Game Tangents Interviews Indie Dev Hinterland Studios - The Long Dark
Raphael: Originally I was inspired by the simple watercolour illustrations of children’s book author Jon Klassen. This led me down the creative path of exploring how to create a beautifully simple design that would capture the atmosphere of the harsh wilderness but without sacrificing the feeling of beauty, the majesty of it. Hokyo (Lim, Hinterland’s art director) took that starting point and added his own flavour to it, to come up with his own unique visual direction.
G-Tan: What kind of research went into making sure The Long Dark's focus on survival in the wilderness was as realistic as possible?
Raphael: We have a library of survival guides we used as a starting point, but in the end we enlisted the help of Chris Fragassi, a wilderness survival instructor and bush pilot. Realism in the simulation isn't actually a goal, as much as creating something that feels authentic and has the depth to explore individual survival elements -- stuff as simple as how to start a fire -- with a level of detail that makes each gameplay action and player choice interesting. Research is ongoing. In terms of the look and feel of the world, the team has spent time on Vancouver Island, where Hinterland is headquartered, getting a feel for the style of wilderness and sparse in-habitation you encounter in this part of the world.
Raphael: We want to create a sense of tension, but also hopefulness, about every survivor encounter. They are not simply fodder or targets for you to dispatch -- they could hold life-saving knowledge about the location of supply caches, or useful landmarks you need to navigate the world, or even skills or supplies you can trade for. Of course, some will actively try to kill you. But The Long Dark isn't an action game. The player’s primary interface with the game is not through a gun, but rather, through the choices they make about how they choose to survive -- both in terms of the mechanics of how they manage resources and navigate the physical dangers of the world, but also how they navigate the moral landscape.
G-Tan: We've seen survival elements in recent games, a big one being The Last of Us. How will things like crafting, survival, and even combat be different?
Raphael: The Last of Us is a tremendous game with incredible production values, but for me it feels and plays more like an action game than a survival game. Combat in The Long Dark will be something so deadly that you prefer to avoid it at all costs. Exploration of the world and survival against the hostile elements of nature is the heart and soul of the game. The Long Dark is a lot more about what happens leading up to combat than it is about what happens when the guns come out.
G-Tan: What will be the overarching focus of The Long Dark? Will players be working to return to civilization or will it primarily be focused on surviving and the area you've become utterly forced to adapt in?
Raphael: The immediate focus will be on your survival in your local environment, but over time as you learn more about what is going on, you’ll start to become invested in the larger world to the extent that you will very much need to push beyond your comfort zone. The game and story aren't so much about a return to civilization, but rather, an exploration of the more intimate, the more personal question about how far *you* will go to survive.
G-Tan: Hinterland consists of a team that is pretty familiar to the triple-A industry of video games. What is the transition like now being in an independent studio?
Raphael: Full of excitement and a bit of fear, definitely. We know how to make games but doing so as independent developers is definitely a new experience for us. Every day brings new challenges and new opportunities to learn. I would say we’re fiercely independent by nature so being on our own is a very good fit for our culture. But I think this is more a state of mind in how we approach our work, than really a specific statement of our funding arrangement or the fact we are responsible for all our own decision-making. I think we’d function this same way in any context. It’s just where we’re at in our careers, and one of the main things that drove us to start Hinterland.
G-Tan: You guys were lucky enough to hit your goal but also a little more. Was there ever any doubt, fear, etc., during that last week of not knowing what was going to happen?
Raphael: Kickstarter is a strange beast and I don’t think we took anything for granted throughout the process. I think we worked very hard for the funds we raised, but we’re most happy about the incredible community that has emerged around the game and we draw a lot of inspiration and energy from them. I think we went into the Kickstarter expecting to hit our goal earlier, but once we started the process our only goal was to cross the finish line, which we did, so mission accomplished.
G-Tan: You've gotten 2 awesome voice actors joining the cast: Jennifer Hale, most known for the female Commander Shepard in the Mass Effect series, and also David Hayter of the Metal Gear Solid franchise. What can you tell us about them joining the team, and what characters are they going to be playing?
Raphael: We actually have 4 awesome voice actors -- Mark Meer, Elias Toufexis, Jennifer Hale, and David Hayter. We’re not ready to get into too much detail about their specific roles or the story in general beyond what we've shared, but I think our fans will be pretty pleased with what we have in store for them.