Welcome back to another feature in our storied lineup of contenders for the CRYENGINE Indie Dev Fund! Today we're sitting down with Ryan Schake, whom many of you may know as Themodman101, to talk about Dark Vale, the eerily atmospheric survival horror/thriller project currently in production by Transient Light Studios, and a contender for the CRYENGINE Indie Dev Fund.
Some might say Russia is depicted inaccurately in the media. After all, isn't it a desolate sheet of ice populated primarily by vodka drinking grizzly bears? (Well, the vodka part might be accurate but you have to admit, they do it right) Today's feature is sure to challenge any notions you might have about Mother Russia as we dive into the silent rusted world of Dark Vale, product of grizzled CRYENGINE veteran Ryan Schake and his talented team at Transient Light Studios.
Can you give us a quick, down and dirty description of Dark Vale? What are some of the most compelling aspects we can look forward to experiencing?
Explaining Dark Vale without ruining the premise for players is difficult, but I will do my best. Dark Vale is a Mystery/Thriller/Survival game, but it includes a few aspects of it that are also open world, but not strictly like people usually think about open world. You will find yourself in situations in the game where you will have to choose one of many ways to handle any particular situation. Some will be obvious, others will be more organic. The most compelling things about our game are impossible to show correctly in video format. Which is why we are aiming to release a full game-play demo within a few months. We believe this is the only way to truly understand what the game will be like to play.
But until that, have a teaser video, anyway. ;)
I saw a lot of interesting things going on in that trailer. Chiefly among them, the level design is fantastically eerie. Did you draw from any real world sources when designing your levels? What was your inspiration for setting the game in Russia?
Yes we did reference some real life facilities to come up with our designs, as we need the world to feel like it works like the real world (With some adjustments for gameplay reasons). There are many image resources online so we picked the ones that we felt best represented what we wanted, and then designed around that as a base. Our inspiration for setting the game in Russia was the infamous 'Dyatlov Pass' incident, as that event plays a role in the games backstory, a sort of catalyst for the events in the game if you will. The forests and the Ural mountains offer us a wealth of interesting locations, lore, and real life references as well.
What led you to pursue the horror genre? What unique twists will Dark Vale bring to the table?
Playing games such as 'Amnesia the Dark Descent', 'Layers of Fear', and others I always felt like something very important was missing. As I played those games I realized that the environments always felt very similar, most of the way through the games. These were fantastic games, and I am a big supporter of Frictional Games, and some others as well. But I feel like the way you interact with the environment, and the variation in environments you will see in our game is a big feature, and both of those things play important roles in our games story and premise.
You hinted we can expect "freedom of choice" in Dark Vale. What does this mean for the player? An open-world game, dynamic story, or both?
The game will be open world in a certain way, as you play through the game the story will push you forward, into places that should feel real, and you can do things that you would think you could in them. We want to leverage CRYENGINE's abilities to create highly interactive objects and experiences to breath life into everything.
A good example of one of these choices involves you being able to take multiple avenues to achieve a goal, or even not try and achieve it at all. There are other ways to complete things. You could find a key to unlock a door, or you could find something to break the lock, or bust the hinges of the door to get in. We are creating a world that works. And the goal is to feel like you can interact with almost everything, and come up with your own solutions. This is something that people really loved about Crysis, and we want to go even further with that design.
"The goal is to feel like you can interact with almost everything, and come up with your own solutions"
Can you tell us a little more about James Pickett - the protagonist? What sort of character can we expect? Can you tell us any more about the cast of characters in Dark Vale?
Mystery horror requires a certain amount of care when it comes to giving too much information, and backstory up front so I will have to be careful. James has dealt with Tragedy since he was young, between his mothers death, and his fathers inability to cope with her loss. Leaving James to the care of his Aunt for most of his life. He is heavily driven to discover what happened to his mother, and what set into motion the events that turned his life into a tragedy.
There will be other characters, some I cannot reveal as they are part of the mystery, however you will be interacting with James friends, Matthew, and Katherine. Who have joined his hunt for answers. These characters will play a very important role in the story, and how you approach your interactions with them will be important to the ending as well.
"How you approach your interactions will be important to the ending as well"
Speaking of the story, you also mentioned "narrative driven design". Can you tell us a little more about that? What does this mean for the player experience?
For us a narrative design means that the game is not only heavily story driven, but the gameplay will be influenced by the narrative as well; to help guide the player for instance. There will be no HUD, and very minimal GUI to keep the player immersed in the world they are interacting and playing with. And that means that there is a possibility of the player getting stuck or confused. We want to negate this possibility by having a narrative for a portion of what the player does. A good reference would be similar to the game "The Stanley Parable", but instead of a narrator, the character you are playing may react to what you are doing and give you possible ideas of what to do if you are stuck, you will also be able to reference your in-game journal, or take pictures with your in-game camera to help remember important things. These are features we are currently working on.
