If you haven’t heard of Darkest Dungeon from Red Hook Studios yet then you must not pay attention to crowdfunding. Since launching on Kickstarter on February 10th with a total funding target of $75,000, the creepy looking RPG has gone on to get press everywhere and is nearing $200,000 in pledges.
So why are people clamoring to pledge money? Is it the unique sanity measuring affliction system that impacts nearly every aspect of the game? Is it the unique art style? Or did the team at Red Hook just do a great job of doing their Kickstarter homework? Chris Bourassa, Creative Director and Artist on Darkest Dungeon, was kind enough to give us some insight into the game, its campaign, and how to handle such significant overfunding.
Cliqist: Normally I would start off by asking you about yourself, but I’d much rather talk about money. Is that rude?
Chris Bourassa: A little, but we’re happy to roll with it! 😉
Cliqist: Are you surprised by the success of the campaign? What do you attribute it to?
Chris Bourassa: We were taken aback by the initial surge, absolutely. I actually wasn’t sure it was real, given how little sleep I’d had the night before! We got buried in emails and comments within a few hours, and actually missed our first couple stretch goal updates because we were so busy trying to get on top of outbound communication. It’s very humbling to have such a strong and generous community behind us. I really can’t thank our backers enough – with their help we are able to develop our dream game, and potentially even alleviate a little of the financial strain we’ve put ourselves under!
It’s hard to point to a single reason why a campaign does well. I think announcing early, and building some interest prior to launching the campaign was crucial. I also believe in our game, and I think we have a strong product which speaks for itself. In terms of the Kickstarter campaign, we tried to only offer rewards which enhanced people’s engagement with the game, avoiding ‘swag’ like coffee cups, t-shirts and key chains. We’re in the business of game development, not consumer products.
Chris Bourassa: Hah! Well, the team has worked for 8 months without pay before ever bringing the game to Kickstarter. We felt that it was really important to demonstrate to our backers that a) we had invested in the game ourselves, and b)we had a solid product that was well on its way to market. With so many projects Kickstarting nowadays, we wanted to stand out by delivering something well thought out, tangible, and driven by a clear vision.
We’ve also tried to be as transparent as possible – we’re a small team with our names all over the game. If we were to try and run to a beach somewhere, backers would find us!
Cliqist: More realistically, are you afraid of being overfunded and stretching yourselves thin? What’s the plan to deal with that?
Chris Bourassa: We were careful about our stretch goals, making sure they were modular add-ons to what will be a strong core. The additional funds that we are generating will allow us to bring in some extra help when need be, and we are an experienced group of developers, so I’m pretty confident in our estimates and production plan.
Also, we’ve presented what I think is a very clear vision for what the game is, and what it isn’t. This alone will help mitigate feature creep because we have a definite goal in mind. Sometimes when the constraints of time and money relax, the temptation is to go back into ‘brainstorming mode’, but because our game is so far along, we’re well past that stage and into production. Over-funding in this case means we can supplement our team and polish the core experience till it gleams!
Cliqist: In a recent update you addressed the concerns people had with the exclusive class you’re offering to backers of a certain pledge level. What were people’s concerns with that? Is your reaction, indicating that you wish you hadn’t included it, give credence to the criticism that some have of crowdfunding games that states that a vocal group of backers can essentially take a games’ design hostage?
Chris Bourassa: We pretty much summed up our position in Backer Update #3. We misjudged how divisive this kind of content is. In hindsight, we would’ve liked to create a different but equally compelling reward that didn’t make any backers feel disenfranchised. That kind of resulting discussion takes the focus away from the product itself. We think respectful debate is healthy, and this was our first experience with crowdfunding. There are definitely lessons we will take forward.
Cliqist: On a more positive note, the affliction system seems different. What makes it functionally unique from run of the mill character morale or an Eternal Darkness type bleeding walls gimmick?
Chris Bourassa: The affliction system isn’t about the tried and true ‘bugs on the screen’ or tunnel vision type stuff. The player isn’t the one being afflicted, her band of heroes are the ones suffering, so the first-person treatment doesn’t really work for us. Instead of window dressing, it’s a core mechanic of the game – heroes’ stress levels key off almost everything in the dungeon – positive and negative.
When a hero reaches the top of his or her stress tolerance, they do an affliction check, and can either shake off the stress, activating their personality-based heroic moment, or they can fall victim to it, becoming ‘afflicted’. Afflictions are broken up into families – depression, abusiveness, selfishness, etc – things that people tend to do when they are extremely stressed.
An afflicted hero may not always do what you tell them to, or may act out in unpredictable and undesirable ways! Eating more than their share of food, striking a fellow adventurer, wandering off in the night, or just constantly complaining. Their actions in turn have an effect on the other heroes, completing the gameplay loop.
I guess what makes it unique is simply that I can’t think of another game that has so completely integrated this kind of mechanic with its core gameplay. Afflictions impact every part of Darkest Dungeon – combat, camping, exploration, and even the town meta-game. (Dis)stress is really what our game is all about!
Cliqist: I notice that Man-At-Arms is a class in the game. What other characters from He-Man will be featured in Darkest Dungeon?
Chris Bourassa: MerMan for sure!! j/k
I hadn’t even considered the Man-At-Arms as a reference to He-Man, which is weird, because I grew up loving that show! We’re trying to steer a bit off the beaten track with our class choices, pulling from history. Not only does it lend strength to the uniqueness of our gameworld, but I think provides a refreshing change for gamers who may be a bit bored with the standard archetypes. The knock on benefit is that our players won’t come to the game loaded with presuppositions about what a certain class can or can’t do – it makes the whole experience fresh!
Cliqist: Sorry I didn’t ask about the game more. It seems like everyone is talking about it, and your Kickstarter page is pretty comprehensive. Is there anything that people haven’t noticed, or are overlooking about the game?
Chris Bourassa: I think we’ve done a pretty good job of laying out the core mechanics, story setup, and vision for the game on the Kickstarter page. I should reiterate that the game is still in development, so things are subject to change, and we haven’t rolled out every last detail just yet! Every now and then, however, something will slip out in the comments section, so the best way to stay in the know is to back us, and bookmark the KS page 😉
Cliqist: Wait, who are you, exactly?
Chris Bourassa: I’m Chris Bourassa, creative director/artist on the game, Tyler Sigman is the designer/exec producer, Kelvin McDowell is the lead engineer, and Keir Miron is our gameplay engineer/workhorse! We’re a small team, but we’ve been lucky enough to work with some great partner so far – Powerup Audio, Stuart Chatwood (composer), and Wayne June (narrator).
Cliqist: Can you finish us up with a Darkest Dungeon inspired haiku?
At the rotten gate
we ventured into the dark
it was our last act
Thanks to Chris for taking the time to answer our questions! You can learn more about Darkest Dungeon from its Kickstarter page. Funding runs until March 13th.