally, some developers are ready to talk and tease how PlayStation 5 will change the way we play games. This issue we sit down with Martha Is Dead developer LKA's studio head, Luca Dalcò, to discuss how the power of Sony's next-gen hardware is being harnessed to make horror truly terrifying.
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"PS5's specifications are incredibly exciting – particularly for us is the additional graphical power and inclusion of ray-tracing architecture," says Dalcò as we dig into how PS5 will offer higher visual fidelity. "Our studio has come a long way over four years and Martha Is Dead will strive for photorealism."
The developer has always placed believability at the heart of its games, and PlayStation 5 will make that more achievable. "We're excited to see next-generation hardware incoming to support us bringing our vision to players," adds Dalcò.
What PlayStation 5's graphical boost over PS4 means is we'll be seeing incredibly detailed textures in our new games. Dalcò explains: "We worked a lot in order to use the highest-resolution textures as possible also on PS4; nonetheless, PS5 will allow us to use an incredible Texel density, up to 4096px/m – that means the visual will be fully detailed also in higher resolutions. It's one of the most important advances in visual capability that we were waiting for!"
Dalcò tells us that a high level of graphical detail – the studio wants to make Martha Is Dead one of the year's most realistic games – is crucial to telling the game's story, particularly as it is designed to deeply unsettle us.
"Martha Is Dead is a story, and video games are the medium. Whatever medium you choose to tell a story, you must harness all of its attributes to capture the imagination of your audience, so for Martha Is Dead we must strive for the best visual quality – in the photorealistic style we have chosen – and the best gameplay we can invent," says Dalcò.
Though a lot is being made of the game's visual muscle, Dalcò is keen to point out that action isn't being overlooked in a race to showcase what the next gen can do. "We believe Martha Is Dead makes great strides in gameplay, adding unique aspects not seen in the genre," he says, but adds: "We must have the visual quality to match."
So what is Martha Is Dead? Pitched as a psychological thriller set in 1944 Tuscany, it's played in first-person and mixes disturbing, dreamlike sequences with a photoreal recreation of World War 2 Italy.
Superstition, psychological trauma, and the horrors of war are the backdrop to the mystery of a woman who is found drowned. Thematically the game feels like a progression from LKA's The Town Of Light.
Dalcò explains: "Following a project like The Town Of Light, of course there is a spotlight on mental health within our games, however Martha Is Dead is a very different game. Many months of research helped to mould Renée's story in The Town Of Light – with Martha Is Dead we wanted to do something different. The game will still explore the human mind, but with a more artistic approach, frequently suspending reality and creating symbolically powerful abstract scenes – for this reason I think it is perhaps unhelpful to compare the two projects, although there are elements that do tie the games together."
The idea for the game came from the team's love of Tuscany and a desire to show a different side of the region mostly known for its scenery. "I like to use the contrast between the beauty of the landscape and the gloom of the story: indeed war, violence, and unease are the ingredients of the Martha Is Dead story. [What] started as a simple concept... has become very complex and has grown and evolved constantly during the development of the game," says Dalcò.
Ray of light
Bringing the conversation back to PS5, Dalcò picks ray tracing as a standout weapon in the next generation's arsenal. It's an "incredible technology [...] for independent studios," Dalcò says, "allowing games to reach new levels of realism without the need for huge teams. As the technology matures and becomes even easier to implement, I think it will really transform the indie game space. This next generation of consoles is set to transform the market."
Likewise PS5's use of an SSD will enable the team to deliver a new experience in Martha Is Dead. "High-quality assets are naturally larger in size so will benefit from the faster load times. On top of that Martha Is Dead has a more expansive in-game world than anything we've created before as a studio."
Dalcò clarifies that Martha Is Dead isn't an open world game, but we will be able to visit places in and around San Casciano. The dev says, "These different areas can be travelled between on foot or by cycle without the constant separation of loading screens; an SSD will definitely help with these transitions."
It's clear LKA sees PS5's features as an opportunity, but "it's more about jumping to that next level of immersion than delivering the next great gaming fad". We'll be keeping a close eye on Martha Is Dead... from between our fingers.