MADiSON creator talks atmospheric horror, puzzles & the game's reception

We loved MADiSON so much that we reached out to the creator, Alexis Di Stefano, to ask about creating true terror, a film adaptation, and more.

Bloodious Games

After its release in July 2022, MADiSON quickly stole our hearts, but not before deeply and thoroughly terrifying us. Developed by Bloodious Games, it manages to nail the perfect balance between atmospheric horror and a terrifying narrative, all while sprinkling in well-used jumpscares amid head-scratching puzzels.

MADiSON is a phenomenal game, especially considering it is the first by creator Alexis Di Stefano. We even gave it our award for the Best Horror Game of 2022. At that point, we knew we had to reach out to Di Stefano to pick his brain about creating a game like MADiSON, what goes into the icky and unsettling story, and whether he would like to see the game reimagined in a new medium, like a film.

Shacknews: Correct me if I’m wrong, but is this the first game you have created? How do you feel about how it was received, its success, and its position in the horror genre?

Alexis Di Stefano: First of all, thank you so much for this interview and also all the support we received from Shacknews since release! My name is Alexis Di Stefano, I am the founder of BLOODIOUS GAMES and creator of MADiSON. Yes, MADiSON is my first professional game. I’ve developed a few other tiny concepts before it, but none of them were as serious and big as MADiSON. To be honest, I cannot be happier with all the love and support MADiSON received since its release. I have wanted to be a horror game developer since I was a little child, and today I can say I achieved my dreams with MADiSON, so I couldn’t ask for more. I’ve grown up playing and collecting horror games, and today there are hundreds of thousands playing and collecting mine, so I feel truly blessed.

Shacknews: How did you know how far to push the horror elements and rather brutal themes? Did you worry you’d push the envelope too far?

Di Stefano: I had two goals in mind when developing MADiSON - the first one was to be able to believe in my vision and carry it out, and the second one was to make sure the game was as scary as it could be. In some cases, taking my script and making it a playable version became a total nightmare, but in the end, we always found a solution to every problem we had to face. I always knew that creating a game way too horrific wasn’t the best “commercial” decision you can make when developing a game. Even though the horror genre is popular and there are hundreds of people watching streamers play horror games, at the end of the day, the people that actually play those games aren’t even a quarter of the ones that watch someone else play. But even knowing that I wanted to push my own limits and try to make the scariest game I possibly could. Luckily the reception of the press and players has been beyond words, and I can proudly say I created the game I would have loved to play myself.

First-person perspective, holding a polaroid camera. Standing in ankle-high water as dismembered limbs float in the air.

Source: Bloodious Games

Shacknews: How did you decide that the video game format was best for this particular story?

Di Stefano: I fell in love with the gaming industry and the horror genre when I was eight years old after playing the spin-off of the Clock Tower franchise, The Struggle Within. Since then, I knew I wanted to devote my life to creating horror games. I am also a huge fan of the movie field, so when working on MADiSON, I always had a cinematographic approach to it - from my script to the visuals and the gameplay itself. I knew I wanted to make the game as cinematic as possible, with no loading screens nor in-game cutscenes - just yourself and the freedom to keep it going until the end (or your limits!).

Shacknews: Can you speak about some of your horror inspirations (games, books, movies, etc) and how they helped influence or inspire the design?

Di Stefano: My main inspiration has always been the game mentioned before, Clock Tower II: The Struggle Within, from 1998. You can find many references to that title in MADiSON, such as Luca’s last name “Maxwell” or Madison’s last name, “Hale.” Both come from the characters of The Struggle Within. It was my humble way to thank that game for what it meant to me.

Shacknews: What were some of the design decisions in creating the horror elements: the jump scares, the creeping dread, the horrific story etc?

