Pneumata Key Art

Pneumata: Deadbolt Locks Down the Details on Their Debut Horror Game

You know me, dear readers, I am in love with survival horror as a genre. And in my endless hunt for new games to sate my lust, I see all sorts of games, from retro-styled forays through nostalgic nightmares, to first person showcases of sinister slaughterhouses. One game that recently cut through like Cthulhu’s voice in my dreams to make a great impression on me was Pneumata. The debut title from Deadbolt Interactive displayed some striking lighting and atmosphere, and its initial trailer left enough of an impact to leave me eager for more eldritch knowledge. 

In my pursuit of arcane knowledge I approached Antonio, the founder of Deadbolt Interactive and the creator of Pneumata, and requested an interview so that I may ascertain hidden details on his Lovecraft inspired, Resident Evil and Outlast influenced trek into the frayed edges of a man’s sanity. Thankfully, Antonio had not found himself shipwrecked, or investigating a string of murders, so he was more than happy to make time to meet with me. And in a manner similar to how the great ones would speak into your mind, through the magic of the internet we were able to meet with each other through the ethereal realm of the world wide web. 

After exchanging introductions and thanking Antonio for taking the time to meet with me, I opened up my line of questioning with a query on the quantity of people on the Deadbolt interactive team, asking Antonio if he was rolling solo dolo on the development of Pneumata?

Antonio: Well, it’s only me on the team. I am working with contractors to help with music, voice acting, sound effects, stuff like that, and some art assets too. But it’s just me on the Deadbolt interactive team, per se. 

As a follow up, I asked Antonio if he could tell us about his history of game development, how long he had been doing, and why he had started?

Antonio: I think in total, I think I’ve been trying to make games for maybe around 13 years. And that just comes from playing video games. And, you know, since I was born, just kind of loving all video games and being a complete gamer. And that just turned towards game development. Once, when I was like, 13 years old, I took an animation class, and I started learning 3D animation and modeling. And that kind of just got me hooked into learning how games are made. Basically, just realizing everything is just 3D models and textures and animations. And so that just got me hooked, and I’ve been trying to make games ever since then.

Remaining on the topic of his history of game development, I asked Antonio if Pneumata was his first project, or if he had done smaller projects before making a commercial release?

Antonio: Definitely on a major scale and going commercial. I have dozens and dozens of projects that I just never released or I never polished to a releasable state, you know. And that’s ranging from many different genres. I’ve made couch co-ops, platformers, puzzle games and action adventure games and, you know, realistic graphics, toon graphics. I’ve just been making, you know, dozens and dozens of small projects and I’ve participated in game jams and done stuff like that. I just never really pursued one of those projects to a commercial release. But this is kind of like my game that’s going to get there, you know. So this, Pneumata, is kind of like my commercial attempt, you know, everything that I’ve learned, all my experience, kind of just trying to bring it together so I can release an awesome game, basically.

Seeing as Antonio had been working on games for quite a while, and since there was seemingly a great amount of work put into Pneumata, I asked Antonio how long he had been working on Pneumata, from conception to its current state?

Antonio: I came up with the idea for it back in July of last year. So in 2022 I started working on it, maybe in August. So it’s been, calendar wise, probably just a little over six months. But, you know, with the holidays and everything, I would say it’s probably, maybe four to five months into production and development. So it’s fairly early, but I’ve been able to make so much progress and develop the game pretty quickly, just because in spirit, I’ve been trying to make this game for maybe two or three years now, in the form of other types of horror games. So this specific game didn’t come into existence until August of last year, but in spirit, I’ve been trying to make this game for maybe two or three years, basically.

I commented that Antonio had completed a lot in a short amount of work, to the point where you couldn’t get an asset flip to look like this with all of the fancy plug-ins, it was all rather impressive, but I had to ask, did he even get to sleep?

Antonio: A very little sleep. Hey, because I do have a full time job you know, so I’m not able to work on Pneumata full time just yet. So it was definitely just nights and weekends, kind of just putting in a double shift, you know. I got my 40 hour day job, and then I’m putting in 30 to 40 hours a week into Pneumata. So it’s definitely like I’m treating it like a full job. It just happens to be my second job.

Moving on to Pneumata, I wanted to get an idea about what fans of the survival horror genre should expect from this title. I asked Antonio, in a mechanical sense, what did the term survival horror meant to him as a developer?

