Key art for Reveil

Reveil PAX Preview with Bennett from Pixelsplit studios

Peeping the plethora of pickings on the PAX east floor, I found another interesting title at the Daedalic booth, a narrative driven, puzzle-populated, tale of circus workers and missing family members titled Reveil, the interesting visual designs and uncommon use of a circus as the setting left me eager to learn more about the self proclaimed ‘psycho-thriller’. Once I made my way to the booth I spoke with Bennett, one of the key members of Pixelsplit studios, the developers of the title, and as I watched him play through the demo shown on the PAX floor, I picked his brain about the project and what it does to help differentiate itself from other similar titles. 

After exchanging introductions I watched Bennett dive into the demo, as he played through the game I asked him how long the studio had been working on Reveil, and what they had been working on before this?

Bennett: Including prototypes, etc. Almost five years, but full time, I would say the last two to three years… [Before Reveil] We had several projects, for example, Deadly Days or Indoor Lands, but every time a different genre, and this time, we wanted to do a really cool horror-ish narrative game.

First person narrative horror games come in many shapes and sizes, as our dear readers know, in an attempt to narrow down what making a first person psycho-thriller meant for the team at Pixelsplit, so I asked Bennett if Reveil would be more similar to a survival horror game like the newer Resident Evil titles, or was it akin to a traditional horror title like Layers of Fear?

Bennett: More Layers of Fear, but there are also threat avoidance mechanics, we really try to have some variety and diversity in the game play. So puzzles, a bit of exploration, and later on, you also have this threat and stealth sequence.

With story being such an important part of the experience in Reveil, I asked Bennett if the player would have any agency in the story, or were they just along for the ride as the haunting story unfolds in front of them?

Bennett: You are mostly here for the ride, but there are several decisions you can make, especially in the end. So you can replay it and have some different endings, etc.

After learning a bit about the mechanical side of things, I wanted to get more details about the story, so I asked Bennett if he could tell us about the characters and conflicts in Reveil?

Bennett: Yeah, so basically, you play Walter Thompson, who is a circus mechanic. Things are strange in the game, and you try to figure them out. Basically, you are searching for your family, your daughter and your wife. Quite a classic story for horror games. But we play a bit with this cliche in the end.

Regarding the cliche nature of the story, I told Bennett “Frankly, it worked for Silent Hill one and two

Bennett: That’s true, and like I said, you want to explore [the mystery,] you are a circus mechanic, but quite quickly the story will change and will have a twist in it, which I don’t want to spoil.

Peering over his shoulder I couldn’t help but mention how fantastic the game looked, and how its visual design really helped sell the ethereal vibe at times. 

Bennett: Thank you, it is one of our main pillars to have cool graphics and good atmospherics… sound design etc, like I said, there are many puzzles in the game, or, not super many, but it is one pillar of the game.

I commented that it was nice to see these fleshed out, interactive puzzles that were more than just bringing a key to a door, to get another key for another door.

Bennett: That’s true, but we also have that later. Yeah, like I said, we really try to be a bit diverse here and not bore the player… So we switch mechanics, and scenarios or sceneries quite often. 

As Bennett showed me the demo, he encountered a puzzle where he had to interact with a ball in a maze by rotating the maze to roll it past multiple holes, and into the exit. 

Bennett: For the puzzles we really try to make them feel haptic and physical. So yeah, really try to capture that, this one is hard though… And this is stuff that Walter built as a circus mechanic handyman. He built this custom stuff for example, for his daughter. And yeah, this is stuff you will find all over the place, handmade mechanic custom stuff… one of our goals is to really make it feel like it is something in your hands.

As the demo continued, Bennett interacted with an object, and when he turned around, what was moments ago a bedroom had become an expansive path past trees and into the distance.

Bennett: This is something that happens quite often in the game. Like I said, we have many different sceneries and we really try to switch them, I don’t know, every 30 minutes or something. And yeah, we switched from narrow spaces to wide spaces and back, this gives you some sort of tense feeling all the time… The protagonist is a bit confused, we would call it, I don’t know if you saw it in the beginning, we took some pills, and yeah, it’s almost dreamlike all the time. And the lines between reality and fantasy blur quite quickly.. And in the end, the players will want to find out what’s going on.

As I watched him make his way from the room onto the path and towards the circus tents, I told Bennett that it was refreshing to see the circus used as a setting without it being a cheap way to shoehorn spooky clowns into the game. It seemed like there was a certain amount of adoration applied to the setting. 

Bennett: Yeah, that was definitely something we thought about. We think the circus is something interesting. And how to say, it also offers many interesting sceneries etc. Sure, clowns are also interesting or creepy, whatever. But we don’t have clowns chasing you or something. Yeah, but we think it’s quite interesting and also having the details and the objects that you can interact with… Here’s the funhouse which we want to enter now. So what happens here is that we have this machine and it is missing the electricity right now, and now we have to turn on the electricity. Follow that cable here, okay here’s the next puzzle.

I told Bennett that it was a nice looking puzzle.

Bennett: Yeah, we really tried to make it something to think about but not too annoying. Yeah, hard to balance sometimes to be honest.

After seeing more of the game and the variety of unique puzzles and interactions in the environments, we were nearing the end of the interview, so I asked Bennett if there was anything he wanted to say to our readers regarding Reveil?

Bennett: What I want to say is play it, wishlist it, you will enjoy it. It will have a twist which will, I don’t know how to say it, english is so hard…

In an attempt to help him finish his sentence I said “It’s gonna get those people who think they know everything”

Bennett: Right, I hope so. I definitely, definitely hope so.

As I wrapped up the conversation I asked Bennett if the team felt like they were making good time, and if they had a prospective release window for Reveil at this time?

Bennett: Yeah, really progressing very well. There’s no fixed release date yet but I think Q3 of this year.

With that I thanked Bennett again for his time, I appreciated him taking time off of the show floor to show the game to me, and I was excited to see more of the title in the coming months. to stay up to date on the development you can follow the team on the Pixelsplit Twitter page or website, and wishlist Reveil on Steam. And as always, to see more PAX picks and general spooky scoops, head back to DreadXP and read more of our frightful features!