Interview: Dave Mervik of Tarsier Studios

Dave Mervik, the Narrative Designer for Tarsier Studios, took the time to talk to me about Roald Dahl novels, the hidden blessings in cancelled games, and Tarsier's new "suspense-adventure" game, Hunger.B -  First off, if you could tell us your name and what your role on the game Hunger is.

Dave Mervik, the Narrative Designer for Tarsier Studios, took the time to talk to me about Roald Dahl novels, the hidden blessings in cancelled games, and Tarsier’s new “suspense-adventure” game, Hunger.

B –  First off, if you could tell us your name and what your role on the game Hunger is.

D – My name’s Dave Mervik and I’m the Narrative Designer.

B –  So far, the game looks great.  It immediately stuck out to me when I saw the teaser trailer.  The art style looks heavily influenced by both claymation and directors such as Tim Burton.  Also, what you’ve shown of the levels look like they’re from a dollhouse one might see in their nightmares.  Can you talk about some of the things that helped influence the visual style of Hunger?  Any specific games, movies, books, etc?

D – We’ve heard the Tim Burton reference quite a lot over the years, and while I suppose there are similarities in the type of things we’re interested in, he’s not actually been a direct influence on our work. It’s interesting that you mention the claymation thing though, for while we’re not going to the lengths of games such as The Dream Machine, that sense of physicality and ‘presence’ is something we’ve been striving for. This is why we’re talking about a ‘Dollhouse Perspective’ and tactile controls; we want the player to feel more connected to this world, so that we can make them afraid to be in it! Another real inspiration has been Roald Dahl, who has that perfect blend of fun and unpleasantness that kids love and adults accept! Take something like The Witches. Here’s a story where monstrous creatures do awful things to good people, and the audience is forced to live with it. Okay, the witches get their comeuppance, but their wicked deeds aren’t reversed, and the hero is denied the traditional ‘victory.’ It’s great, and kids are too often deprived of that, in favour of an endless procession of happily-ever-afters. The Witches is like Se7en for kids!

B – Hunger has a definite darker tone than games you all have worked on in the past, such as the LittleBigPlanet series and Tearaway Unfolded.  If anything, Hunger seems to be reminiscent Tarsier’s 2005 title, The City of Metronome, that unfortunately was never released.  Where did the idea to make a darker game come from and am I right in assuming that there are similarities between Hunger and The City of Metronome?

D – LittleBigPlanet has been a huge part of the growth of this studio, but the thing with both that and Tearaway Unfolded is that they’re someone else’s ideas; the idiom of both has already been established – and massively successful – so you’re working with a different palette than you would with your own game. Taking the reins on LittleBigPlanet PS Vita gave us the chance to show what we were capable of, but even then we couldn’t help but give things a bit of a darker twist! As far as Hunger goes, there was no moment where we suddenly decided to make a darker game; this type of game is in Tarsier’s DNA. It’s the reason the company was started, and why so many more joined afterwards. Ironically, the fact that Metronome never got made has probably been the most positive thing in our ten year history. Who knows what would have happened if we’d tried to make that game back then? Maybe it would’ve been a crushing disappointment! Instead we entered into a fantastic relationship with Sony and Media Molecule, which helped us grow in both confidence and experience. Now we are an established studio of 40 people, and everyone at the company today is as interested in coming up with cool new stuff as those that started it all off. So, the short answer to your question is … yes, there are absolutely similarities between Metronome and Hunger. We were pretty much founded by The City of Metronome … and Hunger grew up in its ashes!

B – The Tarsier blog says that Hunger will be a genre that you all are calling, “suspense-adventure.”  What exactly is suspense-adventure and how is Hunger an example of this genre?

D – This came out of the fact that we’d been struggling to accurately label the game during the funding application process. It just didn’t fit into one of the established genres. It’s not an action-adventure, a survival horror, or a platformer; it borrows elements from all of them. So, rather than misrepresent the game, we decided to call it what it is! Hunger puts its focus on the build-up of tension and a suspenseful atmosphere, married with a more playful exploratory side. What’s been great is that we’ve found that the two sides of the game feed the success of the other. When you’re hiding & sneaking through a tense & unnerving situation, you appreciate it so much more when you come out the other side. Similarly, when you’re busy having fun, exploring and discovering The Maw, you can’t help but fear the moment when all that stops.

B – Your website states that you all have received generous amounts of money from both the Nordic Game Program and the Creative Europe Programme of the European Union and I personally have seen several posts on both social media sites and different game outlets expressing excitement about Hunger.  Is the early interest in the game helping build excitement and energy around the studio to release something great?  Also, do you feel any extra pressure with so many eyes watching?

D – The support from Nordic Game and Creative Europe has been a massive help in getting to where we are today. However excited we were about the Hunger concept, you can’t help but feel pessimistic about the chances of getting a game like that made. To be given that opportunity was fantastic, and then to hear the excitement surrounding the teaser – well, exactly as you say, it had an energizing effect on the whole team. You realize that your instincts can be trusted, and that more people than us are looking for something like this.

B – You all have done a lot of work on PlayStation platforms; can players look forward to a potential console release? A PC release?

D – The platform is, as yet, unconfirmed. The most important thing for us is that Hunger finds the right home.

B – Is there anything you can let us know about a potential release date or window, or is it too early to say at this point?

D – Yes, I’m afraid there’s nothing to announce on that front right now.

B – If people wanted to keep up to date with Hunger and Tarsier, where would they go?

D – We’re trying to be more active on Twitter nowadays. I’m still quite terrified of the whole twittering thing, and generally leave it to someone more professional and young, but they can get in touch with one of us @TarsierStudios. Otherwise, our main announcements and Hunger-related goodies will be posted on our homepage and Facebook.

B – One last question.  Out of sheer curiosity, why did you all choose to name the company after the Tarsier?  Is there any specific reason?

D – Alas, I joined the company long after this decision was made, so I wasn’t party to the interesting thought-process that led to it. Since a Tarsier is a shy, nocturnal animal with big crazy eyes, maybe they saw it as some sort of kindred spirit animal!

Tarsier Studios


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