Game - Until Dawn
Released on August 25, 2015
Developed by Supermassive Games; Published by Sony
IGN’s Wiki Team - Max Roberts
My contributions - Entire written and video guide with full collectible coverage
Pay - $500; a physical copy of the game was provided by Sony via IGN
Time Spent Playing: 49 hours
The last letter kicked off by mentioning the new Witcher game announcement. Seems fitting that Supermassive announced a new teen slasher game dubbed The Quarry when I’d be writing about Until Dawn. Dying Light 2 and spin-off sequel to a Borderlands just came out. Seems like I waited just the right amount of time to dig back into my wiki work.
I’ve been dying to share the story of this guide in its full gory detail. This one was unique out of all the guides I wrote. It was a fusion of my work up to that point: There were gobs of collectibles (Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze), branching narrative paths (Tales from the Borderlands), and plenty of “winging it” (all guides past and future). I was also provided a rare opportunity to have the game substantially early, something that only happened twice in my five years.
I landed this particular assignment when a cold call went out to the freelancers at the time asking if anyone wanted Until Dawn. I guess I responded first in the affirmative because I was tasked with solving the mystery of Blackwood Mountain. The exciting bit for this guide was that IGN had the game a week early. I asked for the gig on August 17, 2015 and the game released on August 25. Instead of a digital code though, IGN was given a physical copy of Until Dawn. Sam Claiborn express shipped the game and embargo information to my house, which I received two days later on August 19.
The barcode was hole punched out. I wish I had kept the embargo information so I could peruse it again for this letter. I recall bold red lettering to mark spoilers and content we were not allowed to cover. There was information about the game, developers, and so on — your run of the mill pre-release fact sheet. It was so neat to me though as my first proper embargo. All the games I worked on up to this point were day of release or maybe a night or two before. It was never enough time to dive into before the public. This was another milestone in my journey to becoming a proper video game journalist. I still have the copy today and will never give it away.
This six day head start gave me a real opportunity to plan out the wiki; build it the way I wanted. I could get videos ready and write up the walkthroughs for the opening chapters. The pressure to be quick was still looming over me, but under a different type of cloud. I needed to have promotional material ready and have as complete a guide I can for the fine folks looking to IGN on “Day One.”
Any crash course in Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and video game launch weekends will teach you that players want to find collectibles, figure out romance options, and learn how to beat -insert challenge here-. While guides I worked on up to this point had some element of that, the weight of those promos typically fell on the shoulders of the IGN staff (or the actual hired freelancer). I focused on story while they focused on SEO targets. Since I was the person with the game a week early and the sole writer on the guide, I was also in charge of making sure these hot search terms had some page for Google to splash in front of folks.
The twist was Supermassive Games odd numbering scheme for collectibles in Until Dawn. Items did not go in ascending order. The first little totem you could find in a chapter may have been “Death Totem #5” while numbers one through four were in later sections or even chapters. It was so whacky, I wrote a note at the top of each page relating to these items.
Note: Until Dawn’s collectibles have a strange numbering system. Despite finding collectibles in chronological order of the story, the items have their own numbers, which may seem out of order. The list below will name the totems according to their in-game name, but the order will be chronological to the story. Follow the guide below to find each item in the order of the game’s story. There are six totems for each category, for a total of 30 totems.
The result was an amalgamation of presentations for these pick ups. There’s a page per totem and clue category. There’s a per chapter list of collectibles. The walkthrough lists them. I even apparently made video guides per type, which I would have not remembered if I hadn’t seen them myself while writing this letter. Memories certainly lost in the sea of videos I chopped up that I have long since drifted from on the raft dubbed time.
There were technical issues uploading the videos. Even looking at the emails, I’m not sure what the actual issue was; something to do with file names or the like. The call for help went passed my contacts on the wiki team and ascended up the mountain to the realm of IT. Eventually, the issue was resolved. I can really only assert this because I was able to upload videos for the next four years. 😅 Digging back through this particular problem did remind me that some things never do change. 1
There was one video I made for Until Dawn that never did see the light of day. I went through the game and learned how to save every character. This is a natural progression of knowledge in these decision-based games. I knew this would be helpful for players and is promotable. This was the only other narrated I produced for a guide—and it never saw the light of day. I uploaded it to IGN’s backend and everything. It must have slipped through the approval and publishing cracks, despite a follow-up email or two.
