Bloober Team is done making psychological horror games

Say hello to Bloober 3.0.

Bloober Team

Layers of Fear was Bloober Team’s final psychological horror game. The studio didn’t advertise this fact, but behind the scenes, a switch flipped weeks ago: When the remastered and expanded Layers of Fear collection came out on June 15th, it marked the end of a phase that was known internally as Bloober Team 2.0.

“This year is like closing the era of making psychological horror games,” studio co-founder Piotr Babieno told Engadget. “Right now we are going into Bloober Team 3.0, making mass-market horror.”

Bloober is not abandoning horror as a whole, but it is shifting focus. Over the past decade, the studio cemented itself as a powerhouse in the realm of psychological horror games, releasing the Layers of Fear franchise, Observer, Blair Witch and The Medium, all of which generated terror through narrative and environmental cues (otherwise known as “vibes”). Because of these design choices, Bloober games have jokingly been called “walking simulators,” a description that Babieno didn’t deny.

“We focused on the story, we focused on the mood, we focused on the quality of graphics and music, but we didn’t put a lot of attention on the gameplay mechanics,” Babieno said. “It wasn’t our target. But we decided that there was a ceiling that we couldn’t break if we did not deliver something fresh, something new.”

Going forward, developers at Bloober will rely on action and player input to generate disquiet, and they hope that this nudge in creative direction will drastically expand the studio’s audience. This mechanics-first ethos was actually implemented internally in 2019, when Bloober began building the remake of Silent Hill 2 for Konami.

“We decided that our next titles should be much more mass-market oriented,” Babieno said. “We’d like to talk with more people. We’d like to deliver our ideas, with our DNA, not by environment or storytelling, but by action. So all of our future titles will have a lot of gameplay mechanics. They will be much bigger.”

Silent Hill 2 will be the public’s first taste of Bloober’s redirection — but we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Before considering the implications of fresh design philosophies, let’s take a look at how Bloober Team 2.0 became a major name on the global horror scene in just a few years.

Babieno co-founded the studio that would become Bloober Team in 2008, after selling his marketing research company in Poland. His ultimate goal was to be a storyteller: He initially considered entering the film industry, but it was too expensive, so he pivoted to games. The studio started with around 15 employees, and they focused on building contract games and other quasi-soulless experiences.

“We crafted some smaller titles on our end, but we never were really good,” Babieno said. “We tried to catch everything on the market and we were just following the crowd. And you know, if you’re following trends, if you’re following what’s fashionable, you can’t be good.”

Everything changed for Bloober Team in 2015. Though many of us may have blocked this fact from our memories, Bloober is the studio that built Basement Crawl, the worst-reviewed launch game on PlayStation 4. Basement Crawl was essentially a busted Bomberman clone when it came out in 2014, and it was shredded in reviews, settling at a rating of 27 on Metacritic. However, since it was one of just a few games to launch alongside the PS4, it sold well enough. Bloober tried to make things right by releasing Brawl in 2015, a free game that addressed many of the complaints players had with Basement Crawl.

A screenshot from Basement Crawl, Bloober Team's ill-received PlayStation 4 launch title.
Bloober Team

After the release of Brawl, Bloober underwent an internal reckoning. Babieno sat down with his team and had an honest conversation about the studio’s identity and future.

“It looks like we still don't know how to make something good, and we have a game which has 27 percent on Metacritic, so maybe we should change,” Babieno remembered thinking. “Our decision was, OK, we need to focus on creating something we will be proud of. So that's why we went back to the roots and decided we would like to deliver horror games.”

Horror has a special, blood-soaked place in Babieno’s heart. He grew up devouring books, films and games with unsettling themes, including works from Stephen King, Graham Masterton and the Silent Hill team at Konami. Fear spoke to him, and as a creator, he saw how it functioned as a shortcut to deep human emotion and universal experiences.

Babieno took his team’s plan to their investors and laid it all out: “We sat with our funders and told them, guys, we need some money, but we have a pretty good idea for the next 10 years. We would like to become one of the really good psychological horror game developers.” The investors said yes. Bloober Team 2.0 was born.

Layers of Fear came out in 2016 and was a breakout hit, followed by a succession of well-received psychological horror games, including Observer and Blair Witch. But that was just the public side of things: As Bloober was rebranding and cementing itself as a pillar of psychological horror, Babieno was secretly trying to convince Konami to let Bloober make a Silent Hill game.

Babieno first approached Konami in 2015 with a proposal to make a Silent Hill spin-off game, something completely new in the series. The conversation stayed alive for four years, and finally in 2019, Konami invited Babieno to Japan for a meeting.

“Almost the whole management board came to the meeting, and they requested us to prepare a pitch for a Silent Hill 2 remake,” Babieno said. “And whoa. We were so afraid to touch it. We understood from the first day of the conversation that we will have half of the world which will love us and half of the world which will hate us. We are touching something sacred.”

Other studios were in the running to handle Konami’s secret Silent Hill 2 remake, but Bloober got the gig. Konami made the official announcement in October 2022.

Which brings us back to today. The studio just released Layers of Fear, a complete series remastering done in Unreal Engine 5. With this collection, it’s closing the door early on the 10-year plan it laid out for Bloober 2.0 in 2015. A hard pivot worked out well for Bloober once before; it makes some sense to try that again.

Silent Hill 2 will be the first title out of Bloober Team 3.0, the studio focused on action-first, mass-market horror games. This is a small but significant shift in Babieno’s direction, but he — and Bloober as a whole — is still obsessed with fear.

“We are in a very specific moment in history because we have a lot of crises,” Babieno said. He described horror games as a type of catharsis for everyday terror, a safe place where people can dissect their own reactions to intense stimuli and reckon with real-world emotions. He mentioned the pervasive threat of climate change and global economic crises; he pointed out that Bloober is based in Poland, which has a front-row seat to the carnage of the war in Ukraine.

He continued, “As human beings, we would like to be prepared for something that is unexpected. Those fears are around us … we would like to deliver games that allow us to deal with our fears.”

Meanwhile, Bloober Team has grown to roughly 230 employees, and one of Babieno’s greatest personal fears is letting them down or having to lay anyone off. As of 2023, Bloober doesn’t do layoffs; in the past three years, he said just five people have left the company. Babieno isn’t actively growing Bloober at the moment and he isn’t looking for a buyer, even as the industry’s biggest publishers are buying talented indie studios left and right. From Babieno’s perspective, Bloober works best as an independent company building AAA-quality games — horror games, to be exact.

“I would like to stay independent because only then will we be able to make something new, something fresh and creative,” he said. “I don’t want to create games by watching an Excel spreadsheet. I would like to deliver some new milestones of horror, our niche.”