This Is Part 2 Of Our Halloween Week Series Which Features A Deep Dive Into The Creepy Horror Game Immortality. Today, Isaac Espinosa Interviews Producer Natalie Watson, Who Does So Much At Half Mermaid.
By Isaac Espinosa
Natalie Watson does it all. Immortality is a game that’s unique, especially in how it presents its wonderful story. Through using different film imagery and gameplay that requires you to really dissect every aspect of the story and the scenes, Immortality creates a tension-filled experience that no other game could replicate. It’s why when I was given the talk of interviewing the producer of the game, Natalie Watson, I was excited to see what I could learn about what went into making Immortality. As we spoke, the former Vice producer talked so many insightful things. I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I did – whether you read it below or watch it on YouTube!
IE: Alright! Uhhh, so first of all, Natalie, Ms. Watson, it’s so wonderful to meet you. I’m so happy that you had the time to talk to me today, it’s really an honor.
NW: Of course! I’m perhaps more excited to talk to you. I’m really excited to hear about, uh, about what you’ve been doing and what you work on. And, yeah, thank you for reaching out.
NW: Super stoked.
IE: Alright, so, uh, first off. You know, I wanna start with, like, a nice little ice breaker, start a nice lil’ thing to get us started. SO, first off, What is your favorite video game franchise? If you- If you don’t mind me asking.
NW: Ooooooh! Franchise, that’s an interesting question!, Uhm, hmm… I would have to say– I mean the first thing that popped into my mind, is… are The Legend of Zelda games. I would say like, in terms of a franchise? Those are the games I’ve played the most of in a single franchise. I mean, I’ve played… almost every Pokemon game. And uhm, I’ve played a few of the Souls- of the FromSoft games. But not all of them. So, I feel like I’m always gonna play the new Legend of Zelda game. That’s a- That’s a given. So I would say, probably the Legend of Zelda Franchise. Cause like-
IE: That’s fair, and I– Oh, sorry, go ahead?
NW: No I was just gonna say, like, they’re trying to do something different. Or they’re, either, uhm… Expanding on, or, evolving a certain expectation or convention that we’ve become accustomed to. And, really iterating [innovating] on that in like a very… fun, experimental, like sometimes challenging way.
IE: Yeah, no, absolutely. Uh, I will say! My personal uh, favorite Zelda game has to be Wind Waker? I think the artstyle of Wind Waker is really nice, I think it’s super fun to look at. And more importantly I think that Toon Link is my favorite iteration of Link, for his charisma, and for how- how he feels like he kind of develops as a character? But uh, what is your favorite Zelda game, if you had to say?
NW: Oof, I would say… And this is probably controversial, but… It’s tied between, uh, Breath of the Wild, and… Twilight Princess.
IE: Twilight Princess, really?
NW: Yeah, I love Twilight Princess. I think I love that it has such a dark tone… I really loved the, like, visual style of it. Cause I think, it was… very bizarre and like, not really… not really like, palatable? It- It felt like it was more of a risk taking game. And I also loved, like the, like the tear collecting mechanic. That was always like, really fun. I was always, uh, really excited about entering a new area and finding all the tears, to uh… for that area, so I think…. It’s funny cause I think a lot of what I loved about Twilight Princess, it feeling like this… almost like this more open world. Every- the sort of, collecting mechanics, and uh, you know the slightly darker themes… I think Breath of the Wild, took and just like, expanded beyond my greatest, uh, expectations. So uh, you know like all the Korok Seeds, there was that type of collecting thing. Or even side quests, and things like that, if you wanted to get into that. As well as, just the exploration of that game felt… you know, reminded me of aspects of Twilight Princess. And I just, I love Wolf Link, I love Midna. It just… some of my favorite characters, for sure.
IE: Oh yeah. I honestly think Twilight Princess has a lot of the darker elements, but, now that you kind of mentioned that Breath of the Wild takes what Twilight Princess had, it definitely kinda shows in- in, Breath of the Wild’s like, more bleak story. Cause you know, like, the Guardians kind of destroyed everything in the past, and-
NW: Yeah, and Link Lost!
IE: Yeah no everything is like… everything is completely, like, gone. And it’s like, you feel the silence of the wild, in a sense.
NW: Mhm, mhm! I love that, that’s a really good way to describe it. The silence of the wild its… it IS so haunting, walking around some of like, those old ruins, or discarded Guardians, and… It’s like you feel that, time has passed and battles have been lost. And people are picking the pieces of a former… of a former age. And uh, you know, having to make sense of fragments, having to make sense of things that aren’t completely clear or obvious. Uhm… great video games. Love them.
