The history of Darkest Dungeon, as told by Red Hook

The history of Darkest Dungeon, as told by Red Hook

What I find fascinating about Darkest Dungeon, and what I’ve always found fascinating about it, is how the series rethinks the experience of what a fantasy adventurer would actually be like.

We take this for granted so much, this experience, because we have seen it so many times. Take an adventurer – or a group of adventurers – into a dungeon and have them overcome incredible obstacles to defeat hundreds or even thousands of monsters, some as big as houses and as terrifying as nightmares. And yet, it seems to have no appreciable effect on them, beyond strengthening them.

But what would that experience really be like for an adventurer, seeing all those things, doing all those things – encountering those horrors, and seeing those terrible wounds, that anguish, that death? Deeply traumatic, I imagine. And it was here, in that thought, that Darkest Dungeon as an idea, as a concept, was born. “The central thesis that being an adventurer is a shitty line of work,” Darkest Dungeon co-creator Chris Bourassa tells me.

“So instead of the glory-seeking and epaulette-growing you get in a lot of other titles, we wanted to celebrate the little things. stress, it would be a horrible time. And then you run out of food: it would be a horrible time. So this idea of ​​stress, stress and its effect on a small group of people.

A major inspiration for this was the film Aliens, which Bourassa considers “one of the best ensemble films of all time”. “It explores heroism by contrast, really,” he says. “And that became another central tenet of the game, where you aren’t owed a valiant victory, but they are there.” Band of Brothers was another source of inspiration. “Any type of situation where people have been under extreme pressure and [you see] this character is to suffer, suffer, suffer, suffer and sometimes people rally and stand together.”

The video of me interviewing Darkest Dungeon co-creators Tyler Sigman and Chris Bourassa. I’m not sure what Chris is doing in the thumbnail here – maybe he’s acting out the stress a character feels in the game.

Bourassa and his Red Hook Studios co-founder Tyler Sigman also used their experience in people management to influence their design.

“It’s not even a joke,” Bourassa said. “You see what happens to people when they are very stressed. We are no exception. like: there’s a real opportunity to explore these ideas in a familiar fantasy setting.”

The concept was also influenced by conversations like, “Imagine you’re sitting around the campfire and the Ranger hates the Priest, and then they fall asleep and wake up mad at each other,” says Bourassa. . And by the idea that it is an uncompromising experience – uncompromising but not specifically “difficult”. “These are permanent consequences for the decisions you make under duress with imperfect information,” says Bourassa. “It really is the heart and soul of Darkest Dungeon.”

“Darkest Dungeon is the DM that rolls in the open.” -Tyler Sigman

As Tyler Sigman says, “Darkest Dungeon is the [Dungeon Master] that rolls in the open.” Sometimes the DM rolls well and that means bad things are happening to you, the player, but that’s okay because RPGs are more interesting when things go wrong, and the Managing is another fundamental part of what Darkest Dungeon is “Because at the end of the day,” Sigman says, “it’s a game about perseverance.”

What I love to hear is A, I love to hear anyone approach fantasy role-playing experiences from a different angle – and that is, after all, a big part of why Darkest Dungeon was such a fetid breath of air when he came out. And B, because these concepts were not – and are not – locked to a specific mechanical model. They are higher level, wider.

A lot of Darkest Dungeon mechanics weren’t even decided when thinking about this stuff. For a while, Darkest Dungeon was kind of a top-down isometric RPG. You can see this in a talk Bourassa gave to GDC in 2016. He was also very enthusiastic, says Sigman, about the kind of “rotating drop” idea where you had your fighters front and back and you were attacked from multiple sides, and you had to keep turning around to protect your sides the more spongy.

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But eventually the side presentation was implemented so that you get closer to the characters and the art that Bourassa was making, and the sideways, positional, and turn-based combat came out of it – a very happy and iconic coincidence.

Since these fundamental ideas were next-level and not tied to specific models, there was also room for them to be reinterpreted for Darkest Dungeon 2, the just-released sequel. But apparently the decision to move on to a sequel was unclear.

The pair started talking about needing to do something new in the fall of 2018, two years after the original game was fully released. “We had a lot of different ideas,” Bourassa says, “and some of them weren’t even Darkest Dungeon at all.”

“We were a little tired of Darkest Dungeon,” Sigman said. They had been working on DD1 for years by then. But there was also a desire to do more with the characters and the universe. In some ways, however, the idea had to work harder because they had already done it. Sigman talks about how they have to pass a “threshold” of excitement before they agree to do this, and even when they did, it was imperative that they make drastic changes to the experience. “We didn’t want to play the same game again,” said Bourassa.

Darkest Dungeon 2 therefore feels very different to Darkest Dungeon 1, which Edwin captures very elegantly in his vast Darkest Dungeon 2 review. It’s a Roguelike for four characters on a road trip, while Darkest Dungeon 1 roots you in a hamlet where you build your base and employ a massive roster of characters. It’s the same kind of experience but fundamentally different.

Thrill! The narrator’s voice is Wayne June’s, if you didn’t know. He is now synonymous with the series, but Sigman and Bourassa never met him. It was Bourassa who had heard him play Lovecraft audiobooks that inspired them to contact him. June is a bit of a joker – a drummer and singer as much as he is a voiceover actor and audiobook reader. Apparently he’s adorable. And what a voice he has.

The good thing is, if you don’t like it – or prefer the DD1 way – that’s okay: this game still exists. “That’s the beauty of what we’ve done,” says Sigman. “Well, I shouldn’t say beauty – that’s our strategy.”

“We don’t know yet if it’s beautiful,” adds Bourassa with a laugh.

But Red Hook is now unequivocally focused on Darkest Dungeon 2 and being where DD1 is now, after years of additional content, updates, and expansions.

“We need to do the console versions as well…” -Tyler Sigman

For this reason, work on Darkest Dungeon 1 will cease, except for any suddenly necessary patches. “We have no plans to add more,” Bourassa said, “although we recognize we could and there are days when we feel like we might want to, but it would be a mistake, from a resource allocation perspective, to steal from DD2 to give to DD1 at this exact moment.”

“We also need to do the console versions,” adds Sigman, referring to Darkest Dungeon 2, “which we haven’t announced yet, but I’m sure people can take it that they’re coming. We’d love to do expansions for DD2, too, provided there’s an audience.”

Once that’s all done, “it would be a really fun time to get together and start talking about what could be next,” Bourassa says. And at that point, those other ideas that we talked about earlier might resurface. “Creatively, it would be nice to take a cycle out of Darkest Dungeon,” he says. “I’ll probably always end up using black when I draw, but it would be nice to explore something else. But we don’t have anything firm about what that would look like or when that would happen.

“But I can say with some certainty that we’re not going to finish the final DLC on DD2 in five years and then start Darkest Dungeon 3, at least as far as we’ve discussed it right now. But we’re not really look so far ahead for now. The time for idle reverie is not now.

The full interview with Tyler Sigman and Chris Bourassa, in which they discuss the creation of Darkest Dungeon – and cover much more than what I’ve covered here – is now available as a podcast wherever you listen. Search for “Eurogamer Podcasts” here.

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