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Requiem for a soldier: 1916 – Der Unbekannte Krieg

Sunday, 29 January 2012 01:04 GMT By Julie Horup

A much loved indie is getting a second lease on life. Julie Horup checks in with the dinosaurs, tank maggots, and WWI trenches of 1916 – Der Unbekannte Krieg.

1916 – Der Unbekannte Krieg

An unusual first person horror game with an emphasis on survival, not combat.

A product of The National Academy of Digital Interactive Entertainment, picked up for professional releases by macbody games.

Student version available online.

I’m stuck in a trench, alone and terrified. Above me a war is being fought, but there’s absolutely no sign of life down here. It’s dark, cold, wet, and I’m fighting for my life against an enemy I never could have imagined possible. While painful screams resonate in the trenches, I see some kind of shadowy figure in the distance, and then I know: This literally is hell on earth.

But, actually, it’s not hell. It’s 1916: Der Unbekannte Krieg, an indie game build around a soldier lost in the trenches during World War 1. But despite taking place during a war, it’s nothing like we’ve seen from war-riddled games before. Instead the player is hopelessly confused and lost, clinging on to a precious life and about to meet the harbinger of death: a dinosaur.

However, despite being invaded by dinosaurs and various other hellish creatures, 1916 at its core isn’t about fighting extinct animals; it’s not about a doomed soldier; nor is it about shooting guns until the war is won. It’s about fear.

“We aimed at hitting one note on the player’s emotional palette and that was fear,” said game director David Adler.

“One of the qualities inherent in the game is creating a bigger experience for the player than what is actually in the game. This opens the universe for carrying the player deeper into the psychology of terror, not just a mere flesh wound.”

While fear is and always has been an obvious tool in games development, the combination of WW1 and dinosaurs is less obvious. Instead both are often seen as things of the past, which we only hear about in schoolbooks and on the telly. According to Adler, this was part of the reason why the odd couple was chosen as the combined mainspring of 1916.

“I am of an ignorant generation; the two subjects are equally alien to me. The dinosaurs and WW1 are just two programmes after each other on the Discovery Channel,” Adler admitted.

1916 – Der Unbekannte Krieg.

“The First World War was when the world lost its innocence. All hell broke loose, and what happened couldn’t be understood. The rules of civilization didn’t make sense after the powerful nation-states sent their young men to the front where they slaughtered each other. It was a conflict as nonsensical as trying to fight a dinosaur.”

Taking these two elements and putting them together in one distressing experience also helped steer the game away from traditional shooters, where the player is often depicted as the one in charge in a typical “hunter and the hunted”-situation. Instead Adler and his team reversed the approach, letting the player be the hunted, constantly fighting for his or her life.

“Taking the game of war away from the glorified battlefields and down into the muddy trenches was a big motivator. Fear comes from not being in control. This was an attempt at getting closer to a more emotional relationship with your opponent,” he explained.

Back to school
Despite being an ambitious lot, the team behind 1916 did face obstacles when starting out. None of them are professional game developers, but instead hail from DADIU – The National Academy of Digital Interactive Entertainment. Here young aspiring students from different educational institutions in Denmark get together during the span of a month to create games that often push the creative boundaries. An approach that can just as easily fail as it can result in spectacular projects.

“The advantage is that you are a bunch of hungry students all burning to create and challenge yourself on this very technical media,” Adler said about DADIU.

“On the negative side, the students at DADIU are not very well trained in working in a ridged pipeline like game production requires. Most people on the team have never worked with a director before.

“In a short production knowing where to focus your energy is the key to getting a rounded game in the end,” he added.

The focus of energy turned out to be crucial for the game. With a short amount of time to create something that neither DADIU nor the Danish games industry had seen before, the team quickly realised their boundaries, but also learned how to take advantage of the obstructions forced upon them.

“In an independent production you must focus on originality. We can’t compete on the level with AAA games so we have to stray off the beaten path in order to be noticed,” Adler explained.

“For this to work a lot of things had to fall into place. We knew we were limited, so many of the decisions were made on this premise. Making the game look old was one of the ways to get around our limited resources. I wanted the game to feel like it was made in the trenches during the First World War.