Will there be any element of combat to Dark Vale, or will it present a more passive exploratory experience? I'm sure that Maglite would make a fine weapon in any case.
This is a tough one, and one that will likely be balanced a bit as we continue development. Yes you will be able to fight against pursuers or attackers in limited ways, but we do not plan to have combat be a sustainable way to play the game, for instance if you find a weapon it may only be good for slowing down a pursuer. There are many things that you just cant destroy, so you will have to outsmart them instead.
I have to say, after seeing that trailer I get the impression that Dark Vale is practically begging for VR support. Any plans or aspirations to include VR support at the time of release or beyond?
We are developing our assets and visuals to work well with VR in the future. Currently our mark for hitting VR performance is current high end GPU's will be able to play the game in VR Mode on maximum in-game settings, this is absolutely essential. However, up until we release the game, VR support will be a side project, once the game is released we will work on a dedicated VR Mode of the game. As we will be able to focus on it. And we believe that VR players deserve Dedicated support, and a full time effort as well.
Care to tell us a little more about your studio and staff?
We are definitely an eclectic bunch, and from very different backgrounds. About six months ago we had a rather unfortunate industry experience (Most of us worked together at the time), and we decided that it was time to pursue something that we could all enjoy working on together, and that we feel would be a brand new take on the Horror genre. Our staff includes three full-time partners, which is Ken, Daniel, and I; we are the founders of the company, and all have extensive work experience with each-other in the Film Industry. We now have four part time contributors, Ivan, Louis, and Richard. If you want to learn more about us or read our Biographies feel free to visit our website here .
What moved you to select CRYENGINE to develop your project? Are there any features or qualities that you feel make CRYENGINE uniquely suited to this type of project or indie development in general?
Our first criteria for the engine we chose was its performance, and potential for performance improvements. Second was graphical fidelity in different types of environments. However given enough performance overhead we knew we could make our game worlds look beautiful, run beautiful, and be interactive as well. CRYENGINE is well known for games that have large amounts of interactivity and really stellar graphics. CRYENGINE's other strength is that it can do almost any kind of environment very well, and this is something we will be leveraging. To answer your last question I would say that Crytek's ongoing improvements to the usability of the engine by newer developers has been showing great progress, and knowing where the engine is headed now makes choosing it a lot easier of a decision to make. We look forward greatly to the coming improvements as we continue development; and hopefully contributing our own improvements eventually such as new tools.
What are your short and long-term goals for Dark Vale?
Our short term goal is to be able to afford working on the project full-time, for the time it takes us to get a fully fledged game-play demo out, to gather feedback and make any adjustments to our formula that we will need to make. Once we are happy with the results we want to release the finished game demo while we do a Kickstarter for the game project. We want to blow away everyone with the quality and performance that can be 'achieved with CRYENGINE. And we plan to push the engine to its limits. Long term we have a few dream projects that we would love to see come to fruition, some of which would only be possible on CRYENGINE, one of which includes another Dark Vale game, which we have planned for the future, as we are confident in our ability to achieve fantastic gameplay, story, and visuals together in one package.
"We want to blow away everyone with the quality and performance that can be 'achieved with CRYENGINE. And we plan to push the engine to its limits."
If selected for the CRYENGINE Indie Dev Fund, how will you apply it?
We would be able to dedicate ourselves 100% to the project, and we would be able to hire a Character Artist, and Animator to help us bridge our current talent gaps. Which will be incredibly important for releasing the gameplay demo we want to release, especially in the time period we want to achieve it.
Did you encounter any challenges in the development process? And if so, how did you overcome them?
CRYENGINE V is still very new, and with that comes a multitude of smaller issues(5.2 helped massively). These are easily overcome with some basic workflow adjustments. However we did run into a number of issues while setting up the game-play arms for the game. This is a common issue with developing a game in general, because it needs to feel like your in-game arms are an extension of your real ones. Our specific issue was creating an in-engine rig and using Flow-graph to build a working interaction system around it. We will be showing some of the techniques we used to do this in upcoming video tutorials that we will host on our website and YouTube account. With CRYENGINE overcoming an issue takes many forms, and there are multitudes of ways to do so. Prototyping a game with CRYENGINE is now far easier than it used to be, and I am looking forward to even more improvements that are coming.
That's all for today's Indie Dev Fund feature! Make sure to check Dark Vale and many other promising projects in the Indie Dev Fund Gallery!
The voting period ends tomorrow, so we're back at the same spot with our last feature then. Don't miss it and make sure you keep voting on promising projects. Every vote counts and you are allowed to vote for multiple projects. And even if a project isn't your favorite, make sure to leave a comment on its page with constructive criticism so the developers can consider making changes & improve their projects for the next round.
-Tracer & Nic