Papa Sangre II is different from other horror games. Recently released for the iPhone, it makes use of gyro and binaural technology in order to create the most atmospheric and chilling experience possible. Featuring the voice of Sean Bean, it’s being talked about as being one of the most remarkable works of art produced for iOS. I caught up with Nicky Birch, Head of Products at Somethin’ Else and executive producer of Papa Sangre II, to discuss their new game.
148 Apps: You’re obviously a company who work with a great variety of media. Was there anything you learned from the development of the original Papa Sangre that you took on board in order to create the greatest user experience possible for Papa Sangre II?
Nicky Birch (NB): The two Papa Sangre games are similar but also hugely different. The first was a piece of magic; we wanted a 3D sound game and realized there was no technology to help us, so we had to build it. It was beautiful and a real technical ground breaker. For the sequel we wanted to use more sounds and add to the dramatic narrative feel of the game. We began to think about how we can make a game with more advanced gameplay, have a returning game (achievements) and crucially use the gyro controls system for much more immersive play.
148 Apps: What does the term ‘truly innovative’ mean to you as a developer? Do you feel that Papa Sangre II has paved the way for other developers to really branch out and try new things?
NB: Fundamentally it means being bold and investing in R&D. Merging creative game designers with adept technologists. Pushing the devices to the limits of what they can do. We have had to reinvent a bunch of game known design archetypes - what is a puzzler without graphics? Or a first person shooter without defined visual clues? It doesn't come without challenges; our developers and producers are under pressure to deliver and learn at the same time, which is hard but ultimately rewarding work to do.
NB: Papa Sangre II was a huge project which took close to two years to make. The game itself took about a year from early conception to delivery and it was a labour of love for the team of writers, producers, sound designers, developers, and illustrators involved. The other substantial piece of work was the entire overhaul of the 3D engine (Papa Engine) that powers the game. This is what allows you to hear sounds 360 degrees around your head - sounds which can move towards or away from you as designated by the game's producer.
The Papa Engine is a powerful spatial audio engine that uses sophisticated HRTF processing to produce a binaural audio-scape in your headphones. HRTF processing has been around for years, but doing this on a mobile platform is a new innovation. I am proud to say our audio engineers are true geniuses who have now wrapped this engine up into a reusable API for other devs to use on their games. With regards to the gyro, right at the start of the game design process after Papa 1, it was always our intention for our next game to connect more to the environment the player was in. So the gyro tool was the obvious first addition to add in. Allowing us to augment reality in a clever and possibly more authentic way than games that use cameras and visuals because it lets your mind fill in the blanks. That's why we always say your mind has the best graphics.
NB: We were lucky because of the success of Papa Sangre and our follow up game The Nightjar with Benedict Cumberbatch. We had won some awards and had an audience of players who followed our games as well as lots of support from within the blind gaming community. So we didn't have to explain the idea to many people; they trusted us to deliver.
148 Apps: What feedback have you received for Papa Sangre II? Do you feel the involvement of Sean Bean as narrator has made a huge difference to the success of the game?
NB: We have been overwhelmed with the response for Papa Sangre II - both in blog reviews and also player reviews. At the time of this interview, Papa Sangre II is the highest rated British iOS game of all time (and also the highest rated across the world this year). So that is a real honor and a fantastic response to our team's passion and commitment to pushing creative and technical boundaries. Having Sean on board has helped that to an extent as he has fans across the world who know him from his movie work and Game of Thrones. Also when you play the game you can hear how great Sean plays his role and his first class performance adds a real edge to the drama.
NB: Having built and refined the Papa Engine that powers Papa Sangre II, we want to experiment with more audio games and see where we can push the technology. Only we hope it won't take 2 years for the next one - so expect more 3D audio games to come early next year. Wearing our client hat we also make games for brands and broadcasters...but to find out which games are ours may take a spot of detective work.
Many thanks to Nicky Birch for the interview. We can't wait to see just what Somethin' Else has in store for the future.