Developer Interview: We Talk About ‘Those Who Remain’ & The Impact of Mental Health

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We got a chance to fire some questions over to Bruno and Ricardo Cesteiro, founders of studio Camel 101 and developers of indie thriller Those Who Remain.  We talk about what the game is all about, their influences, as well as the positive impact that videogames can have on our mental health.

Hi, first of all, thank you for taking the time to answer our questions, it means a lot.  I’ve recently played through Those Who Remain once and I got the “Good Ending”, and I know there’s at least two more endings to go for. But for those that might not know what Those Who Remain is all about, can you give them a quick introduction about the game and Camel 101 as a studio?

It’s my pleasure, I love talking about the game! And congrats on the good ending, most folks get the bad endings.

Those Who Remain is a psychological thriller that takes place in Dormont, a small town that is shrouded in darkness. I wouldn’t call it horror per se, maybe ‘horror-ish’. The problem in Dormont is that there are creatures roaming in the shadows, that will kill whoever gets close, so the player needs to find light sources to clear paths through the dark.

This is the basic premise of the game. It is a puzzle adventure in essence, that will have the player running through an alternate reality that is directly connected to ours, while making moral decisions along the way, that will affect the ending.

We’re a small studio, the core team that worked on the game is 3 people, spread around the globe: I’m in Portugal, my brother is in the US, and Boris the artist, is in Croatia. We’ve been working like this for some time now, so we basically do everything remotely. It’s our second take into horror / thriller territory, and it certainly won’t be our last.

Bruno and Ricardo Cesteiro, founders of Camel 101

Those Who Remain is very different from the games you’d developed before, what made you take such a different direction into this genre?

Our previous game (Syndrome) took place in a spaceship, with monsters and combat.

After Syndrome, we wanted to create something different. We decided that we weren’t going to have combat in the next game, so that we could focus on different gameplay mechanics.

We also didn’t want to make a simple exploration game, so that the game wouldn’t be categorized as a ‘walking simulator’. I have nothing against narrative games myself – there are a few that I absolutely love, but we wanted to make something different.

We thought about how we could make something that could feel unique, and so we created the two ideas about light vs dark and the alternate realities.

I think it’s important for developers – and for creators in general, whatever the media – to try different approaches and explore new possibilities.

To Say that the protagonist of Those Who Remain is a troubled soul riddled with guilt is an understatement.  What were your influences to tell such a tragic story of judgement, condemnation and forgiveness?

When we first started drafting the story, the main character was just a regular guy who was visiting town, and suddenly found himself in the middle of all the chaos.

But as the story evolved, we felt that it would be more dramatic if the main character had his own demons as well. So instead of just a regular guy, he is scarred. He is someone who had a perfect life and suddenly lost everything.

This way, the game is not just a trip through Dormont (the fictional town where the action takes place) but also through the main character’s own past and guilt.

There are many influences here. We are huge horror geeks in the team, so we watch, read and play a lot of stuff. Silent Hill and The Evil Within are two great examples of using the broken man approach that we also use here.

The story of guilt and mental torment of Those Who Remain, very much reminds me of Silent Hill, especially in regards to James Sunderland of Silent Hill 2 and the mechanic of light and dark, not only seems to reflect good and bad, but the gameplay mechanics also reminds me a little of Alan Wake.  Where these influences for the creation of Those Who Remain and if not, what was?

The biggest influences were actually from movies and tv shows: Twin Peaks, Stranger Things and The Fog. But when someone asks me specifically about videogames, these are the exact two names that I mention: Alan Wake and Silent Hill.

They’re obviously very different games from Those Who Remain, both in terms of gameplay, and in scope / production values. But spiritually speaking – the setting, the characters, the mood – both were strong influences in the creation of this game.

I am obviously a fan of Alan Wake and the Silent Hill series 😊

With the current console generation nearing its end, what are your thoughts on the potential of the hardware and your studio, and does Camel 101 already have something in the works?

Our goal is always to increase the quality level from one project to another.

It’s definitely going to be exciting to have access to better and powerful hardware, as we can push the graphics to a whole new level.

We don’t have anything concrete yet, as we are still aligning a few ideas, but we know the path that we want to follow. It’s going to be another adventure in the thriller / horror-ish genre, but in a completely different setting and gameplay style.

As we’ve already touched upon, Those Who Remains tells the tale of guilt, judgement, condemnation and forgiveness.  But there’s also a secondary story of bullying and the effects that it has on both sides, as the victim, as well as the impact of the bullies and their families.  Does the theme of bullying come from personal experience and what message do you have for those affected on both sides of the fence?

I wasn’t a victim of bullying myself, so I can’t say I’m speaking from personal experience, but there were a few bullies in my school. Nothing like the sort of things that I sometimes read about, that completely blows my mind: violence; internet bullying and stalking; kids so traumatized that they take their own lives. That completely breaks my heart.

When we as adults look back to our youth, these were just episodes we lived through. Just a small part of our lives, that probably didn’t mean that much. But to kids living through these times, it’s an ongoing battle. It is tough, facing that cruelty every single day.

If I could, that’s what I would say to any victim of bullying. It’s going to be alright. You’ll get through this. You have so much life to live, this is just going to be a small chapter in your life.

To the bullies themselves: why? Why do you need to cause pain to another person to feel good? You could use that energy to do something else. You don’t have to put someone down to make yourself look good. What will make you look good, is helping someone.

During the loading screen prior to the main menu of Those Who Remain, I noticed the Safe in Our World logo.  I’m a firm believer of the role that videogames can have as a positive impact on your mental health.  But what does videogames mean to you and the impact they can have on mental health?

That’s true, we’re very proud to be partners of Safe in Our World. I have a firm opinion that videogames can have a very positive effect in mental health. A game can provide an escape, a relaxing moment, new engagements, a doorway to abandon the hardships and stresses of life, even just for one moment.

Games also tell stories with which the players can relate too. One particular story might resonate with one particular player, and maybe he won’t feel so alone in the world when he understands that other folks went through the same thing that he’s going through right now.

Videogames connect us, and they offer the possibility of extending the hand to someone who needs one. It is our job as developers to create experiences that can have that kind of positive effect on players.

Well, that concludes my questions, thanks again for taking the time to answer them. I can’t wait to see what’s next for Camel 101, please stay safe and well.

Thank you so much for the opportunity.
Loved the questions! I really did, I’m not just saying 😊

Also thank you again to Bruno and Ricardo Cesteiro for taking the time to answer our questions so passionately.  Those Who Remain is available now for PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch.  Finally, be sure to keep a look out for our review of Those Who Remain coming very soon!