Interview: Matt Cohen On Paranormal: The Town, A Free, Complete Expansion To An Exceptional Indie Horror Game
I’m sure you know by now that I’m a huge lover of indie, and do as much as I possibly can to get out there and play and support indie games and developers. I’m quite an admirer of Matt Cohen in particular, a young indie developer notable for creating the exceptional horror game Paranormal, which I reviewed and did a Let’s Play on for eGamer’s YouTube channel.
He’s a really nice guy who I chat to now and again on Twitter, and he’s a lover of interviews, which suits me just fine as I really enjoy doing them as much as I can. Matt was kind enough to answer my many questions towards Paranormal: The Town, a free expansion that is almost like a full sequel to his original game. It has recently been funded on Kickstarter, and is set to release this year.
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Check out the full interview down below.
eGamer: Thank you for taking the time to do this interview with us, Matt. We at eGamer love getting to know our indie developers, so tell us a little about yourself.
Matt: Thanks! From a very young age, I’ve loved to create things. I’d create new worlds made of LEGOs in my basement, I’d draw creatures, people, places…I was very creative as a child. My first game development experience was modding Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic for the PC. I’ve always loved writing, so I try to incorporate that with everything I do.
eGamer: I played and reviewed Paranormal back when it released, and recently did a Let’s Play video of it, finding it to be really, really great, especially as a fan of horror. How have you felt about the reactions to the game since it released, and about your progress up until now?
Matt: It’s funny–when I first posted the very first version of it on indieDB, I figured nobody would care. The response was overwhelmingly positive and for the first time in my life, I felt like I had created something I was proud of. I’ve received so much positive feedback, and negative feedback, and both have been extremely helpful in making the game better and better. I never dreamed Paranormal would become so popular and successful, but I’m very glad it did. I feel I still have a long way to go until Paranormal is perfect, and that’s totally fine. What matters most is that I continue to improve the game until everyone agrees this is the best horror experience of its sort.
eGamer: You revealed that Paranormal was inspired by films such as Paranormal Activity and Blaire Witch Project, but what truly brought this game to life? How did you start out, and really get into this project as a new developer?
Matt: It started out rather simply, actually. I had just watched the first two Paranormal Activity movies and I searched Google for games like Paranormal Activity. I was disappointed to find no such games, so I set out to make one. The first version of Paranormal was actually just a security camera view of a kitchen with randomized hauntings (which I now use as Paranormal’s main menu!). Before working on Paranormal, I had used UDK on multiple occasions. One of my first UDK games was called Smooth Criminal. It was a Michael Jackson third-person shooter in which the player controls the ‘Smooth Criminal’ wielding a tommy gun, following the themes of the music video of the same name. Needless to say, I could never release that game due to copyright reasons.
eGamer: It’s my understanding that Paranormal: The Town is like a free expansion to Paranormal for those that bought it, but it’s almost like a whole new game. Tell us, firstly what made you decide to expand the game in this way, and secondly why the decision to make it free? We admire that.
Matt: I feel that publishers love having their hands in the consumer’s pockets. The advent of DLC has changed the way money is made making games. I’d rather give customers the most bang for their buck instead of making them buy content constantly. From a business perspective, I’m probably not doing the smartest thing, but from a gamer perspective, I feel this is how I’d want to be treated by developers. I’m not a game developer to make tons of money—I’m a game developer because I love to make games. If that means having less money to throw around and eating ramen noodles every night, so be it.
eGamer: Congratulations on being funded in your Kickstarter campaign! Can you tell us how that happened for you? Your thoughts towards the support you’ve received? And if there are any stretch goals you’ve reached?
Matt: Thanks! My original Kickstarter for the original game was an insane success. My goal was set to $800 and I ended up with $8,000. This time around, with Paranormal: The Town’s Kickstarter, I’ve already got a passionate fanbase of users who know what I’m capable of and are willing to generously help me make the best horror game I possibly can. I am forever in their debt. Currently, I believe we’ve hit the stretch goals for Oculus Rift support and mobile development.
eGamer: Right, let’s focus on The Town. The original game had you explore protagonist Mattel Clarke’s haunted home over a few days, and try to discover the mystery behind the entity that inhabited it. Tell us, does The Town follow on from this game? Is it a direct sequel, or its own unique story with a new protagonist?
