Supermassive Games delivered one of the best-loved modern horror games with 2015’s Until Dawn on PlayStation 4, which took its cues from slasher flicks. Players assume control of eight young adults who have to survive on Blackwood Mountain until they are rescued at dawn. With big-name actors like Rami Malek and Hayden Panettiere involved, the studio created a tense, choice-driven adventure that could thrill again and again with each new playthrough.
Facial capture and animation specialists Cubic Motion helped bring Supermassive Games’ vision to life on that title, and that collaboration continues on today with the new release, The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan.
The start of production on The Dark Pictures Anthology
Man of Medan is the first installment in The Dark Pictures Anthology – Supermassive’s highly anticipated series of intense, standalone horror games – each of which will provide a different kind of suspenseful experience for players. Each will also maintain the studio’s focus on utterly lifelike character performances.
Supermassive Games opted to move production from Los Angeles to Montreal for this series, and as such was setting up a new facility and working with unfamiliar suppliers. Along the way, the studio turned to its longtime ally Cubic Motion to tap their expertise.
Steve Goss, Director of Design & Technology at Supermassive Games, comments: “We’ve been working with Cubic Motion now for six or seven years—when we started out on our journey of trying to create very, very accurate digital doubles of actors. We started with Hayden, Rami, Brett Dalton, and a whole bunch of people around Until Dawn. In doing that, we realized that in order to be successful, we would have to figure out an awful lot of things that a lot of other games weren’t doing.”
Inspired by the urban legend of the SS Ourang Medan ghost ship, Man of Medan sees a group of American friends charter a dive boat through the South Pacific Ocean… and the surprising threats they encounter force players to make startling, life-or-death decisions along the way.
Translating an actor’s exact performance into high-fidelity animation
Beginning their new series, Supermassive Games had a few more years of experience under its belt, along with confidence from the success of Until Dawn. However, the goal remained the same with The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan – translate the exact actor’s performance into the game so that players really feel the moments, the tension, and the terror.
“It is the performance of the actors that is 100% the most important factor in communicating our story,” Goss explains. “It’s whether you believe those characters are going through a terrible situation and terrifying events. We’ve always focused on ensuring that the performance captured on the floor in-studio makes it all the way through the animation pipeline onto our game.”
As such, animation data was never compressed in production for Man of Medan – which is a rare approach to game development. Whatever Cubic Motion delivered, that sole quality was rendered in the final game cinematics and character interactions. The animation was as authentic as Supermassive Games could make it.
“We don’t even really talk about our animation pipeline, because we focus on capturing the actor. Man of Medan has Shawn Ashmore, and what we want on the screen is Shawn Ashmore,” he continued. “We don’t want a version of Shawn. We want Shawn. We want exactly what he did with the intensity of the performance that he gave, and the way that he did it—with every element of that reproduced. That’s always been my experience with Cubic Motion. It’s always been that authenticity of taking that performance and ensuring it makes its way through the process.”
Even for characters who don’t look exactly like their real-life counterparts, Cubic Motion’s expertise was necessary to ensure that they could coexist with the others. Goss points to character Félicité “Fliss” DuBois, who was performed by Ayisha Issa. Fliss might not look like Issa, but the energy and strength of her performance still shines through. That resonates most in the quieter, subtler moments. “It’s just in the texture of the characters, the way they interact,” he says. “The little details make it work, and that’s what’s so important.”
With several Dark Pictures Anthology games mapped out and an ambitious plan to release two games per the calendar year, Supermassive Games remains incredibly busy. Likewise, Cubic Motion will continue to help bring digital doubles to life for the series, with the highest-possible fidelity. It’s a collaboration that will continue well into the future.