‘Penumbra: Black Plague’ Developer Diary #1

Overture vs. Black Plague

Black Plague is a sequel, however we did not just want to settle with what we had and only make minor improvements. Instead we aimed to really evolve as game creators and that has meant identifying imperfections in our previous game and remove them completely.

One of the challenges we’ve faced when creating a game, is that we become very attached to our creation and that makes it more difficult to objectively identify these imperfections. We also get used to the elements that make up a game and have a hard time imagining how first time player perceive specific features.

Examples of such imperfections are technical features, where improvements are easy to evaluate because we can use simple metrics (frames per seconds, visual quality etc) to determine if they are better then last time. At the same time there are other imperfections related to gameplay and the quality of a gaming experience where it is a lot harder to determine if and when these have been fixed.

Thankfully we have a great bunch of people trying out new ideas and we use their feedback to see if our improvements have been successful. We have also gained a lot of knowledge through the feedback from our first game, all of which has made us better at judging what works and what doesn’t.


We received a lot of feedback on the combat in Overture. Initially we did not want Penumbra to be a game about violence, we wanted the player to use his/her brains to overcome obstacles and to really fear encounters with creatures instead of just seeing them as cannon fodder.

At the same time we wanted to give the player some kind of last line of defense in the situation. This meant we had to give the player a weapon like tool without encouraging the player to go wild hacking and slashing. To accomplish this we used several methods. First of all we made the fighting really cumbersome. Philip, the protagonist, is meant to be a scientist, not a fighter, and we wanted the combat system to reflect that. Secondly, we avoided referring to any of the weapons as “weapons”, instead we called them “tools”. The last thing we did was to make the enemies deadly so that the player could only swing the weapon and knock a creature to the ground, gaining some extra time to get away.

Once the game released, it turned out that none of these things worked as we had anticipated. Most players still identified the “tools” as weapons, which meant that they focused on hacking and slashing. The deadliness of the enemies only made the game a lot harder for those trying to sneak past traps and last but not least, the combat system made those gamers wanting to fight very frustrated. It’s interesting that none of this feedback filtered through the extensive BETA testing we did, it only became apparent when reviews and comments started pouring in.

In Black Plague the entire combat system is changed. In fact, you could say that there is essentially no combat. Players need to focus on sneaking and be very careful not to be noticed by enemies; once they do the game can be over before you know it! The biggest change is also that unlike Oveture there will not be a lot of free roaming enemies to sneak past every time players go through the same area, they will only need to survive specific encounters.

Saying that there is no combat is not the whole truth though, players will be able to use some combat. Any objects lying around can be picked up and thrown at the enemy. By doing this you could achieve a good stunning effect for the enemy or – if you get unlucky, make it even more furious. There will also be instances where the environment can be used to defeat enemies.

Key Features:

Cutting-edge game engine featuring modern 3D and physics technologies: Adapted motion blur effects and a new unified lighting system with real-time lightning create great depth with a realistic atmosphere of psychological horror

Compelling and detailed story: Finding the answers to questions of the mystery of Philip’s lost father throughout the game, with new explanations and a complete storyline wrap up

Highly interactive environments: You can interact with any object not nailed to the ground! Focus on, pick up and move around objects through a simple drag and drop interface.

Environmental sounds system: The sounds of the different environments are contributing to the atmosphere and give the player scaring hints of dangers.

Puzzle solving challenges: Horror adventure game in puzzle-like style with bonuses and incentives to challenge the player throughout the game

Penumbra: Black Plague is scheduled for a worldwide release during Q1, 2008.