IE: Yeah, no, absolutely. Honestly it’s funny you mention uh, bit of darker themes, and sort of going into more of like that bleeker tone. Since it’s uhh… actually a good transition into what I love about Immortality!
IE: And now that– If we want, we can kind of start talking about, uh, the development of that and how that was going for you, what that experience was like.
NW: Sure! I mean, yeah, uh, gosh. There’s like… a million places to go with this. So I originally came from, uh, video games journalism, actually. So, my previous experience in the games industry, I was working for Waypoint Vice, uh, as one of their livestream producers. And then I also did some writing and broadcasting, and streaming, for them. And then, uh… So, Immortality and working at Half-Mermaid are my first– IS, my first video game, and is my first role in video game development.
NW: Yeah! It’s been a huge learning experience. But also, it’s not as, uhm… it wasn’t as for– I say that but, there wasn’t as much that was… unexpected about, what making a game would really be like. I think, uh, having worked as a producer, at Vice, a lot of those skills and, problem solving uhm, instincts, translated to working in game development as producer. But yeah! Totally, yeah. This is my first round, my first shift(?) game, my first everything. So uhm, it’s been a total whirlwind journey, from beginning to where we are today.
IE: Yeah I, I can imagine. Since you, you hadn’t worked on a video game before but you still had like, a bit of the skills? To sort of like, go into the role of like, what you were doing. Which, speaking of which, uh, What does, actually, your job as producer entail? Since you did mention that, a lot of your skills at Vice transferred to what you do now. I’d love to hear like what, what specifically you kind of like, do as the producer.
NW: Yeah, great question! I kind of do a little bit of everything. Sam and I work really really closely together, on a lot of aspects of the project. I’d say uh… You know, given that, I think that there are a lot of different types of producers, in… uh, the games industry. And uh, across other industries as well. And I think I’ve had– because we’re such a small team. You know it’s just me, Sam, and uhm, Connor Carson our programmer, in terms of like who’s a core– full time member of Half Mermaid. Uh, a lot of things fall– kind of get split between me and Sam. So uh, when I first started, we… I, my role was mainly focused on research and development. We spent about a year just researching, and uh, you know developing the scripts, uh, just kind of getting…. Design ideas, uhm, up and running on like prototype builds, and things like that. So, the first year was a lot of reading, a lot of, you know, scouring internet archives for like old detective manuals, uh, for Minski research. Or uh, you know reading Sam’s iterations of the scripts, or like location research, all kinds of things like that. Uh, watching a lot of movies- I don’t have a film background at all, so I kind of feel like I also got a crash course in like, film history and theory. And uh, you know, Sam is like a walking encyclopedia of, of film knowledge. So, so I definitely gleaned a ton from him throughout the research and development process, and throughout production. Uhm, so I did that, and then uh, you know as we kind of thought uh, closer to video production, I worked on set with Sam. Kind of… I was like, the loremaster on set, and, if anyone had a question like, “When does this take place?” and “Wait, which timeline are we in?” and “What day are we on?”. I had all of that, uh, in my brain, and was uh… help people decipher between the many different timelines, and layers of narrative that Immortality is. And I also did script supervising on set, so, worked, very closely to the actors and all the department heads to make sure that, continuity was always being maintained. And uh, that… Yeah if anyone had any questions on the script and stuff like that, I was able to answer them. So, and then we went into post production. So, worked very closely with Sam on, what the selects were, and what we wanted to do, uh, how we were going to integrate everything into the game. And, as well as just like, managing our, our partner relationships. Uh, you know, between our friends at Xbox and uh, at Netflix and uh… Doing our, PR and marketing together with Sam so- It’s kind of like, a little bit of everything. But it’s perfect, because I think I, that’s very much I think, how my brain works, I want to understand– When I think about something I want to understand, like, the whole machine behind it. I want to understand every little cog and part that goes into it. Uh, and I, think, the type of role that I have at Half-Mermaid allows me to uhm, get like a complete oversight into, you know, everything that it takes to make a video game. From, you know, the first piece of code, to the first piece of dialogue and all the way through. Now it’s on your Xbox’s, and your PC’s, and soon your phones. So, so yeah! It’s… it’s a very widely encompassing job but I think it, it really does work for me, and how I like to approach a project.
