Salad Technologies
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Salad Technologies

Delving Into INNER’s Depths with Brian Clarke

Halloween rounds the corner, and darkness blankets the land. It’s a perfect excuse for an afternoon excursion into a different sort of gloom. This weekend I explored the deepest reaches of INNER, the horrifying indie by one-man dev team Brian Clarke.

Playing INNER Is a Fright

I must confess, I’m not too good with horror titles. Not that I don’t love them — I just prefer not to be in the driver’s seat, you know?

Spawned during a three-day game jam, INNER delivers quite a punch despite its relatively short run time. When facing its shadowy passages, my character’s feeble flashlight did little to quell my fear. Those with stronger nerves or a preference for realistic graphics may not experience the same frights as I did, but I recommend INNER for its mystery as much as the spooks.

Warehoused Memories and Esoteric Runes

The premise is simple: a therapist has put you under hypnosis so you can unlock repressed memories in hopes of curing your depression. This inner realm assumes the guise of a warehouse. To the north lies a maze of lockers, which store old thoughts. To the south you find jumbled boxes containing mementos. You spawn in the central “safe room,” dominated by a stony circle and soft brown light.

There’s little guidance from there on out. The game forces you to search the dark corners of your mind, desperate to find the missing piece. Players must rely on sound cues, subtle hints, and a little bit of screwing around. Suffice it to say, I bumbled around these corridors for a solid five minutes before I surmised my mission. Many of the lockers are empty, or contain irrelevant thoughts. Thoughts that make you wonder why you’re even trying.

Sometimes a thought is just a thought.

Eventually a pattern emerges: the mementos are linked to certain memories, and connecting the two will create a rune for the central circle. Unlock them all, and you’ll have discovered your own secrets.

The Stuff of Nightmares

Sounds like a breeze, eh? Just a 3D game of memory? Too bad a white figure stalks your path, screaming like a banshee when it spots you and wrenching you out of hypnosis once you’re overtaken. Yes, I died a lot in this game.

Luckily the stark white of the enemy helps spoil its approach, and the thing announces an attack well in advance. After the first five or so deaths, I learned to avoid death traps (there are many) and how to juke the jerk with consistency.

I discovered my memories, collected items from my past, and forged the runes that unlocked the cause of my trauma. All of which you’ll have to do for yourself. No more spoilers. If you pay close attention to the diary-like memories, the puzzle should come together fairly soon. Of course, INNER saves its best secrets for last.

Brian Clarke’s Inspiration and Design Process

After meeting Brian through a mutual friend, I had the dual pleasures of playing his game and then badgering him about it.

What inspired you to develop INNER?

I had never done a game jam before, so I wanted to challenge myself. I gave myself three days to create a game — no official jam or anything, just a personal one. I talked to my Twitch stream and we decided I’d make a horror game.

I’ve always really enjoyed horror and the potential it has for storytelling. In addition to the time limitation, I wanted to try to make it in third-person perspective. Most horror takes place in first person, as it’s easier to immerse the player. I wanted to see how I could achieve some of the feelings you get playing horror, but from a different perspective.

How did you come up with the premise?

I started the brainstorming process, and thought it would be neat to go digging through your past memories under hypnosis, trying to connect things from your past to confront your fears. The concept felt strong enough and achievable in such a short time span while still having potential to be entertaining.

I’ve been interested in psychology, but haven’t really studied it. From a game design perspective, having a concept that leaves room for so many possibilities helps to more easily deliver a fun experience, and leaves room for expansion if you want to continue working on the project or make a sequel.

It feels like it could be the beginning of a series, like a string of short stories in mini-game format. Any plans to build upon INNER?

I do plan to do more mini-game style projects, but those are mostly geared toward Patreon access. But the reason for that is to come up with a different ideas that could spawn into larger projects. Enough people enjoy INNER that I would really like to make a second one with more to it. I think a chapter-style approach to something like INNER could be really cool.

Both of your released games are horror. Sticking to the genre?

I’ve been doing a few different, smaller things recently to help explore new ideas. I find myself enjoying the horror genre a lot, but my current project Outstation is a very different concept.

It’s a “new-frontier” space adventure game mixed with bullet hell. The base version will be out in maybe a month or two. It will be free with chapter DLC. So I don’t mind branching out to try all the different ideas I have, but horror has a special place for me.

To hear more from Brian, check out his dev stream or follow him on Twitter. And don’t miss Brian’s newest and more ambitious title, The Subject.

By Jared Carpenter.

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