Once upon a time, a young man heeded a call to work beyond the Arctic Circle. A diamond mine there was; in need of the talents of a Level 17 Medic, such as our hero. He took stock of his provisions twice over, for this land was known to be a trying one. Winter still gripped the tundra, and her cruel fingers reached up through rock and ice to wither the very spirit of the young adventurer. Perhaps a worse fate than the stilling chill of death would be the insanity which snaps ever at the heels of the isolated. The trucks needed help to to remain running, you see... It was 45 below and our man was working from the vehicle all night. He plugged in his computer with jumper cables direct from the battery. This battery he knew was his lifeline. If the battery failed - all was lost. Every few hours, this man, grimly stalwart, would beat the ice from the windows, or pour hot coffee on the jumper cables to keep them from freezing. He sought the cold LCD hearth of his gaming rig as his only company, and was prepared to brave the very worst to do so. But this man was as tenacious as a 4-week, 12-hour night shift demanded.
Time was a precious gift, and though faced with adversity, he had time in abundance. And so, our man dodged insanity in reality, by hunting it down in the DARKEST DUNGEON. Alone in the frozen wasteland the company of the insane Heroes of the Darkest Dungeon were his only solace. The anger he felt after retreating a quest or loosing a prized Vestal was the only thing keeping him warm those 4 weeks. But he kept vigilant, constantly pushing and pulling equally, slowly growing as mad as virtual adventurers he controlled. “This game is good”…he muttered to himself, as his laptop monitor flickered from the cold. He slapped it in protest and the screen righted itself….”really good.”
The man thought. “What about this game keeps me coming back for more!? … I must know!!” He resolved to himself alone. “I’ll talk to Chris Bourassa, he’ll know more. He practically lives in the dungeons. Who better to ask than a master?”
What games are the staff at Red Hook playing lately? Did you all know each other prior to starting up the company?
We knew each other in different capacities – I knew Brooks and Tyler, Tyler knew Keir, etc. Taking the startup plunge is a risk-filled endeavor, so It was important that we work with people we knew and trusted. As for what we're playing, I don't think any of us have much time right now to play anything! Looking forward to shipping Darkest Dungeon, so I can go back and see what I've missed!
Who's that narrator? He has this abrupt, short way of speaking that just fits perfectly. How important was it to get the right voice and how long did you need to search for?
His name is Wayne June – he's a professional audiobook narrator. We reached out to him because we were fans of his stuff, and felt like he'd be a perfect fit. He came on board right away, so we didn't even consider an alternative!
The writing is exceptionally well done. The words are so rich and apt; you've managed to flesh out an entire world with very little dialogue. Who is this writer, and what has been
Narration writing is handled by myself (Chris) and Tyler. Character barks have been written predominantly by contractors, but I edit their work to make sure it fits with the tone of the game. It's great fun to work on the cinematics and boss stories. Our game is very lore-light, so it's interesting to walk the line of explaining enough to ground the play experience, but not so much that we lose the 'twilight-zone' vagueries that are so important to the tone.
When you released the game early access was that motivated by the richly developed aesthetics of the game. Or was the art style and audio your starting point? The game doesn't look early access.
I knew very early on the kind of style the game needed, and I'm glad it seems to be working for people. Our philosophy heading into early access was to bring something solid, playable, reasonably polished, lacking more in content than usability. Along with the art style, this approach helped us to stand out in a time where the Early Access model was being decried as 'dead'.
There's a constant tone of urgency throughout the game. Every battle is a grind. How did you manage to achieve this and what design challenges ended up being most tenacious for you?
Everything about the game is meant to be a trade-off. There are no clear paths to victory, and nothing is ever entirely without cost. In some ways we mirrored the experience of starting a studio: making decisions with imperfect information in a high risk environment. We have no shortages of design challenges, but also no shortage of ideas of features we'd like to implement. The trick is picking only what you have time to do, and focusing your efforts in service of the game's core.
There's no difficulty settings. How does the Red Hook staff feel about difficulty settings in games?
We aren't planning on adding global difficulty settings – you can scale the difficulty of the experience yourself by choosing your missions and managing your light level in the dungeon. We have always felt that the game should be a singular experience, and that being able to beat it on an easier setting erodes the accomplishment of beating it at its intended difficulty level.
You chose to release 'Darkest Dungeon' as an early Access release. After a few bad experiences i promised myself i would never participate again, then YOUR game came along. What has been your experience from a developers perspective on choosing Early Access? add to aesthetic question.
Early Access has enabled us to generate some revenue, and position us to make the best game we can. We wanted to have a strong value proposition for players – essentially offer an early access game that was 'worth it'. With a small team however, it is extremely taxing to try and keep on top of all the social media & community management.
How has Red Hook been taking advice/criticisms from the forums? What major problems have you solved with help from the early Access community?
Certainly! By bringing a very playable game to Early Access, it has allowed the feedback to focus around balancing, tuning, and quality of life features that are important to our players, rather than big crashes and obstructive bugs. Things like roster and trinket sorting, quest tracking on the provision screen came from the community. In addition, the ongoing balancing work is informed by players' responses.
Whats the competition like as an indie developer?
It's less about competition and more about collaboration! We've been helped by a number of great indie developers – Klei, Brace Youself, Slick. There's a great spirit of support and cooperation in the Vancouver Indie community, and we're grateful to be a part of it. Even exhibiting at PAX last year in the Indie MegaBooth, we found other developers to be open, honest and willing to share their experiences candidly. It's a wonderful thing. Perhaps because our price points are so much lower that bigger games, we aren't under the same pressure to compete. For the cost of a AAA release, you could get anywhere from 3-6 really solid indie experiences...
The game has become a lot harder since the last patch somehow!? I'm having difficulty getting back into the game, some major tweaks to the combat have been made. Any pointers?
We were getting consistent feedback that the game was too easy, especially in later levels. Once players learned how the game worked, it wasn't providing enough of a challenge. Now, the pendulum may have swung too far with our last update – we added Protection to many monsters, introduced a corpse mechanic, and generally nerfed heroes' crit % down. This back and forth is important, however. If we know we've gone too far, then we know the sweet spot is somewhere in the middle. Incremental changes don't provide the same bookending. As far as tips go, I'd say quit doing dark runs for a while, until you develop a reliable response to the new mechanics :)
When will the final version be ready? Or when do you EXPECT to have the games final release?
We are aiming for the end of October to ship the game. In the event that becomes unrealistic, we're certainly committed to this calendar year, come hell or high water.
When the day did come to say goodbye to the great white north the man did daydream of the best trinkets to use and thoughtfully regretted the confidence in which he had venturing into the Warrens and how it cost him his most beloved Hero. The challenges only fueling his desire to conquer the Darkest Dungeon. But alas, he would have to wait until the game's final release. Maybe have a drink at the bar until then, or a brief stint in the sanitarium or perhaps a vigorous prayer session at the church. Regardless, the man's anticipation grew with each day, and until its complete release he would never be satisfied.
'Darkest Dungeon' is available on 'Steam Early Access' for $19.99. Or through there website here. If you haven't played it then what the hell are you doing here!? It's a great challenge and made with the love and determination of a small few developers. Evade Gismo would like to thank Chris Bourassa for donating your time to our fledgling Blog and congratulations on a wonderful, almost finished game. It was worth the risk; truly.