The Acid Wizards sits down with Karl Quigley to discuss their unique genre for their early access game, Darkwood.
Creating a game is one of the most complex tasks in the entertainment industry. It requires writers, artists, and game designers. It is several different, incredibly specialised areas, coming together perfectly to create a cohesive and enjoyable experience. In its most basic form, creating a game is a monumental task even before the extra details and features have been introduced. Game developers, The Acid Wizards, have recently released their creation Darkwood into early access. Darkwood is an open world, procedurally generated survival horror experience with elements of crafting. The procedurally generated nature of the environment means that each time you start a game the world is randomly generated by an algorithm rather than being manually placed.
Game genres, like genres found in literature or film, are unique. But what games are capable of is combining not just more than one genre, but also creating a wholly unique experience with randomly generated content. This is what Darkwood is attempting to do. Gustaw Stachaszewski of The Acid Wizards explained their unique and complicated choice saying “Right from the start of development, our goal was to make something we would, as players, sink dozens of hours into and remember for years to come”. The game possesses no direction or instructions but The Acid Wizards were untroubled by the possibility of alienating players who are starting off. “The game is uncompromising in a lot of ways, and catered to a specific audience”, this audience being the gamer who would pour hours upon hours into a particular game.
Many developers have attempted to create similar games in the vein of open-world survival with crafting features and some have been successful. DayZ is still popular as one of the best survival games around. 7 Days to Die and Project Zomboid are randomly generated, survival crafting games that are both rapidly gaining large followings in their early access. But Darkwood has managed to do what most others don’t even attempt.
Darkwood has a full narrative, subtle yet explicitly intriguing. There have been some complaints that the story is unclear. When asked about this and how the full package might overwhelm the player, Stachaszewski responded “The story will never be spoon-fed to the player, but it’s one of the main things we will be working on during the alpha stages”.
The overall setting is dark, daunting, oppressive and often psychologically terrifying. Ironically, the developers didn’t intend for the game to be like this. “It was supposed to be a simple tower defence game where you defend your home at night”, but the game’s prototyping stage with placeholder graphics apparently caused the team to see things differently. “We started seeing simple shapes in dim lighting as monsters from the depths of our minds”. They decided that something could be made of these unmistakably eerie and unnerving feelings. The art style was changed to a low resolution so that even detailed objects left room in the player’s imagination. For the overall aspect of horror they took inspiration from the likes of Stanley Kubrick and the psychologically terrifying works of David Lynch, but Stachaszewski also claims it comes from some of their own experiences. Unfortunately, he was unable to give an example without revealing details that would spoil some of the story.
Darkwood and the other games mentioned here have successfully pulled off a thoroughly difficult task. Interesting games are ever-present in the gaming community but a combination this unique is a relatively new concept, or at least one that has only re-emerged in the last few years. Stachaszewski compared the popularity of genres to a sine wave; taking pixel graphics as his main comparison. “Through decades, most games wanted to achieve the best graphical fidelity possible, doing very complicated things to hide those nasty pixels or blurry textures, and so for several years, everything was high definition.” However now countless indie games go for the pixel art look, Darkwood included. However, the overall technology available is of much higher quality.
The same idea is applicable to Darkwood. “When we were starting work on Darkwood, survival and survival horror games were pretty rare.” Now it’s hard to search for games anywhere without passing over a score of survival or survival horror games. Stachaszewski also attributed the rise to Youtubers, “People love to watch other people get scared, to the point of defining the term ‘Youtube Fodder’ by Jim Sterling, or ‘PewDieBait’ by TotalBiscuit”. What he is referring to is horror games specifically tailored for Youtubers who play horror games, manage their channels around them and the jump scares that entertain their audiences.
The uniqueness of this genre is difficult to combine efficiently. An open world game is difficult to accomplish by itself; the necessity of letting the player roam but enough content to keep them satisfied is not an easy balance. Survival and crafting elements must be integrated in the open world, further complicating the world at large. Finally, the system required to create a procedurally generated environment is a massive undertaking, regardless of the other aspects.
Darkwood has managed to do a lot of this, while it is still in a very early version of the game. The amount of talent on the indie front of gaming is extraordinary and there are always new developers looking to make a name for themselves. With this consistent level of talent coming through, it may come to pass that the level of gaming will rise with it. So long as developers like Stachaszewski and the Acid Wizards keep on moving forward this unique genre may become the minimum level to reach.