No need to apologize for your absence. I know real life can get busy!
I haven't been checking the forum quite as much as I should, but it seems like it's slowed a bit post-release (understandably so), but I hope we can keep it going until we are ready to talk more about what's next.
We definitely want to do more environmental story-telling. That is a good suggestion. We will also make it more character focused. Thomas was meant to be a blank slate, so you can project yourself on him, but I think we will take a different approach for the next game. I think having a well developed character will make things a bit easier to do environmental storytelling and all that.
As far as gameplay, we have some ideas to mix things up a bit more. We'll probably have light puzzles - or at least more things along the lines of "The Coming Storm" where you have to find items. I have been trying to think about more puzzle-y things that we could do that don't feel too game-y or forced, but I haven't come up with anything I'm really happy with yet (other than an idea I stole from you, JPrice. mwhahaha). Thomas Grip has written quite a bit on his blog about good puzzle design, but to meet all his criteria
, it's really hard. In addition, the location for the next game doesn't really lend itself well to puzzles. :-/ It is early in development, so we still have time to work through these issues. I'm also introducing a new mechanic that I'm pretty excited about, which will give you something else to do when walking around, but I want to keep it to myself until we have a good demo before it. It's something that I think won't sound very cool if I just tell you, but once it's in a demo, I think it could feel really good. Or maybe it'll totally suck, and I'll save myself the embarrassment of talking about it before we put it in.
I'm not sure I necessarily agree about blank rooms. Obviously, it'd be amazing if we could create every square inch of the game to be super interesting, but I think that's impossible. Can you name a game without empty rooms? Just having loot you can find doesn't count. Obviously loot gives your search purpose, but it isn't applicable to our game. (Honestly, I think loot detracts from the horror of The Evil Within, but I'll save that story for my dev video once I finish the game)
We want to create something that feels like a real place. Not every room in your house has something relevant to you at every point in time. For example, if we don't allow the player to go to the bathroom, a bathroom is going to be empty. (There are two bathrooms with bloody sinks that are interesting, but I don't think we could have interesting things for every bathroom that would make sense in the game)
If anything, I think Neverending Nightmares was a little too linear and we should have had more dead ends. If you look at a level like Destroyed Dreams, most of the side rooms aren't super exciting, but I think it is more interesting to navigate because it wasn't linear. What do you guys think? Did you dislike Destroyed Dreams because the rooms weren't interesting enough? Do you want to see a game without bathrooms?
In general, I think giving a payoff in terms of an interaction that gives a clue to the story in optional side rooms makes exploration more rewarding, but I don't think it makes sense to outlaw blank rooms without interactions or environmental storytelling. Am I crazy? Do you have any examples of games that made every room worthwhile? Do you want a streamlined/linear experience like Call of Duty?