Antonio: For me, it means being able to play the way that you want to. Meaning, you know, you could probably play this game without having to kill almost anything. I mean, you can run, you can hide, so this game could very much be played similar to Outlast, for example, and in Outlast you can’t fight you know, you’re just running and hiding. But there’s also opportunities to play very similarly to Resident Evil, if you want, and that means resource management and inventory management, picking up items, finding those resources and, you know, fighting when it makes sense to fight, maybe some enemies you can take on, other enemies you have no option but to run and hide, and that involves, you know, stealthing, or just pure combat, so it’s just a blend of all those qualities from those two games, Outlast and Resident Evil, and kind of just trying to make a game that has some ebbs and flows, because at the same time it is a psychological and cosmic horror as well. And so what that means is, you can’t really go guns blazing against an entity that may or may not be flesh and bones. So it’s kind of playing on that, that’s kind of just what I was imagining with choose survival horror

Another aspect of the marketing for Pneumata that I found intriguing was the claim to have drawn inspiration from specific works from H.P. Lovecraft. While drawing inspiration from the creator of the Cthulhu Mythos is nothing new, it was refreshing to see a developer draw from specific works, as opposed to the bog-standard plethora of eerie eldritch beasts and general vibes that people can draw from the cultural impact of his writing without needing to be familiar with his works. I said as much to Antonio, and also told him that I was sure fans of Lovecraft were “gonna love that shit.” but aside from the inspirations he had been very transparent about, I asked Antonio if there were any other titles that had inspired Pneumata, either mechanically or thematically?

Antonio: Oh, yeah, [Regarding the Lovecraft inspiration] that’s what I’m hoping for… One game that I really did love was the Condemned series. So Criminal Origins, and Bloodshot. Those games, you know, I really loved how gritty and unnervingly realistic it felt when I first played it… And so that was like a big inspiration in terms of, like, some of the combat for example. You know, just being able to find a weapon, and just trying to just defend yourself, you know. In Pneumata, there’s a lot of enemy types, so maybe there’s an enemy that you can just fight, just pick up a hammer and fight them. And as the game progresses, you know, that cosmic horror kind of starts to kick in, so you’re not able to just go gung ho and just fight everyone with a piece of wood. And so that’s kind of my goal here, just to blend that combat against, you know, if you’re fighting just a human, it’s a much different experience than if you’re fighting kind of like a mutated monster. So, I’m kind of just having fun with that. And Condemned: Criminal Origins was a huge inspiration for that.

The smattering of inspirations listed were frankly hitting all the right notes for me. But unfortunately all the inspiration can not be a substitute for a story, so I asked Antonio how much he could tell us at this time about the characters and conflicts in Pneumata?

Antonio: Yeah, so the protagonist is a former detective named David Hernandez. And he’s dealing with the mysterious death-slash-disappearance of his wife. And so this, you know, this has kind of caused a mental break for David. But his mind is kind of in shambles, his sanity is not in the best place, he’s become kind of hyper-obsessed with figuring out what happened to his wife. And part of that is kind of trying to remember what exactly happened. The backstory, I guess, is that David and his wife were on a ship, and there was a series of events that led to them, you know, being stranded on an island, they had to survive, and everything else is kind of blurry. And so he’s kind of hyper-obsessed, trying to figure out what’s going on. And  the situation he’s now in is he’s trying to solve a series of murders that may or may not be connected to his wife’s disappearance… And so survivors of the shipwreck are now becoming victims. And they’re being murdered one by one, so that is just part of the mystery a little bit…  And so that’s the backdrop for the game.

As a follow up, I asked if there would be any characters that David would interact with in the apartments, or is Pneumata more about that feeling of isolation?

Antonio: Yeah, it’s more of the feeling of isolation. But there are characters in the game that will definitely have a personality. But they’re more like enemy characters, and antagonists, so they’re gonna play a big role. There’s a few different characters that definitely have personalities, and they’re gonna have some pretty cool roles in the game.

I commented that it sounded like while David won’t be alone, there isn’t going to be anyone there to offer any comfort in his time of need. 

Antonio: Right, he doesn’t have a sidekick throughout this game. 

Moving from the story to the gameplay, I had wanted to learn more about the detective mode that was featured quite often in the available material for Pneumata. I asked Antonio if he could tell us about the function of the detective mode, and what exactly the players goal would be in those moments?

Antonio: Yeah, so basically, the detective mode is kind of just an opportunity to dive deeper into scenes and areas to just kind of get up close and personal, and try to find different things that can help you progress in the game. And so at this point, the thought process behind it is kind of like, it’s not absolutely necessary, but it’s an extra opportunity to explore and find more resources. Maybe you can uncover more lore, and things like that. So part of that is kind of just just being able to allow players to just explore a little bit more, and get more connected to the story in some ways. And for a completionist, for example, you can kind of focus on getting more resources and finding hidden secrets, things like that. But as well, there’s going to be story items that you will need to find, that just helps you progress and can help you unlock a different path.

Speaking with Antonio, I told him that I liked the idea that the detective mode would be an additional tool for the player to use at their discretion, as opposed to something similar to the Batman: Arkham series, wherein the game will say “aw gee, Batman, there’s a clue here, that door is locked until you use your special detective goggles to find it”

Antonio: Yeah, definitely. It just offers more opportunities to kind of spice it up a little bit. So if you need to find a key for a door, well, you could play detective, and find that key. Or you could just stumble on another way to get past the door. And so both paths are kind of based on exploring a little bit, so if you want to find the other path, it’s going to take you on a different branch. And so part of the thought process behind it is, there’s more than one way to get through an area or to progress. 

