Game The Medium
Publisher Bloober Team
Platforms Xbox Series X, PC
Release TBC 2020
Bloober Team wants you to consider how taking a different perspective can change your perception. How the smallest shift in viewpoint can alter your interpretation of anyone and everything – your sense of self, your recollection of past events, and even the fabric of reality itself. The studio has always sought to unravel the anatomy of fear through its games, so it should come as no surprise to see the team once again threading questions of the existential into a tapestry of psychological horror.
"We are creating horror games not only to scare the shit out of people, but to deliver a specific story and to tackle specific subjects," says Wojciech Piejko, lead game designer on The Medium (opens in new tab). "In Layers of Fear (opens in new tab), at its heart was a story of work versus family issues. With Observer, we tackled the boundaries of humanity – the line between man and machine. And then with Blair Witch (opens in new tab), we delivered this story about traumatic disorders, and how those disorders can fuel our inner demons. With The Medium, we wanted to create a story about different points of view."
Explore two worlds
You'll follow Marianne on this journey of shifting perspectives. She is haunted by a vision of a child's murder, a medium living between two worlds – though she has never truly felt at home in either of them. This concept, producer Jacek Zięba tells me, is central to everything that the studio is trying to achieve with The Medium. "We try to connect everything with the topic we are exploring; game design, level design, music, everything is connected. It's really hard to find a better person than a medium to tackle different points of view. You can play as a person who’s seeing behind the curtain of our reality."
With that in mind, you should think of The Medium as Bloober Team's largest and most ambitious game to date. The team isn't creating one world, but two: a version of our own, and a reflection of it in the spirit realm. You'll be able to shift seamlessly between the two in The Medium with – Bloober promises – no discernible load times or impact to game performance and graphics, thanks to the power of the Xbox Series X (opens in new tab).
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While the studio isn't quite ready to detail how this works in practice, I was able to learn that the technology that enables it is proprietary, exciting enough that Bloober sought a patent on its design. "The idea of having two worlds and so on, we have a patent," says Tomasz Gawlikowski, Bloober Team's chief marketing officer. "We are very proud of it… this kind of technology, it's restricted to our game. If ever, I don't know, Activision or Sony, or whoever, would want to use something similar to what we are using right now [...] they would need to ask for our permission."
The team is hesitant to go into any more detail now, although Piejko tells me that "the game – and all of the puzzles in the game – are built around those two worlds, and how those worlds can interact with each other. For example, if you do something in one world, it'll have a result in the other one. So that's how you overcome many obstacles and monster encounters, using those two worlds."
Earth-side, much of the early game will be set deep in the woods, in an abandoned hotel resort that was shutdown following a terrible tragedy. It's inspired by the hotels that the team grew up around in the city of Krakow, Poland. Brutalist architecture, long isolating corridors, and rooms thick with shadow; following in the tradition of The Shining, it's the perfect location for a psychological horror to unravel. It won't, however, be the only location that you'll visit in the game. "We can say that the game is not happening only in the hotel…" Piejko tells me, trailing off as Zięba jumps in to finish his train of thought: "that's just the beginning of it…"
A new perspective
With the spirit world shrouded in mystery, and with Bloober merely teasing where Marianne's journey may take her, should she survive the horrors of the hotel, it's time to turn our attention away from the two worlds and towards what will happen within them. The studio has built its reputation on playing with perception – shifting geometry around the player; using the camera to obfuscate objectives – although Bloober warns that we should expect something different this time around.
"The Medium is completely different from Layers of Fear and Observer. The game uses semi-fixed camera angles; it's more like an old-school horror game," Piejko says of the change. The pair note a number of reasons behind the decision, but the prevailing one appears to be Bloober seeing the appeal in being able to "design the game like a movie", with respect to being able to prepare shots and better direct the player's attention. "We aren't using the same tricks. I think The Medium will be a completely different game from Layers of Fear, Observer, and Blair Witch – especially because of the switch of the perspective to third person."
Zięba likens the "semi-fixed camera" to games like Until Dawn (opens in new tab), Silent Hill, and early Resident Evil games. Essentially, you should expect The Medium to be more cinematic than anything we've seen from the studio in the past. How drastically has the shift impacted the way Bloober approaches spatial navigation, puzzle design, and enemy encounters? "It changed everything completely," Piejko tells me, laughing. "With the fixed camera angles, you can grab the player’s attention towards something with just a camera angle; It's a more cinematic experience."
"We are able to pull different emotional strings for the player than from the first-person perspective," Piejko continues, reflecting on Observer and Layers of Fear. "Of course, it's easier to scare people who are playing a first-person game, because they think that everything is jumping on them. But with the third-person, you can have a bigger emotional palette that you can pull from the players, because you can see the character – her face, her eyes, her emotions. It completely changes our approach to the game"
"You can connect on an emotional level because of this. I think it gives us more tools for storytelling, to create our character," Zięba continues. "As for the gameplay, we need to think about what we can show in this cut, in this frame. With a free camera [first-person], you can use the lights and everything to focus the player. Here, we can be more direct. You know… a semi-fixed camera is also based on different points of view. It's the way we want to show you this story. It is, in some way, our point of view of it."
The next step for Bloober Team
Bloober hopes that The Medium is a game players are keen to return to time and time again, using replays to discern new information, meaning, and motivation in the characters and the events that transpire around them. They want you to think about The Medium as they may have done a certain seminal horror game from 2001.
"I think most people from Bloober Team are inspired by the Silent Hill series. I would say that Silent Hill 2 (opens in new tab) is my favourite horror game ever, because of its great story, atmosphere and music," says Piejko, his excitement when discussing the game's dual soundtrack from Bloober Team’s Arkadiusz Reikowski and legendary Silent Hill composer Akira Yamaoka is palpable. "When he said yes, it was a dream come true for us."
"I think we could even think about the connections with our game. It’s not only the music, but, of course, Silent Hill has also got two worlds... but we're using it completely differently. But I think there are many points that you may connect with those games. But we are not, of course, trying to recreate Silent Hill 2 here – we are doing our own story – from the very beginning, we said that we want to create a serious, narrative-driven, cinematic experience with a Silent Hill vibe."
Zięba says that "in some ways, The Medium is like a love letter to Silent Hill", but he's also keen to note that the studio wants it to be so much more than that. "It's kind of like the evolution of the studio – the evolution of us as creators; for us to create this type of game, it's the next step for the studio."