Darkwood caught my eye a couple months back based on its art style, atmosphere and “hardcore” take on gaming. Because I’m the curious type, I decided to try and get a hold of the Acid Wizard Studios, the team behind the game. Being the cordial gents that they are, they answered some very hard hitting questions while opting out of a few more because of a mysterious agenda they referred to as “spoiler prevention.” I’m not exactly sure what that entails, but it sounds like secrets to me, folks and when it comes to horror, secrets are good.
Read on to find out what the team does when they aren’t creating games, why they hope Kevin Costner isn’t a vegetarian and why they can’t finish a certain horror game without some back up underwear:
Horrible Night (Ethan):I’ll start with the most important question first; are you composed of wizards that mainly use acid (as in the hydrochloric variety) for your wizard experiments or wizards that just take acid (the drug) in an attempt to think up new and interesting ways of using your wizard powers?
Acid Wizard: Of course not, drugs are bad for you! There are already lots of fire, water, earth etc. wizards, and as we are total hipsters, we decided to become Acid Wizards!
HN: In all seriousness, tell us a bit about Acid Wizard Studios, who are the members and how you all came together?
AW: We are 3 guys from Poland: Artur, Jakub and Gustaw, who met in college and played lots of co-op games together, (sometimes ’til the break of dawn) and dreamt of doing games ourselves… Fast forward several years of doing all sorts of new media stuff and here we are, living the dream! ;)
We don’t actually like each other, but being hardcore gamers, we don’t have any real friends, so we are forced to be nice to each other in case you need to be revived in Battlefield.
HN: What’s a day in the life of a video game developer like? Are you all workaholics or do you make time for non-development related activities?
AW: Well, we do consider ourselves workaholics, but you know what all work and no play makes you… Recently we’re really hard at work on our crowdfunding campaign so all our “free” time is spent on our day jobs. But we’re just normal people, so when we want a break from developing games, we do stuff like every normal person does… Like playing games.
HN: Do you play games very often? If so, what are you all playing currently?
Yup, almost every day! We’re actually playing lots of Battlefield 3 together recently, other than that Artur really enjoyed Kentucky Route Zero and BioShock Infinite, Gustaw couldn’t live without a round of Binding of Isaac a day and Jakub got old-school with Wolfchild on a Amiga over the past weekend.
HN: You wrote in the announcement for Darkwood that it was your first PC game but some readers may be more familiar with the game you created at this year’s Global Game Jam, Kevin Costner’s Tatanka Hunting Simulator 2013. Could you tell me a bit about your inspiration for that game? Did Mr. Costner approve the project?
AW: The theme for this year’s GGJ was “heartbeat”. So it was pretty obvious to us we should recreate the scene in Dances With Wolves where Mr. Costner eats a buffalo heart. It was a welcome pause from the very dense atmosphere we are used to in Darkwood and had tons of laughs. As for Mr. Costner himself, we couldn’t really expect him to approve a project which had to be thought up and rushed into production in a few hours.. So we hope he isn’t vegetarian and doesn’t mind!
HN: How many buffalo hearts do you think it would take to fulfill the hunger of a normal man/woman/child?
AW: Hmm… Watching the movie, I guess it’s so big that it could satisfy the hunger of any human being!
HN: I attended the game jam here in Berlin and had a really good time, though it was really cold at our location and half my team got sick. What was the hardest part of the GGJ for you? Did you all manage to stay up the whole time?
AW: Ouch, sorry to hear that! I can’t really think of any hard parts, we had a really great time and didn’t have many problems aside from some technical problems – the game decided to stop running on Jakub’s machine about halfway through the jam.. As every participant, we didn’t really sleep much but surprisingly we didn’t mind so much.
HN: For fans of horror games, it’d seem that the independent scene is the best place to go to get your fix. Why do you think it’s so hard for AAA publishers to get horror right?
AW: I guess people expect different things from a horror. Most of the big productions rely on jump-scares and tons of guns. For us, it’s a deeper, psychological experience relying mostly on building a atmosphere and really getting into the player’s head.
