As an independent team based in Seoul, South Korea, we were blessed with an abundance of material to use as creative inspiration for The Coma: Recut. In our discussions, we kept coming back to the same theme: success, but at what cost? It’s an unspoken current that ripples throughout almost every facet of Korean life. This sentiment – the insatiable drive for success – is, perhaps, most purely embodied by South Korea’s student body. This was something personal to us and, better yet, provided a unique opportunity for our team to shed light on issues that many folks outside of this small, East Asian country would find obscure or difficult to understand.
The Coma: Recut is set in Sehwa High – a private Korean school that prides itself on the quality of its education and elite students. Youngho, our unlikely protagonist, has been awake all night studying for finals. Unfortunately, he falls asleep in the middle of an exam and awakes to find himself trapped in a twisted, shadowy version of his school. As Youngho searches for a way out of this nightmarish landscape, he discovers dark secrets of Sehwa’s students and staff through notes which have been left inexplicably strewn throughout the school, revealing their innermost thoughts. It is through this medium that we sought to address these important topics while bringing a degree of levity to the game’s dark atmosphere.
As expected, Korea’s educational system had a heavy influence on the plot of the game. Much of it comes straight from director Minho Kim’s personal experiences as a teenager. Character relationships, restrictive school policies, late evening study groups, and the highly competitive nature of the student body were all important elements that we drew from to compose The Coma: Recut. The pressure for success and to attain high marks doesn’t end within the boundaries of the school. Competition for high SAT scores is stiff and many parents force their children to study late into the night after returning home. While much of The Coma’s creative content is inspired by Minho’s background, wrangling with this system and navigating through it is an experience that most Koreans are all too familiar with.
Living with this daily pressure makes it difficult to maintain any semblance of a balanced life. It comes as no surprise that a student’s one respite from this institutional madness is sleep. The Coma is an exploration as to how this type of pressure could manifest subconsciously. Mundane places become labyrinths, recognizable faces distort, suspicions become exaggerated, and an eerie familiarity with the strange abounds. But how much of this dream is real? The punishing pursuit of perfection forces many students to live out a daily nightmare. It is in this context that the line between reality and the burden of unreal expectations often becomes blurred.
Many Koreans are unaware of the unique nature of their hardships as it is such a deep-rooted reality for them. Challenging controversial topics such as work pressure and suicide is obviously something that should be handled delicately. The medium of game design offered us a rare canvas to tackle these sensitive subjects in a frank way and to even rise above them through Youngho’s story.
Jump into The Coma: Recut when it launches for Xbox One on September 22 and let us know what you think! Pre-order The Coma: Recut now for a 20% discount.