Tarsier Studios: ‘Little Nightmares isn’t a triple-A game’

One of the most talked-about projects at this year’s Gamescom was Tarsier Studios’ Little Nightmares.

The title had previously been announced under the title Hunger, but at the Cologne show it was revealed under a new name with Bandai Namco handling publishing duties.

Little Nightmares is described by its developer as a ‘suspense adventure’ game, where players are cast as a young girl being hunted through the world by what can only be described as a monstrous creature.

When we started thinking about this game, it was more of a visual jam session with our art director and one of our concept artists,” CEO Ola Holmdahl says.

The art director came up with the idea of a little girl in a bright yellow outfit, and our concept artist came up with loads of creepy characters and monsters. The tension between these two sides was very titillating. We started thinking about what kind of game this would be. We pushed it to publishers as a paper pitch, which failed as there was nothing playable. It wasn’t a game, it was an idea. We knew there was something there so we started building gameplay to see what that would be like. That’s how the ball got rolling.”

With its tense physics-based platforming gameplay, Little Nightmares is reminiscent of Limbo and Inside from Tarsier’s Scandinavian neighbours Playdead.

The inspiration depends on who you talk to,” Holmdahl explains. It’s a large team who all contributed. We all have very different sources of inspiration. What I like about this game is that you have people saying it’s similar to Limbo, a Tim Burton film, LittleBigPlanet, a Studio Ghibli movie or a Roald Dahl book.

To me, that means it moves a lot of people. But so many people are convinced it comes from a certain direction, and they’re all different. It speaks to its uniqueness.”

With its low-fi physics-platform stylings and digital-only release, Little Nightmares could be seen as an indie project. But Tarsier has worked on triple-A products, such as the Vita edition of LittleBigPlanet, Tearaway Unfolded and LittleBigPlanet 3, as well as DLC for the first two entries in that series.

Yet Holmdahl insists that Little Nightmares is part of this mid-tier sector.

It’s not a small garage band of four people sitting around,” he says.

It isn’t a triple-A $200m project. The segment we fall in is one where we have a comfortable budget where we can realise our vision and dreams. It is still a segment where you can take risks, where it pays off to stand out and follow your vision, where you don’t have to streamline and you don’t have to meet every single convention. But we can do things. We can add the production values that you could never have as a three-man team. We like to have rich visual experiences, we like to have deep core gameplay that is polished. Some people call this sector triple-I.

There was a time where this would have been called a double-A game, but that sector is dead now. What we want to do is focus on one thing and we want to polish it up to world-class standards. We can’t have it as feature rich as a triple-A title.”

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