By: Jessica Conditt
1986 marked a legendary era in humanity’s astronomical focus. Russia launched the Mir space station, Halley’s Comet lit up Earth’s February skies, the Antarctic ozone hole came under intense scrutiny, and America’s Challenger space shuttle exploded in a fiery cloud 73 seconds after launch, killing all seven of the astronauts on board in clear view of their family, friends and the world.
1986 is also the era that Tequila Works’ chose for its upcoming horror-puzzle platformer (coming to XBLA this summer), Deadlight. The two aspects could be completely unrelated, of course, if Tequila Works CEO and creative director Raul Rubio hadn’t gone out of his way to mention the astronomical significance of the year to Deadlight’s larger, seemingly robust story in an interview with Joystiq.
“The choice of the time frame was not random at all,” Rubio said. “If you think about it, 1986 was the year that had a lot of lunar events. And if you put that with movies like First Blood or Day of the Dead, it’s a strange mix and you can get a unique visual.”
Rambo: First Blood and Day of the Dead both came out in the ’80s, one as a hyperbolic action film and the other a zombie cult classic, and Deadlight draws on both of these tropes in a unique way, Rubio told us.
Deadlight begins in 1986 in British Columbia, Canada, where a tragic disease has infected every person in the Pacific Northwest, transforming neighbors, friends, siblings, parents and children into homicidal automatons called “shadows” – every person except one. Randall Wayne is alone, outnumbered and ill-equipped, but he is determined to survive.
Unlike many other infection-based action titles, Deadlight doesn’t revolve around, well, revolvers — it’s a physics-puzzle platformer first and an action title second, with Randall laying traps for his enemies in a style more similar to Portal than to Left 4 Dead. Players will have access to some weapons as the game progresses, but they are less effective than the traps and a “very bad choice,” Rubio warns.
“It is a direct approach to fear and paranoia,” Rubio said. “The player must always use their brains to solve the puzzles and control the action and physics.”
Tequila Works is most proud of Deadlight’s story, Rubio said, which is written by award-winning dramatist Antonio Rojano and inspired by Stephen King’s Cell, J.G. Ballard’s Hello America and The Road by Cormac McCarthy. If you haven’t read any of these books, we’d summarize the overall tone with the following phrase: depressing nightmare fuel.
“You don’t seek the truth or save the world,” Rubio said. “Deadlight is about Randall’s feelings and his desires, his problems. Everything that we take for granted now, like crossing the street, in Deadlight is a true challenge.”
Tequila Works’ obsession with the 1980s (synonym: depression) isn’t solely interplanetary or machete-based — it’s part of the team itself.
“We are all children of the 80s,” Rubio said, referencing the 22 people, full-time and freelance, building Deadlight at Tequila Works, some of whom have AAA backgrounds working at Blizzard, Weta Digital, Pyro Studios, Sony and Mercury Steam, the last of which Rubio co-founded. With a smaller studio, the team is able to infuse everyone’s voice and create something they truly care for, Rubio said.
“It is important to recreate a new alternate world of paranoia and chaos,” Rubio said. “In this survivor craze, we are moving in a very different direction with very strange ways of solving catastrophic events.”
The developers at Tequila Works are passionate about Deadlight, Rubio said, and as a small studio they are able to make the game a part of themselves, infusing it with a hand-crafted, full-quality feel, “no matter if it is downloadable or retail.” Tequila Work’s dedication is already on display in the one teaser of Deadlight released so far, a cinematic of Randall perched on a freeway sign, describing how it feels to kill someone, before jumping to the roof of the adjacent building, which looks to be just too far away for an ordinary man to land.
The graphic style in the teaser is a pre-alpha build and is not representative of the final product, Rubio said. “The game, right now, is looking better.”
Deadlight is scheduled for a summer launch exclusively on XBLA, and Rubio says his team is thrilled for the coming release, yet anxious that it live up to the unexpected hype.
“We want to say ‘thank you’ because the reception has been bigger than we expected, because we are a small studio and this is our first project,” Rubio said. “There’s a lot to do, even more now that Deadlight has so many expectations.”
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