Interview with David Mason (Hailstorm Games) on Claire: Extended Cut

This year marked the release of the PS4, PS Vita and Xbox One horror title Claire: Extended Cut which I thought was a very enjoyable horror title. Today on 3WIREL I will be having an interview with David Mason, who is one of the team members from Hailstorm games. He worked on Clarie: Extended Cut and today I will be having an interview with him covering his background in gaming, past sound design work and how history around Claire: Extended Cut’s development.

RK: Want to introduce yourself?

David: I’m David, audio lead at Hailstorm. I’ve been doing audio for games for a long while now. Mainly music though. Got my start in a MOD for Half Life 2 called “Strider Mountain”. Since then I’ve worked on different projects. Short films, other games like Warm Gun and some other mobile stuff. I’ve worked with the University of Colorado and also have my music licensed. So it pops up in movies, documentaries (Video Games: The Movie!), and other odds and ends.

RK: That is very impressive! Really like how your audio work has rippled across a number of projects over the years. It shows your skill producing quality music in a number of projects.

David: Thank you!

RK: My first question would be what is your first experience playing video games? And what would be your favorite gaming soundtrack? My personal favorite gaming soundtrack is Sonic the Hedgehog CD (Japan/European), as it has such a variety of instruments and sounds so alive.

David: My first gaming experience would be Super Mario Bros 3.  I remember my dad brought the NES home, hooked it all up, and I was…blown away. I remember I pressed up to jump and ended up dying.  I’ve been playing ever since though. My favorite game soundtrack is hands down, Final Fantasy VI. Uematsu was at his prime. The amount of variety and melody in that game is amazing. Each theme is burned into my brain and I can tell you exactly what happens in game and where during songs. It’s a brilliant soundtrack.

RK: Great soundtrack choice, as I would agree that the Final Fantasy VI OST is one of the best in the franchise. It has such mixture of music that really makes the game stand out among the other titles in the series. But Final Fantasy normally produces great soundtracks from my experience, so similar to Sonic, the series just has great music overall. My first video game that I really connected with was Sonic Adventure 2 Battle on the Nintendo GameCube. I struggled playing video games when I was growing up but something about Sonic Adventure 2 Battle ‘clicked’ with me. From that point on, I loved video games!

David: I got my daughter hooked playing games by playing the older stuff. She’s a Sonic fan too.

RK: The older titles in gaming are wonderful starting points for any younger gamer I find too.

David: Aye, I think so as well.

RK: They offer inviting controls and have such great ‘game feel’, ensuring that anyone can have some fun.

David: I agree. She got her start with all the old classics. Megaman, Mario, Sonic, etc. But something about Sonic stuck with her and she’s been a fan ever since.

RK: Sonic is a series that I can easily see people enjoying due to the Genesis era’s simple controls (jump and rolling). Interesting that you are discussing Sonic, as that series is known for it’s fantastic soundtracks over the years. Any Sonic soundtrack you enjoy the most?

David: We didn’t have a Sega growing up. We were a Nintendo family, and not well off enough to have both. I got to play the Sonic series, and other games I missed on that console / from that era, but it wasn’t ingrained in me like the old NES / SNES games were. So I can hear “Green Hill Zone” music and know what it’s from, and it’s catchy and well written, but the songs weren’t something I really grew up with if that makes sense.

RK: I understand and thank you for explaining your background with video games! Love the Green Hill Zone track a lot too. Lets move on to the next question; how did you join Hailstorm Games and what was the first project you worked on at the studio.

David: Funny enough, it was kind of this random chance encounter.  I wasn’t working on anything, or with anyone, at the time. So I decided to try and expand my social media reach. Promote more on twitter and the such. Then one day Josh followed me. I checked out his profile, saw he was working on a Science Fiction game at the time that sounded interesting.

So we got to talking and kind of hit it off instantly. At the time we were working on a totally different project. It was all a labor of love though, so no one was being paid. Naturally that causes its own issues. So we joked and said we should make our own game, just the two of us. That’s pretty much how Claire was born, as some side project joke. After we realized we had “something” we stopped work on the other game and started working on Claire nonstop and taking it more seriously.

