Posted in News on November 15, 2016
Each individual member of our team brings a unique and invaluable set of skills, hobbies, and worldviews to the studio. To better understand who the Tangentlemen are, we’re looking to tell their stories—from previous development projects to their outside-the-workplace passions. This week, we’d like to introduce you to our creative director, Cory Davis.
For Cory Davis, life is horror.
That might sound a bit grim or even melodramatic, but the often dark and surreal way Cory looks at the world isn’t something he shies away from. Before the age of five, Cory lost his older brother, and soon after, his family picked up and moved from Bakersfield to New Orleans. That same year, Cory’s childhood dog attacked a young girl during his first week at kindergarten—damaging one of her eyes beyond repair. The dog had to be put down, leaving Cory without his two closest friends as he fought to fit in at a new city and school.
Understandably, this grievous series of events gave Cory a skeptical view of the world—forcing him to question teachers, religious values, and even what comes after death. What followed was a struggle to come to grips with the fragility of life, and while searching for answers, he discovered some level of comfort in the horror genre.
“For most people, horror is fun. It’s something they do once a year around Halloween, see in a movie, jump in the dark,” Cory explains. “And I love that time, because it’s when all my friends want to do the shit I want to do [laughs]. But for me, it’s serious. These are the only stories, to me, that take our existence seriously. The authors are being honest about how they feel.”
Growing up in a staunchly religious family, Cory was told there was only one true way to look at the universe, but the existential crises he faced early on made him resent that notion. While searching for answers, he found that those dabbling in horror often had their hearts torn apart by either their own unrelenting lives or just thinking about what life means—something Cory could relate to.
“I felt the things my family believed weren’t entirely truthful at a young age, but I was still living among a strong religious community,” Cory admits. “So I started tiptoeing into horror to find other people expressing these thoughts I was having.”
Beyond movies, music, and literature, Cory appreciated video games that pushed the boundaries of horror beyond jump scares or demented clowns with a taste for violence. He dabbled in PC mods and even worked as a level designer at VoodooFusion and TimeGate Studios, but his lead designer role at Monolith was one of his biggest early breaks.
Monolith’s late ‘90s PC shooters Blood and Blood II acted as major inspirations and allowed him to consider how architecture and music can affect the subconscious, so landing a role at the Kirkland-based studio was that much more surreal and impactful. However, his artistic signature was more clearly established after spending four years in Berlin spearheading the complex and much-discussed Spec Ops: The Line.
Sure, it didn’t have the scares and punishing dread of Condemned or F.E.A.R, but Spec Ops: The Line was a sharp view at how Cory’s horror fascination colors his game development philosophy.
“I always want to work on projects where there’s some sort of edge, some sort of freedom for the developers to express themselves. To take it beyond just a good shooter or action experience—something that goes beyond what people consider ‘just a game,’” Cory details. “A game can and should be taken seriously in conversations that involve other media when a developer is honest and working on something he or she cares about.”
The white phosphorous, waning mental state of Captain Walker and his squadron, and dark, surreal slog through a bloody desert crawling with the ghosts of Walker’s victims—Spec Ops fused the difficult themes Cory often found himself steeped in with a gameplay framework familiar to the general gaming audience. And the success of Spec Ops perfectly set the stage for something with similar sensibilities, but even more deeply rooted in abstraction.
That came in the form of indie studio Tangentlemen, which was freeing for Cory after being restricted by AAA development standards, timelines, and expectations. Where something like Spec Ops showed hints of the horror that defines Cory, Here They Lie distills these notions into an experience that questions who and what you believe in. Making a game like that is inspiring, but it’s also mentally and emotionally draining.
“Honestly, there were times on this project where it wasn’t like game development. It was like trying to figure out your own life philosophies, and it can be very trying and dark,” Cory explains. “If you’re willing to go to those dark places, that’s where it pays off. Sometimes, that’s at 4 a.m. behind a synthesizer. It can be tiring. Horror, in general, is tiring. It doesn’t require more crunch, but it takes something out of your personal self.
“Even working on horror games at Monolith, where it was super rainy, dark, and snowy… you should have seen the projects I was working on in my spare time [laughs]. It was candy canes and gummy bears. You have to flow through it, or it can color your whole existence.”
Thankfully, he’s not alone in this horror crafting. Alongside Cory is a small team of veteran designers who might not see the world through his exact lens, but still prescribe to similar design sensibilities. They challenge each other, discover the right balance between abstraction and being too overt, and discover how to create something weird, yet authentic. Instead of a development studio, Cory sees the Tangentlemen as more of a band.
“I’m the guitar player, Rich is the singer, Jigs is the bass player, and Toby’s the drummer. And we’ve got this whole great group behind us empowering us,” Cory tells. “We’re willing to call each other out, bring things up throughout development that other developers might keep to themselves.
“I carpool in with most of these guys. It’s so different. It’s a dream. It’s unbelievable, but as you’d expect, things aren’t risk free. It’s still a very small indie life raft with a couple holes where water can leak through. But now, we know how to patch these holes, and we’ve gotten this raft across a pretty big channel.”
Whatever comes next, Cory’s unique brand of horror and introspection will follow—his difficult childhood and attraction to the bizarre guarantee that. Fortunately, that often leads to experiences only Cory can bring to life.
“We’re inviting you to go to church with us. To take a step back and think about your life, what you believe, why you behave the way you do, and what these symbols around you mean,” he says. “I’m not intentionally putting those things in. My thought process is often in a twisted place, so that dark edge, that psychedelic nature of things… that will always go with me.”