Back in 2015, Supermassive Games and Sony Computer Entertainment released Until Dawn for the PS4 — a third-person survival horror game about a group of 8 young adults visiting a remote ski lodge on Blackwood Mountain and having to survive the night.
The game was a tremendous success for both parties, surpassing all sales expectations and establishing a formula that Supermassive would later revisit on projects like The Dark Pictures Anthology and The Quarry. But what many people don't know about it is that it wasn't always a Supermassive Games project, instead starting life at Sony’s London Studio as a PS3 title that it was putting together to show off the capabilities of the PS Move controller.
In the past, preservationist groups and individuals like Ptop Online, Obscure Gamers, Digital Preservation, Defaulty Galaxy, and UD Preservation have all managed to dig up and publish development footage from this previous version online, while former staff members have also posted storyboards and other materials from the game. So recently, we decided to do some digging of our own, speaking to four former London Studio employees (all of whom wished to remain anonymous) and getting our hands on additional design docs as well as a bunch of other previously unreleased materials.
Our ultimate goal was to piece together the history of this project and catalogue some of the biggest changes from the Supermassive version.
Sony's London Studio
According to our sources, London Studio initially began work on Until Dawn back in 2008, with the studio assembling the team from a bunch of people who had previously been involved with unreleased projects like The Getaway 3 and Eight Days, as well as a group of new hires. This earlier version of the game shared a few of the same broad strokes as the finished product featuring a similar setting and a premise about a group of people being stalked on a mountain by an ominous threat, but would feature an entirely different cast of characters, a lack of supernatural elements, and was being developed for the PS3 and PS Move controller.
"It was an early PlayStation Move title," one source tells us. "At the point I joined, the PlayStation Move hadn’t been announced and the Wii had been doing really well. So Sony wanted to make some launch games for its competitor to the Wii. I joined and people had these early PlayStation Move controllers, which were wired and connected up to the dev kits."
"We were meant to be leading the charge for the Move controller," another source adds. "So the PS3 has come out. It’s got this game-changing controller: this Move controller. So we were pipped to be the studio to create the real burning desire to have this controller and to be the first product to use it properly. So we spent a lot of time trying to get the design of the controller right, the feel of it right, getting the kind of dead zones. So it was a big deal for Sony London at the time, because we were meant to be delivering this game that would be a killer app for the Move controller. So there was a lot of resources thrown at it initially."
As our sources tell us, it was being made with a heavily modified version of the SingStar engine (as opposed to the Decima engine used for the finished game) and would have seen players controlling two characters (instead of 8) with the option to play either solo or with a partner. This 2-player mode wasn't exactly what you might expect from a traditional multiplayer experience, and would have instead seen players swapping the PS Move between them as the perspective shifted between the two main characters Scott Monroe and Chrissie Clarke.
"It was targeted at early-to-mid-20s couples for couch co-op," a source tells us. "People would be playing, and they'd pass it to their partner. They'd do a little section. It was very much a story-driven interactive title. Think Scream versus I Know What You Did Last Summer."
According to those we spoke to, the game would have been a first-person experience (in contrast to the third-person version that was released later on) and would have seen players using the PS Move to solve puzzles, play minigames, and take part in quick-time events.
"I don’t think we ever arrived at the point during development where we had shooting," one of our sources tells us. "But you were certainly walking around, and you’d point your torch, and that would reflect what you were doing with your hand with your Move controller. And then there were going to be puzzles like unlocking boxes using a key. We wanted to have a physical [representation of] opening the door with the Move controller as well, so you’d have to twist the door handle. And then there was inspecting objects that you’d pick up, and you could rotate them around like you sort of did in Resident Evil, except you were doing it with the Move controller as well.
"We also settled on having 'Quick Time' sequences. So, during those, you’d just be doing basic gestures. We had a prototype for the sort of trail marks that would appear on the screen, and you would have to replicate whatever that action was with the Move controller to advance the quick-time sequence, so if it was telling you to strike down because a guy was trying to grab you and you wanted to smack his hand away. You know, stuff along those lines."
One of the most interesting differences between the London Studio version and the Supermassive one is that there were no Wendigos present in this earlier take, with the main antagonist instead being a mysterious killer prowling the mountains. The cast of characters was also different, with not only the names of the characters being different but no celebrity likenesses being used, either.
