As horror fans, and especially gaming fans, we long for the days of the past. The days of Resident Evil and Silent Hill on the PlayStation One. The days of survival horror as a new exciting genre where anything was possible and the sky was the limit, only held back by hardware of the time. We’re living in a golden age of survival horror where the genre is probably the most diverse it’s ever been, so it was appealing when Daymare: 1998 came out. Originally a fan remake of Resident Evil 2, the game soon became an original game that set out to deliver an old-school survival horror experience that fans of yesterday could enjoy.
But when Daymare: 1994 Sandcastle was announced as the second installment of a trilogy, I was curious. Not only was it a prequel taking place before the first game, it also leaned into the sci-fi elements of the series. What surprises could be in store? Could the game still capture that retro survival horror feel while pushing the series in a new direction? What was the inspiration behind this installment now that an official Resident Evil 2 remake exists?
Daymare: 1994 Sandcastle follows H.A.D.E.S. operative Dahlia Reyes as she takes part in Operation Sandcastle. A top secret mission, the events of the game will see and her squad diving into the depths of Area 51 and making a horrifying discovery that will put them in a fight for their lives.
Bloody Disgusting sat down for a one on one conversation with Invader Studios’ Creative Director Michele Giannone. We talked about the challenges the team faced, crafting a modern survival horror experience that balances horror and action, and much much more.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
BD: What was the motivation behind making a prequel to Daymare rather than a traditional sequel?
MG: “We were working on the first game [Daymare 1998] as the first installment in a trilogy. So we put a lot of interesting references in the first installment that connect it to a past mission that happened before. So after the release of Daymare: 1998, we asked ourselves: ‘Okay, do we want to go with something that will solve the final cliffhanger in the game, or explain the past mission before the events of the first game.’ If we are lucky, we will go with a third possible chapter that will close the trilogy next time around.”
“We decided to go with a prequel because we love prequels in general. In movies, in other video games. We just wanted to explore more about the characters, about the situation that is referenced in the first game. We wanted to go with something that explained a little more about the background, and all the world-building that will lead to a possible third installment of the saga.”
BD: What was one element or criticism you really wanted to address when developing Sandcastle?
MG: “After the release of the Daymare: 1998, we knew that there were some weak points due to the limited budget we had. The fact is that we were just five people working on a really ambitious game. We knew that we had to work on those weak points and improve them. We worked on faster animations for the cutscenes and in animations in general. We wanted to improve the experience as well as demonstrate to the players that we learned lessons from the first installment. Of course we also concentrated and focused on our strong points, just to make this new game bigger and better than Daymare: 1998.”
BD: What were the main inspirations behind the creation of the lone protagonist Reyes?
MG: “It’s a mixture of different ideas. We wanted to have a lone female protagonist this time around because in the first game we had three main characters. We wanted to have a really deep personal background and personal story for her. So it took time to write her, her past, her experience, her connection to the main game plot and lore. It has been really a mixture of several different ideas and inspirations too. So it’s not possible to name just one.”
BD: How do you strike the balance between horror and action when controlling a badass like Reyes?
MG: “It’s not easy. In the first game we opted more for a classic survival-horror game. This time around we wanted to give more focus to the action and give the action-oriented audience a taste of the series. It’s important for us just to give players a satisfying experience, that can also be scary. It’s a balancing act between a state of tension, and sometimes letting the players use their strategy just to kill every enemy. We play-tested the game month after month, changing things to keep the balance at its best. It’s not easy, but we also follow just our taste. We are survival-horror and action fans, we know what we want. We wanted to pass that on to the players too.”
BD: The D.I.D. device has a scanner this time around. What do you feel this adds to gameplay/exploration?
MG: “We wanted to add something to make the exploration a bit more intense and important this time around. Something to encourage the player to look for these elements that are connected to more info and details about the world and lore. We thought that this element being present as a scanner might have been interesting to introduce. I think it’s something that can give to the player something different during the exploration, and make the game a more complete experience. Something that can just improve the exploration even more than the first game.”
BD: What were the challenges behind developing combat and puzzles around the new Frost Grip weapon?
MG: “The Frost Grip is probably the most unique feature of Daymare: 1994 Sandcastle. Everything was built around this device. Sometimes ideas just come up naturally. When working on the Frost Grip features just to kill enemies you might think ‘Okay, but maybe we can also use it for some environmental puzzle.’ So you start experimenting by shooting on fire, shooting on steam, shooting on everything. It inspired so many possibilities on how to use the Frost Grip.”
“At the same time when we were working on the combat system and thought ‘Okay, let’s use it as a crowd control system.’ That is something really exciting, because there are not many survival-horror games with a crowd control system. Later on we thought, ‘Okay, let’s also upgrade it so we can have different attacks and different defenses’. This is the result of months and months of testing and planning and I think we’re all pretty satisfied with how it turned out. It seems people are loving the Frost Grip, so that’s good.”
BD: In what ways do you hope Daymare: 1994 Sandcastle subverts expectations with survival-horror fans?
MG: “All the unique elements we put in the game. Most of all the Frost Grip and the fact that our enemies are really unique. They’re not regular zombies. They can pass their viral life to corpses and to other enemies to make them stronger. I think these are the most unique aspects of our game.”
BD: What horror and action films inspired Daymare: 1994 Sandcastle ?
MG: “There are always so many movies that in one way or another influenced us during the developing and the pre-production. I think that for sure Stargate is something that influenced us that we all love. The Terminator was a big inspiration and of course The X-Files is something that will always influence us in a way or another when it comes to lore and world-building. I also think that the newer Resident Evil remakes are pretty great to get inspiration from a technical and visual point of view.”
BD: Final question, do players need to play the first installment to understand Daymare: 1994 Sandcastle or can they jump right in with this installment?
MG: “No. Of course you can play this game without playing the first one. I think that if you played the first game before and after this new one you’ll have more of a connection to the overall story. Daymare: 1994 Sandcastle is made to be enjoyed by everyone, that includes people who haven’t played the first one.”
Daymare: 1994 Sandcastle Collector’s Box will be available for PS4 and PS5 on September 26, 2023. Pre-order a copy now before it’s too late.