“The game is clinching because grenades were going off near the programmers while they wrote the code in a bunker,” Adler added about the team’s rather odd yet functional work habits.

He’s also keen on underlining the importance of the game’s development as something that didn’t just focus on basic gameplay, but instead conveyed a feeling of hopelessness and a gripping experience.

“Game mechanics, HD graphics and surround sound are all tools to make you feel. When gameplay really works for me I don’t notice it, I’m too immersed in the experience.”

Obviously it worked. 1916 spurred quite the hype as it featured as one of the graduation games from DADIU back in Spring 2011. With a promising yet small indie scene in Denmark, it fitted right in – but also drew a lot of attention because of its resemblance to LIMBO, the ultimate vanguard of Danish indie development.

But while Adler remains thankful for what Playdead achieved with their massive success, he’s also quick to dismiss the notion that 1916 relies on the com,parison.

“I think that LIMBO and 1916 both aimed at doing the same thing but with completely different philosophies. I really admire LIMBO for opening the doors for more experimental indie games, for this I am quite thankful,” Adler commented.

“My thoughts and ambitions for 1916 were to get the player deep into the psychological horrors of war. I believe LIMBO took a more subtle approach.”

Stepping up the game
Despite seeing the light of day nearly a year ago, it’s been quiet around 1916 until late last year. The people behind the game had gone their separate ways until developer macbody games showed interest in the game – an interest that turned out to stem from a mutual love for relentless creativity.

“Indie games are made on furious creative will, and here macbody and I found a common ground. Macbody wanted to make games that pushed the limits of what computer games could be and they saw this in potential in 1916,” Adler said.

“When I saw David’s plans for the full game I was literally floored,” macbody games’ CEO, Peter Thomsen, added.

“He took a first person avoider game – in which the object was to be killed by dinosaurs and escaping via a ladder – to one lonely, deranged soldier’s quest to find his lost squad, and along the way the horrors of WW1 were seen through his eyes.”

“Airplanes become flying lizards, tanks become giant maggots and so on. The fact that all the monsters are in the soldier’s mind, that is brilliance at work!”

With a promising partnership in place, the hard work has only begun. Even though Adler and macbody games share the same vision for 1916, they still need to get funding, and while they’ve teamed up with Bandello, a Danish agency dedicated to help out indie developers, there’s still a long way to go, especially when it comes to expanding the game into a financially viable version of 1916 rather than a graduation game from DADIU – something Thomsen is fully aware of and ready to deal with.

“I sincerely believe, more than anything in this world, that 1916 – Der Unbekannte Krieg will be not only a hit, but a game that will get the entire industry talking. It is so personal and so ambitious that there is little to no danger of being lost in the shuffle.”

“The expanded 1916 is more than just dinosaurs, in fact the player can expect to see some new and scary monsters. The expanded game is a lone soldier’s quest to find his squad, the backdrop is still WW1, but we have much more than dinosaurs in store for the players,” he explained.

The release date for 1916 is currently set some time during 2013 with platforms like Steam, PlayStation Network and Xbox Live Arcade being considered, but nothing has been set in stone yet. That doesn’t change the fact, though, that Thomsen is confident that snapping up the game was the right move.

“David is an ambitious man, and so are we in macbody games,” he stated.

“I sincerely believe, more than anything in this world, that 1916 – Der Unbekannte Krieg will be not only a hit, but a game that will get the entire industry talking.

“It is so personal and so ambitious that there is little to no danger of being lost in the shuffle,” Thomsen concluded.

The DADIU version of 1916 – Der Unbekannte Krieg is currently available online at Kongregate.

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5 Comments

  1. absolutezero

    Oh my this is amazing news. For a tiny experiment the game was brilliant, unsettling, panic inducing and bloody frustrating.

    Its also a bit of a memory test in figuring out where to go and why did I just die God damn.

    The concept for a full title gets better everytime I read it, I do hope they can keep the same art style aswell its pretty integral to the experience.

    #1 3 years ago
  2. DSB

    The finishing games from that place are really getting to be top class.