Here is the full list of names (according to the Episode 1 design doc we were sent):
- Scott Monroe
- Chrissie Clarke
- Clayton Vanderfield
- Devon Saunders
- Travis Adams
- Summer Carlisle
- Josh Lambert
- Mark Johnson (MJ)
- Emi Yoshida
- Belle Rios
- Lex Bryant
With the wide range of sources available to us, below, we've attempted to reassemble as much of the story as possible from this earlier version of the game.
Reassembling The Story
If you're familiar with Until Dawn (2015), you'll know that it starts with a short prologue where the main group of adults play a cruel prank on the nerdier member of the crew, Hannah Washington, leading both Hannah and her twin sister Beth to run out into the woods and fall off a cliff to an uncertain fate. From what we've been able to piece together, London Studio's version would have featured something similar to this, but with some significant differences.
The design doc for Episode 1 that we have come to possess doesn't include a full recap of this scene despite referencing that Hannah's death had taken place a year prior. Luckily, though, we can piece together London Studio's plan for the introduction to the story from a couple of other sources, including Dan Fraga's storyboards for the project's trailer and the 2010 prototype that has since been made public.
Together, these sources seem to indicate that in this version, Hannah would have suffered an accident while out skiing and that the rest of the group staged a search party but were unsuccessful in locating her, with the killer possibly getting to her first (as implied by the storyboards). From here, a year would then pass, with Clayton Vanderfield, Hannah's boyfriend, inviting the party back to the mountain (in a similar way to how Hannah's brother Josh arranged the get-together in the 2015 version).
[Update: Shortly following publication, Zoox (the individual behind the UD Preservation YouTube channel) reached out with more information they'd been able to find out about this prologue. Interestingly, they revealed that the studio didn't end up using Dan Fraga's storyboards for the finished version of the prologue. Instead, it went with an opening that saw Hannah staying behind in an abandoned chapel to see the dawn on New Year's Eve, where she is then attacked by a masked killer who chases her to a cliff edge. The last shot is of a corrupt country ranger (who pulled up outside the chapel to stash a case full of money) hearing a scream and seeing Hannah fall to her death.]
According to the design doc, Episode 1 would start with Scott and Chrissie breaking into a ticket office to take the final cable car of the day up to the top of the mountain to meet with the others. Storyboards and prototype footage seem to suggest, however, that on the way up, both characters would have a run-in with a ranger named John, an "old hobo-like character" not too dissimilar from the character portrayed by Larry Fessenden in the finished version. As our sources tell us, this figure would have also acted as a red herring while piecing together the identity of the killer but was simply trying to warn the couple about the dangers of the mountain.
Upon arriving at the top in the cable car, players eventually bump into the host Clayton, who tells them that Lex, one of the other members of the gang, has been acting strange and that they should go and see her. For the rest of the episode, players then have the task of searching the lodge for Lex, where they will meet the other characters, get locked temporarily in a walk-in freezer, and return to the lounge just in time to witness the body of the missing person drop from the ceiling and crash through a coffee table.
Sadly, we don't seem to have access to any info from Episode 2 to explain what happens immediately after, but have been able to recover a brief overview of Episode 3. This episode would join Scott and Chrissie as they make their way across a lake on a motorboat and through an old mill to reach a ranger station to get help, and would eventually end up with the pair finding a piece of evidence to suggest that the killer could be one of the group or potentially even Hannah herself. Other characters, including Summer (a character with a similar personality to Jess from the finished version), Josh, Belle, and Devon, also turn up at the lake, but the group splits up again after the killer reappears.
This leads into the events of Episode 4, which is undoubtedly the easiest to piece together as it is the episode included in the prototype that has since been made widely available online. This episode sees Scott and Chrissie returning to the lodge after the events at the lake to investigate Hannah's old room after making the connection between Hannah's death and the killings that had occurred in previous chapters.
The pair find a way into Hannah's locked room and also discover blood leading to the bathroom and a piece of Hannah's dress. They then split up and go their separate ways, with Scott deciding to follow some footprints in the snow and bumping into Summer and Emi, while Chrissie stays at the lodge, where she encounters the killer and Belle. At the end of the chapter, Belle becomes the killer's next victim, and Scott and Chrissie are reunited once again, with the murderer still at large.
This is, unfortunately, as far as we were able to get, with the next few chapters yet to be uncovered (at least, as far as we are aware). Nevertheless, our sources tell us that the story would have also included a section within an abandoned mine (much like the 2015 version) and would have all led up to a Scream-esque reveal, where the killer or killers were eventually outed.