RK: That is very interesting! Claire felt like it had a lot of heart, polish and care put into it, so this explains why. It was a side project that turned out to become a major project for you and Josh. Chance encounter type of events is something I am familiar with considering talking with Motwera (site owner of 3WIREL) on Twitter lead to me working as a writer for 3WIREL and Crashy News.

David: Weird how that happens, right?

RK: I know! There is that saying ‘Everything happens for a reason’ after all….. But since we are talking about Claire, how was your role as the games sound designer and composer like? Meaning, how did you produce a soundtrack for a horror-focused title? Sound is critical to a horror game, as it is part of the genre’s atmosphere.

David: Well once Claire was underway and realized I needed to write something – music wise, I kinda started looking around and listening to various horror games. The thing I find with horror is that…Silent Hill pretty much set the tone. I mean, it still does even. It’s a game that continues to inspire, musically, and not just games but movies and other mediums as well. I was also listening to a ton of “The Downward Spiral” by NIN at the same and loved what Trent was doing with samples and synths.

So I’m sure some of that influence crept in as well. There wasn’t really anything to it though. Horror is weird in that the sound is VERY important but at the same time you could have a few drones and no one would probably know any better.The softer stuff, and some of the more jazzy stuff, was more about contrast than anything. Not being dark or gritty. The bears theme pretty much is all over the game. From the menu, to their theme, and other stuff. Some how that became the “theme” of the game.

RK: Silent Hill being a major influence for the games sound design and musical score makes sense, considering my experience with the game made me invoke a lot of memories with the original Silent Hill games. The sound design itself was well done, as the creature noises and little touches throughout the game set the tone perfectly. I also appreciate that you stated horror games don’t need to have a ‘dark’ soundtrack. While horrifying sounds can make effective horror, even basic music or sounds can terrify if used correctly.

David: Silent Hill is just one of those games that came along and kind of changed everything. As far as sound and music goes. Even now for horror games. You either have Jason Graves doing Dead Space HUGE cool orchestra pieces…or you have something that sounds like Silent Hill.

RK: I agree with that statement completely. What inspired the core gameplay systems for Claire? My experience with the game made me feel like the title controls and played like horror games like ‘Lone Survivor’ and ‘Silent Hill’. I loved those games a lot personally, so it was nice to see elements of those games in Claire.

David: Well, being our first game, it had to be 2D because we’re a two person team. So the smaller the better, in terms of scale of game. So being 2D already set some game rules up. Some of the stuff we both decided, and agreed, early on in the “idea” process. Like no combat. I remember telling him, “Monsters and demons aren’t scary when I can just shoot them in the face”. He agreed, so no combat was pretty much a part of the core system since day one.  The rest of it was dictated by gameplay, or testing and iteration, or story elements.

RK: I liked how Claire had no combat system personally. It made creature encounters all the more important and made you think about how you explored the different locations in the games world.Horror games do not need combat and how you set up the different level layouts gave the game world a lot of hidden depth. Fully exploring each location was rewarding. Regarding the games story, what were some inspirations about the games plot? Personally liked how it flashed back to Claire’s past at various points in the game.

David: That was all Josh. The overall story concept.  He had his friend Matt help him out a bit.  I know a lot of influences came from Asian horror flicks but I know he was in a pretty bad place at the time, mentally. So that story was kind of his way with dealing with how he felt at the time.  I had little say over it really, and to be honest I wouldn’t have changed it anyway. I’d yell at him when some of the dialogue seemed unnatural or have cringe but that was about it.

RK: Josh did a great job on the story in that regard, as I felt the story in Claire was very effective. It set the mood of the game and added to the titles atmosphere. When you was bringing the game to consoles, what were some challenges in bringing Claire to them? You launched the game on PC originally but then made the game on PS4, Xbox One, and PlayStation Vita.

David: So, when porting we didn’t really run into any performance issues with the PS4 and XBO. I mean, it’s a 2D game so we could kinda go crazy with it all. Obviously there were some growing pains, as neither of us had worked on those platforms before. Took a while to get the hang of some things. A few days he’d tell me, “So..I broke it…by it I mean everything”. But once we got the hang of it then it was pretty easy. The Vita had some issues, but those were to be expected. We had to get creative with the lighting because the Vita is older hardware and couldn’t handle everything. So we ran into memory issues, audio issues, level issues, lighting issues, etc. But even then it wasn’t bad.

