Some Dungeon Crawler RPGs are difficult, but I don’t think any other is as punishing and equally satisfying as Darkest Dungeon. Of all the indie games I’ve gotten to try lately, this one is really making me come back again and again. I assure you permadeath hurts on this one.
Now, I remember Seeing the game first being shown in PAX 2014 if I’m correct, and I was stoked by it. The game uses a mechanic in which the stress of being and adventurer actually affects your heroes in powerful ways, but I don’t want to spoil it, lets see what Red Hook Studios, had to say about their amazing Dungeon Crawler RPG.
First of all, who is Red Hook Studios?
We area small, indie developer based on Vancouver, BC, Canada. My business partner, Tyler and I co-founded the company specifically to make Darkest Dungeon. Over the past two years, we have grown to a staff of 6 full time developers.
How did the concept of the Darkest Dungeon come to be? Was it something totally different at the start?
Conceptually, the game has always stayed true to its founding principles. We set out to make an uncompromising dungeon crawler that focused on the psychological effects of the adventuring lifestyle, and I think we’ve done a great job of delivering on that so far. Certain mechanics and presentation details have changed and shifted as the project matured, but even the early mockups show a clear connection to the current version of the game.
How hard is it to balance the difficulty in the game?
We’re passionate about creating a challenging and rewarding experience – balancing and tuning are a huge part of that. We tend to work iteratively on balancing, and are actually parsing metrics and qualitative feedback right now! It’s an ongoing process, and one that will continue right up until our 1.0 release in October. The game is very systems-heavy, so we try to resist the urge to dive in and make a bunch of changes on the fly. The act of changing values is certainly not hard, but finding that sweet spot can be a tricky, time consuming process.
Was one of your goals to make players feel a connection with their Heroes? I for one almost cried some days ago when I ventured for the first time to a Veteran Dungeon. I got confident and lost my lvl 3 Hellion. I spent that night thinking about my foolish mistake…I did not notice her stress was almost at 200. That was not a worthy death for my Hellion who guided my team through so many victories (I guess you did want to make players connect with there heroes).
Absolutely – we want you to feel attached to your favorite heroes, once they’ve proven their worth and durability, of course! It’s the reason we opted for such large, side-view sprites – they are much more relatable than portraits (like Eye of the Beholder/Grimrock), or a top down/iso view. The intimate framing helps reinforce the claustrophobic quality of the dungeons, and gets the player right down in the action.
Also, it was important to us to reward planning and sound judgement. I’m glad to hear your struggled with the loss of your Hellion, and that you recognize, albeit in hindsight, that her demise was the result of a chain of decisions.
How did the stress and positive quirks/disease mechanic came to be?
Our inspirations came from a bunch of different places – movies like ‘The Thing’, ‘Aliens’, ‘12 Angry Men’ all demonstrate what can happen when a group of people are placed under extreme duress. Lovecraft was another inspiration – his particular take on cosmic horror, and the madness that comes from the slightest brush with eldritch forces was something we were really drawn to. More than anything, however, it was just the simple idea that heroes are human – flawed, limited and sometimes broken. In fact, heroism is much more compelling if it’s set in contrast to vulnerability, and that is really the message we wanted to work with.
After we established the creative core of the project, we set about figuring out a way to build gameplay mechanics that delivered the type of experience we wanted to create. The ‘Affliction System’ is the name we give that group of features. It was the first thing we really focused early on in development, because we knew we had to do it right.
The update Fiends and Frenzy added 2 new classes, 3 bosses and new trinkets which expanded the game in a great way. Do you think there will be more updates after 1.0 is released in October?
Yes - we absolutely love working on the game! We don’t have concrete plans for exactly what kind of DLC/expansions were going to do, but we are all agreed that we want to do them! A lot of great ideas and features have ended up on the cutting room floor because of scoping/scheduling considerations, so we have a lot to draw from.
Some people have called The Darkest Dungeon one of the most punishing games ever conceived; I feel the same, I haven’t felt such powerful emotions in a video game in a long time. Having a character at Death’s Door or another near heart attack can really make you sweat and feel stressed. Was making the player feel strong emotions your main goal with The Darkest Dungeon?
We wanted to put players in the same mindset as their heroes, and force them to make tough calls with permanent consequences. Often times, leaders and managers have to make difficult decisions with imperfect information – and even the best plan can fall apart due to unforeseen events. These ideas are central to the Darkest Dungeon experience – you do your best to plan for success, and try to stay focused on the larger picture when things start to go bad.
Anything you can share on the next Dungeon, The Cove? What type of horrible monsters will we meet there?
No spoilers! We have some great ideas for the Cove - we want to pay homage to the aquatic Lovecraft tales like Shadow Over Innsmouth, Dagon, and Call of Cthulu. We’re looking forward to delivering all kinds of hideous, flopping abominations, but we’re especially excited for our boss encounters! Players are going to have a whole new set of reasons to be salty :)
Do you feel Early Access is mandatory nowadays for independent developers?
No, not at all. Early Access can be a great way to build a community, gather feedback, improve your game, and help ease some of the financial pressure. But, I don’t think that every game should necessarily do early access. It all depends on the kind of experience you are crafting, and what the needs of your team are. If you do go for Early Access, I’d say to be prepared to bring a solid, reasonably polished build to market at your EA launch – first impressions count for a lot!
How has the Steam Early Access Community helped mold the game to what it is right now?
We’ve gotten a great deal of fantastic feedback around balancing issues, exploits, and UI flow/usability. We comb through Steam forums, our website forums, reddit, twitter, facebook, and email regularly to make sure we don’t miss a great suggestion or a particularly important bug. Having such a passionate player base is fantastic, and we want to keep improving the game for our growing community!