IE: It seems like it’s a lot, especially like since… Uh, from what I can tell, from how Immortality was made, it’s very clear that there was a lot of effort that went into it. Especially when it came to executing the story, because there were so many– Honestly there were so many points, since I uh, I ended up watching it with uh, fellow critics circle intern Ronald?
NW: Oh, awesome!
IE: He’s my best friend. Uh, we watched the game together– Er, I watched him play and it was crazy to see how much effort went into seeing all the lore bits, and seeing how, how well thought out every single bit was, when you zoomed in and then you went to a certain scene. And seeing where that took you? It was clear that that was intentional. Every single, every single like, bit of the game was, purposeful. There was no moment where there was something of wasted motion. And on that subject, it’s actually funny you bring up the lore?
IE: Uhhh, there was something that I was very curious about, and… It was something that kind of, took me off guard initially, I started to get used to it, l-later on. What spurred on the idea to scatter Immortality’s lore throughout different movie shots and script readings? Like as a producer, how did it help to cut up the table readings and scenes? How did that help to make everything more organized?
NW: Yeah that’s a great question. Uhm, you know I think, for us, we really…. One of the main goals of Immortality, as a… As a storytelling device is really, capturing all of the aspects that go into making a movie. So not just, you know, what you see on your– At the theater, or on your TV when you’re, you know watching it on Netflix or HBO, or whatever. But, but the process of, of making a movie. So, I think, when we approached how we were going to kind of, split up these fictional movies and where we wanted to assign things, it was really important to us to say, you know, let’s look at something that is seemingly mundane, right? Like a table read. Where it feels like this, you know, you might think it’s kind of like this obligation where you’re just, going through the script, this and that. And then, you move on and the real juicy stuff is like, it’s gonna be in the production. But, when you think about the table reads, and it’s funny cause we were also doing this ourselves at the same time, so many many layers of reality and non-reality going on.
NW: But uh, this is the first time actors are meeting each other, likely, outside of chemistry tests and things like that. You’re getting, sort of the first bits of direction from the director, you’re seeing kind of power dynamics start to emerge and play out. Uh, so, deciding… So, the table reads were definitely going to be uh, something we wanted to showcase and use in an interesting way. And then for some I think, you know like, in “Two of Everything”, uh, the table reads- One of the table read scenes is, the music video awards… Uh… the video music– No no, the music video awards, yes, we can’t use the other one, haha. Like live production, right? So you have people talking about, you know, going between Maria at home watching it on her TV and Heather on stage, you know, or backstage getting her makeup done, and then you’re… What the movie WOULD’VE been, you know you’re going back and forth between these two parallel timelines of Maria and Heather, and they’re kind of parallel but different worlds. That, obviously, would be really difficult to shoot in the way that we were shooting, so that was a natural fit for a table read scene. And I think it’s really fun to see, uh, Marissa Marcel going back and forth between the two characters in those scenes, where she’s like talking to herself and kind of, you see that kind of uncanny odd doubling thing she’s doing. Where she’s kind of going back and forth. So, it fit really nicely for that fictional scene, and I think we were able to tell a story beyond just, you know, what’s on the screen through using that as a device, if that makes sense.
IE: Yeah no that definitely makes sense, and I can imagine that it was sort of… I can imagine it was like a… just a teeny bit of confusion when it came to like the table readings. Since ya’ll- You had said, you guys were already doing table readings outside of like, making stuff in the game, and then you go and then you record one of those table readings, it could just be like- ‘Oh! Which one is which at this point?’ Which brings me to my next question. I gotta know, Was there some kind of master spreadsheet of scenes that you had to keep track of? Cause you mentioned earlier on, that you had to go around and make sure, when things were being produced, and when things were being filmed, that they had to stick to the continuity. Was there like a spreadsheet that everyone had for reference, to make sure that they knew what they were talking about?
