Video game developer says Macau horror tales bound to scare mainland censors

An infestation of ghosts and demons have overrun Macau in Tony Lam’s nightmare world, the setting of a soon-to- launch indie horror-survival game that pits intimate, multiplayer teams against each other in a seven-day test of endurance.

Macau locals may know their way around this frightening parallel world, but that won’t prepare them for the hordes of terrifying creatures patrolling the city’s historic streets after dark.

Tony Lam is the vision behind the first multi-console project set entirely in Macau and the head of local video game development company, 4DMacau Studio. He is a former Macau civil servant who has poured his savings into making a project that he describes as the game he always wanted but could never find.

Because Lam is currently in Taiwan establishing an auxiliary office for 4DMacau Studio, the game developer and concept creator agreed to speak to the Times by video call. Donning a black Five Nights at Freddy’s t- shirt – a callback to a popular 2014 indie-cult horror game – Lam, a genuine fan of the genre, is both optimistic and realistic about his project.

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It started as a passion to create the type of game that he would like to play. “I wanted a game like this and one didn’t exist,” he told the Times. “I have been waiting for this sort of game for a long time.”

Though it carries a host of interesting features, part of what sets the game aside from other titles in the genre is its third- person perspective. Most horror titles put the player in a first-person role, where only the character’s hands and the tools they wield are visible. However, Lam finds this viewpoint disorientating.

“Most games [in the horror genre] are first-person, but my experience of those games is very bad. I feel dizzy [disorientated] after a few minutes. That’s why I wanted to do one in third- person.”

From the project’s inception he set out to include this graphical perspective, which shows the player-character’s entire body rendered from a height. The disadvantage of this feature is that it makes it more difficult to frighten the player. From a first-person vantage point, the player needs only pivot their view to find a monster glaring down at them. This horror game aspect is known as jump-scaring, but works less well in third-
person when the monster can usually be seen approaching.

To offset this disadvantage, Fight the Horror relies on its story and atmosphere to deliver the thrills. There are seven ghost stories in the game and all of them are based on real tales from Macau.

In one game trailer, ghostly apparitions are seen wandering around the Ruins of St. Paul’s. In another, a young boy is seen starting up at a grotesque adaptation of the Kun Iam statue in NAPE and says, “I can’t stop staring at that statue… I’m afraid that when I turn my back on it, it will come to life!”

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More than a year in the making, the game is scheduled to launch on PC in September, followed by PS4, Xbox and Nintendo Switch at a later date. But with development costs ramping up, Lam admits that the impending release date brings with it a great deal of pressure for the game to be a commercial success.

Fight the Horror has seven core staff and about half a dozen part-timers that worked on the project until their dwindling finances forced them to find more stable employment.

“It’s quite a pressure, but we love it. I am lucky that I met people who share this goal with me,” said Lam.

There is one problem, however, playing on his mind. The civil-servant-turned-game-developer is aware that he might not sell a single copy in mainland China, despite it being an obvious and potentially profitable market for the game.

The reason: mainland censorship laws.

The horror genre is vigilantly censored in the People’s Republic of China and, according to Lam, creations that feature ghosts and demons are especially non grata.

“I don’t know if my game will sell any copies in the mainland,” he said. “They [mainland censors] don’t like people talking about history at all – that’s my feeling. They also don’t allow ghosts or monsters [in the horror genre] in mainland games.”

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In Lam’s view, a horror game set in Macau can only be made in Macau, as Hong Kong “would not be interested” and developers in mainland China are probably barred from doing so. But video game development is almost non-existent in Macau, with only a handful of small teams even dabbling in the field.

Though it falls squarely under the creative and cultural industries, video game development has received almost no attention from the MSAR government or the city’s higher education institutions. According to Lam, “one reason that the industry does not exist [in Macau] is that there is no university with any major [course] directly related to game development.”

In light of the studio’s limited financial resources, the Times enquired as to whether Lam has applied for funding from entities such as the Macau Cultural Industries Fund or the Macau Government Tourism Office (MGTO).

MGTO, one of the principal organizers behind the International Film Festival and Awards – Macao, is keen to promote the city through the arts. The idea, as explained by MGTO chief Helena de Senna Fernandes, was to get artistic creators thinking about setting their next project in Macau.

Lam argues that the same can be done in the video game development sector.

“I think Macau is the perfect setting for a game,” he said, adding that the city’s size and density, enclosed by natural geography, could lend itself well to game developers. One of the most popular video games of all time, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, is set in a metropolitan area of a similar size.

But Lam is wary of approaching the government, even though he declined to explicitly say why. “MGTO are not my customer,” he said. “I am not making the game for them. If they support us, that’s good, but they are not my customer.”

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