Matt: Nothing is set in stone, and I tend to make things up as I go along (mostly), but I do have a general outline of how I want the story to go. Since the story will be evolving constantly during development, I don’t want to say too much. I will say that I am trying to focus on creating a believable main character–one that the player can relate to in some way. Mattel Clarke was a good character, but I really kept things vague about him intentionally. I felt that if the player focuses on him as a character, they’ll lose their own immersion. I’ve decided to experiment in The Town, actually trying to get the player to feel an emotional connection to the player and the world.
eGamer: What is your vision for The Town? What inspired it?
Matt: My vision for The Town is essentially a mix between Silent Hill and Paranormal Activity. So many different games and films have influenced The Town. Movies like REC, Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity, Cloverfield, Grave Encounters, The Grudge, really influenced the aesthetics of the game. As far as gameplay goes, I’d say that Amnesia is one of the driving forces of inspiration for most indie horror games nowadays, and that’s a good thing. Amnesia helped bring back everyone’s interest in horror games.
eGamer: How long will it take to “finish” the game? I phrase it in that way because doing badly or finding too few answers could lead to an early death in Paranormal. So how long will it take to reach an ending? Will there be multiple endings like the first game?
Matt: I’m not certain yet, but I plan on it lasting at least three times as long as the original game. It really depends on how the player goes about playing the game. It’s hard to predict exactly how long it would take, since the game is heavily randomized. I already have six endings planned, and I intend to have more. Each ending will have sub-ending branches that are randomized or based on player actions. I’ll just say that The Town will have some insane endings that will make your jaw drop to the floor.
eGamer: What are some of the gameplay additions you’ve made to The Town? What’s been improved since Paranormal?
Matt: Nothing is set in stone yet, but I intend for The Town to have a lot more depth than the original game. There will be locked doors, simple puzzles (as long as they’d feel right and not out of place), chase scenes, time-sensitive events, and plenty of secrets for the player to find.
eGamer: One of the most admirable traits of Paranormal was the dynamic and randomly generated haunting experience, which differed each time you fired up the game. You’ve confirmed that The Town is doing that too, but you’ve also said that it will be a more story driven experience. How have you worked the random nature of the game to accommodate the story? What are some of the challenges you’ve faced with this?
Matt: Well, the challenge with randomized aspects of a game is mostly in testing it. I find myself loading up the game to test, only to find that the randomized event didn’t trigger, and then exiting and trying over and over again until it does. As far as story goes, I plan on conveying the story in a way that makes sense and feels natural, despite the randomized nature of the game and the player’s surroundings. How I’ll do that, well…still working on figuring that one out.
eGamer: You’ve confirmed that some of the areas in The Town include a high school, graveyard, City streets and a bar. Are these split into separate areas, or in one large hub? Are you totally free to explore them in any order?
Matt: Currently, they’re all separate areas. The Town isn’t really an open world experience, but the layout of the town itself is still randomized. With the randomized linearity of The Town, I’ve found the perfect balance between pacing and dynamic haunting. This will ensure that the player always has a general idea of what’s going on, where to go, yet still feeling like they’re doomed and haunted.
eGamer: In the original Paranormal the player had to return to bed to recharge the camera batteries (otherwise face death), and this time limit indicated how long you had to explore each day. Will The Town make use of a similar mechanic? Will there be a time limit to your exploration, or is it all one continuous experience?
Matt: This is something I keep going back and forth with myself on. I’m not sure yet. There have been plenty of ideas floating around, like the player being able to get new batteries at a hardware store, or having places where the player can recharge their batteries. I’m still not sure which way I’ll go with this, but I’ll make sure that the end result keeps the tense, rushed feeling of the original.
eGamer: You’ve teased some new features and gameplay mechanics, but are you able to give us any details at this point? Or even some more teasers perhaps?
