Monday, 27 May 2024

Afterwords – The Vanishing of Ethan Carter

After developing successful FPS games like Painkiller and Bulletstorm, the talented founders of People Can Fly decided to embark on a new venture. They formed their own independent company, The Astronauts, and released their first game, a captivating and unguided adventure titled The Vanishing of Ethan Carter. This game not only impressed players but also left them with an unsettling feeling. In this article, we will dive into the intriguing world of Ethan Carter, exploring its unstructured nature, remarkable visuals, and how the team drew inspiration from turn-of-the-century horror.

Moving Away from FPS Games

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter marks a departure from the founders’ previous work at People Can Fly. However, it was not about distancing themselves from first-person shooters; rather, it was an opportunity to explore the uncharted territory of narrative-focused games. The team had previously worked on a story-driven game called Come Midnight with THQ, but unfortunately, it was canceled. Going independent allowed them to pursue their dream of creating a narrative-focused experience once again.

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter
Image: The Vanishing of Ethan Carter

Creating an Immersive World

To bring Ethan Carter’s world to life, the team at The Astronauts drew inspiration directly from nature itself. They realized that when game levels are created solely from imagination, they tend to feel artificial, like movie sets. In order to achieve true immersion and a sense of presence, they decided to incorporate actual landscapes into the game. Consequently, most of Ethan Carter’s environments were captured in the picturesque Karkonosze mountains in Poland.

The team also utilized a fascinating technology called photogrammetry, which involves taking multiple photos of an object and using software to transform them into detailed 3D models. This technique allowed them to enrich the game with photo-realistic visuals, enhancing the player’s sense of immersion.

Embracing Weird Fiction

The narrative of The Vanishing of Ethan Carter draws inspiration from a variety of sources, including the short story “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.” The team wanted to create a different kind of horror experience, one focused on dread and unease rather than traditional tropes like terror or gore. This led them to explore the genre of weird fiction, which includes authors like Lovecraft and King.

By delving into weird fiction stories, they discovered “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.” This 1890 tale became a significant influence on the game’s atmosphere and storytelling approach. It solidified the team’s belief that their unique idea for Ethan Carter was both valid and innovative.

A Narrative Experience Without Handholding

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter garnered attention for its lack of handholding, with players being left to explore and discover the story on their own. The team at The Astronauts felt it was crucial to set players’ expectations right from the start. They were inspired by games like Amnesia and The Walking Dead, which effectively used introductory text to shape players’ behavior and immerse them in the narrative.

The decision to include the text explaining the game’s unguided nature was a result of a conversation with Thomas Grip from Frictional Games. Although hesitant to add it during the final days of development, the team recognized the importance of properly introducing players to the game’s unique experience. The text became a defining feature of Ethan Carter, setting the stage for players to embark on a journey without handholding.

Reactions to the Lack of Handholding

The team received a range of reactions to the game’s lack of handholding, with some players finding it too easy while others felt it was too difficult. However, the majority of players found the balance to be just right. The risk of creating a game without traditional guidance paid off, as evidenced by the game’s high recommendation rating on Steam, which reached an impressive 91 percent.

The team was immensely gratified by the positive response, as it validated their bold approach and dedication to creating an immersive narrative experience. It also allowed them to breathe a sigh of relief after all the hard work invested in the game.

The Challenges of Development

Developing The Vanishing of Ethan Carter came with its own set of challenges. The team had to make tough decisions about what to include and what to leave out based on their limited resources. Some areas of the game, like the controversial mine section and the long walk at the end, posed difficulties that could have been resolved with more extensive playtesting.

The game released with the team’s original vision intact, without external reviews or feedback to refine it. Looking back, they realized the importance of allowing sufficient time between the beta and the release to address any rough edges in the design or execution. This lesson will undoubtedly shape their approach to future projects.

Exploring the Possibilities

The Astronauts chose their name because they enjoy exploring uncharted territories. However, they do not have a long-term plan yet. Currently, their focus is on developing the PS4 version of The Vanishing of Ethan Carter. This endeavor will provide them with valuable time to reflect on their next steps and determine the direction of their future projects.


Q: Can you recommend other indie games similar to The Vanishing of Ethan Carter?
A: If you enjoyed The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, you might want to check out our list of Ten Games You’ve Never Heard Of, But Should Keep Your Eye On.


The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is a testament to the creative vision and dedication of The Astronauts. By venturing into the realm of narrative-focused games and drawing inspiration from weird fiction, they crafted a unique and immersive experience. The lack of handholding challenged players to engage with the story on a deeper level, resulting in a game that captivated and unsettled its audience. As The Astronauts continue their exploration of uncharted territories, we eagerly anticipate their future endeavors.

For more information about The Astronauts and their projects, visit Wqaindia.