‘Trapped on an oil rig with an unknowable horror’: Still Wakes the Deep is a dark 70s throwback

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The makers of Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture return with a story about drilling down into something terrible lurking beneath the North Sea

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ow do you fancy making a 1970s horror game set in Scotland? That was the question that art director John McCormack recalls being asked by Dan Pinchbeck, co-founder of the Brighton-based studio The Chinese Room, when he joined the company a few years ago. McCormack’s response was immediate: “Well, as a Scotsman from the 70s, I would say that you’ve got me: I’m in.”

McCormack had been attracted to work for the studio by its reputation for storytelling and authenticity. The Chinese Room made its name with the cult hit Dear Esther in 2012, and went on to create the Bafta-award-winning Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture in 2015, featuring an incredibly detailed recreation of a mysteriously deserted English village.

McCormack says the team has spent hours talking with people who used to work on Scottish rigs to gain an idea of what life was like. In addition, as one of the few members of the team who was alive in the 70s, McCormack has found himself acting as an adviser on what things looked like then. Searching for 70s furniture is likely to bring up garish, highly stylised pieces of the kind you might find in an American catalogue, he says, but that’s not what Glasgow was like.

There is no combat in Still Wakes the Deep. “This isn’t a game where you fight back,” says McCormack. “We’re trying to do this as realistically as possible in the sense that it’s confusing, things are happening, people are dying, it’s bloody horrible, I’m scared, I’m crying, I’m broken, I don’t even know how to fight it: if there is a thing to fight.

To create a counterpoint to the sudden unleashing of horror, Still Wakes the Deep begins with the mundane, and the first hour is spent slowly getting to know the other oil rig workers. The guiding principle for this opening was: “What if Ken Loach was hired to film a BBC documentary about an oil rig in the North Sea in the 1970s?” says McCormack.

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