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The Inspiration Behind The Beautiful Noir Thriller, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter

Author: Gina

As you enter the lush, yet eerie landscape of Red Creek Valley through a distorted brick tunnel and take on the role of Paul, a mysterious investigative journalist, whose responsibility it is to track down Ethan Carter.

It’s easy to get lost in the vast woodlands and shells of empty trees, with the cascading branches and sloping rocky mounds that make up one of the most beautiful landscapes I’ve seen in a game.

The first person perspective creates a personal and raw touch to the story and I found with each step, I became caught up in the valley and I was torn between the winded feeling of never wanting to leave, balanced with the constant fretful state I found myself in. This is a horror game after all, but it’s easily mistaken for a peaceful jaunt in the mountains, only pulling me back with the sinister puzzles, scarlet blood splattered throughout and the ambitious, clawing soundtrack that created uneasy and tense moments.

As a lover of the old crime thrillers, gritty noir and slow burning, ominous media such as The Village of the Damned, The Wicker Man and True Detective, to me The Vanishing of Ethan Carter creates a chasm of atmosphere and delivers through a satisfying, distributing and at times chaotic experience that was full or surprises that completed its harmonious setting.

I was thrilled to have the chance to ask The Astronauts, the developers behind The Vanishing of Ethan Carter some questions about my own experience with the game.


You’ve touched on some of your inspiration, including Lovecraft, I think the story is refreshing and one of the most authentic detective games I’ve played in a while, did you have any character inspiration when creating Paul, the protagonist of the game?

The other writer I love is Raymond Chandler, and his Marlowe was a bit of an inspiration. But oddly enough the character of Paul evolved during the development, a change as it was driven by forces unseen, and the Chandleresque elements are now hard to find. Paul got more warmth, softness and an inclination to self-reflect. What Marlowe had hidden under the veil of cynicism, Paul wears on his sleeve.


Some people have been surprised that this is a horror game, where do you think it sits in the horror game genre?

The game is in a rare subgenre of horror called weird fiction. Well, rare might be an exaggeration, as, for example, Stephen King has written a lot of weird fiction, but it's still not as popular as vampires, zombies, haunted houses, or even j-horror.

Weird fiction is way more about, as one of our writers calls it, "clumsy unease" than jump scares or gore. Think "True Detective" season one rather than "Day of the Living Dead".


The puzzles are incredibly immersive and interactive, where did this idea stem from, the classic noir crime thrillers?

The brutal but honest answer that Neil Gaiman loves to give on such occasions is "the ideas come from my head". The puzzles in our game took a long time and a lot of work to create and implement them, and I cannot even recall all the inspirations behind them. But noir is indeed something I have an unhealthy fascination of.


The setting is beautiful and it reminds me of Twin Peaks, the whole feel of the game is quite Twin Peaks-esque, did you travel anywhere to get ideas for the environment?

Actually, it's all movies and art we surround ourselves with every day. We knew we needed a lot of symbolism in the game, and even the time of year is not accidental or an afterthought. Same goes for the nature and how it contrasts with the events of the game.

So first it was the movies and TV, and only then we looked at the real world places, trying to find something we can photoscan into the game. By the way, Twin Peaks was indeed one if the inspirations: I made our first internal trailer with the series' unforgettable main theme...


Even though the game was released on Unreal Engine 3, it was remade in Unreal Engine 4, was this a good way to learn the engine? Do you plan on using the Unreal Engine 4 on any upcoming projects?

Yes. For a small studio like ours, having an engine of UE4 class is the only way to create something that can at least somewhat compete against much bigger studios and projects.

Especially considering the quality of visuals we strive for. So yes, UE4 all the way. We are at the end of the pre-production phase of the new game, and will soon move to full production.