Interview: Amy's guiding hand, Paul Cuisset

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Ryan Winslett
September 30th, 2011
Interview: Amy's guiding hand, Paul Cuisset
In the survival horror genre there are moments every player remembers: the sound of shattering glass and the snarl of undead dogs breaking through the windows of a mysterious mansion in Resident Evil; the intensifying crackle of radio static as unseen enemies give chase through the foggy streets of Silent Hill.

With upcoming downloadable title Amy, director Paul Cuisset (best known for his work on Flashback) and his team at VectorCell hope to add their own trademark moments to the genre. First and foremost, Cuisset said his goal was to bring survival horror back to its roots while simultaneously moving the genre forward.

"I think there are many players who, like me, liked the time when survival horror games were not only about action, but also about atmosphere and feeling weak," Cuisset said. "Although the genre has evolved a lot, I'm convinced it's still possible to bring something new."
In Amy, the player takes control of Lana, a young woman charged with the safety of the titular character, a mysterious, autistic eight-year-old girl. Following a train wreck that leaves the duo stranded, Lana and Amy must rely on each other to survive an army of undead monstrosities and a virus that's devastating the city.

While Amy can't fend for herself, she does provide Lana with an array of helpful abilities. The young girl is inexplicably immune to the zombie virus, and merely holding her hand is enough to keep Lana healthy. Doing this also gives the player a "monster detector" of sorts, as the speed of Amy's heartbeat -- felt through the controller's rumble -- indicates the proximity of baddies. Amy can also access otherwise unreachable areas to flip switches or open doors, as well as carry a small lantern to light the many dark corners of the game world. You'll need to keep Amy hidden in cabinets and under desks when trouble comes knocking, but as a walking Swiss Army Knife of helpful tools, you'll never want her too far from your side.

[Lana] is a normal woman set in a very hostile environment. It wouldn't make sense to see her just rush onto an enemy and hit him frenetically. - Paul Cuisset

Cuisset said Amy actually got its start back when his former studio, Delphine Software, was active. "At Delphine, we were working on a very innovative game based on a movie-like atmosphere," Cuisset said. "It was partly built ... and I've always been sad not to have been able to finish this project. When I created VectorCell, I thought of a way to use what we had learned at Delphine."

As director, Cuisset has had his hands in just about every facet of the game, from writing the initial story and designing the game engine's VectorEngine architecture, to supervising level design and working directly on the code. Cuisset said his small team wanted to have a strong focus on the characters in Amy: To build real interactions between two characters and, if possible, convey emotions through their relationship -- an idea first explored by Cuisset, on a basic level, with 1999's Darkstone. Nowadays, the horror genre is populated by overly capable behemoths, flying solo with a full arsenal of deadly weapons at their disposal. Not so in Amy.

"Lana is not a super warrior and she's not used to handling weapons," Cuisset said. "The ones she will use are improvised weapons she finds here and there, and essentially melee weapons. I think you feel much more tension when you have to get close to your enemies than when you can shoot at a distance."

Players will have to choose their battles wisely in Amy. They'll also need to be strategic because, as Cuisset said, this is no button-masher. "[Lana] is a normal woman set in a very hostile environment," he explained. "It wouldn't make sense to see her just rush onto an enemy and hit him frenetically. She's stressed and she's fragile. But fragile doesn't mean weak. By using tactics, strategy and nerves, she can defeat many enemies."

From a pure gameplay standpoint, Cuisset said he wants the player to consider a fight as something truly dangerous, with your character's life at stake. This threat is heightened when the enemy is something you can't see or attack. A nasty virus is going around and, unless Lana keeps it in check, she too could turn into a zombie.

"If nothing is done to stop the process, Lana dies," Cuisset explained. "Hence, you have three possibilities to survive: find med kits, scavenge gas masks from bodies, or stay close to Amy."

That last option is one of the main reasons Cuisset feels he and his team have brought something new to the table with Amy. From healing Lana to providing light, from warning of danger to crawling into tight spaces, he said Amy is much more than weak prey you have to escort.

"When you're away from Amy, you can't see in the dark, you don't know if enemies are around and your infection grows fast," he said. "After five minutes with the pad you quickly consider Amy not a whining child you have to protect but someone that can save your life. The more you play, the more you want to stay close to her and know more about her. You quickly realize she's not the weak little thing you imagined."

While progression in many games is marked by new weapons, powers and items, Cuisset said Amy will serve a similar purpose by becoming more helpful as the story unfolds -- though he isn't talking about all of her "interesting characteristics" yet. Cuisset said he hopes Amy will provide a fresh experience for genre vets and maybe even win over some new followers along the way, including some who are more used to other genres, including stealth and adventure games. "Some of the mechanics have been seen before, but I think the overall is really new from what currently exists," he said.

Amy is scheduled to launch sometime this fall for PSN, with the price still to be determined. As the game's release nears, Cuisset gave much credit to his team at VectorCell and their publishing partner, Lexis Numerique.

"I take this opportunity to publicly thank them, because creating a game like [Amy] with such few people and almost from scratch was a real challenge," Cuisset said. "When you finish a good book or see a great movie you're often in a very special state. We did our best so that you feel the same way when you finish Amy."
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