Not Every Story Is Worth Publishing
I can tell you whether 'Man of Medan' uses the same engine as 'Until Dawn,' but does anyone care? The person who spent time and energy researching it might say yes because reasons.
Image courtesy of Sony
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I work on a lot of stories that are never published. Maybe a source never gets back, another reporter publishes a piece that’s too similar, or maybe, like this week, it turns out you’re not answering a question anyone gives a shit about and you should let it go.
My favorite news out of Gamescom was Bandai Namco announcing the The Dark Pictures Anthology, a trio of horror games from Supermassive, the studio behind the still-underrated Until Dawn. I’ve publicly pined for a sequel to Until Dawn delving into other genre cliches, and it's almost as if someone made a game exactly for me.
When I watched the trailer, though, I couldn’t help but raise an eyebrow:
Those facial animations look a little funky, and while Until Dawn’s characters could also look a little off, it seemed more pronounced, almost like plastic. What’s up with that?
Until Dawn, as it turns out, was built on the Decima engine, a technology from Sony’s in-house studio, Guerrilla Games. (It’s also being used to power Death Stranding.) The game’s VR spin-off, Rush of Blood, also used Decima. The Dark Pictures Anthology was not being published by Sony. It probably means it’s not built on Decima, either.
This might explain why Man of Medan looked different: new tech.
I ask companies all sorts of innocuous questions, for reasons interesting and banal. When I emailed Bandai Namco, however, the publisher flatly refused to comment. Specifically, a spokesperson said it wasn’t “able to share anything in regards to that.”
No comments can be a red flag. It doesn’t mean a company (or individual) is hiding anything, and it’s a reason to dig deeper. The technology behind Man of Medan didn’t seem like a secret worth dodging, and made me wonder if there was more to this.
The next step was to email Supermassive, but they didn’t respond. Fishy, right??? (I’d wager Supermassive forwarded my request to Bandai Namco, who I’d already talked to, which meant the email chain went unanswered for very reasonable reasons.)
Then, while waiting to stream with Austin this yesterday morning, I did a Google search for interviews about The Dark Pictures Anthology at Gamescom. There wasn’t much, except a 28-minute video interview. I didn’t have 28 minutes to sit through the whole thing, but fortunately for me, the interviewer seemed to read my mind:
Rocket Beans TV Gaming: What engine did you use? Is it the same engine as Until Dawn?
Tom Heaton, game director: No, this is made in Unreal Engine. We have got a team of programmers, artists, technical artists, animators, all working really hard to get the best they can out of that engine. We want to give a really cinematic experience, something that looks and feels like a film.
Okay, so it wasn’t some massive secret! When asked, Heaton answered. Unreal Engine!
But where did that leave me? I'd cracked the case. ... ... Uh, Bueller? Bueller?
The jump from Decima to Unreal Engine means it’s reasonable for The Dark Pictures Anthology to have a different look from Until Dawn: they were starting from scratch. The game isn’t done, either! And it’s impossible to know the difference in budget between Until Dawn and this game. And it’s reasonable changes I’m noticing don’t have anything to do with the engine, and everything to do with, say, a shift in the motion capture resources Supermassive has with Bandai Namco, as opposed to Sony.
I know what I know, but I don’t know what I don’t know. Also, does anyone care? Eh.
And so I killed the story.
I’ve put more time and energy into heavier lifts than a story like this—there’s one I spent the better part of a year working on for Waypoint, only to watch it all fall apart in the most frustrating way possible—but you have to be prepared to cut losses and realize not every story pans out, or the answers you end up with might not be interesting to anyone but you, and sunk cost just not justify publishing.
One good reason to hit publish is because, well, you never know what's going to blow up on Twitter, reddit, and wherever else. Throw everything at the wall, see what sticks. What is there to lose? People aren't going to hold one boring story against you. "But hey, Patrick," you might ask, "Was this even worth pursuing in the first place?" Maybe? It was an innocuous request that was likely to have a boring answer, yes, but you never know? It's a riff on the same philosophy: you never know where a story is hiding.
In other words, you’re welcome. Man of Medan runs on Unreal Engine, not Decima.
Follow Patrick on Twitter. If you have a tip or a story idea, drop him an email: firstname.lastname@example.org.