We don’t know if there are lots of people like us that enjoy this type of horror. But that’s ok, we can experiment as we are indie – a big publisher can’t, as he has to sell lots of copies to make a profit.
HN:What was the last horror game you played and what elements of that particular title stood out to you?
AW: That would have to be Amnesia: The Dark Descent. We didn’t really finish the game as we found it TOO intense! It’s a fantastic and unique game, a true horror and we can’t wait for A Machine For Pigs... Maybe we’ll get some backup underwear and finish it this time!
HN: You describe Darkwood as a “mix of Project Zomboid, Don’t Starve and Teleglitch, directed by David Lynch”. The first three influences are easy to see from the trailer, but (without giving anything away) does the Lynch comparison come from a certain film or the “Lynchian” style of film making (ie surrealism, well crafted sound design, etc) in general?
AW: Both! Lynch can really get into your head, his movies are really hard to swallow and you have to digest them for weeks.. We hope to achieve something similar in Darkwood and create a story that can be interpreted in many ways and a really eerie atmosphere, spiced up with more horror elements.
HN:I was impressed by the sound design evident from the trailer. How crucial is it for games in the horror genre to get the sound design right?
AW: Very crucial, if you ask us! Immersion is extremely important in horror games and the sounds and music really have to be well made.
HN: Darkwood looks to be a game geared towards the “hardcore” audience in terms of the roguelike elements, lack of “hand holding” and the procedurally generated world. Was this a conscious design choice from the beginning or did the game’s elements just come together in that way?
AW: We find that a lot of games these days hold your hand too much, so you don’t accidentally hurt yourself and don’t miss out on that “hidden” treasure. Darkwood is a homage to more old-school games, where you didn’t get everything smacked in your face. For us, figuring out how a game works by ourselves and exploring the world without the help of markers placed everywhere is much more satisfying than having it just placed on a plate in front of you.
HN: The top down perspective is not usually seen in horror games but you seem to have pulled it off. In what ways did you have to modify the conventional top down perspective to make it possible for the horror elements and creepy atmosphere to stand out?
AW: Our art style is not very literal, and the perspective doesn’t let you clearly identify everything – your imagination starts working and you start to visualize those things yourself. The fear of the unknown is very strong and we want to emphasize it through the visual style and field of view mechanics. Characters are only visible if they are in the player’s line of sight, but they can also interact with things that can be seen outside of it, like furniture. So it really gets in your head if you suddenly see a chair moving on it’s own, and you can’t tell if it’s an enemy, a friendly NPC or you’re just imagining it!
HN: In the trailer, the protagonist spends a majority of his time in a house/cabin that appears to be his base of operations. Is this where the majority of the game will take place or will they venture out into the world around them more often?
AW: Exploration is a big aspect of the game and the player will spend a lot of time venturing into the forest, but will also sometimes have to spend the night in his home base, which is seen in the trailer.
HN: Since Project Zomboid had an influence on your game, will you be incorporating things like illness, mental stability, etc in the game or will you be more focused on common survival horror factors such as health and resources?
AW: Darkwood is about a fine balance between horror and survival, so we don’t want to go into deeper aspects of survival like thirst, hunger, need for sleep etc. They will focus more on scavenging, crafting, traps and trading.
HN: Will this be a combat centered game or will your character rely on “flight” more so than “fight”? How much does light factor into the game play?
AW: Light is very important for your survival, as most enemies will be able to see in the dark. Some of them won’t, but might be able to find you by sound. As for combat, it’s going to be brutal and intense, but can sometimes be avoided. It’s a open world and we don’t plan on doing any leveling for enemies, so you will have to expect to run into more powerful beings than you and have to flee.
HN: Thanks for taking the time to answer questions for us, I’ll let you close things out with anything you’d like people to know about the game, shout outs or thank yous you’d like to send out.
AW: Cool, it was nice talking to you! If you want to get notified about Darkwood’s progress and our soon-to-be-launched crowdfunding campaign where you’ll be able to pre-order it and get some cool stuff, be sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter or sign up for the newsletter at www.darkwoodgame.com .