Matt: Aside from what I mentioned earlier, I can say that there will be plenty of found-footage style tropes in The Town. The camera will get dropped, there will be off-camera things that happen, there will be film cuts, digital distortion, dirt and rain on the lens, and many more small details that will immerse players into the found-footage horror game experience.
eGamer: Usually I always love to ask indie developers what they feel is the biggest reason to play their game, as it tells us a little about the audience they wish to grab, how they see their own game and what elements of it they feel are most important. The Town is interesting as it’s for those who have played the first game, so what would you say gives players a good reason to return to Paranormal for The Town? And to those who haven’t yet bought or played it, why should they?
Matt: The Town will be a great experience for both new players and players of the original. If you like being scared at all, no matter what gender you are, what race you are, what age you are, what religion you are–Paranormal: The Town is for you. The Town feels different than the original game. It feels refreshing and different, yet familiar enough for anyone to feel right at home. As of now, there’s less than a dozen found-footage horror games out there. They’re really difficult to find. My goal with Paranormal and The Town is to bring more interest into the genre so that other developers will expand on the ideas and make some really compelling and scary found-footage games, as well as giving players an awesome way to experience horror games. Found-footage movies work great, and I seek to prove that the same can be said about the genre in videogame form.
eGamer: What are you most proud of with Paranormal, and its follow-up The Town? What are you most excited for players to experience? If there was something you’d really like to say about the game that you didn’t have the chance to in one of the earlier interview questions, what would it be?
Matt: I’m most proud of the fanbase. Everyone is incredibly supportive and passionate about the game. I receive so much constructive feedback and it helps more than most people realize.
eGamer: When will The Town be released?
Matt: When it’s done. I want it to be perfect and that will take time. My goal is to have closed betas for the Kickstarter backers to test in the next few months. This is the most ambitious thing I’ve ever set out to do in my entire life and I want to do it right.
eGamer: Can you tell us what’s happening in development right now?
Matt: I keep adding to different levels, jotting down ideas, writing some dialog, teaching myself new tricks, designing some early scares, and studying found-footage horror movies for inspiration.
eGamer: Do you have a plan after Paranormal and The Town? Will there be further expansions after The Town, or does Paranormal end with it? What comes next for you?
Matt: My next game will be something very unique and different. I can’t go into detail now. Once The Town is finished, I’ll share my ideas with everyone. Right now I am focusing most of my waking hours on The Town. As far as more Paranormal expansions go…I’ve got plenty of ideas for them. It really depends on how The Town turns out. I have a passion for horror, but I would love to expand my horizons after The Town. But if there is another Paranormal expansion, I can assure you it will be the scariest of them all.
eGamer: We’ve asked a fair few indie horror developers what they thought the next craze in the genre would be after Slender Man and SCP and such. What would you say to that? We’ve tried to back squirrels, and sharks on two legs, but sadly many haven’t embraced our vision.
Matt: I see either found-footage horror games becoming a trend or another entity like Slenderman. The reason Slender Man caught on is because it’s easy to market something that has a face and name (or in this case, no face, but the idea remains the same). Personally, I wish horror games would have a trend of dinosaurs. Dino Crisis was great–perhaps one of the only good dinosaur games. I feel that if someone made a game that took place on a Jurassic Park sort of island, giving the player no weapons to fight the dinosaurs with–their only option being survival….well, let’s just say that I’d throw all my moneys at the developers of that.
That wraps up a long, but great interview with Matt Cohen. I’d like to wish him all the best with Paranormal: The Town, a game I will definitely be playing, reviewing and recording videos of as soon as it’s released. As always, I’d like to extend my gratitude to Matt for taking the time off development to answer my laundry list of questions, and I’m happy to play any part in spreading the word about this game. It deserves support. Keep an eye out for more coverage in the future.