Though As Dusk Falls was one of Xbox‘s biggest published releases of 2022, players that picked up the game soon found that Interior Night‘s dramatic choose-your-own-adventure tale played more like a big-budget TV show than many of its peers under the Xbox umbrella. Set before, during and after a tense hostage situation at an Arizona motel, As Dusk Falls is heavily inspired by prestige TV and tasks players with making a range of sweeping decisions on the behalf of its cast.
- READ MORE: The art of storytelling: How 20 years spent making narrative games led Caroline Marchal to ‘As Dusk Falls’
Predictably, NME‘s interview with Interior Night CEO Caroline Marchal and lead writer Brad Kane becomes sidetracked by their favourite TV shows of the last year. While Marchal praises the third season of The Boys, Better Call Saul and Game of Thrones spin-off House of the Dragon, Kane leans toward Severance and Hawkeye; and the pair both love Succession. It’s not a completely unrelated discussion: Marchal has always been open about how As Dusk Falls took more inspiration from prestige TV than other games.
Yet before the story of As Dusk Falls took shape, Marchal reveals that the game’s choose your own adventure-style design came from a more unusual source – Twitch Plays Pokémon, a 2014 livestreamed social experiment that tasked the Twitch community with using the channel’s chat room to guide a bot through Pokémon Red. Marchal liked seeing the “community coming together to achieve something very difficult,” and started thinking about how the concept could be brought into a more traditional game setting.
“I wondered, what’s the narrative equivalent of that? How do you bring as many people as possible together to share and experience a story? So we started with the idea of making it as seamless as possible and for as many people as possible to share,” recalls Marchal, who wanted As Dusk Falls to offer a “mature [and] not complex, but a sophisticated story about relatable characters.”
To achieve the broad appeal of Twitch Plays Pokémon, Marchal said that Interior/Night wanted to avoid giving players direct control of their characters, and instead let the audience try and guide As Dusk Falls‘ cast through the story with impactful decision-making and a “high density” of branching choices. However, the game’s TV roots were never far away – the CEO adds that it was equally important the “story flow is never interrupted” with things like game over screens, and acknowledged the importance of making each character – from doting dad Vince Walker to the hostage-taking Holt brothers – feel empathetic.
From there, Marchal says she broke down the story of As Dusk Falls with Kane and the Interior Night team in the style of a TV writer’s room. From Kane’s perspective, he remembers starting off with a character map and a vague idea of the setting, which Marchal envisioned as a “pressure cooker” hostage situation at the motel.
“But the challenge and the opportunity and the thing we really saw eye to eye on was that there have been a lot of narrative games – between us we worked on a bunch of them – but nobody had done an original IP with cinematic pacing,” says Kane, who adds that many narrative games struggle with pacing as they try to keep the player involved.
“We both felt…why can’t these games just feel like prestige television, with a player at the centre of it? So we approached it from that point of view,” he adds, explaining that the pair wanted to ensure As Dusk Falls‘ cast felt like fleshed-out TV characters and the game itself was well-paced. “It was always the plan,” Kane summarises. “Let’s just make something that plays like it could be on Netflix.”
With that in mind, it makes sense that As Dusk Falls was influenced by a host of film and TV staples. Marchal says 1975 crime film Dog Day Afternoon was a “big inspiration” to As Dusk Falls‘ motel standoff, while the Fargo TV show’s “super high quality” writing was something the Interior Night team aspired to. Meanwhile, Kane says character-driven shows like Breaking Bad and The Crown helped to inform how As Dusk Falls tells the story of each cast member, while Lost‘s flashback format influenced the game’s non-chronological story.
However, a running theme through many of these influences is that the survival of a character – even one considered a “main” star – is rarely guaranteed. That’s also true in As Dusk Falls: because so many monumental decisions are left for the player to decide, few characters are guaranteed to reach the credits in one piece. A dramatic example is (spoilers ahead) Vince, who is initially introduced as the main character, but can be killed at several points in the game depending on the decisions players make for him.
“I don’t remember when we realised that Vince could die,” says Kane, who recalls having “a lot of debate” over whether Vince should be able to die, how his death would come about, and what it means to kill the player character in a game.
“It’s an example of something where it felt wrong for the story to not have that option, and then we had to face the consequences of that downstream effect for a lot more episodes,” explains Kane, who points to how the death affects the story of his daughter Zoey and other characters. “It would be easier for us to not have these kinds of big long-term ripple effects – but to me, it’s what makes the format so interesting.”
As the pair touched on earlier, making sure that each character – whether they survive or not – is empathetic was important to pulling off As Dusk Falls‘ emotional story. “It starts with just acknowledging that this is what people are – we don’t really have good guys, or bad guys, in the world,” explains Kane.
“We make them into that. But from the perspective of that person they’re never a bad guy, they’re always doing things for a valid reason. That’s the basis for empathy, and that was our starting place. On TV I don’t like good guys and bad guys – there’s always a different side to somebody, and it’s what makes these prestige shows so interesting,” he adds, pointing to the success of TV anti-heroes like Tony Soprano and Walter White.
Marchal adds that Interior Night was able to build empathy for both sides of As Dusk Falls‘ tale by swapping the player’s perspective – one moment you’re helping Vince navigate his wife and daughter through a tense hostage situation, the next you’re watching a flashback of their captors dealing with poverty and domestic violence. Marchal says that because Interior Night was “living with” these characters for years in development, the team was already empathetic to their various causes; and the perspective swaps were a way to help players connect in the same way.
“You write from a place of empathy, or there’s literally no point,” says Marchal. “Forcing the players to switch side like this helps them empathise and see different perspectives on the same problem – TV shows do that all the time, but it’s rarer in games.”
As a result of that empathy, making decisions – often within a short amount of time – can be heartbreaking. “The agony is intended for players,” says Kane, while Marchal acknowledges that struggling to pick a side in As Dusk Falls‘ conflicts means Interior Night has done a good job at designing them.
That’s a sentiment that has been echoed across the games industry – As Dusk Falls bet big on TV, and won. We recently named As Dusk Falls one of 2022’s best games, and this month it won the Games for Impact award at The Game Awards. Combined with As Dusk Falls‘ warm reception from critics, Interior Night’s debut is by all measures a success – yet Marchal says the studio won’t be resting on its laurels. “We’re working on new stuff,” she says, before leaving things on a cliffhanger. “[Our] DNA as a studio is trying to create new stories [and] new IPs…but that’s all I can say.”
Interview by Jake Tucker, words by Andy Brown.
As Dusk Falls is available on PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X|S.