Humanely raised, grass-fed developers want to create the ultimate game of survival
Raphael van Lierop has been in the gaming industry for over 13 years, which is itself an accomplishment in a field that has a way of chewing up talent and spitting it out. He’s found success working on a wide range of games, including the Warhammer 40K series, Company of Heroes, and Far Cry 3. And now he wants to do something different.
“Having moved my own family many times for work, and the industry as a whole being so nomadic, I knew I could never ask anyone to uproot their families for a job. I also believed there had to be other developers like me, who didn't want their families to have to pay the price for them wanting to work on great projects with great teams,” van Lierop told the Report.
The result was Hinterland, a studio made up of AAA talent that is spread across the country. No one had to move to join, and their dream is to create an environment where you don’t have to give up your life to create a game.
“I made being distributed a core tenet of the studio,” he continued. “And so when I pitched the project to my team, that was part of the pitch: Let's make something great together, but let's do it in a reasonable, sustainable way that means we can still prioritize our families and spouses and just have a better work/life balance.”
The team is impressive. Alan Lawrance was with Volition for 16 years, working on the Red Faction and Saints Row series. Hokyo Lim was the art director for League of Legends, and spent several years working on the Sly Cooper series with Sucker Punch Games. Marianne Krawczyk has 15 years of writing experience, including the God of War franchise, L.A. Noire, and the Shank series.
So no, they’re not really fucking around.
“Triple-A game development is a very competitive profession. You have to work really hard to break in, and once you're in, you have to pour your heart and soul into what you're doing so that it has the best chance of success,” van Lierop said. “But the nature of the way the industry works often means that this passion is co-opted and even exploited for product and profit. And the projects don't feel personal anymore.”
This is a group that have already enjoyed long careers in big-name game development, and now they’re trying to create something smaller, more intimate. So why not start at the end of the world?
The Long Dark
“The moment to moment gameplay is built around survival simulation. This is a persistent simulation with a full day/night cycle, weather and temperature dynamics, wildlife, etc,” van Lierop explained when I asked about the actual game play of the Long Dark. “The world is also a black box to the player—it generally functions along the rules you would expect but with some unique twists based on the post-disaster state of the world and the presence or absence of the aurorae, which can be a bit of a wildcard.”
The setup is simple: The world loses electricity, and people have to learn to survive and adapt without power. You play as one character who is dealing with survival, and all that entails. The game is played in first-person, although there isn’t much in the way of in-game footage yet.
Another aspect of the game play that keeps the tension high is that the more you know, the better your chances will be, but that knowledge comes with a price.
“With Knowledge, getting the resources you need becomes easier, for example, you can travel more purposefully in search of a supply cache you know exists. But, then Knowledge has a life span; it decays over time and the longer you wait to act on it the more likely the Knowledge you've gained will end up not being useful,” van Lierop said. “This in turn puts pressure on the need to go out into the world, which puts players on a crash course with hazards and obstacles, which take resources to overcome, and thus the cycle continues.”
The team is seeking $200,000 in funding via Kickstarter, but they’re already being careful with the scope of the project. It’s also a way to build community around the game.
“As long as we manage to connect with people and build that engagement, and get a feeling of what the community thinks about our game, the Kickstarter will be a success,” van Lierop said. “If we exceed our goals, we're basically going to make the same game but be able to add polish to the experience.” There could be 60 to 90 minutes worth of original music, versus the 30 that is planned now. Or perhaps Rift support, or translation into different languages. The content, on the other hand, will stay pretty much the same.
“We’ve intentionally avoided promising extensive scope increases on the content side because that adds risk and time to the project,” he continued. “We want to be able to deliver as close to the game we've promised as close to the time we've promised it, and not set unrealistic expectations that we can never live up to, or which delay the game.”
The funding is going on now. Full disclosure: I’m going to back it.