In light of being dormant on my hard drive for the past seven years, I trimmed off the IGN bumpers and have uploaded it to my own channel as an unlisted video. You can hear and see my work about making sure all these dumb teens survive the mountain. Watching it back now, I think it is the best of the three I made for IGN. I had fun with the script and narration, which was most assuredly recorded at the bottom of my closet.
That survival video came after one of the worst snafus in my guide writing career though. On the afternoon of September 4, roughly one week after launch, I lost my save data for the “save everyone” run. Normally, games have multiple save slots. This lets us guide writers have backups and circumvent “points of no return.” As a game with a weaving narrative dictated by on-the-fly decision making, Until Dawn has one save file—that autosaves regularly. Somehow this process got jacked up and reverted 5-6 hours of progress (that’s probably 2/3 of the game). The only way forward was to replay the game again.
Queue Red Bull.
I’m not sure what I did that afternoon and evening–maybe I had to work or go to class–but I do know I stopped at the 7-11 and bought my fair share of Red Bull. I knew the only way to continue my work was to get back to where I was in the game. I could either take the next day to retread the decisions and scenarios or I could have an all-night binge to regain lost ground. I opted for the binge.
Looking at the calendar, this save corruption happened on a Friday. The ever crucial weekend was upon me. I could not spend my weekend playing catch up to myself. I needed output. So I played all night under the soft blue glow of screens, pounding back the caffeinated elixir to grow wings and soar through the night.
It was fun. It was hard work, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have fun. I look back with a strange fondness to my 21-year-old self crushing cans and saving virtual teens from slasher horrors. In an odd way, the stereotypical cast and myself were working through the night in tandem. They were trying to escape monsters; I was trying to escape the loss of ones and zeroes. And just like the sun rose over Blackwood Mountain at the end of Supermassive’s story, so to did the sun rise over my bedroom. One might say, I survived…until dawn.
Do I really need a proper conclusion after that horrifyingly cheesy line? Probably not, but here I go anyway.
My time with Until Dawn is some I’ll always cherish, even the tough bits. Hindsight let me learn from this guide. This was far from the last game with whacky collectibles I’d have to track down. It wouldn’t be the last time I’d lose progress due to some technical issue. And although I wouldn’t narrate another video for IGN, this was not the last game I’d write a script for. 😬 Circumstances surrounding this job remain wholly unique in my time writing and covering video games.
Until Dawn feels like a cult classic. I’m not sure if it has been deemed so by the pop culture hive mind, but it one feels like one to me. It certainly gave Supermassive the life to go out and continue making horror games. I have always been surprised that Sony never acquired them. Maybe if this had all happened today in the era of studio purchases, Sony would have.
Alas, they are out on their own with a big fat deal with Bandi Namco to make those Dark Picture Anthology games. I remember playing the demo for the Man of Medan at PAX East thrilled to have more Supermassive horror. Middling reviews kept me away and I haven’t felt the drive to play the three games they’ve put out since! My pal Michael loves those games, so perhaps I was too harsh. Perhaps the ghosts of working on Blackwood Mountain linger in the back of my mind still.
Either way, the recent announcement of The Quarry has me excited once again. This game is out in just two months and has Until Dawn in its blood. These decision horror games are one of Abby and I’s favorite things to play together. With her being on summer vacation when it launches, maybe we will dive into this summer camp slasher and try to survive.
As for the game I actually worked on, we haven’t played it together. My work is why. I’ve toyed with the idea of simply being the hands on the controller while she makes all the calls, but that’s tough for someone who has played the game four or five times. Since Until Dawn, Supermassive has introduced awesome sounding co-op mechanics like players controlling individual characters in a pass-the-controller co-op experience. Or simply voting online a la Jackbox when decisions pop up. I have always wanted to have a group of friends over to try a system like this. It’d be great to see patched into Until Dawn someday, possibly with a remaster.
I wish the collectibles made more logical sense. This is born out having to catalog the darn things, so my criticism is slanted. Controls at times were stiff, I recall. The motion-controlled “stay still” moments were quite easy to circumvent by just putting the controller down. Gimmicky ideas at the time that have likely not aged well.
I was looking at the screenshot I submitted in the email when I realized my screen layout really hadn’t changed since 2015. I may have gone from an 11-inch MacBook Air to a 2021 M1 iMac, but it is still clearly my computer. I have no earthly idea why I was listening to Christmas music in mid-September. ↩