Jessica Chobot Talks About the Origin of DAYLIGHT
First an apology to our readers and to Jessica Chobot.
A month ago, Agents of Geek landed an opportunity to interview Jessica Chobot, former IGN and G4TV host and current Nerdist News anchor. She was such a delight to speak with that the conversation kind of got away from us, resulting in an hour-long session over the phone. The fault that absolutely none of the interview has seen the light of day is entirely mine. Then, I was reminded that Daylight, a new video game Jessica wrote for indie game developer, Zombie Studios, is coming out. Today, in fact. So I thought, “Yes, this would be the absolute perfect time to release part of our interview where she discusses the game.” So again I’m sorry, Jessica, that this has come out so late.
As I said before, I got to speak with Jessica about a great many things. Included in our conversation was the origin of her new video game Daylight, available today for download on Steam and on the PS4.
You pretty much landed one of the holy grails in the video game industry that anyone could ever hope for: writing your own video game, Daylight. Describe your experience leading up to that.
Daylight came about because of a mutual friend of my husband and mine, Jared Gerritzen, who currently heads up Zombie Studios. We’ve been friends with Jared for a long time…we’re always hanging out, and because of that he knew that I was really into weird, f**ked up s**t. That’s the best way to put it! [Laughs] I love mysteries, and hauntings, and the occult, and murders, and all that stuff. I’m obsessed with TV shows like Monumental Mysteries, or The X-Files (obviously), that’s a huge one. I’m into all of it, especially the non-scripted stuff. Blair [Herter] told [Jared and his wife] that, at the time I was pregnant, I would fall asleep to a book titled World’s Worst Murderers. That’s really what I would fall asleep to! Blair said to them, “I don’t know what’s wrong with her, she’s bat-s**t insane.” To that I would say, “Of course!”
So this eventually got us to talking about scary games, and then I went into this thing about how much I love the Silent Hill series, especially number two… I love Fatal Frame. I just love scary, horror genre games. I’m glad to see that kind of Hitchcock-esque scare tactics are coming back to games rather than just the run-and-gun, alien, Event Horizon kind of stuff. We started seeing more of like “back in the day” stuff…with Amnesia and Slender Man. So that got Jared talking about how Slender Man had really taken off. He was watching videos on YouTube of all these reactions from people… So we would go back and forth about stuff like that and he said to me, “I would love to make a horror genre game.” Then I was like, “Dude! I got nothing to do, I’m just waiting for this bun to pop out of the oven. I would really love to write one.” And Jared said, “Well I know you got it in you, so why don’t you write me a treatment and I’ll present it to the Zombie crew.”
So I wrote a treatment up, I sent it in… It made it to a few people, to upper management, and they all loved it. We started collaborating on how we were going to tell the story and also create this game and figure out what engine they wanted to work with, which would be the Unreal Engine. It kinda just grew from there.
This always intended to be a passing project. When we first started, there were only six people working on it, on their own time, none of us were getting paid, and we were going to develop this game kind of out of pocket. And I was fine with that, this was my first time, and I did not want to take on more than I could handle. Then out of the blue, Jared tells me that they sold the game to ATLUS! [Laughs] The publisher! Which is still really awesome. And even though our budget got slightly bigger, we’re still somewhat of an indie title; we’re still a very small, small team that’s working on it. Of course, we had these grandiose plans that we wanna have put into the game, and I had certain storytelling angles and ways that I wanted to show things…but we couldn’t do it because of budget was still pretty tight. But that being said, I was like, “Oh my god. ATLUS? Are you kidding me? That’s insane! Oh, what am I going to do? Now I have real deadlines, and a real boss. Oh I hope I don’t screw this up!”
So! I hope I don’t screw this up… I’m not trying to recreate the horror-genre, but hopefully I can at least give people an entertaining time.
So what is Daylight all about?
Without giving too much away, you play this girl named Sarah. You wake up in an abandoned hospital, and you don’t remember how you got there. You have very limited memory of who you actually are. As you explore this hospital, trying to find your way out, you start to uncover not only your personal history, but the hospital’s history and the land that it’s on and how it all relates back to you.
Gameplay wise, the most recent build that I’ve played as of right now is kind of an exploratory, point-and-click adventure. There is definitely some action involved, but it’s more to add depth to the atmosphere than to run-and-gun. It’s not “aim to shoot at so many zombies” — not that we have zombies because we don’t. Our goal is not to rack up kills, it’s more to go, explore, uncover the world you find yourself stuck in, and find out why. It’s very much an atmospheric game. That’s the best way to put it.
Plus, it’s randomly generated. What that means is, let’s say you get part of the way through this one floor, level, or puzzle, and die. You get sent back to where you start, but! when you go back in, none of the rooms are the same; all of the items that you found in the first run through won’t necessarily be the same things in the second run through. Or this run through may have the same items, just not in the same place you found them before. So a way for you to truly be able to piece this story together is to have multiple play-thoughs.
That’s really interesting. So it doesn’t really give you a chance to memorize exactly what’s where to the point of mindless repetition.
Did you do any voice work for the game as well?
Well, we had talked about quite frequently. I had done it in the beginning since we were so small, and I was a free female voice. The lines that we have for the characters…it’s not dialogue heavy. The NPCs that you run into have more dialogue than your the main character does. I always wanted her to have very limited dialogue specifically for the fact that not all of the players are going to be female, they’re going to be male, and so you keep that kind of immersion available for everyone. I thought it would be best to keep the main character quite. I didn’t want to make it obvious that you were playing a female character. I wanted the player to fixate more on “why am I here in this s**t-hole and why is it trying to kill me?” than the character’s gender.
The only dialogue we really had for Sarah was reactionary dialogue. A little bit of “Oh my gosh, what’s that?!” or heavy breathing if she’s been running for a long time, screaming… It was combination of me being able to do it because we needed someone to do it on the cheap and we had very limited dialogue. I had done it in the beginning for the trailers, in a little bit of the gameplay, and then I noticed that everybody, unfortunately, glommed onto the fact that I was now doing the voiceover for another video game character. They were all very upset for whatever reason about my character in Mass Effect 3, and it then was always never about the game; it was always just “Oh, Jessica Chobot from IGN is trying to put herself in another game” or “Ugh! She thinks she’s a writer now.” It was all very negative.
I then took myself out of it. I told Zombie that I did not want to do the voiceover for the game strictly because I wanted the game to be given a fair shot, and I did not want to give anybody an excuse to use me as a weapon against my own game. It’s going to be interesting enough to see how people handle [the game], whether it’s successful or not, with me as the writer. My guess is, mmm, maybe it’ll be 50-50. There’s going to be that 50 percent that don’t care and are happy that they have a fun game, and then there’s going to be that 50 percent that just can’t get past the fact that Jessica Chobot should not have the right to [be in this game].
So…y’know, I just wanted to reduce the amount of uncalled for venom that could use against the game. And it’s not so much for my own benefit. I don’t care, I deal with that kind of attitude constantly; I’ve dealt with it for years… But I didn’t want the team that was doing all this work, essentially for free at one time — they’d come into work, they had other jobs to do, and they got families they should be going home to see but they’re not because they’re still at the studio working — I didn’t want all of their time and hard work “pissed on” by a bunch of anonymous a**holes.
That’s not fair to them, they’re very talented.