    Back to Bed has a ton of potential as well:

    http://backtobed.dadiugames.dk/

    With products like that, DADIU really needs a rebrand. National Academy of Digital Interactive Entertainment – What?! Danish Games Academy. Fixed it for ya.

    It’s a shame that they’ll have to go outside the country to get a job too.

    #2 3 years ago
  3. KrazyKraut

    I think…the mankind lost their innocent during the thirty years war, but yes it was the first time the modern age wasnt afraid of using gas all this other hellish stuff.

    Awesome game, a full and big one would be great!

    #3 3 years ago
  4. LOLshock94

    this has got to be the best idea ive ever heard!! any chance for a console release?

    #4 3 years ago
  5. absolutezero

    http://www.mediafire.com/?5cadimaeo004aee

    Ill just leave this here, its a little experiement in making a game out of a SCP article.

    http://www.scp-wiki.net/scp-087

    Video from the guy that made it : http://youtu.be/uiHQN1q8ln4 Bit spoilerish if you watch it all. Its not really a game, its not really anything. Its pretty cool.

    #5 3 years ago

Comments are now closed on this article.

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    A new video shown by Final Fantasy 15 director Hajime Tabata during the latest Active Time Report, contains a look at the game’s wildlife and ecology. You can watch the full stream two hour stream through here, or a smaller clip courtesy of GamesHQMedia below.

  • Lionhead ventures into the free-to-play space with Fable Legends

    Fable Legends will be free-to-play when it launches on PC and Xbox One. According to Lionhead, the one versus four cross-platform title borrows from MOBA games such as Dota 2 and League of Legends as it will contain free, rotating heroes which will be added to a roster for a two week period. Once the […]

  • Win! 5 pairs of tickets to the Call of Duty European Championships

    We have five pairs of tickets to giveaway for the Call of Duty European Championships, taking place in London this weekend. The event takes place this Saturday February 28 and Sunday March 1 at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden. Winners can watch teams will go head to head for a $10,000 prize pot […]

  • Republique Remastered has released on Mac and PC

    Republique Remastered, which was announced earlier this month, is now available for Mac and PC. The game is 20% off through Steam, GOG and the Humble Store for $19.99 until March 4. Thereafter, it will run you $24.99. The Remastered edition contains all five episodes of the game, with 1-3 available now and the remaining […]

  • LA Cops coming to Xbox One in March

    Isometric shooter LA Cops is coming to Xbox One on March 13. Already on Steam Early Access, the game looks like it’s been heavily inspired by Hotline Miami. Walk into a room, open fire, leave bloody puddles in your wake. It’s being published by Team 17. Check out the video below for some 70s cop […]

  • We have $500 of Steam Wallet funds to giveaway!

    We’re giving away 10 Steam Wallet prizes worth $50 each to VG247 readers, courtesy of Bundle Stars. All you need to do to be in with a chance of winning $50 Steam credit is to enter your details below. Join the Bundle Stars Steam group for entry in the sweepstake, and gain extra entries for […]

  • Lapsed Final Fantasy 14 players tempted back with 10 day freebie

    Square is offering lapsed FF 14: A Realm Reborn players a chance to come back to the game for 10 days worth of free adventuring. Provided you’ve already bought and registered an account you’ll be able to play free of charge from Feb 27 to March 9. Square wants you to sample the new content […]

  • Advanced Warfare: Sledgehammer looking at “opportunities” to recreate classic Call of Duty maps

    Sledgehammer Games has told VG247 it’s looking at opportunities to recreate classic Call of Duty maps in Advanced Warfare. According to co-founder Michael Condrey, players of the latest Havoc DLC are asking how Exo abilities and verticality can be added to classic franchise maps. “We’re taking a look at some opportunities to really highlight the […]

  • GTA Online reader playlist week 7: and the winner is…

    Stuff was shot. But only one player emerged victorious. GTA Online player e031271 won last night’s VG247 reader playlist, beating myself, Matt and regulars solidorwot and Revolting. Congratulations, Mr e031271. A deserved victory. We play a GTA Online playlist in an open session every Wednesday on PS4, because it’s both funny and fun. Anyone’s welcome […]

