Meet Perception's Design Team: Kirk Bezio and Ben Johnson
Meet Perception’s Design Team: Kirk Bezio and Ben Johnson
How did you approach the design in Perception?
Kirk: I usually tend to grind away at an idea until it grudgingly reveals its shape to me, one tiny epiphany at a time. With Perception, however, I had a pretty good concept of what the game could be right from the start. A lot of interesting ideas tumbled out very quickly, though you never really know what will work until you try it. The most important part of the design process, especially for a game like this, is prototyping and playtesting. To that end, I try to iterate in-engine as much as possible, as early as possible.
Reduced to its fundamental gameplay elements, Perception boils down to "You are blind and being hunted." What immediately struck me was how sound is both a comforting ally to you and, at the same time, your betrayer. This kind of dissonance is the engine that drives interesting decision making. You depend on sound to find your way around, to interact with the world, to make progress. There is no reason not to use it constantly... excessively even. Yet somewhere out there in the void is the Presence, listening for any hint of you. Now suddenly sound is a resource that must be carefully managed. It is an obstacle that must be circumvented. It is a puzzle to be torn apart and understood. It is a weapon that can be brought to bear against the senses of your enemy. The design is transformed by this tension between the fear of discovery and the need to move forward.
Ben: When it comes to horror, I like to start from the idea of "an ordinary person in extraordinary circumstances." Cassie is an ordinary woman, walking around in a house that she hasn't been to, but has seen repeatedly in her dreams. How much should you trust what's on your screen? Is that door real? Is the pattern in the carpet something you remember from your dreams, or are you just imagining it? Are your senses being tampered with by the supernatural presence? That's a pretty robust palette to work with.
What games inspire you, from a design standpoint?
Kirk: Plants Vs. Zombies is one of the most important design handbooks on my shelf. Its lessons are innumerable and deftly executed. Similarly, I greatly admire how each tool and system in Batman: Arkham Asylum was crafted to provide the player with a symphony of indispensable verbs.
Board games are also a great source of inspiration, particularly for creating transparent and accessible mechanics. A Few Acres of Snow is one of my recent favorites.
The most compelling experiences to me though are those that allow players to apply their natural problem-solving instincts and express themselves within an engaging and deeply immersive world. Thief I & II, Dark Souls and Shadow of the Colossus have all had a profound impact on my design sensibilities. These games are not afraid to hand over the reigns and let the player drive, trusting that the world-building, emergent game systems and rich environmental storytelling will transport the player solidly into another reality in which they can lose themselves.
Ben: I'm lucky to be part of New York's amazing game design community. Having worked with Babycastles for the last 5 years, it's hard not to be influenced by people like Bennett Foddy (QWOP), Keita Takahashi (Katamari Damacy), or Anna Anthropy (Dys4ia). Attention to gamefeel, and resisting the urge to add to a design when you can remove something are attitudes I try to practice in my own work. For Perception in particular, some reference points are Dead Space, Silent Hill 2, Gone Home, and the perception-twisting twine game The Uncle Who Works For Nintendo.
What has been your favorite part of the process so far?
Kirk: Working with a small team on a focused project with a clear vision has been fantastic.
Ben: Cassie's such an interesting character to design for. She's not just a stand-in for the player, she's a specific person. When I'm working on a system or a mechanic, I try to think about how it can express Cassie's personality. How does the way Cassie explores a room differ from Isaac Clarke in Dead Space, or Katie Greenbriar in Gone Home? It's a challenge to elevate a mechanic from something utilitarian to something expressive without needlessly complicating it, but striking that balance is one of the most fun parts of the job.
How would you describe your personal aesthetic or style of design?
Kirk: I suppose I design the same way I play, by thoughtfully probing the boundaries of the world in which I find myself, in search of something new or meaningful to learn or digest.
Ben: I wish I had a straight answer for this. I'm informed a lot by theater, both in terms of performance, and lets-put-on-a-show work ethic. I'm more punk than classic, and more entertainer than artist. I believe the audience can handle it if you've laid the groundwork to earn it, and sometimes even if you haven't.
What are you most excited about with Perception?
Kirk: Figuring out how to assemble a completely new idea is one of the most thrilling aspects of game development. Perception is an opportunity to sail off the edge of the map and slay some design dragons.
Ben: I've been working mostly in 2D for the last few years, so some of my excitement is just about getting a chance to think in three dimensions again. And I don't know if you've looked at this team, but there is so much talent here. It's a great feeling to dig into such a cool premise and know that when you realize the right way to build something isn't the easy way, that these people will have your back when you follow your instincts.
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