“I've watched a lot of horror. I mean, a lot of horror,” The Quarry’s creative director Will Byles says. “Probably way too much, and I have done since I was a kid. My sister used to make me watch horror films with her [laughs].”
The Quarry is the latest big-budget horror game from Supermassive Games, the team behind Until Dawn and The Dark Pictures anthology, two games that found huge audiences, but The Quarry is the developer’s finest work yet.
Not only does the game look brilliant, capturing the fantastic performances of its Hollywood cast, but it makes your choices in the story feel like they have real impact, with decisions you make early in the game playing out deep into the late-game. A ton of effort was clearly put into making The Quarry close to the best game it could possibly be.
It’s clear from speaking with Byles, The Quarry is born from the team’s deep love of all things horror. The Quarry might not be the scariest horror game, but it’s one of the most ambitious and creative I’ve played in years.
A passion for horror
“So basically it's a playable teen horror,” Byles says, giving me The Quarry’s elevator pitch. “It's a traditional teen horror, in fact actually quite an archetypal or cliched teen horror. Everyone can live, everyone can die, as you play them through the game. If you die, you stay dead. You don't get better.”
The double meaning of the title also hints at what you’re getting into. “The quarry itself is a place called Hackett's Quarry,” he states, “and it's a really evocative place to set a horror. Quarry also means 'the hunted' or that which is hunted, is the prey, so once the game gets going, you realize they are also the quarry.”
A darker picture
Supermassive Games might be best known for Until Dawn, but it’s also behind The Dark Pictures anthology – one-shot stories exploring different horror subgenres.
Oddly, these dives down different avenues of the horrific impacted The Quarry’s development in a more technical way than you might expect. “We've been making The Dark Pictures for a number of years since Until Dawn,” Byles explains, “And with Until Dawn we had to write in Excel sheets because there wasn't the software to do it.
“Over the [course of] The Dark Pictures, we've developed a really good system of storytelling design. We still write a script in Final Draft first, but then we break it down into a playable storyboard mode with some software that we've developed over the years. We've gained a lot from [The Dark Pictures].”
The power of friendship
Almost as far back as the first slasher movies, teens have been put in the role of the hunted. Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Black Christmas, and Halloween, all see young people being hunted down and murdered by some cold, adult figure. There’s something about this stage, no longer child, not yet adult, that makes teenagers an excellent lens to explore bigger themes, in the case of The Quarry, Supermassive wanted a story that delves into the tests of friendships.
The Quarry “is really scary,” Byles says, “but it's also got a degree of lightness to it. More than anything it’s about relationships. It's about how those things work under pressure.”
Byles is excited to examine how we play roles with our friends and what there is underneath all that. “There's a thing where people start off with this kind of facade of the thing that they portray and they retract outwards,” Byles explains.
“That's the persona they give, but if you start to knock away at it, with fear, danger, injury, and potentially death, all of those [acts] start to fall away and then a true person comes out. So I really wanted to look at what the truth is in people as much as possible.”
That stripping away of persona has happened in stories before, but it presents a particular challenge in a game. “When it's an interactive story, we’ve got to give you a choice of how you behave under those situations, and what you'd say in response to those things,” Byles says, meaning you are, to a degree, choosing who a character is under their persona. “So really, that's what it comes down to. It's about the honesty of relationships.”
It’s in the demonstration of those facades slipping where The Quarry’s cast shine. As Byles hints, each of The Quarry’s main characters appear shallow at first introduction, as if they’re putting on a facade.
Jacob, for example, starts out as the archetypal jock. Confident, bullish and a little crass. As the threats ramp up, though, Jacob is shown to actually be quite emotionally intelligent, and clearly cares about the friends he’s surrounded himself with.
“I'm always amazed at how lovely they are,” Byles says, talking about working with the likes of David Arquette, Brenda Song, Lance Henriksen and Justice Smith. “You hear stories about actors being prima donnas but they were just super lovely.”
In a sign that games like Until Dawn and The Dark Pictures anthology are finding a wide audience, a number of the cast came to Supermassive, not the other way around. “A bunch of them were actually asking to be in the games, and they're obsessed,” Byles reveals. “Miles Robbins, who plays Dylan, is absolutely obsessed with Until Dawn. Siobhan Williams, who plays Laura, says everybody in that kind of age group really gets it, because they've seen stuff like it and they play stuff like it, and they're part of that.
“Zach Tinker plays Jacob. He's kind of the ‘douche’ character. The jock. He was so energetic, super energetic, and he wanted to do all of his own stunts. And so we let him!
“There's a bit where he's been chased by a monster and he's running around, skidding around, and [he] fell on the floor. Anyway, he walked off a little bit quietly, and it turns out he’d literally broken his thumb. But, bless him, he just carried on.”
The teen counselors are just one part of The Quarry’s cast, of course. A number of older, veteran actors also lent their likeness and voices to the game. “So Lance Henriksen, there's Lin Shaye, Ted Raimi… David Arquette. There was a degree of bemusement when they would get on set looking for where the camera would be. It’s like, ‘what are these little dots on you?’ They had to have these helmets on, and the 3D camera capturing face stuff. All of that took a little bit of getting used to, I think. But ultimately they nailed it.”
As is the case with many AAA games released over the last couple of years, development of The Quarry certainly wasn’t without its challenges. “The hard thing I think, really, was Covid. It was really difficult to get out into America,” Byles says. “We had to do an awful lot of work with the American Embassy to get out there because no one from Europe was allowed in America at all.
“The Screen Actors Guild of America are super strict about [this], and this was all pre-vaccine. So everyone was tested every day. I had to wear three masks on set. I had to wear a cloth mask, an N95 mask and a shield every time I went near an actor. So I couldn’t breathe [laughs].”
Despite the hardships faced, though, The Quarry has turned out to be a more than worthwhile experience for horror fans. While certainly a spiritual successor to Until Dawn, the team at Supermassive Games has been able to surpass its previous work to deliver a genuinely ambitious horror experience that I personally won’t forget anytime soon.