Bloober Team doesn't want you to know about its internet history. Not because you'd find anything salacious, per se – more because it probably looks like the browsing activity of a sociopath. Or maybe a magician of the dark arts. Either way, it's not the most flattering picture of the studio's collective hivemind, unless, that is, you're familiar with its back catalogue of excellent horror games since 2016's Layers of Fear.
"I think we are on like a police blacklist," says game producer Jacek Zięba, half-jokingly. "They're probably checking on our IP address after all the things we've been searching for in the office!"
That office, of course, has far fewer members of the team in it than usual, with Poland in a "soft lockdown" in which remote work is strongly encouraged where possible. The transition hasn't been an easy one for Bloober Team, who recently had to push back the launch of its next major project, The Medium, from this November to January 2021.
"Lockdown impacts the last stage of development because normally we're sitting together, and it's much easier to communicate for hotfixing. We can walk over to the programmers and say we've got this problem, and then it's resolved. Now we have to call each other, but that person might be on another call, or away from the keyboard, and it gets a bit crazy," says Zięba.
"Something that would normally take three minutes could now take three hours or three days," concurs lead game designer Wojciech Piejko. "We as a team are really close to each other, so not being around each other for this final stage of development is a real problem."
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Bloober's remote communication woes are somewhat ironic, given that The Medium is all about those who are supernaturally gifted in such arts, particularly between that of reality and the spirit world. Our protagonist, Marianne, is so good at this, in fact, that she can freely travel between the two realms on command, and it's this duality of perspectives that drives both The Medium's story and gameplay.
"Marianne is like a conductor," Zięba explains. "She gets trapped between worlds sometimes. It's not like the mediums you typically see in movies. Of course, she can do things like touch objects and hear voices from the past, but she's working differently than the cultural version of mediums we're familiar with."
"We've thought about our spiritual world differently, too," adds Piejko. "It's not heaven or hell, and it's not purgatory. It's nothing, really. Just something in between. We don't really know how it works. We're not supposed to."
A new trailer, which made its debut at this year's Golden Joystick Awards, also reveals that Marianne won't be the only human character wrapped up in the events of The Medium's campaign, which primarily takes place within an abandoned hotel in rural, post-communist Poland. The short cinematic shows a mysterious man sat in an armchair, threatening to murder an unidentified invader of his home – it's all as ambigious and brooding as you'd expect, but Zięba is happy to tease a little bit more about his identity.
"We actually saw a glimpse of this guy in The Medium's reveal trailer. You can see him smoking a cigarette on the main square. We want to keep teasing more pieces to the puzzle that the players will be able to solve, and show that the world and the stories are bigger than they might think. The game is not only Marianne's story, but there are other characters out there with other agendas. And of course, everything in our game is based on perspectives!"
One of those "other" characters, in both senses of the word, is The Maw; an eldritch nightmare played by Troy Baker that resembles the closest thing The Medium has to a central antagonist. While Team Bloober is keen to stress that they've strived to work with both Polish talent in addition to games industry heavyweights to bring their characters to life (Marcin Dorociński of The Queen's Gambit fame lends his performance and likeness to the mystery man of the new trailer), Baker was apparently the perfect choice for playing The Medium's biggest bad.
"He's doing this crazy stuff just with his voice", says Zięba. "When the first recording sessions were sent to our team, we thought he must have been distorting it with software, but you check the audio and it's clean – it's just him making those sounds!"
A matter of perspective
Despite starting life as an idea all the way back in 2012, The Medium is now one of the few games that's exclusively targeting next-gen consoles in the form of the Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S, as Bloober state that its newly patented world-shifting gameplay couldn't have operated on the previous hardware.
Instead, those super-charged SSDs within Microsoft's new systems ensure that players will be able to swap between two separate realities at the click of a button – it's quite possibly the first title that will utilise the next-generation's power for targeted integration into its gameplay.
"When we have both these realistic graphics in the game and two worlds existing at the same time, it just wasn't possible to run on the old consoles," Piejko reveals. "Horsepower is the main ingredient that lets The Medium exist as a playable game, so we knew we needed to aim for the next-generation consoles, which is why we started talking with Microsoft."
If it sounds like The Medium is the most ambitious thing that Bloober has ever worked on, you're not mistaken, and the studio's determination to raise the bar for horror marks another factor behind its decision to push its release into 2021.
Piejko, who has been heavily involved with the project since its inception, is perhaps more qualified than anyone to say with certainty that the delay was the right call: "If we really wanted to be fair to each other, and to give the players the game that we've been envisioning for all of these years, we knew we had to push the date back. We didn't want to rush it under this new working environment."
That delay might have left Xbox bereft of yet another launch title for the Series X and S this Holiday, then, but it's clear that Bloober Team hasn't taken the decision lightly, using the extra time to ensure that The Medium is every bit the next-gen survival horror experience that players are expecting from a master of the genre. Plus, Zięba jokes, its new release date now means it no longer has to compete with a certain other hugely anticipated title coming out of Poland this year: "We'll let Cyberpunk have the spotlight for now!"