  • Leaked screens reveal The Reef as Destiny’s new “social space”

    A handful of leaked Destiny screens seem to confirm that The Reef location will be the new social space in Destiny. The new addition is likely to be revealed as part of the upcoming House of Wolves expansion. Reddit user Megamanexe4 dropped the screens on the site earlier this morning, along with grabs that reveal […]

  • Darksiders creator teases Battle Chasers game

    Joe Madureira, creator of Darksiders, has released art that strongly suggests a Battle Chasers game is in the works. Battle Chasers was a comic book from the late 1990s that suffered notorious production problems between issues and was never finished. Madureira formed Airship Syndicate after the collapse of THQ, where he co-created Darksiders. His latest […]

  • Infamous video nasty Axe recreated in GTA 5

    The trailer for notorious horror movie Axe has been recreated in GTA 5. The shot for shot remake is the work of gigerbrick who has previously recreated exploitation flicks like Machete and Hostel using Lego. The original Axe movie was banned in 1984 in the UK but passed with cuts in the late 1990s. Movie […]

  • Payday 2 for PS4 and Xbox One includes “a year’s worth of paid DLC” for free

    Payday 2: Crimewave Edition will include a year’s worth of paid DLC from the PC version of the game for free. The new-gen version of the game will be available June 2015, and includes almost all of the paid and free DLC released so far for Overkill’s popular first-person shooter. That DLC includes The Big […]

  • Yes, Mortal Kombat X will require Xbox Live Gold or PS Plus

    Mortal Kombat X won’t bypass Microsoft and Sony’s premium online play requirements. Reports that Mortal Kombat X wouldn’t require PS Plus or Xbox Live Gold started circling earlier this week thanks to a communications error. Answering fan questions on Twitter, producer Shaun Himmerick accidentally gave the impression that premium console subs would not be required […]

  • This is what Destiny players most want next

    Destiny patch 1.1.1 has resolved or at least addressed a number of complaints voiced by the community, but there are plenty more. des Destiny community manage David “Deej” Dague has put out a call for Guardians to share their concerns – or rather, what they think the community is most concerned about. “Set aside your […]

  • Google AI can play games now, so we’re probably all going to die

    Google has brought us one step closer to our inevitable slaughter or enslavement by machine overlords. Google has developed an AI that can learn to play video games and devise brand new strategies. Let me just rephrase that: Google has created an AI that can teach itself new skills, including how to play video games. […]

  • First footage of Renowned Explorers: International Society surfaces

    Renowned Explorers: International Society is a turn-based strategy game from the team behind Reus, and it looks great. Renowned Explorers was announced almost a full year ago, but has been pretty quiet since then. Developer Abbey games has now announced that the game has hit alpha, and will be open to select testers soon. You […]

  • Cities: Skylines developer commits to mod support

    Cities: Skylines will fully support the modding community. Hailing from famously mod-friendly publisher Paradox, Cities: Skylines is a no-brainer for mod support – especially as a lack of mod support is one of the things SimCity was so heavily criticised for when it firts launched. In the developer diary below, Paradox’s Jakob Munthe is joined […]

  • Nosgoth update adds Vanguard, many fixes

    Nosgoth, the free-to-play multiplayer brawler set in the Legacy of Kain universe, has been given a significant makeover. The major feature of the latest Nosogth game update is a new playable human character called the Vanguard. “Equipped with mighty throwing axes and a shield, the Vanguard can take more punishment than any human class that […]

  • Xbox Live Gold 12 month sub $40 on Microsoft store

    Microsoft is offering $20 off 12 month Xbox Live Gold subscriptions at the moment. An Xbox Live Gold 12 month subscription will normally set you back $60, but a Microsoft Store promotion has it on offer for $40. The offer is restricted to the US store. Although you can opt to grab your sub as […]

  • Tomb Raider movie script to be penned by TMNT writer

    Tomb Raider will be Evan Daugherty’s second reboot of an established universe. The Tomb Raider movie reboot has signed on a writer and a distributor. Deadline reports Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Divergent, Snow White And The Huntsman and G.I. Joe 3 writer Daugherty will write the film. Additionally, Warner Bros. has signed on to distribute, […]