NW: Oh yes. Yes, we definitely did. We have so many spreadsheets, but we have one who is the… the behemoth spreadsheet, which we lovingly call “The Organizing Monster”. And uh, that has everything. I mean, Sam, is one of the most meticulous storytellers I have ever encountered, and have ever worked with. He mapped out everything from the fictional day and date that a, you know a certain scene was supposed to take place on, to what time of day are we shooting at, like. Are we shooting in the morning, are we shooting at night, fictionally? Uhm, and then… So we had all of those, and then we had the fictional scene numbers, so we had, every slight, you know, has its own scene number and everything like that. So, Sam and I worked together to develop those, that we always had an accurate uhm, fictional slate, and then we would have the real slate before. So uh, yeah, definitely spent a lot of time getting very organized pre-production, going into the video production. It was a lot of zoom meetings, a lot of catching people up on what this story is and how these timelines work. And people caught on so quickly, it was extremely impressive. Especially since, Sam and I, you know, we’d have been working on this for a year and then here’s like a whole crew that has to come in and like, understand Immortality, in like, in a month before we start shooting. But they were absolutely fantastic, it was like the best crew ever, and everyone loved the story so much. That I think it really came through and how dedicated people were to just visualizing that original vision.
IE: Yeah no, I can imagine that… Honestly with a story of this grandeur and uh, this scale, it’s very important to be meticulous, and there’s a lot of points where… you need specific dates, because you need to make sure that those things are well executed in the story, to make sure things make sense. It is sort of a murder mystery, you have to- with dates, everything in a murder mystery is like, uber important. Cause it’s already important in like a regular story, but for like a murder mystery, it’s above that now. Now those things are details for evidence, to make sure that the player understands what they need to look out for, or they need to piece together events, like, the sequence and stuff. So that’s very good to see that uh, there was a lot of dedication that went from Sam and you, to, making sure that the staff understood that. On uh- This actually kind of acts as a transition to the gameplay of Immortality, since obviously the gameplay is very unique. It’s not like any other game I’ve ever seen, personally. So, I think that a good way to, kind of, start with that is the question of: It has such a unique premise, you know like, Immortality’s gameplay is very much like I mentioned. It’s like I’ve never seen before. What was the focal point of centering the gameplay around discovering clues through searching through film?
NW: Mhm. I think uhm, you know, we wanted to… Sam’s goal in making Immortality, was- For so long, with his previous projects, like “Her Story” and “Telling Lies”, you know people would call them these cinematic games. And Sam, sort of never really thought of them as cinematic, because in HIS eyes, he was like: “Well no, the first one is like ‘detective footage’”, it’s almost like… uhh… almost like more industrial than cinematic, it was like more… What’s the word I’m looking for? Like, Utilitarian, than anything else. And, you know with “Telling Lies”, it was supposed to feel like you’re watching somebody’s facetimes, or skype calls. It’s not supposed to feel like you’re watching a movie. So then, with Immortality, this was very intentionally: No, we want to make something cinematic. That is like, deserving and warrants that word. And when we think about, like, cinematic language, you know I think Sam was very attracted and motivated towards this idea of the… The visual. And like, visual motifs, and… That felt unique to the movies, or to film in general. So I think that’s kind of where that seed started, in wanting to make the focus and the interaction and the engagement all live in this, like, visual space. Uhm… And I think Sam was also very inspired by games like, you know, Pokemon Snap, for example. He often would bring up Pokemon Snap with us, when we were in pre-development because it was also about: What are you capturing? Like, what kind of things do you… Are you attracted or motivated towards finding, or saving, collecting? So that was also very much, uh, part of developing this mechanic, is like the physical capture of an image means something.
IE: I actually didn’t even think about Pokemon Snap, that’s actually a really good analogy when I think about it. Cause there’s a lot of points where uh… Obviously you’re like, zooming into the picture, and you’re like, making sure that you get a certain moment, but you don’t know when that moment’s gonna come.
IE: You don’t know when you should be zooming into a character’s face, or a certain artifact, you just gotta go for it. And it’s really interesting because, when I was watching Immortality with Ronald, it almost felt like I was… Personally I was the detective. But not even in a sense of like, I was looking at photos, I felt like I was in my attic, going through like a cinematography, and watching through like, a bunch of collected tapes. And, seeing what stuck on, and it was really interesting since, I’d imagine that was sort of an intentional feeling you wanted to give the player.
NW: Yeah, that’s exactly, I think the ideal experience that we hope for players. To feel like, yeah, YOU too have discovered the treasure trove of footage and as you’re, kind of going down these rabbit holes, more and more is revealing itself to you, and it’s just slowly expanding and it’s like… You know, the always sunny meme, with the red string everywhere.
IE: Oh my god, haha.
NW: It’s like, that’s your brain playing Immortality, just expanding and expanding, and getting huge. So I think that’s exactly what we’re hoping for, I’m so glad to hear that kind of came across for you in your experience.
