How Ballard inspired the game 'Her Story'

How Ballard inspired the game 'Her Story'


How Ballard inspired the game 'Her Story'

When Sam Barlow was working at Climax Studios in Portsmouth, helping to design the survival horror sequel, Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, he would get home at night and tinker with a couple of screenplay projects.

They were just an exercise, a way to write about things that he couldn’t in his day job. But then one night, he realised something: both scripts were about a man just ambling along, seemingly quite happy in life, until a cataclysmic event changes everything. “I was like, ‘Oh right, this is me sending a message to myself’,” he says. “I realised I needed the impetus to leave the company and go indie. I was writing this stuff to tell that to myself.”

He’d been toying with a game idea, some kind of police procedural thriller. It’s a genre that has flourished on television and in crime fiction, but is under-explored in the games industry. Inspired by gritty shows like Homicide: Life on the Streets, and fascinated by the interactive movie boom of the early 90s, when developers explored the use of video footage in games, he started to think of a way to combine these elements. But he knew he didn’t want to develop the idea at a studio, he didn’t want some big budget 3D action adventure — he wanted to experiment with the form. He needed to leave. And having saved up a bit of cash to support a small-scale project for a year, that’s exactly what he did.

“When I started Her Story, I spent a lot of the early development time just thinking,” he says. “I sat in my garden, staring into the sky with a notebook in my hand. I think that helped me come up with a lot of the interesting angles in the game.”

What he learned was that detectives don’t just listen to the suspect’s narrative, they’re picking up on the use of certain pronouns and tenses; they use the psychological elements of story-telling to discover an extra layer of truth and detail in the grammar and cadence of the interview. He started to wonder about how that could be explored in a game.

Barlow also noticed something else while watching YouTube videos of real interrogations. Suspects were often weirdly comfortable with opening up – they were intimate in a way we’re often not in our closest relationships.

“But then I saw how the police interview room often becomes a place where people just tell their life stories — and that’s what the cop wants. He wants open questions and he wants them to talk and talk and reveal themselves. It’s so weird how intimate and personal these stories are, even in this very cold formal setting where the detective is essentially there to arrest them.”

Her Story is a game about the process of interrogation, but also about how we give ourselves away — those little tics of personality and character revealed through unconscious gestures and repetitive words. It’s a game about identity as a performance.
He started writing a script, chopping it up, storing snippets in a database, tagging chunks with specific keywords —a process he’d already practised using transcripts from genuine police interrogations. He brought in actor Viva Seifert, who he’d already worked with on the Climax project Legacy of Kain: Dead Sun before it was canned. For the filming process, Barlow hired a cubicle in a council building in Truro to represent the interrogation room. He cued Seifert in by asking the questions himself —we never hear them in the game.

For the look and feel of the process, Barlow does admit to taking inspiration from one movie: Basic Instinct. “I found some of the audition tapes that Sharon Stone did before she was cast,” he says. “These sparked so many ideas - you have this crappy video footage, badly framed, no theatrical immersion, no lighting or music, her hair is unkempt, the camera never cuts. Her performance is unrehearsed and has a rawness to it. We’re so used to the tricks of the cinema, when you see footage like this it feels so much more intimate and real.”

The game was released on PC and iOS on June 24 —Barlow deliberately put it out right after E3, the massive mainstream video games conference in Los Angeles. Even before the release however, the game was attracting interest for its use of full motion video.

DH Newsletter Privacy Policy Get top news in your inbox daily