Behind the Curtain — The Making of Dark Dimensions: Somber Song

Posted by Conor Murphy on March 11, 2014 in Game Development -- Share:

For the last five years, Daily Magic Productions has entertained fans of the Hidden-Object Puzzle Adventure genre with their creative game play, stunning visuals, and passionate stories. We sat down with the minds behind Daily Magic Productions to get an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at their upcoming game – Dark Dimensions: Somber Song.

Somber Song picks up where City of Ash left off. You’ve just checked in to a bed & breakfast in the cozy Midwestern town of Seven Oaks. After reviewing what you’ve learned so far about the mysterious dark dimensions phenomenon, your concentration is broken by a furious knocking at your door. A frightened little girl named Lydia pleads for help before being taken away by billowing black smoke. Searching for her will pull you into a mystery colder than the deep snow blanketing Seven Oaks.

Seven Oaks is a town of secrets. It’s been a year since a mysterious fire took the lives of several young students at the prestigious Seven Oaks Music Academy. Now, on the anniversary of this event, a new dark dimension is targeting Lydia, the only survivor of this tragedy, and it will swallow the entire city to get to her. This will be your darkest challenge yet, and if you manage to stop it in time, you may finally unmask the dark forces responsible for creating the dark dimensions!

“Believable characters are the cornerstone of the Dark Dimensions series,” – Marianna Shilina, Head of Daily Magic.

Daily Magic’s characters are often based on their friends and family. Even their own faces have been used in their games! For example, in Somber Song, the character Lydia is named after Marianna Shilina’s grandmother, and the role of Lydia’s father was played by one of the developers. Even the design for the game’s antagonist is based on a strange woman that was often seen glaring at one of the artists as he ate his lunch. Game designers can draw inspiration from just about anything!

This philosophy of realism also extends to the worlds which the characters inhabit. “While we want players to experience these paranormal events, we also want them to relate to the environments.” Marianna adds, “The key to creating believable worlds is using the real world itself!” Their locations feel modern and familiar, but are also intriguing and fun to explore.

The architecture featured in the Dark Dimensions series favor ambiguous time periods to give locations a timeless feel. The artists take bits of classic Americana and mix in some vintage Western-Europe and a pinch of contemporary design to create locations that are as picturesque as they are creepy.

The philosophy behind using these anachronistic designs is simple. “We want you to feel like these towns could exist right now. Maybe this small town reminds you of an older version of your home town – one you’ve only seen in black and white photos. Then we add modern elements to give these ordinary locations a touch of splendor.” After all, wandering through an ordinary suburb would be too close to real life. On the other hand, they don’t want to focus locations that are too exotic like a medieval castle or a crumbling insane asylum. Balance is the key.

The inherent creepiness of real-life antiquity speaks louder than any over-the-top fictional worlds. You engage players by showing them what they know, things they grew up with, and then showing them things they would never see in real life. The idea for Seven Oaks came about when the designers began thinking of places to vacation over the holidays. They wanted to create a relaxing locale that is trapped by dark forces. In a way, the game symbolizes the agonizing months before you finally get to leave for your vacation.

But what about the elements of horror in the Dark Dimensions series? Where do these inspirations come from? Daily Magic takes their investigations seriously, researching books, movies, and even their own experiences with the paranormal. “Sometimes,” one programmer admitted, “we even scare ourselves!” A few employees even claimed to witness a real poltergeist haunting their office while working late at night! Their fun and collaborative work environment resembles a method acting studio, creating hilarious results that inspire great ideas for their games.


Above: The creative team acts out a potential cut scene and brainstorms changes.

Daily Magic also has a simple philosophy for writing stories. “Don’t let the player figure out the ending!” When crafting their stories, they ask themselves which elements feel too cliché. Whenever they had an opportunity to expand the “lore” of Seven Oaks, they asked one simple question: “Did the player expect this to happen?” If that answer was no, the idea went forward. “Dark Dimensions: Somber Song will push players at every turn. We’ve worked in lots of twists and revelations that will make you say ‘Wow!’”

As you can imagine, when you interview a spooky studio like Daily Magic, anything can happen! Lights flickered, doors mysteriously opened and closed, objects were there one moment and gone the next. I suspected foul play, but as I turned to thank them for their time, the break room was empty! I arrived home later to find all of my kitchen cabinets were open! Then I saw a new message on my phone. “That poltergeist made it too hard to concentrate, so we sent him home with you. Hope you don’t mind!” Is it possible for a game studio to have too much fun?

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Conor is a Marketing Manager with Big Fish, working out of the Seattle office. In his spare time he enjoys watching science documentaries and playing old school adventure games. Get in touch with him on Twitter! or Google+

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