The Challenges of Making Man of Medan a Co-op Game

By Laura Kate Dale on at

If you were a fan of Until Dawn on PS4, and have been excitedly awaiting your chance to play more interactive horror from Supermassive Games, the wait won’t be too much longer. Man of Medan, the first game in the Dark Pictures Anthology, releases in late August, and you can read our impressions on its opening hours here.

As part of a press event showing off the opening hours of Man of Medan’s new co-op modes, I was able to sit down and chat with Pete Samuels, CEO of Supermassive Games and executive producer of the Dark Pictures Anthology, to answer some lingering questions about the upcoming ghost ship horror experience.

Considering Man of Medan is playable in both single player, and a co-op mode where certain scenes are not shown to all players, I began by asking which offered the best first-time experience.

“I think I personally prefer playing through Man of Medan in the two player mode, because of what’s unique about it, the whole fact that there are things happening you don’t get to see. But we get that a lot of people will want to play the single player story first, and that has to be an awesome experience too, so we make sure that both ways of playing are great experiences.”

The game has to have enough content for two different characters to simultaneously feel like they are having an impact on the story, so I asked Samuels what particular challenges Supermassive had found in with multiplayer in this style.

“Once you put in two players making choices at the same time, it can spiral out of control in terms of branching paths. Managing all that was one of the biggest challenges of adding co-op. I won’t say we did a good job of that, it branched out a lot more than we meant it to and got away from us a little bit. It didn’t necessarily become a longer game, but we struggled to reign in how many branching choices there were. We’re very proud of it now, but it’s very big and branching.”

When playing through the game’s opening 90 minutes in two player co-op, one issue I came across was the fact that sometimes, control of a character switches between two players, who may differ in how they wish to control that character’s actions. I asked Samuels if the development team had taken any steps to combat dissonance between each player’s in character actions, but the answer seemed to imply not really.

“Having different players control the same character in two player mode, there is a risk for sure that players might have different visions for the character. One thing we are very conscious of is that, if one player hasn’t seen a scene, we find a way to let them know what happened before we give them control of the character, so that they know enough context to make an informed choice. We make sure that the player is never lacking information about how to play the character, but this is still so new for us, we’re just going to have to keep an eye out on that.”

Considering players online had been playing Until Dawn at launch as a makeshift co-op game, I was curious how much of a factor the community's push to make their own co-op had been in pushing Supermassive to implement the feature for themselves.

“We found it slightly embarrassing that players online had come up with co-op rules for Until Dawn, and we as the developer hadn’t thought of it ourselves,” laughs Samuels. “We made the Movie Night mode out of embarrassment.”

“We really wanted to show that we were aware of how the audience wanted to play, and that we were trying to support that.”

When asked if they were confident in their approach, Samuels suggested there was room for further changes to co-op in the later Dark Pictures releases.

“There were some differing ideas on how to go about this, and we think we’ve got it right. If we haven’t got it right, people will tell us, and maybe we can adjust that going forward. We’ve given players continuity of owning a character in Movie Night, and we do recognise that might mean one player might just be out of the game quite early on if things go badly. If that happens they can shout along at their friends about what to do.”

One of the bigger complaints about Until Dawn was the presence of a mechanic where players had to hold their controller still to stay calm, or risk characters being killed off. The mechanic was great when it worked but, for some, it seemed to simply not work correctly. When asked about the absence of this mechanic in the demo for Man of Medan, Samuels energetically confirmed that a heartbeat-matching minigame where you time button presses is a direct replacement.

“I loved that keep the controller still mechanic, and I think a lot of players did. For some reason, it didn’t work well in some situations for some players. I’m not sure we ever got to the bottom of that issue, it was a mystery. Players are not forgiving of a character dying to a technical issue, and we understand that.”

“Because we’re multiplatform now, we needed a ‘keep still’ mechanic that didn’t rely on accelerometers for those platforms without them. Because so many people enjoyed that mechanic when it worked correctly, we were really keen to make sure there was something to replace it, rather than just removing it entirely. It just helps to raise the stress and tension for the player.”

“When we were originally talking about the keep calm mechanic, we were really keen not to make it too difficult. It’s not about difficulty, it’s about the tension of knowing you have to do something repetitively, for quite a long time, with even a single slip-up causing failure. It’s about extended time spent at risk.”

While Man of Medan does allow players who have completed the game to select scenes to jump to from the main menu, the game doesn’t support skipping ahead through a given scene to the next choice based moment. I asked Samuels about why this was, and his answer boiled down to keeping the story chronology in line.

“Why don’t we let you skip ahead to the next choice within a scene? Well, coming up with a story that has so many branches and important moments, our big worry is that the player will forget what has and has not yet happened if they skip around within a scene. We worry it would confuse the narrative.”

Lastly, I wanted to hit on the fact that Man of Medan has some story content in the form of a “curator’s cut” mode being held back to November (or sooner if you pre-order the game). I wanted to know where the line was with regards to holding back some story content for pre-order buyers, and Samuels’ response was pretty blunt.

“The plan was always to give the Curator’s Cut content away for free to everyone who owned the game. Honestly, it exists as a pre-order bonus because my publisher tells me it’s really important we have a bonus for pre-orders.”

Man of Medan is out on August 29 for PC, PS4 and Xbox One. You can read our latest hands-on impressions here.