RK: That is great to hear that outside of some growing pans with developing on consoles, things sound like they went well. I was glad to see the game release on PS Vita, as the system is one with little horror games. Your title being released on the console was really nice to see happen. Speaking of the Vita, when bringing the game to the console, did you considering using system exclusive features (touch screen for example) when developing the Vita port?

David: We did. Neither of us are a fan of “gimmicks” though. So if we were going to do it then it had to feel natural. We racked our brains on a few things but ultimately couldn’t really figure out anything. It was a “We could do this…but so could a button – and it’d probably make more sense for the button” scenario a lot of times.

RK: I understand completely. It is not best to force gimmicks onto games that really don’t need them. I felt Tearaway on Vita is a good example of blending hardware-exclusive features with game design and gameplay. When Claire released on consoles, where you surprised by the reception the game got with critics and gamers?

David: We weren’t really sure what to expect. It was an old game that was out for a while. So, ya know, how would people feel about that and whatnot. The Vita crowd embraced us instantly, which was really nice. After its release we were happy to see other people playing it on their PS4 and loving it, or XBO and liking it. It’s one of those games that isn’t for everyone.

It’s already pretty niche being horror. So you either love it or hate it. But we were happy to see that the people who liked it REALLY like it and had nothing but great things to say about it. If you total up all the reviews and scores, from those who didn’t like it and those who did, it was rated pretty decently so we were happy with the outcome.

RK: I really enjoyed my time with the game personally and thought you and your studio produced a well done horror title. It felt like a proper horror game, and that was wonderful to see. With the positive reception you got on the title, is Hailstorm Games interested in producing more horror titles?

David: Oh, yeah. We both feel horror is just kind of our thing. The good thing about horror is that it can be anything really. It’s just a matter of design and approach. The Scarecrow parts of Batman Begins could totally be classified as horror and you could make an entire movie from that alone. So Batman could be horror. We have all these ideas that we want to get to and they’re all horror in some way. The next game we’re working on is horror as well, just with a broader appeal than Claire.

RK: That sounds very exciting and I can’t wait for it’s official announcement when Hailstorm is ready to share it! Does this future game have any platforms in mind? I would love to see Hailstorm produce games on PS4 and Vita still.

David: Yeah, we have zero reason to not release on the same platforms now that we’ve had that initial shock of doing it for Claire. So, unless something drastic happens or things just flat out don’t sell on X console, our future games will be released on all the same platforms. Including Vita.

RK: That is wonderful to hear! Glad to see Hailstorm continue to produce titles on PS4, PS Vita and Xbox One. Any games you are looking forward to playing or currently playing now? This time of the year is packed with games to play.

David: We have a new baby so my game time is kind of all over the place. But I’ve been playing Dragon Quest Builders when I have time. I’ll pick up World of Final Fantasy as well here soon. Looking forward to The Last Guardian. That will probably be a day one purchase for me.

RK: I really enjoyed the Dragon Quest Builders so glad you are enjoying it! Congratulations on your new baby as well! Currently playing the Oddworld series and starting with Strangers Wrath on PS3 and Vita. Looking forward to 2017’s Sonic titles (Sonic Mania & Project 2017) and the upcoming Crash Bandicoot: Remastered.

David: I’ll have to pick up Crash as well for the kid. I don’t think she’s ever played a Crash game, so will be time to introduce her to that.

RK: Crash Bandicoot is a fantastic series, so I’m happy you will be introducing her to Crash. Any final thoughts you want to share before we close the interview?

David: Hope everyone gives Claire a shot. If you did and dug it then thanks for checking it out! If you didn’t like it, stay tuned for our next game. Might be more up your alley.

RK: Thank you for letting me ask you a few questions David! I had a lot of fun having this interview with you. You can find Claire: Extended Cut on Digital Store Fronts across Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network. You can follow David on Twitter and visit Hailstorm Games official website for updates on future projects.

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