As an avid horror reader, Nimbus Games founder Joseph Teng decided to mix hobby and work by developing horror games.
Launching in November this year, Malice is a two-player co-op horror game designed with an international audience in mind. The game is based on Japanese folklore (instead of Malaysian equivalents such as the Pontianak).
Drawing on his prior experience as an escape room designer, Malice is based on the escape room that he and his wife created previously.
The story revolves around a mysterious temple shrine where players plunged underground during an earthquake and encounter a mysterious mansion.
“It was the height of the pandemic in 2020, and we felt there was a gap in the market for escape rooms. A lot of people couldn’t go to escape rooms anymore, so we thought we could create a virtual escape room,” said Teng.
A name switch
Originally starting out as Eldritch Games, the studio later changed names to Nimbus Games, which Teng said is easier to pronounce.
The studio first started out developing mobile games in 2016, before pivoting to make their first PC game using Unreal Engine.
That pivot meant that developing the game was challenging, as his team had to figure out how to rig and animate characters, and had to learn how to implement multiplayer gameplay.
Luckily, Teng managed to hire an experienced freelance programmer to help them with Unreal Engine and the development of the game’s prototype.
Meanwhile, their own programmers learnt along the way. The prototype took six months to finish, with the final game taking about 1.5 years to reach completion.
For Teng, the most rewarding aspect of Malice’s development was seeing the game come together for the first time in its prototype stage.
“It was the first time when we felt the game could be something really good,” he said.
Finally meeting up
As a 100 per cent remote company, communication between team members was a big challenge.
Teng said that it was his first time working with more than five people, and he did not have a physical office for the studio.
"Conveying ideas through Discord is very challenging, because sometimes you could not understand what the other person is talking about even with video calls or drawings on the screen,” Teng revealed.
The pandemic also made meeting up difficult, and the entire Nimbus Games office were only finally able to meet each other in real life in 2022 over the Chinese New Year holidays.
"It was like meeting someone you’ve never met before, but you know them and recognise their voice. It felt a bit awkward at first, but we eventually broke the ice by talking about Malice, game development and games we love.”
Horror tips for beginners
If you're keen on designing your own horror game, Teng had plenty of tips to share.
For starters, environmental storytelling, sound design, and jump scares are the most important elements to create immersion in horror games.
Teng added that details are the most important thing to add to a good horror game.
“Whenever players are plunged into a world, whether in a physical or virtual space, they look for small little things, consciously and subconsciously. The place needs to not feel like it's staged, and to have a lot of subtle details that make the place come alive,” said Teng.
For example, developers could add environmental cues such as blood and writings on a wall. This allows players to believe the world that's being presented, and allows their imagination to run wild and fill up the blanks themselves.
Another key element is sound design, where you need to be able to emulate the real world. Sound will make a game feel realistic as a player's ears will consciously or subconsciously hear them and react to the sounds.
As for the third element, while jump scares are important, the overuse of such scares will make players more surprised than scared.
In fact, Teng feels that the best use of jump scares are the ones that are earned, and not random loud noises.
“The game should be hinting that there is something really dangerous, and you should be afraid of it. There has to be a building intention before you cut off the tension with the scare. A good scare has to be lasting, where the player would still think about it even after the scare happened,” said Teng.
While Teng declined to reveal his favourite method to scare players, he did hint that it's more to do with the story you're trying to tell, and not the moment of the actual scare.
For example, in Malice, as the player explores the world and finds out what happened to the characters who were there before, a slow dread will build up until they eventually encounter the same situation as the earlier characters.
Lastly, Teng added that he hopes to see more quality horror games from local Malaysian developers, and that his next game would likely be focused around Malaysian horror instead.
For up-and-coming developers, he has this to say.
"Don’t give up and do your homework if you want to make a successful game studio.”
Malice will be out in November, and will be available on Steam
This story is the work of student contributors working with Yahoo Southeast Asia.