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Thursday, January 21, 2021

[Interview] ‘Mundaun’ Developer Michel Ziegler Discusses the Folk Horror and Real Life Experiences Behind the Game

There’s plenty of first-person horror games around, so there needs to be something quite distinct about one if it’s going to catch the eyes and interest of seasoned horror gamers. Michel Ziegler‘s Mundaun certainly achieves that.

Its hand-drawn look captures the feel of pencil drawing, and its unique, somewhat personal take on folklore and daylight horror. Even the briefest glimpse of Mundaun gives you an idea of its oppressive atmosphere, and that’s a tough thing to achieve.

I had a chat with Michel about the game’s striking style, atmosphere, and influences, which are based on reality more than fiction.

Bloody Disgusting: The pencil-drawn visuals of Mundaun really help the game stand out. There’s an inherent gloominess to graphite that complements the atmosphere. Was this look always the intention?

Michel Ziegler: Yes, very much so. Graphite as a material already brings with it that specific, as you put it, gloomy feel. But then in addition to that, it is super versatile. From abstract, deep, and dark strokes to almost photorealistic shading, it can do anything. That’s very helpful when interpreting all types of sources for textures. And the resulting look is very consistent, since it’s all graphite.

BD: Horror gaming is dominated by stories played out in near-darkness and often accompanied by visceral violence. Mundaun certainly feels like the antithesis to that. Was that a deliberate decision or just a question of personal taste?

MZ: A bit of both. I’m fascinated by sinister events taking place in broad daylight. I think that especially works well in black and white. I’ve seen old black and white Swiss films as a child which weren’t even horror films in the slightest. But the mood still struck me as oppressive and unsettling, and that inspired the daytime scenes in Mundaun. Gore isn’t really what makes me appreciate scary films and games. For me, horror is about a thick atmosphere that permeates everything. It needs to be beautiful and scary at the same time.

BD: Folk horror is clearly something Mundaun draws heavily from. Were there particular examples of it that you drew inspiration from to capture its tone of something sinister bubbling beneath the surface of relative normalcy?

MZ: I wasn’t really aware of the genre when I started working on the game. I did really enjoy films like The Wicker Man in the past, so I think my inspiration came more from folklore stories I loved as a child rather than what is called folk horror. But the theme of something sinister and dark behind a pastoral and idyllic surface is very much what fascinates me. Superstitions, supernatural explanations of phenomena that people don’t understand or didn’t a century ago. Stories that are born from the surroundings of people, their daily lives, nature. That kind of thing.

BD: Mundaun’s based on a real place in Switzerland. There’s an obvious appeal to such an isolated, yet intimidatingly open location for a horror game, especially one where you come in as an outsider. How much of the real Mundaun seeps into the fictional version?

MZ: The place I have been visiting with my family since I was a child is in a very small village. There were maybe ten people living there, not it’s more like five. If I want to show someone the real-life inspiration for Mundaun, they just have to visit Platenga, which is the name of that village. Some of the most important buildings and sources for textures and sounds for the game are right there within a five-minute walking distance. Of course, I am cherry-picking what goes in the game. And I take inspiration from everywhere. The real Mundaun region is a jumping-off point first and foremost.

BD: The game features some rather odd, slightly sinister, inhabitants who commune in their own unique language. Are these inspired by something from reality or perhaps a mixture of that with something from other fiction?

MZ: The language they speak is Rumantsch. It is only spoken in some regions of the Swiss alps and has a distinct sound. I decided early on that if the Mundaun cast was going to speak, it needed to be in Rumantsch. It just adds another layer to the sense of place in the game. Some of the characters are Swiss folklore regulars. Others came into being during the process of creating and iterating the game and story. They add a lot of color (no pun intended) and at least some company in the solemn hills of Mundaun.

BD: How tricky has it been to balance the more muted, ominous creeping dread of the location and its residents with the more outlandish and otherworldly appearance of the monsters?

MZ: Not very hard, actually. The enemies are somewhat rooted in the game world and its regions, so they fit into the world neatly. Also, the tone of the game is somewhat different from some other horror titles. It’s very dark, but not dead serious all the time. Some elements are maybe more theatrical and it is a world that is as much about making coffee as it is about surviving nightly encounters with hay creatures.

BD: Storytelling is obviously quite important in Mundaun, be it through the subtle tells in the environment or the discoveries you make along the way, but there’s still puzzles and monster encounters to contend with. How have you gone about ensuring those things don’t get too in the way of the story’s flow and pacing?

MZ: I personally love games that do different things along the way of the story they tell. Call it playful or gamey. I think a story in a game needs room to breathe and not just be beat after beat like a really tightly scripted film. That’s where this medium gets interesting. So in Mundaun, there are different sections. Some have more dialogue and are more linear because it makes sense from a storytelling perspective. And some are more free-roaming and about exploration. Personally, I think it’s always good to try and question or upend norms and expectations.

Mundaun is out March 16 on PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC via Steam (where you can now wishlist the game) and the Epic Game Store.



source https://bloody-disgusting.com/video-games/3648922/interview-mundaun-developer-michel-ziegler-discusses-folk-horror-real-life-experiences-behind-pencil-drawn-horror-game/

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