As a follow up, I asked Antonio if there would be more traditional survival horror puzzles aside from the situations wherein detective mode would be used to find a solution?

Antonio: Oh, yeah, definitely. There’s a lot in the works. Again, you know, being so early in development, it’s just one of those cases where I’m kind of having to throw out little bits and pieces here, just to try and get some eyeballs on the project. So, you know, there’s a whole lot just going on behind the scenes, you know, in development, but Resident Evil style puzzles,  that’s one of my goals, for sure. To have some really cool, intricate, thoughtful, and enjoyable puzzle experiences, you know, I really love that aspect of those games.

Staying on the topic of gameplay, I asked Antonio if he could tell us, puzzles aside, about what the moment to moment gameplay would be like, would it be in line with a traditional survival horror experience, which is great, my favorite genre for a reason, or did he have something planned to keep the player on their toes?

Antonio: So I really like what pure psychological horror games do in terms of, you know, random events combined with scripted events. And, you know, just having random environmental horror, to kind of spice up exploration, that’s kind of part of the core vision for the full experience. And so that’s something that I’m really aiming to achieve, you know, besides having to deal with enemies or things like that. It’s kind of blending in the psychological horror part of it, and not being able to trust the main character’s eyes, for example, you know, maybe you’re just seeing things and there’s psychological horror just happening all around and random events.

I loved to hear that, as someone who backtracks and scours every inch of the map, something to keep me from getting comfortable is always appreciated. As scary as the Spencer Mansion is, as soon as you kill all of the monsters, it’s just a house. It sounded like Antonio had a grand vision for Pneumata, with a lot of interesting concepts wrapped around an intriguing story. Curious as to how much content he was hoping to make for the game, I asked Antonio if he could give us an estimate or speculation on the length of the finished title?

Antonio: So what I’m really hoping for, and what I’ve planned to achieve is around five to six hours of gameplay. And you know, a high focus on that replayability… I currently have planned a few different endings.

Considering the fact that there was a demo live for Pneumata, that even at the time of the interview had been receiving updates, I wanted to know how much of the final game would be seen in that demo, so I asked Antonio if players who nab the demo will get an idea about the story and it’s beginnings?

Antonio: So the demo does not really focus too much on the story. The demo takes place, I would say probably about 30 or 40% into the game. So it’s not right at the beginning, it’s not like the intro to the game or anything like that. It’s very much just just dropping you right into some gameplay. And yeah, at the moment it is more of a proof of concept. It’s not a finished demo or finished product by any means. The demo is very much still being developed and improved. But my goal was kind of just to have a build that showcases some of the systems and mechanics and the atmosphere. And, you know, I’m hoping to just really just polish it up and have a complete demo, maybe, probably by the end of March it will be closer to what I would call a finished demo.

That was cool to hear that the demo would function as a showcase for the progress being made as well as an example of the mechanics at play. On the topic of the continued development I asked Antonio if he felt as though the development was going swimmingly at this time, or had he encountered any software shipwrecks along the way?

Antonio: Oh, yeah, I’m having a great time just making it. It’s a lot of work, but I just find a lot of enjoyment from just kind of, plopping down, working on it for a few hours, just making progress. And then, you know, rinse and repeat, it’s just become the daily grind, just adding more features and just fixing things, improving things. And yeah, it’s been an iterative process and kind of just seeing what works, what can be improved. In my opinion, I think development has been going pretty great. A lot of progress has been made in the last six months, and I’m excited, just to see how great the project’s gonna look in a couple more months. So, in terms of hiring more help with the project, for example, it’s something that I’m hoping to be able to do in the next couple of months. To work with more artists and animators and kind of really just bring the project to the next level.

I told Antonio sincerely that I was excited to learn more about his title in the coming months, and to get my hands on it in the future, and to wrap up the questions I had for Deadbolt studios regarding Pneumata, I asked if there was a hopeful release window for this time, even if tentative? 

Antonio: Nothing is really set in stone. Towards the end of this year is definitely a possibility. But, you never know. I can’t really say anything definitively right now.

With that I wrapped up the interview, again thanking Antonio for his time, and leaving him to return to his sunken place where he crafts his tale of monsters and mysteries. 

If Pneumata sounds interesting to you, you can play the demo for the title right now! And if you want to stay caught up on the development of Pneumata, be sure to visit Deadbolt Interactive on their Website, as well as the Twitter page for the title, and also make sure to wishlist Pneumata on Steam! And as always, if you are absolutely fiending for the latest and greatest in ghoulish, gruesome gaming, then head back to DreadXP and read more of our frightful features!