  • Shelter 2 pre-orders open, launch trailer debuts early

    Shelter 2 is a game in which you are a mother lynx and must protect a den of kittens. Yes, it’s delightful. Shelter 2 is coming to Mac and PC on March 9. Pre-orders are now available on Steam at 10% off or on GOG.com with a free skin and soundtrack, or 20% off if […]

  • That Batman: Arkham Knight trailer is full of codes

    Batman: Arkham Knight’s trailer is like a Transformer – there’s more than meets the eye. The new Batman: Arkham Knight trailer contains a number of codes. Eagle-eyed users have spotted four so far, and work on cracking their meaning is progressing. According to an /r/games thread rounding up results so far, the codes pertain to […]

  • Assassin’s Creed haystacks won’t save you from a fall

    Assassin’s Creed fans, don’t try this at home. Assassin’s Creed characters can survive falls of almost any distance as long as they aim for the haystacks scattered handily throughout the environment. As you probably deduced from your familiarity with common sense, this isn’t a real thing: falling from heights kills you, the same way a […]

  • Why are people buying PS4 and not Xbox One?

    PS4 is outselling Xbox One – but why? A new report may have the answer. Last month, the PS4 outsold the Xbox One in the US again, returning it to the top of the charts after just two months away. Why? What has caused this reversal in fortunes in Microsoft’s home territory? According to a […]

  • Toejam and Earl are back with a new Kickstarter

    The early 90′s are alive and well in a new bid to bring back Toejam and Earl. Toejam and Earl released for Mega Drive (Genesis, Americans) in 1991, and the eponymous characters went on to count among Sega’s best-known characters. They appeared in a platformer, a light gun shooter and finally a 2002 Xbox game […]

  • New Wander trailer shows off Azertash form

    Wander is a collaborative, non-combat MMO in which you can take on a number of unique forms. Wander players begin as an ambulant tree called an Oren and can progress through several different bodies as they explore the environment, learning its secrets. One of these, which we’d not seen before this trailer, is the amphibious […]

  • SOMA approaching beta phase on PC and PS4

    SOMA, the new horror game from the Amnesia: The Dark Descent crew, is getting close to playable. Frictional Games has apologised for its recent silence over the project, but said it’s focused on reaching beta. Sorry all for the silence! We're closing in on Beta and everyone's working hard to get there. Once that's done, […]

  • Square Enix does not condone Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest HD Remaster

    Square Enix has said it’s not involved with a fan remake of Final Fantasy spin-off Mystic Quest. 1992 SNES game Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest is being remade by Dark Design as Mystic Quest HD Remaster. The developer is even taking pre-orders for the project. Unfortunately, it looks like it is in no position to be […]

  • New Hunger teaser released by LittleBigPlanet Vita co-developers

    LittleBigPlanet Vita co-developers Tarsier Studios have released a teaser trailer for Hunger, which was announced in May 2014 at the Nordic Game Conference. The game has been rumored to be the firm’s unannounced Sony project since 2010. Platforms are still to be announced, but the studio became a first-party SCE developer a few years back, […]

  • Here’s two Mario Party 10 overview videos, one featuring amiibo

    Overview videos for Mario Party 10 and the amiibo which work with the title have been released by Nintendo Japan. Obviously each one is in Japanese, but you get the gist all the same. Mario Party 10 releases on Wii U March 20 in North America and Europe. Thanks, AGB.

  • Clan Raids announced for Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare Companion App

    Activision has announced a new Clan Raids mode will be made available through the Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare Companion App. According to the CoD community blog, raids are time-based challenges where success earns you a spot on the Clan Raids leaderboards and new Clan Raid-exclusive in-game gear like the Equilibrium set. Clan members will […]

  • Play Battlefield Hardline starting March 12 through EA Access

    Xbox One users with an EA Access subscription will be able to play 10 hours worth of Battlefield Hardline starting March 12. EA Access members will are being granted access to the game five days before the street date, with full multiplayer and all saves transferring over into the main game. It was announced yesterday […]