The Suffering: Ties That Bind – Surreal Software’s New Nightmare

September 6, 2005

The Suffering: Ties That Bind is an uniquely American action-horror experience that surpasses the original in every way. You are Torque, armed with a deadly arsenal and your last shred of sanity, condemned to wage war against horrific monstrosities in a bloody battle for revenge against a hidden mastermind who holds the keys to your past. Recently we had the unique opportunity to speak with the game’s producer, Noah Heller regarding the game. If we were excited about the game before sitting down for the interview, afterwards we were on near-literal pins and needles with anticipation.

First of all, thank you for taking the time to speak to us regarding The Suffering: Ties That Bind. Could you talk a bit about your role on this project, as well as what games have you worked on before into this game?

I’m the Producer on Suffering: Ties That Bind. Prior to my stint here at Surreal, I was with the Xbox Live team and rolled out the Live service. Back in the olden days I had a small company that was running an MMO.

Was a sequel planned from the onset of the original, or was it only after the fan community’s tremendous response to the game did the team begin to think a sequel was in the cards?

We always hoped (and feared) for a sequel, but it was definitely the fan response that cemented the deal. The original Suffering was a hell of a success even though it was a bit underground.

While The Suffering was a huge hit for Midway, sequels have the added task of not re-treading too much of what was done with the original while at the same time not completely diverging from the predecessor and thus alienating an existing fan base. How have the developers walked this razor’s edge?

We probably stepped over the edge one too many times. One of the common complaints internally is that we started from scratch on too many systems! From the graphics engine, to combat, to the creature AI. At the end of the day, however, it’s the best thing for the fans. The game has gone through a monstrous upgrade. People have said that the first game looks like a PS1 game comparatively. This is probably a bit over the top, but we are really proud of the improvements.

In one of the latest screenshots, we see Torque using a fixed turret on the back of a truck to take out some monsters on another truck. This seems to imply that Torque is going to be getting some help this time around. Who is Torque’s ally and why are they working together?

We thought this might be a fun mechanic to add to break up the tension of the prior scene and to give the player a bit of a breather. The truck is driven by Jordan, who is both a friend… and an enemy this time around. The original Suffering had companions that would help and hinder you – we tried to give them an expanded role this time around.

Does this game tell us the fates of the other potential survivors of the prison? (Clem, Dallas, the hispanic guard) If they survived, do they make an appearance in Ties That Bind?

It’s hard to talk about the first game in the context of the second without ruining too much – after all the second takes place the morning after the first! However I will tell you that some of your old buddies are back with good reason… such as Ranse. Remember, since the second game takes place where the first left off, we had to design a plot which could have the player playing the first game as blackest evil or as the good guy.

We’ve already seen that Dr. Kiljoy will be making a return in this game, but what about the other bosses? Will Hermes and Horace also make appearances to taunt/help Torque?

Horace and Hermes are ultimately elements of the first game, rather than The Suffering, proper. We’ve added two new voices in your head: The Creeper, and Copperfield. Which one you encounter will be based on your moral path.

The Creeper represents exploitation of women, violence against them, and other hideous things. He’s a giant guy in a trench coat with impaled women hiding beneath… and I’ve probably said too much.

Copperfield is a slave chaser and has a pack of dogs. He’s one of my favorite enemies.

In the last game it was possible for players to construct a powerful weapon by collecting items throughout the game, i.e. the flamethrower. Are we going to see a similar type of scavenger hunt in this title?

Elements like this unfortunately fell by the wayside – we spent a lot more time tweaking the combat and making the game tighter instead. You can now dual-wield single handed weapons for example, while some creatures look for pools of darkness to hide in and other creatures feed on the corpses of others. These are additions we decided to make at the expense of others.

You’ve stated before that this game will have 3 different openings, one for each of the potential endings in the original game. How does the game decide which opening to give the player? Does it, for example, check the memory card for a save from the previous game or are the players able to actively choose it?

Yes and yes. If you have a previous save game, a menu will pop up and you’ll get to choose a beginning (based on whether you accomplished the appropriate ending from the first game). Fear not if you don’t have a Suffering 1 save – if you play through the game entirely you’ll get to unlock both beginnings.

Can you talk a bit about the game’s new multi-level insanity mode? How does it work, and what impact do you see it having on the game gameplay?

