We enjoyed Cursed Mountain and the breath of fresh air its setting provided for the survival horror genre, so we spoke to the executive producer of the game, Hannes Seifert of Deep Silver, to get an idea of how this project came to be, and how they were able to deliver this unique story and experience to Wii owners. (Read our review here).
BLAST: Tell us a little bit about Deep Silver.
Hannes Seifert: Deep Silver is the games brand of Koch Media group. We run Deep Silver Vienna, and our job is to create games that interest a broad, international audience.‚ Right now we’re working on expanding internationally and opening an American office and working on games that we hope interest an American audience, and one of the key parts of that is our role as producers in Vienna’s studio.
BLAST: Cursed Mountain takes a different environment for survival horror than we are used to seeing. How did the idea of the Himalayas as the background for a survival horror game come together?
HS: At Deep Silver Vienna we have a very specific approach to new IP and new games. It’s very setting-driven; we are looking for settings that feel fresh and haven’t been overused, and Cursed Mountain’s was one of those. The first idea was to use something well known, like Katmandu, which is the capital of Nepal. So what we were looking for is something that stands out and still provides an environment where you can play with imagination, hallucination, and horror that’s potentially based on real religious beliefs, which makes it very plausible. That came altogether then, and in the end became Cursed Mountain.
The decision for a platform was also, perhaps, an unusual one. When we were doing the research regarding Tibetan Buddhism and the story and everything, we discovered that a lot of the defeating and protecting against ghosts in real life was done through mantras, prayer gestures and chanting. The prayer gestures are the link back to the Wii. When we had been working on games before that, people would use the controller to protect their bodies from the screen, and what appealed to me when we were pitching the concept of how to fight was that you would need to open your body and perform these gestures. And that was back then only possible on the Wii, and that was how we made the decision for the platform.
BLAST: Cursed Mountain has a creepy aesthetic and there are a lot of supernatural elements, despite having an everyman lead character”"he’s a famous mountain climber, but he’s still pretty much a regular guy. What were inspirations for both the supernatural elements as well as the main character, Eric Simmons?
HS: There’s a lot of inspiration coming from the famous mountaineers. They all had that near-death experience where they wrote about it or talked about it, and when you combine that with the hallucinations and the very hostile environment you’ve already provided that creepy background. And all of them seem to be guy, whether it’s Hillary or Bishop or whoever. The decision to make Eric a Scotsman, well, all of the famous mountaineers are either Swiss or Austrian or British, and you can’t have a Swiss or Austrian character in English because they instantly sound like the bad guy because of their accents, so we decided to go for a Scottish character which made him pretty appealing and stand out.
The inspiration for the enemies, the ghosts and the demons, that was very heavily influenced by Tibetan Buddhism. A big part of that is based on this Buddhist text called the Trip, which is not as peaceful as is normally conveyed in the west. Each religion has its peaceful and brutal aspects, and what we tried to do, we went through and researched”"we spent 10 months on this in the pre-production phase”"researched Trip and studying that. We didn’t copy one-to-one what we found, but we were heavily inspired by it so that we didn’t upset the believers but still use things that are powerful and as close to the truth and research as possible, and we think the combination worked out pretty nicely.
The main inspiration, the source as you could say, was the experience of climbers, especially in the 70s and 80s, before chopper rescues up high and GPS systems. The other thing was the Tibetan Buddhism, with the architecture connected to it, and the demons and the ghosts and the goddesses. It’s a very, very rich thing to be inspired by.
BLAST: You can see the entire game world from any level in Cursed Mountain. How did you approach accomplish this goal”"it’s not the kind of thing we’re used to seeing in games.
HS: The basic thing we wanted to add as you climb the mountain is the summit ahead of you”"it looks so unbelievably remote, but it’s always there. When you look back, you see where you came from, and this is something else we wanted to achieve. Of course there are parts of the game that are indoors that you won’t see, but in principal if you can see it in the game you can see it. We started out with a real mountain, because Chomolonzo in the game is a fictional mountain. We used Ama Dablam’s satellite data, and with that we created a valley that we modified for game purposes. Having this valley as a backdrop for geometry was a very good start because it’s a natural environment, and everything fits together when you work like that. Then we placed the city, and the villages, and all the experiences up to the summit. So the levels themselves are also based on that, and the backdrop is as well, so my favorite part of the game fits together with the backdrop, and this is why you can see everything from any position. We avoided things like fog, because we wanted to show this off in the game. We also made the landscapes pretty versatile, they go from cities to fields, it’s not all just mountains. We set out to set enough memory aside for a streaming engine that allows us to have the geometry we want in the game for the player to walk around but also lets you see the backdrop from everywhere.
BLAST: There were a lot of hands worldwide working on Cursed Mountain, as you had multiple development houses working on it. What was that like, working on this project in so many places at the same time?
HS: The short answer is “exhausting”, but we knew that and knew that it was going to be difficult. ‚ We’ve worked like this in the past”"we used to be with Rockstar Games, so we worked with other tech teams in San Diego and with Japanese partners and such, so we were used to remote producing. Having that many companies, doing this for the first time for us in that scope, it was quite an experience, and we of course made mistakes. One of the things that might be interesting is that we worked with a lot of different cultures with different expectations and different ways of communicating, which was one challenge. Another thing on the very good side is that it allowed us to take the people we wanted to have work on specific parts of the game. A very good example is the props for the game world and most of the characters. We deliberately were looking for an Asian company to do that, because of the style and having the feeling for the statues and the hundreds of props in the game. Since the game had a Tibetan topic, no Chinese supplier would even touch it or hear a pitch for it for political reasons, so we went with an Indian company, and I think in the end it came out pretty well. That’s one of the strengths of working like that.
Our producing team was on video conference, phone calls or answering e-mails almost 24/7 because, for instance, our motion capture was done in the states, and our offices are here so we worked with them remotely in time shifts starting in the afternoon and working until midnight. Working as a team when you live in different time zones is exhausting, but it’s also very interesting, and it allowed us to produce something in a pretty short amount of time that became a pretty big game.