Di Stefano: I’d say that developing a horror game is way harder than people think it is. It’s not only about the jumpscares but the atmosphere you drive the players into. The atmosphere is 100% more important than the direct depiction of the most horrific creatures you could ever think of. In MADiSON, I tried to prioritize the creepy, slow-paced atmosphere and make the game as unpredictable as possible while keeping the players on the edge of their seat with its storyline at the same time. Of course, jumpscares are part of the “horror loop” I wanted to work with in the game, but without its atmosphere, those scares wouldn't even be half as effective as they are in the final game.

A coffin, wrapped in chains, hangs from the ceiling of a church

Source: Bloodious Games

Shacknews: How did you go about designing the puzzles and balancing the complexity against the fear? Sometimes it can be tough to think clearly if you’re too scared!

Di Stefano: I’ve grown up with a Playstation One in my hands, so as you may assume, I am a hard puzzles lover. This was quite a problem when designing MADiSON because players these days aren’t usually willing to spend days trying to solve a single puzzle as we did back in those years. So I really tried to balance my puzzles with what players are more used to and also what I wanted them to be. I think I achieved a pretty solid mix.

Shacknews: What was the publishing process like for the team?

Di Stefano: Publishing a game can be a complete nightmare when you are developing the game at the same time. Luckily, our console’s publisher, Perp Games, was in charge of many things regarding consoles, so the workload was smaller for us. But for sure we weren’t prepared for all the work that comes once the game is finished. It was a challenging but enjoyable ride. Something I am really proud of is the physical edition of MADiSON, titled “Possessed Edition,” which features many physical and digital goodies, such as a child’s book, instant photos, ritual cards among others. As I previously mentioned, I grew up collecting physical games, and to be able to see other players collect this edition and be surprised with all the things that comes with it is a dream come true for me.

Shacknews: Have you dabbled in other horror mediums before, like television, movies, or books?

Di Stefano: I’ve been interested in the horror media since a very young age. I remember my mom even buying me Mickey Mouse ghost stories, so I’d say I fueled my passion all these years by absorbing all the content out there. These days, I enjoy reading movie scripts. The last ones I read are M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense and The Village which are beyond amazing and really inspire me to keep going. Anyway, I really try to keep up to date with anything of the horror genre that comes out, regardless of the mediums. Although so far I’ve only involved myself in producing video games.

Shacknews: Would you like to see MADiSON reimagined as a film?

Di Stefano: I’d love to! I wrote MADiSON’s script as if it was meant to be a film, and then tried to adapt everything to the game as directly as possible. As a film fan, I really focused on making the experience feel as close as watching a movie as I could, and I’m pretty happy with the results to be honest! So it would be such a dream to be able to experience the story in a cinematic way this time!

Shacknews: What lessons have you learned from making MADiSON that you want to apply to your next game?

Di Stefano: Oh, nice one! I think that, in general, developing a game forces you to face hundreds of problems you are not prepared to, and even more so when you are just a small team of two as in our case. So thanks to all the things we learned from this process, I feel confident that we are in a much better position to face those problems. And I think we’ve also grown a lot with our community supporting every step we take and providing awesome feedback - which is truly amazing! Now we’re really focused on what’s next. We’ve just announced the PSVR2 and PCVR editions of MADiSON, and we are hard at work on a few things we’ll be revealing in the near future. I cannot wait for you all to be part of what’s coming next from BLOODIOUS GAMES.

If you’ve yet to play one of the scariest games ever released, do yourself a favor and check it out. Additionally, read over our MADiSON review to get a good idea of exactly why the game manages to excel in the horror genre. Players on PlayStation 5 will be able to experience the terrifying game in an entirely new reality when it releases on PSVR2. Stay tuned to Shacknews for more from the team at Bloodious Games and Alexis Di Stefano!

Guides Editor

Hailing from the land down under, Sam Chandler brings a bit of the southern hemisphere flair to his work. After bouncing round a few universities, securing a bachelor degree, and entering the video game industry, he's found his new family here at Shacknews as a Guides Editor. There's nothing he loves more than crafting a guide that will help someone. If you need help with a guide, or notice something not quite right, you can Tweet him: @SamuelChandler 

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