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Interview: Outlast 2 dev on making an impact, and the joy of making you afraid.

"Getting scared makes you feel alive."

There is no denying Outlast's influence in the horror genre. Armed with a terrifying mixture of panic-fueled gameplay and unsettling themes, Red Barrels' debut game became an instant hit, with many critics proclaiming it to be the scariest game ever made, and rightfully so.
With today's launch of the hugely-anticipated sequel, Outlast 2, we decided it was the perfect time to pick the brain of Red Barrels Co-Founder, Philippe Morin.

Pictured: not Philippe Morin

While most people today associate you with Outlast, you've been in the game industry a long time. Tell us a little about your history and other titles that you worked on.

Philippe Morin: I was hired by Ubisoft as a game designer in 1998 - same for the other co-founders, Hugo Dallaire and David Chateauneuf - and my first game was Donald Duck: Goin' Quackers. Not a great game, but a good learning experience because I got to be on the project from start to finish and learn all phases of production.
A little later, Hugo had shipped the first Splinter Cell and I joined David on Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. After shipping that game, the core team started working on a concept that would become Assassin's Creed, though I didn't complete the project. Instead, I left for California to join Naughty Dog and work on Uncharted: Drake's Fortune.
"We left our jobs and founded Red Barrels. [...] It was the best move of my career."
Afterward, I came to Montreal and worked for three years as a Creative Director at Ubisoft and EA Montreal, where I was working with David and Hugo on a new IP. Unfortunately (or fortunately), our project at EA got cancelled and that's when we decided to make a move. We left our jobs and founded Red Barrels. It took us 18 months to find the money we needed to start production and 14 months to make the PC version of Outlast. It was the best move of my career.

What was it like leaving a such a large studio environment to pursue your own company?

Philippe: It was thrilling. Every decision could be taken on the spot by the people in the room. Our faith was in our hands and like we often say, "It's ours to fuck up". Production was an intense sprint. We had to release the game before running out of money. We worked for about six months on just the first hour of the game, because it was important for us to nail the right pacing.
Once we felt confident about that hour, we took parts of it to build our demo for PAX East. We felt we had a solid demo, but we weren't sure if people would find it scary enough. But, then the screams started and we were in heaven. After PAX, we had four months to finish the game. It was like a sprint within a sprint.

What did you expect upon releasing the original Outlast, and how did the game's sudden success affect the direction of the studio?

Philippe: The success of Outlast exceeded our dreams. We were already satisfied we could ship the game without extra money or time, but getting all the love from fans was like icing on the cake. It allowed us to make Outlast 2 without time constraints.
"...we weren't sure if people would find it scary enough. But, then the screams started and we were in heaven."
We went from 10 developers to 20 and didn't have to compromise our ambitions too much. On a personal level, it also meant I would never have to work again for a big studio.

Counting the Whistleblower DLC, Outlast 2 will be your third horror game in a row. What is it about the genre that appeals to you?

Philippe: We like to create emotional rollercoaster rides, and horror allows us to explore a wide range of extreme emotions. We like to provoke and sometimes shock people, take them out of their comfort zone so they feel like they've been through a journey themselves. I think that's why people seek entertainment and art; they want those emotions they can't have in their normal lives. Getting scared makes you feel alive.

You've said before that you wanted the sequel to have more of a psychological impact. Can you elaborate on that?

Philippe: The first Outlast was a simple setup; get the hell out of the Asylum. Outlast 2 is more like a journey. You have a goal to reach, but along the way weird things happen and you start questioning your own sanity. The game is still gruesome, but this time we're not just after the players' physical integrity, we also want their mental integrity.

With Outlast 2 out today, what would you like to say to people?

Philippe: It has been an intense three years of our lives. A pure labor of love. Hopefully, we'll once again be able to scare the shit out of you!