IE: Yeah! No absolutely, it was like uh… It was literally almost as if I was just like, spending night after night just, looking at footage. Like I would spend my days doing work and I would go into night, heading up to my attic watching those… like, not even cassette tapes? But like those roulette type of films that you’d put in the camera. Like I was watching those.
NW: That’s amazing!
IE: It’s funny that I bring this up because, it goes into, sort of like, I’ve seen that kind of scene… Mostly in horror movies. Because of some horror movies, they try to hide evidence in a very obscure place, and the attic is one of them. And on the subject of horror there’s clearly a lot of horror elements inside of Immortality. And there were like… a lot of things that I noticed that were a lot of good ways to build tension. It was like the idea of leaving things unknown to the player, and creating these abstract ideas that sort of created this sense of dread? Of, like, dread of finding out what the answers were? So my question to you is, As a producer, was there a way for you to make sure that the tension stayed throughout? Like, what was your primary method to make sure everything was consistently tense, even when you started finding things out?
NW: That’s a really good question. I think, uhm, you know… It’s funny because I think I have spent so much time with the game that I… I’ve always kind of seen it as this really unsettling thing, but then I hear anecdotes when the game started coming out, and people were playing this they were like: “Oh my god this is freaky…” Like this is a scary freaky… scary game. And I was like, really? I was surprised by it. Uh, but then I watched some people play and I was like, yeah if you have no idea what’s lingering beneath the surface, it is quite disorienting and unsettling. Uhm, I think one thing that was really important to us, is being very careful about when certain things reveal themselves to you, while playing the game. So I think that was something that we reiterated on a lot, in terms of finding… But it was also one of the first things we decided on. Because, you know, we had to have that in mind in order to capture both of where things are going to transition, where are you going to like, kind of, cross over? So, that was always sort of a predetermined point. And then, for that to come alive, through not just the video production but also, while playing the game, mechanically, I think it was like a magic moment. It was like, okay we KNEW that this point had to exist, this like transition’s place had to exist, but to see it realized and manifested in both the mechanic and the video was like, it felt like magic, for like a better term, haha. So I think that answers your question. I think there’s a certain aspect of it as well, of timing or like, how long has it been since you’ve maybe experienced something slightly unsettling or… you know what kinds of things and motifs are you drawn to? The game is taking all these kinds of things and responding to you.
IE: Oh yeah, for sure. Cause, there’s a lot of horror games now that kind of focus on, and I’ve said this PLENTY of times before to other people. But, there’s a lot of horror games nowadays that tend to focus a lot on jumpscares which, yes, they are effective in what they do. But it’s… Jumpscares have always been a relief of tension. They act like this uh, like this tension is the thing that leads up to the jumpscare. And the jumpscare is what sort of stops it from happening? It’s like what FNAF does really well, aside from the fact that Five Nights at Freddy’s has its really good sound design and very articulated sense of building dread with its lighting. And uhh, it’s really interesting cause, I’ve always been fascinated with how, dissecting a horror game can sort of, present the amount of sophisticated themes and methods that they use in order to actually create them. It’s moreso, then, I think, any game genre out there honestly. It actually brings me to my next point. So… researching for Immortality, I came across the term, how people called it, Lynchian. Which is sort of like this uh, if you don’t know, it’s sort of like this thing based off the film director David Keith Lynch. Which is to say that, Immortality used a lot of very meticulous sound design and dreamlike imagery, to sort of create this ambiguity, this feeling of the unknown. And I’m assuming that that was an intentional design point for you guys.
NW: Absolutely, I think, you know… I mean, it’s definitely always an honor to be compared to David Lynch and his work, he’s a huge inspiration for us. And is also just a, you know, an expert of his craft of dealing with… Like you described, ambiguity, dealing with the unknown, dealing with unanswered questions. You know, he forces- Not forces, but, he has his viewers sit in what’s uncomfortable. And he doesn’t ever appease them. He just lets it linger and leaves it unresolved. And I think that’s a really hard thing for people to deal with, I think we naturally want conclusions. We want to know what happened. Like humans, I think we are so uncomfortable with ambiguity. So, Sam and I, we were really inspired by David Lynch through this whole process. Uh, and, I think there’s like a great meme, of, from Sam’s first game, it’s like a steam review that asked the question on the “Her Story” steam forum, of like: “This game doesn’t really have an end”? “How will I know when I’m satisfied?” And I think that’s like the eternal question of Sam’s games, like… What is satisfaction? Like, you kind of write your own questions. You write your own quest lines. You write your own, you know… You determine your own curiosity. It’s whatever you find interesting or compelling, that’s your quest. You know, that’s in your travelers log or whatever. Uhm, and your tools are these like scenes that you’ve started accumulating, this is your inventory, this is what you have to work with. Uhm, so, I think it’s… It was interesting for me, approaching this project as someone that has never really done anything non-linear ever, in my life, haha. As you know the creative and in the past, and also, it’s like as a consumer consuming the product I was just like… Wow. It’s gonna be really– I guess I’m happy I’m lucky I know everything, and I have all the answers in my brain. But I can imagine how, it’s… Well what the really fun thing is, going on Reddit or different threads I’ve seen on the internet on people’s theorycrafting behind, you know, what really happened to Marissa Marcel? Or certain plotlines, for the other characters and things like that. The things that people come up with. And there’s a lot of variety of theories out there, and it’s really, like… I think all of it’s, you know, valid. All of it’s kind of like, there are these really interesting interpretations of the game. And I think that’s what ambiguity does, like it forces us to talk to each other. Try and reason things out and figure things out. And I think that’s such a special experience of Immortality, like you were saying. You were playing with your friend and I think it’s an amazing game to play with friends because you’re… putting your brains together to try and like, work these things out. And maybe somebody catches something that you didn’t, or maybe they go on a thread that you normally wouldn’t. And I think there’s like a magic there of discussion and just, talking to each other that you can only really get from, sort of, ambiguity. Because then, when things are ambiguous or feel unknown, that’s when we want to like, engage with each other more. Like, I think I have it figured out! But I’m missing one piece, like, do you have that piece or… You know just wanting to share in that is a really special experience to come out of a game having.
IE: Oh yeah, I completely agree! Honestly it’s really interesting you mention it because, I’ve sort of been like, 50/50 on like uhh… Theories, especially. Cause, I feel like nowadays, people are too reliant on needing everything explained to them. Through a video, or some kind of theory, they don’t let the mystery of the game sit with them, like they used to. Immortality is like a game, to me, where yes, you can find all the theories you want, you can look up all the reddit forums or Youtube videos. Like, Matpat will probably find this game eventually, and then, make a theory on it and that’s what people will consider to be their primary source of knowledge. But, I think it’s really important to really find a lot of that yourself.
IE: And to be able to experience, experience solving the mystery. Cause people don’t wanna solve the mystery anymore, they just wanna see someone else solve it. I think it’s a shame, because it really takes away from the amount of time that you and the other members of the staff put into creating the mystery, if that makes sense.
NW: Yeah! I mean, I ultimately agree with you. I think, you know, there’s some people that just want their questions answered and that’s fair. But I don’t think that’s really, that’s not the true– Like, I don’t know. There’s no true satisfaction, the game is what you make of it.
IE: Of course.
NW: But uhm, the satisfaction that I think I’m geared towards is, yeah, discovering things for myself, IS having open ended questions, is having like, things to mull over and things to kind of… That sticks with you, and that you still need time to figure out and process, and maybe you won’t figure it out. But the fact that the question there is like a charged thing. I think that stuff is really fun, that’s like what’s fun to me about these kinds of games.
IE: Oh yeah, absolutely. It’s like one of those things where, even when you walk away from the game, it’s still a question that’s gonna be sitting in the back of your brain until you answer it.
NW: I LOVE that.
IE: Cause like, you NEED to have that answer, you need to be able to go back in there and solve whatever questions lingering in the back of your brain and that’s the… That’s the real pull of games like Immortality. Like it leaves you questioning things. Where like, when you put the game, you HAVE to go back and see what you missed or, see if you could find that answer. And it keeps going if you don’t find the answer in your next playthrough, or your next one. And on that subject of mulling things over, there’s actually one question about a certain character.
IE: That like, I think– I think you might know who I’m leaning towards. I need to know, What was the reason for “The One” in Immortality? What was the purpose of having a character like that in this game?
NW: Hmmm…. That’s a great question. I think uhm… I’m curious what YOU make of her presence.
IE: I think she is incredibly unsettling. And I think that’s the purpose because there’s a lot– I think her, being there is an obstruction. And it’s really what makes it unsettling because, Ronald had mentioned that everytime her presence would be there, his controller would vibrate. And he would have to look for something in the scene. It’s an obstruction that really steals your attention from what’s going on, and it makes you question things really differently. So seeing “The One” appear in scenes and sort of, manipulate the scene and create something different, create the– change the narrative, it was almost like she was trying to push you away from the answers. And that’s what really made ME unsettled by her presence. And I’m wondering if that’s what your intention was for making a character like that.
NW: I– I love that, I love that description of her. I think that, you know, when it comes to “The One” it’s probably the thing we want to answer the least questions about. It is kind of that thing of, you know, there is an unsettling ambiguity to her, and especially if you haven’t discovered all of her… You know, from various appearances, you may have more questions than other people. So uhm, I can speak to MY feelings towards her, which is maybe… I wouldn’t say it was the game’s intention with her. Uhm, but when I’m drawn to a scene with “The One” I think, what I’m fascinated by is her vulnerability. Her desire to speak to us, the player. Like, her love of humanity, and uh, her love of the arts. I think just having that peek behind the curtain is such a fascinating thing. It’s like we’re seeing into the interiority of not just this one character Marissa Marcel, but of, it’s… It reveals so much about the making of film, what it means to be an artist, uhm… You know, who gets a legacy? Who gets to live on forever? And, who do we attribute great art to? Who gets that credit? Who is immortalized?
NW: So, there’s uhh, yeah! I think that’s hopefully ambiguous enough of an answer.
IE: Oh no, yeah, I think–It’s a good answer! I appreciate not wanting to say a lot, cause you don’t want to take away the ambiguity of “The One”. Personally, I’ve always found a fascination when it comes to characters that almost… I don’t wanna say break the fourth wall per se? But they talk to YOU, the player, they talk to you. They can almost see behind the glass of the screen. It’s this sense of power over the game and over the story that none of the other characters have. And it’s a sense of– It’s what makes characters like that so unsettling to me. It almost feels like they have some much like leverage, over what happens, over the narrative that’s told, over the things that– Over our perspective of how we interpret the game. Because, obviously, when you go through more of “The One”’s scenes, when you find more of her, and you see more of her presence and what she has to say and the insight that she gives… You look at everything so differently and those kind of characters that have insight, that exist outside of that border. They have so much knowledge that it’s so attracting. It’s so, I guess you say, magnetic.
NW: Mmm, I love that description. I love that. Yeah I totally agree with you.
IE: Yeah, no, it’s crazy. I love characters like that, especially like… I don’t know if you played Undertale, Sans, is definitely like… For as much as he is a meme on Tumblr, he’s also a very powerful character in the world of Undertale. He has so much knowledge over the timelines and the systems of Undertale. And it’s a sense that, despite his lazy disposition, it creates the sense of… fear.
NW: It does! You’re like, not ready for what he’s gonna say because you don’t know if it’s gonna affect you, the player. Or if it’s gonna affect someone in the story. You… There’s so much you don’t know. I love thinking of “The One” as the Sans of Immortality. It’s very funny, haha.
IE: Haha! That’s actually a really good comparison. SO, uh, I believe we are about to start wrapping up, so, I have two more questions for you.
IE: And these two questions are basically just the final things. Just like the bow on this little interview. So first of all, I wanted to know. When Immortality finally released, what did that pay off feel like? What did it feel like to finally show off this project after all of its development?
NW: Oh my gosh… It was like a roller coaster of emotion. I can’t even…It… It was like, one of the most vulnerable things I’ve ever done. Cause here you are, pouring your heart, and soul, and blood, and sweat, and tears, and everything into this… thing, uhh, and then you give it to people. And uhh… you know, and you don’t know what they’re gonna say! And like, you know, a lot of having come from journalism, a lot of my former peers and people I really respect and admire and value their input, were going to be playing this game. And, it was terrifying! It was, you know, I had no idea what to expect. I was also so grateful to be, you know, having pushed the green button, it’s out there, it’s like: Oh my god I can take a breath finally. But it was immediately like this, we were just extremely lucky and blessed to have such amazing reviews come immediately the same day. So there was like this tidal wave of like, WHOA! All of this feedback and people having thoughts and opinions, and… All this… And it was amazing and it was great and I was like: What is going on?? Like, I feel like I’m in this fantasy world right now. Uhm, but, and then it was like, you know I think the thing that we don’t talk about as much is like, it was also really… It was hard, because this thing is done, what do I… do with myself? What do I focus on? And you see, the negative things and it’s hard not to like… You know, you could see like 10 nice things about the game, and then you see 1 negative one and it’s hard to not let that outweigh the other thing.
IE: Absolutely, for sure.
NW: I think it’s something we don’t talk about as much in the games industry. That… post release, low, that a lot of us can end up in. Where it’s like, there’s all these amazing things going on around us, but… Your adrenaline is so high leading up to that there’s naturally a lull that comes after that. And it’s like, anyone that’s like, you ever worked on a big assignment, like a really big essay or something and you finally turn it in and it’s done and it’s like…
IE: It’s a sense of relief but it’s also like– What do I do now? What do I do with my life, haha.
NW: It’s super bittersweet! And I think I had a lot of like mentors and people that I like, talk to sort of throughout this time, and they were like: Yeah this is the thing, no one talks about but we all go through it. And you’re super normal for feeling like this. Uh, so I think, you know, now that it’s been a little over… almost 2 months, it’s been a month and a half since the game has been out. We’re still in the swing of things, developing the mobile build and, uh, and working on you know post launch stuff. Just trying to uh, get the game in more people’s hands and expand on, uh, sort of our audience and things like that. There’s still stuff to do but, it’s… Yeah! It was really kind of a roller coaster of emotion, I was like, I had the happy tears and the sad tears, and then happy tears again it was like a total whirlwind. But, ultimately, such an amazing, amazing process.
IE: Absolutely, it’s almost like… content creation in a sense. Because you, like, especially when you’re doing a big project or a big video series. You put so much passion and you put so much love into the projects that you create. And you, inevitably, have to realize the fact that your work is going to be criticized cause, you put it out there for people to see, you put it out there for people to watch. And ultimately criticism is going to come. Most people are kind enough to give words of… like, they can see the passion, they give you positive feedback. And there are some that give your critiques. And then there are, unfortunately, some that will give you nothing but banter, like, hateful comments and like, which you don’t pay attention to. But it’s really the critiques that you take into because, part of you thinks that you should’ve seen that. Like, you should’ve seen those critiques when you were making the project. You want it to be perfect, but unfortunately nothing is perfect. BUT above everything, everyone sees the passion that you put into a project.
IE: And that’s really the most important aspect, because it then shows how much it means to you.
NW: Yeah! And I think it’s a testament to the work that people are, you know, engaging with it so seriously. In like, whether that comes out in praise or critique, that’s a testament to the project itself, so… I think that stuff is… reading that kind of stuff, is like, there’s nothing that I would ever go back and change, it’s more so like, huh. That’s a different perspective that I personally don’t have. And so, there’s always something to learn from it. There’s always something to glean from, you know the way in which different people engage with the game. Different people’s tastes, and you know, Immortality is a very specific type of game, within videogames itself. Like, not all gamers are playing FMV games, which I am very cognisant of. What’s been exciting is a lot of people have said this is their first Sam Barlow game that they’ve ever played. Uhm that’s really cool to me.
IE: It’s mine, actually,
NW: Is it, really??? That’s amazing!
IE: Yeah it actually is my first ever Sam Barlow game! So it definitely left a really good impression of the company.
NW: That’s awesome! Ah, that makes me so happy! That’s great, that’s exactly what we wanted. I mean I think we wanted something that felt approachable, and didn’t feel uh… That was like really accessible, that people could kind of, be like I’m gonna weird this weird experimental arty game and, take a chance on it and hopefully people liked it. And I think, you know, a lot of people did. And that’s cool.
IE: Yeah no, I think everyone in the staff team, especially you should be extremely proud of what you made, and the work that you put into Immortality cause it definitely shows. It definitely shows the amount of sophisticated execution that there was when it came to the gameplay elements, to the tension that was spread throughout, and I can imagine: The amount of work that actually went into it compared to the actual product. Cause you know, games are usually at most, maybe 5 hours of gameplay? At the very least? And then there’s like, what, like years worth of development that went into making, what could be completed in five hours so… It just goes to show the amount of effort that you all did.
NW: Thank you, I appreciate that.
IE: Of course! And uh, yeah. I think that is going to be where we wrap up our interview. Uh, Natalie Watson, thank you so much for taking the time and giving us your time and showing us about what was going on with Immortality, and your perspective on all of that.
NW: Thank you! Thank you so much for reaching out, and it was such a fun chat! Thank you so much for the conversation. It’s been a blast!
Isaac Espinosa, our senior intern and mentor from the Bronx, has written for The Verge. He loves Halloween.