When we talked to fans about the first game, insanity mode often came up as “cool but under-utilized” – we decided that we needed to make it much much better, or it wasn’t worth doing. To those ends, we added three different insanity creatures, based on your moral path (good, neutral, evil), we also gave those creatures three different special attacks based on how good or evil you were. Finally we hid a fourth “secret” attack for the truly good or truly evil. Between this, and some tightening to melee combat, we’ve made insanity mode basically the best weapon in the game. It’s great fun using it, or conserving it to pull out when you are really in trouble.

Finally, some creatures (four of them to be precise) can only be damaged by Torque in rage mode. They are the toughest creatures in the game.

Has the game’s morality system been changed in any way so as to better delve into Torque’s past?

Definitely. With three different beginnings and three different endings, there are basically nine story lines you can encounter. Some of them, like going from good to evil or evil to blackest evil are very intense story lines. You can also affect the story by allying with certain companions or killing them off, in ways which might not seem like they are traditionally “good” or “evil” choices. It’ll be interesting to see if the real fans can discover the “true” story.

It has been said that the inventory system has been refined for this sequel. Can you talk about what was changed, and why?

Ultimately, The Suffering: Ties That Bind is what we call an “action/horror” game. It needs to scare you but you also need to be able to kick ass and chew bubblegum.

It wasn’t doing our horror much good to have 14 different weapons in Torque’s hands, ready to be pulled out at any moment. So we decided to limit it to what’s in your hands, and what’s on your back. This made balancing combat much easier and added some real realism and tension – do you pick up the M60 which is hugely powerful but only has one clip of ammo, or do you keep your weaker revolvers which you can wield with both hands… it lends great strategic decisions to the game.

What other gameplay changes have been made in Ties That Bind, and how do these changes affect how the game is played?

Without giving away too much I’d say we’ve really amped up the creatures and the AI. Only 4 creatures have returned to Suffering: Ties That Bind. The other 10 are brand new. We’re really proud of that. Even the creatures which have returned from the first game have taken a massive graphical upgrade and AI tuning.

In a game like the Suffering, the creatures really make for the horror. And we wanted them to be as smart as you are in some situations.

From the onset of the first game, the creatures that were made to inhabit the game world were some of the most gruesome abominations yet seen in a game at that time. How have the designers outdone themselves this time around? Can you give us some examples of creatures players can expect to go toe-to-toe with in the sequel?

My favorite is “The Suppressor” who is definitely a “new” creature. Very different from the first Suffering. He’s a security guard who’s had his legs blown off and he crawls around on the ground, dragging his fat stumps behind him, leaking blood on the floor, leaving a trail. He has a flashlight jammed in his skull and four rifles sticking out of his chest. He’s deaf, but if he catches you in his sights, he’ll rip you to pieces. This is the sort of creature that it might be worthwhile to sneak around rather than take heads on – this is a major change from the sort of gameplay in the first Suffering.

Another great creature is the Gorger. He’ll eat corpses to regenerate health and will try and pin you down and eat you! It is so satisfying to take out their fat necks with a shotgun and watch the spine blow out the back.

All of our creatures are based on “urban horrors” which means, in this case, The Suppressor represents rent-a-cops, prison guards, and other people sick with their own authority. The Gorger represents starvation and the consumption of human flesh by desperate people.

There are 14 creatures in all. A lot of new stuff for both fans and newcomers.

What was the biggest obstacle you can recall from the first game’s development, and how was this circumvented in the development in Ties That Bind?

The biggest obstacle was finding that sweet minute of gameplay – the one you just want to keep repeating and repeating with a big grin on your face. The best games do this, they really understand how to make something polished and special.

Ultimately we didn’t have enough time on the first suffering to give it the polish it deserved. In this version, you’ll notice many things, especially the cinematics and the story, which give the game the love we’ve been dying to give it.

Besides The Suffering, what other horror titles are you a fan of playing? Has inspiration from these or other titles bled over into this project?

I’ve played Resident Evil 4, of course, which was well done, but not particularly scary to me. Doom 3 has some great moments, but they are “black cat” moments… they scare you because something moved, not because something is truly horrifying to perceive. The Silent Hill series is probably the best at capturing psychological horror right now, something we hope we do better.

My favorite horror title ever would probably be System Shock 2.

Thank you again for taking the time to speak with us this afternoon. Once this game is in the books, what’s next for you in terms of game projects?

My pleasure. We’re actually working on two or three next-gen projects at Surreal, and while I can’t talk about them, I will say that you’ll definitely see more of the Suffering if people really like this one.

Either way, you can look forward to both Surreal and Midway really pushing the envelope next-gen We have some great things in store for gamer’s who appreciate new and exciting ideas.