We talk Layers of Fear, influences, character design and more.
The Medium is out now on PC and Xbox Series consoles via Xbox Game Pass, and Stevivor was provided the opportunity to chat with Bloober Team’s Wojciech Piejko and Jacek Zięba as a result.
Piejko is Lead Designer of The Medium, while Zięba serves as Producer.
A fair warning: slight character spoilers feature below, so you’re best to read this interview you’ve played the game.
Steve Wright, Stevivor: Is it fair to call The Medium an evolution of the psychological horror of Layers of Fear? Why or why not?
Jacek Zięba: I would never say The Medium is an evolution of Layers of Fear, but it’s an evolution of the studio, what we want to do, and what we want to try in our approach to horror.
Wojciech Piejko: I think everything changed from Layers of Fear. We became more skilled and we got more experience in creating stories. The Medium isn’t reliant on jump scares as Layers of Fear might have been. Now we’re doing slow burn games, where tension builds up and drops at the perfect moments. We’re trying to create more disturbing, more psychological, and a more cinematic story than what Layers of Fear was.
Stevivor: There are lot of obvious, potential influences that can be gleaned from a look at The Medium. The dual-world nature is very Silent Hill, as a great example. Can you speak to what makes your version of this concept both similar and unique to Konami’s?
Piejko: I think our game is a love letter to Silent Hill, but we’re not copying Silent Hill.
There are similarities between our spirit worlds because of what exists in the two planes and it reflects the state of mind in people. But our spirit world is not based on religion – it’s like a place somewhere in between the two worlds. If you play the game, you may feel the Silent Hill vibe, but you’ll see something absolutely different with a different gameplay type.
Stevivor: I was enamoured with the look and feel of the other world, especially with character design. Could you explain/detail the design choices to give the characters masks? Also, Spirit Marianne and Thomas’ looks specifically, Marianne’s jacket with the fungal look (or fire damage?) and Thomas’ skeleton-like design?
Zięba: These two characters are not 100% ghosts so they don’t have a mask. They are something different, so they act differently. The main character, Thomas, is more experienced in being in the second world and is different than Marianne but they are connected in a way.
He’s more destroyed and more similar to how the spirit world looks. Marianne has some glimpses of it on her outfit or on her body because she’s not as powerful and not as well-connected to the spirit world since she is mostly still in the world of living. We wanted to distinguish the ghost from The Medium characters so we gave them a mask as a symbolism of this frozen identity.
Piejko: Every character wearing a mask became more mysterious, so we are putting a mask on the sadness to change the character in the beginning. Then we said, maybe the other ghosts should wear a mask too.
You will even see the other ghosts during the game and you’ll have to look for their masks to send them away, which leads us to design where in order to send away the ghost, you need to know it’s name and recreate it’s identity by connecting the face with the mask. That’s how Marianne sends away the spirits.
In terms of the “mushroom-like” forms on her hand, it also serves a gameplay purpose because they are lighting up when you are charging your character with energy. So we are trying not to use any hot elements, only interaction icons because seeing two worlds at the same time is already enough.
Stevivor: In terms of the character’s themselves, are Spirit Marianne and Thomas two sides of the same coin? One based in empathy and the other, hatred or revenge?
Zięba: I would never say they are two sides of the same coin. They’re different coins, different sides.
Piejko: It’s my point of view that Marianne is more samaritan, a badass with a good heart who tried to help other spirits, while Thomas is more like a wild beast trying to survive. Thomas and Marianne are opposite in a way, but the world is not black and white in The Medium.
Stevivor: Similarly, I’d say the combination of fixed, yet guided camera angles is reminiscent of Resident Evil Code: Veronica’s move from a static to 3D world. Is it a coincidence that Marianne has a similar look and love of motorcycles as Claire Redfield?
Zięba: In a way, yes. We love Claire and we love Resident Evil, but we never thought Marianne needed to wear the jacket because Claire has the jacket. They’re just cool features that complement our character.
She’s an outcast, she’s not welcomed in the world of living because most people don’t understand her. In the world of the dead, she’s too much alive for them, so she needs to be tough and because of that, we made a simple decision that she needs to have a motorbike and if she has a motorbike, she needed a cool jacket.
Piejko: At the very the beginning, Marianne was more of a normal girl but then we decided to re-design her to be stronger and more independent. So we thought that as a badass she needed a motorbike, and also a jacket.
Zięba: We are proud of the character changes and are happy with how the character grew up.
Stevivor: There is a lot of interesting (and sombre) information about Poland itself, woven through your game. Is this a way of exposing the world to Poland, especially in a time when we’re all stuck at home? How important was Poland — and Niwa — as a setting?
Piejko: Yes, as you can see, the central motif in The Medium is all about different perspectives and duality. So featuring this place and this historical era in Poland was very interesting because it allowed us to clash these two views of reality – of these two Poland’s – and of the spirit world with the normal world.
Zięba: Yeah, we thought Poland would be great because we know this place, we live here and it can be something new and exotic for other players. Poland also has two points of view – the communist era and the post-communist era and this complements our setting with the game’s central motif of duality.
Thanks to both Piejko and Zięba for their time.