Given their absence throughout much of the killings and their relationship with Hannah, it's clear that Clayton would have been among the prime suspects, but we don't know for certain whether that means he was actually the killer. We'll continue to look for information to try and unravel the mystery. (If you happen to know more, please do get in touch!)
The Move To Supermassive
Despite never being publicly announced, something that's interesting to note is that London Studio's version of Until Dawn was (very) briefly shown to the public as an unnamed title in a pair of promotional videos for the PS Move controller, as spotted by UD Preservation.
These videos included a Gamescom trailer that was previewed at Sony's press conference in 2009 and an introduction video uploaded to PlayStation's YouTube channel in May 2010 — both of which feature Until Dawn as a way of demonstrating the breadth of the adventures that players would be able to experience with the PS Move controller. As far as we're aware, these two videos are the last that anybody would ever see of the project until it was officially re-revealed as a Supermassive project, with Sony cancelling the project in March 2011 and rebooting it at the new studio not long after.
According to those we spoke to, Sony's decision to cancel the London Studio project was devastating for the team. Behind the scenes, things seemed to be going well, with the group managing to pull together a prototype of Chapter 1 and Chapter 4, in addition to greyboxing out the rest of the chapters. While some former Sony employees are willing to admit the team struggled to get to that point, they claim that the decision to bring on board a new director in the form of Mark Simmons (who had previously directed Silent Hill Origins and Silent Hill: Shattered Memories at Climax) had brought a newfound focus and was helping the project to take shape.
"He was very good," one source tells us. "His methods were a little bit different from what we were used to initially, but it was what the team needed. He created a ruleset for the game, like a playbook, essentially. He was like, ‘We’ve got too many mechanics. We’ve got too many things going on. We’ve got no real focus going on.’ So he cut some of the things out that we were trying to jostle with internally, like you’re either navigating, or traversing, or you’re doing this; you can’t try and do all these kinds of different things. Having him onboard made a real difference. But what we didn’t know at the time was he was taken on board temporarily to see if the ship could be steered back on course. We just thought we were going to release, and we were just getting this new director in to finish it off."
Following the project's cancellation, there were several layoffs and departures at the studio. Among these were the eventual founders of Hutch Games, a mobile development company that has since made a name for itself as the creator of a series of popular mobile racing games. Most people who had worked on the game simply assumed that Until Dawn was no more, but eventually, it became clear to them that Sony had instead moved development over to one of its external partners, Supermassive Games. This was a studio that was known at the time for PlayStation Move games like Tumble, Start the Party!, and Sackboy's Prehistoric Moves.
"No one knew it had been moved to another studio," says one of our sources. "It was just canned, as far as everyone was concerned. So it was surprising when we found out. I think a lot of people were pretty gutted."
"To have a project that was just at the point of getting good shuttered and taken away from you was yeah, at the time, a little bit soul-destroying," adds another source. "But I have massive respect for what Supermassive did with it. I think if there was ever a final product of something you worked on, I couldn’t have asked for a better job to have been done of it."
Supermassive Games' version of Until Dawn was first announced at Gamescom 2012 and underwent several revisions of its own before eventually being released in 2015 as a title for the PS4. For instance, the game dropped the PlayStation Move requirement as it was no longer deemed a necessary component, the American horror writers Larry Fessenden and Graham Reznick joined the project to write the script, and a decision was also made to move development over to Guerrilla Games' Decima engine, which had originally been used to develop 2013's Killzone: Shadow Fall.
As history tells us, the finished game ended up being a huge success for its developer Supermassive Games, and the publisher Sony Computer Entertainment, garnering strong reviews, multiple award nominations, and above-expected sales.
Our sister site Push Square called it "a pleasant surprise, and something that fans of interactive stories will really appreciate." Publications like Eurogamer added that it was "a smart, witty B-movie that happens to be told in game form", while Game Informer gave it a 9 out of 10 and stated that "Supermassive weaves an intriguing and exciting mystery with all the right teen-horror trappings."
It eventually got a PSVR spin-off in the form of Until Dawn: Rush of Blood in 2016 and a prequel called The Inpatient (also for PSVR) in 2018. This is in addition to serving as an obvious blueprint for Supermassive's later cinematic horror games. Sony London Studio's initial involvement, meanwhile, was lost to time, with only a few dedicated fans and preservationist groups being aware of the game's actual origins.