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Monday, November 2, 2020

[Interview] From ‘Friday the 13th’ to ‘From Beyond’: Fossil Games Discuss the Influences Behind ‘Camp Sunshine’ and ‘Sunshine Manor’

The ‘80s were an amazing time for horror. So many films of that era continue to be championed to this day – so much so that the era has seen a repeated resurgence in pop culture. From the likes of Stranger Things to synthwave and retro-styled video games, the ‘80s have been creeping their way into various forms of media throughout the past few years. Fossil Games, an indie developer made up of two people based in the States and UK, is among those carrying the ‘80s torch.  

Some may be aware of the developer’s name, given their first release, Camp Sunshine. Through its retro-inspired graphics, spooky atmosphere, and fun gameplay, the game proved to be a stellar success. Now four years later, Fossil Games are nearing the release of their next title: Sunshine Manor.

As a prequel to Camp Sunshine, the developer looks to further extend the story of their Sunshine Universe Trilogy. Sunshine Manor has been part of a pretty successful Kickstarter campaign (which features the new chilling locale and some of the monsters players will go up against). I wrote to Paul Dolby (one half of Fossil Games) to learn more about the work gone into Camp Sunshine, ‘80s horror movies, and the lessons learned from the team’s first game.

Bloody Disgusting: What spurred on the idea to create the Sunshine Universe Trilogy? What was your initial drive in creating Camp Sunshine? Was Sunshine Manor pre-mapped out, regarding story and gameplay, or was it a matter of figuring it out over time?

Paul Dolby: It’s funny, Camp Sunshine was originally a small project that I was doing solo, trying to make my own version of the Friday the 13th game for the NES. I absolutely loved playing that (and Nightmare on Elm Street) and remember how terrified I was when Jason would show up in a cabin and you’d mash the d-pad dodging his attacks. So I wondered what could be done to make my own version, and slowly it began to snowball way out of control – that is until I got in touch with Josh [the other member of Fossil Games] and the game took on a new life. 

The game was originally just going to be a one-and-done affair, but Josh and I got on so well that we began to talk about our shared love of ‘80s horror and the fact that all good horror franchises should have a trilogy. We began to write the [Sunshine Manor] story during Camp Sunshine, so there are elements in Camp Sunshine that tie back to Manor and also to the third game too!

BD: What were some lessons you learned during and after Camp Sunshine that you brought into Sunshine Manor?

PD: The first is that jump scares are fun, but there’s a lot more behind something just being super loud with flashing images (though we did put one of those in for fun too). It’s about the tension you build up before they happen and how you can lull players into a false sense of security; which slowly begins to eat away at them before you trigger events and send them running … it’s so fun! Sunshine Manor definitely has its fair share of scares, but we wanted them to feel like they’re part of the story rather than on top. 

The second thing was that people find the strangest things during their playthroughs and take away so many different interpretations of the story, which is absolutely wonderful. So sometimes being a little vague with plot elements rather than explaining everything outright led us to some far more memorable moments … and that continues in Sunshine Manor too!

BD: On the Kickstarter page, you mention the game pulls inspiration from a number of iconic horror works – What were your goals in regards to the horror component in Sunshine Manor? What specific sort of feeling and atmosphere did you want to present players? How did you go about figuring out the best methods in creating such presence?

PD: For Sunshine Manor, the primary theme was going to be the demon realm. The original concept of the game stemmed from watching and re-watching From Beyond way too many times and Pretorius’ resonator seemed like such a great concept … What if there was an entire realm around you that you didn’t realize was chocked full of weird and wonderful demons? 

So the game is pretty much divided into two [realms]. You have your classic horror elements in the mortal realm where the Shadow Man is hunting you down, watching and now even listening for you. Then you head off into the demon realm where the game style changes up and it’s more frantic and fraught … which is a lot of fun and gives you a nice bit of breathing room (well, some!) before you dive back into the mansion again. 

BD: As horror fans, what is it about the ‘80s that speaks to you? What are your favorite films of the period?

PD: 80s Horror is just a perfect blend of the right time, right place, and the right people. There were so many directors and writers that were taking chances with horror they never would have done before – as such films tried to out-do each other in terms of kills and how much they could get away with. 

My favorite horror films of the ‘80s would have to be (and this is in no particular order), Hellraiser, The Thing, An American Werewolf in London, The Fly, Re-Animator, They Live … oh man there’s so many to choose from!

BD: What encouraged you to create Camp Sunshine and Sunshine Manor in the top-down retro style? The art style has a nostalgic flair to it – Have you, in any way, utilized that nostalgia to enhance the gameplay of your games? How so?

PD: One of our favorite games is Zombies Ate My Neighbors, so I began Camp Sunshine in that style by default and then it kind of stuck. It’s a lot more time consuming as Josh has to draw everything in four directions, but the final effect is really nice!

Oh we’ve definitely used nostalgia! People are more aware of what they’re stepping into in certain scenes and instances now, so we can play with your expectations and throw something different your way! It’s the reason we use cute(ish) looking characters as it just feels so much worse when they die or are dismembered. 

BD: Can you speak a little to the development process behind Sunshine Manor? How much structure do you require in the day to day work? What sort of creative challenges have you come across? Any fun surprises along the way?

PD: The biggest creative challenge has been switching to an entirely new development engine. However, that has also opened up massive possibilities to do things we wouldn’t have been able to do before. It has definitely informed the story writing of Sunshine Manor a lot more too, as there have been countless times where we’ve wondered if we could do X, tried it, and were amazed how we didn’t think of it before!

BD: After the release of Sunshine Manor, do you plan on taking a vacation to relax and bask in the excitement of the game finally being out in the world, or is it right to planning the next installment in the trilogy?

PD: Well for me, taking a rest is a little boring, so I know I’ll be itching to carry on and begin the third game in the trilogy. I think my partner might have a little something to say about that so she might disconnect the internet for a few days!

BD: What is the most important goal to you when it comes to Sunshine Manor? What do you hope players get out of the experience?

PD: That players feel like they’ve taken part in a complete story, and that they had a few laughs and more screams along the way! 

Bloody Disgusting would like to thank Fossil Games for their time in answering our questions. Sunshine Manor will be available for Windows, Mac, PS4, Switch, and Xbox One (no official release date at this time). You can find the game, along with Camp Sunshine, on Steam. Sunshine Manor‘s Kickstarter campaign ends this Friday.


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