Tiny Apocalypses: An Interview with Dan Pinchbeck, Creative Director of Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture

Everybody may have vanished from the slumbering town of Yaughton, but not without a trace.

Across a blindingly bright English countryside, with radios left on, research abandoned, doors unshut and phone booths ringing, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture explores what life there was like as you piece together a hauntingly calm apocalypse in a most unfamiliar setting: home sweet home.

Previously known for their surreal Dear Esther and Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is the latest game from studio The Chinese Room. In my curiosity to learn more about what fueled Rapture’s story, its big questions and the creative drive behind them, I discovered what inspires and compels the team that created it. Dan Pinchbeck, Creative Director at The Chinese Room, graciously took me through their process, the artistic decisions they made, his thoughts on science fiction and the potential for storytelling within video games today.

Below is an excerpt from our discussion, and you can read the full interview here.


rapture-yaughton-09Andrew Kuhar: What lead you to explore the English countryside as the right home for this take on the end of the world?

Dan Pinchbeck: The other major idea behind Rapture was the collision of the epic and the intimate, and we drew a lot of inspiration from the ‘cosy catastrophe’ science-fiction of authors like John Wyndham, Christopher Priest, J.G. Ballard and John Christopher. There’s a very definite Englishness about this work that felt just absolutely right for Rapture. The combination of a sleepy, idyllic English village with this apocalyptic tale just felt like it would get that sense so absolutely.

At the end of each character’s story, we get the rather harrowing opportunity to witness the emotional arc of their final moments. Yet, these set pieces are presented in one of the game’s most memorable aesthetics. How did these moments come together and what inspired them?

Often it’s not a lightbulb moment, but a gentle process of things. We really wanted to capture that magic and majesty of the stars in the skybox, to have that silent, beautiful sweep across the world. With Rapture, the emotional punch comes from that mix of big and small — we’ve talked a lot about the epic and the intimate — so we wanted to have a moment where those really small private moments of connection between people, or something as intimate and extraordinary as someone’s death, were played off against this huge sweeping cosmos and beauty of the drifting lights, to really set it in this magical context. I’m a huge Carl Sagan fan, and he often talked about how the more he understood just how extraordinary and vast the universe is, the most privileged he felt to be alive. We really wanted to make that statement in those moments.

Read the full interview »

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Why I Put Up With S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky

If you know me personally, you’re probably somewhat aware of the latest hurdle I’ve had to overcome in gaming. To my own surprise, it didn’t fall under the creative end of the medium. Instead, it was S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky (S:CS), the single most demanding game experience I’ve ever had. The one I came closest to giving up on over a dozen times.

At a point, the game peaked to an emotional train-wreck for me. Half-way across the Zone (what the affected area of the Chernobyl disaster, the theatre of S:CS, is referred to as in-game) and I was stripped of my arsenal. Notorious game-breaking bugs began to surface, enemy AI grew too accurate, and friendly AI fell too inaccurate. With few means for controlling my own fate, I learned to travel one save at a time for every step taken, tip-toeing around eggshells I couldn’t even see.

Seemingly out of nowhere, I was victorious: I beat Clear Sky. I was slightly baffled at coming upon such certainty in a game underscored by ambiguity. All that certainty was then swiftly washed away by the most concentrated dose of ambiguity S:CS had to offer with its ending. “Am I actually done?”, I thought. Was that it for me and Clear Sky? Are my adventures (nightmares) in the Zone stories worth telling, as opposed to crafting them?

Yes, to all of the above. So what was there to put up with, and why did I put up with it for so long?

Continue reading Why I Put Up With S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky