Artist Spotlight: 'Through the Woods' with Dan Wakefield

Cover Art for "Through the Woods"

Daniel Wakefield is the CEO, head writer, composer, and sound designer for Antagonist, an Oslo-based independent game company releasing its first game, “Through the Woods,” this year. Antagonist began production on this game in 2015 after successfully funding development through the crowd-sourcing platform Kickstarter. Their website describes the game as “a third-person psychological horror game set in a forest on the western shore of Norway about a mother and her missing son. Through dynamic narration, you play the mother’s re-telling of the events surrounding her son’s disappearance in a setting heavily influenced by Norse mythology and Norwegian folk tales.” Ahead of the release, The Harvard Crimson spoke with Wakefield about his studio and upcoming game.

The Harvard Crimson: I want to start off talking a bit about your studio, Antagonist. You’re a relatively new studio founded a few years ago—why did your team decide to come together?

Daniel Wakefield: This team has been put together actually over the last few years, and a lot of people who have come to the company have actually had to leave because of financial reasons. It’s really hard to start a games company and keep it going when there’s no money around—a lot of people couldn’t last. We’re making the game because we think there’s a huge lack of games such as ours. It’s not just a horror game; it’s a game full of Norse culture and Norwegian folktales and weaved together with Scandinavian mythology which is not that well known outside of Norway.


THC: “Through the Woods” is a third-person Norse horror-adventure; so why Norse, why third-person, and why horror-adventure?

DW: We’re Norwegian. I’m actually English, but the team is Norwegian. We’re based in Oslo, and we’d like to see and play a game that has Norse elements.

Third-person: We’ve actually gone back and forth over this because it’s a deliberate decision. We’re not pretending that you’re the character, that you are witnessing and playing her story. Also, some of my favorite games, “Resident Evil” and “Silent Hill,” and indeed many of the greatest horror games are third person.

With regards to horror, Norwegian folktales are scary. They’re frightening and dark and strange. The game isn’t really just horror—it’s not like “Outlast.” The more you play the game, you see these very scary parts with all kinds of creatures, but it’s more a story about a woman who loses a son and tries to find him, so there’s a lot of melancholy there. It’s a game about losing someone you care about very much in this terrifying place and trying to find them.

THC: What should players expect from your game?

DW: The game is a little bit like “Gone Home” and “Amnesia” crossed together. There’s lots of documents you find that drive the story; there’s lots of creepy characters that you meet along the way: these people on the island who seem to be immortal and can’t die. So you come across these people who shouldn't be alive but are, and they’re very gnarled and twisted by the time they’ve spent on this horrible island…. There’s a lot of exploration, looking around to find journals and advance the story. There are a lot of monsters in the game too. You can’t fight most of them, and mostly it’s just running and hiding, but you can also chase them away in some ways—like, they’re afraid of your flashlight. So most of the time you’re running and hiding, but there’s a little bit of flashlight-attacking too.

THC: Overall what has the design process been like for “Through the Woods?” Take me through an overview of your design process.

DW: So we’re using Unity to build the game. I find it a bit difficult to talk about the more technical parts of the game because I’m the sound designer and writer, more on the creative side. We’ve made a load of custom tools that have made it easier for me to work in the engine; all of my work had to be done through custom tools. All of the textures we’ve made ourselves through photos in Norway, all photographs that we’ve turned into textures. The same with the sound as well: Everything is custom except maybe a single crow cawing, but all of the trees, wind, water, footsteps, everything, all has been recorded by me in the forest by my house. You don’t see that too often, where everything is done custom for one game.

THC: How did you come to that decision to make everything yourself?

DW: In terms of the audio, for example, people usually outsource that, and usually they don’t have the luxury of working on the sound for three years like I have been able to, so I’ve been able to do everything from scratch myself. The thing with the artists is that they’re perfectionists; they’re super talented. The game looks super nice—one guy focused on the environments and the other on characters. He’s made it with these great real textures, and it just looks great.

THC: Your site says you’re “attempting to capture the forest as they saw it as children, with all the frightening and mysterious feelings of roaming the woods alone” with “Through the Woods”—did you or other team members spend a lot of time in the forest alone as kids? If so, how did that influence your design decisions?

DW: Yeah, we did. Norwegians are traditionally very connected to nature—to forests and mountains, for example—and it’s something they do a lot of. I mean, I’m in my house now 15 minutes from Oslo, and I can see a forest that’s hundreds of kilometers over to Sweden; there are forests all around Norway. You go on a short walk, and you can get to these beautiful lakes and forests, and Norwegians like to go on walks. They hike by lakes and go swimming and have picnics as part of their weekend life, so they spend a lot of time outside. And then, of course, it happens that sometimes it gets dark and you find yourself in these beautiful, creepy, strange places. I’ve been out there at night to record sounds, and I can see why, in the past, they’d make up stories of trolls and the creatures that live in the forest. The sounds you hear and think you hear and what you think you see—it’s very interesting, magical, hard to describe. I can totally understand how you can peer into the darkness under a tree and create stories about little creatures looking back at you.

THC: You’ve received a number of awards at game shows over the last few years—could you tell me a bit about them?

DW: They’re all very flattering. We had GDC [Game Developers Conference] best in play this year, and we won a pitching competition for investors. We got a couple of awards from Norway; like, I got one for sound design. But the game’s not out yet—people haven’t seen yet what we’ve really done—so I’ll feel more like we deserve these awards after we’ve released the game, and people like it, and the finished game gets some kind of recognition as well. These awards are very encouraging and flattering, but I’ll feel better once people get their hands on it.

THC: What’s next for Antagonist? Have you planned something out, or are you focusing just on finishing this game?

DW: Well, we’ve got a bunch of ideas for the next projects we’re going to do. Two of our artists have started a little bit of work on the next ideas. You know, often artists finish first and leave programmers to finish up and start working on the next project, but we’re so slammed by getting this done by when we have to get it finished by, so there are two projects where the stories are fully written, we can start work any day, but we haven’t actually started full production work on them.


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