The Long Dark
|The Long Dark|
|Designer(s)||Raphael van Lierop, Alan Lawrance, Hokyo Lim, David Chan|
|Composer(s)||Cris Velasco and Sascha Dikiciyan|
|Genre(s)||First-person survival game|
The Long Dark is a first-person open world-survival simulation video game in development by Canadian company Hinterland for Windows, OS X. The player assumes the role of a crash-landed bush pilot who must survive the frigid Canadian wilderness after a global disaster. The game received seed financing from the Canada Media Fund, and further funding was secured through a successful Kickstarter campaign in October 2013. An alpha version was released through Steam Early Access on September 22, 2014.
The game takes place in the frigid Canadian wilderness where the player character is a crash landed pilot struggling to survive after a global disaster. The gameplay is stated by the developers to be a "survival simulation that accounts for body temperature, caloric intake, hunger/thirst, fatigue, wind-chill, wildlife, and a host of other environmental factors." There are two game modes available to the player, Story mode and Sandbox mode. Story mode will be episodic and was initially planned to be released late 2014.
For the game's alpha release, the Sandbox mode was made available for play. Sandbox mode allows the player to start off at a random spawn within one of the two released maps that the player may choose at the beginning, called "Mystery Lake" and "Coastal highway". The objective is for the player to survive as long as possible by scavenging and utilizing whatever resources they may find within the world. This includes commodities such as food, water, firewood, medicine, and tools such as weapons, axes, knives and a host of other items. Wildlife is also present, such as deer and wolves, the former which can be hunted for food, and the latter of which is a constant threat to the player as they venture outside. All items and wildlife are randomly spawned for every new game, so no two games will be alike for the player. Tools and items degrade over time, forcing the player to make careful decisions in regards to their condition and their eventual need for repair. Fire, being a primary component, is necessary for warmth and cooking. The player has to forage for wood and fuel on a regular basis to stay alive. The player can also get sick from food poisoning and disease. The game simulates temperature and windchill, both of which are random during every playthrough, encouraging the player to carefully monitor the weather at all times to prevent death from exposure. The save game system enforces careful decision making by the player as they are only allowed to save when they enter a building or go to sleep in the game. When the player dies, this results in permadeath and the original save file is automatically deleted forcing the player to start a new game.
Following completion of his work as director on Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine, Raphael van Lierop left Relic Entertainment to work on projects which he felt were "more personal" and "more representative of [his] values". Van Lierop also left Vancouver, moving his family from the city to the northern part of Vancouver Island. Inspired by these new surroundings, he formed Hinterland and began to work on The Long Dark, a game about surviving the Canadian wilderness. Hinterland wanted to explore a post apocalyptic world from the fringes, away from the urban apocalypse, which "we’ve all seen a million times" and away from "B-movie cliches like zombies". Van Lierop was also keen to impact a Canadian identity upon the game, having been frustrated at homogenised AAA video games which sacrificed character for mass market appeal, he summed up his approach with, "I'm Canadian. This game is Canadian. Deal with it."
Van Lierop announced the Hinterland team in September 2013, members included Alan Lawrance, formerly a lead at Volition, Hokyo Lim, formerly art director on League of Legends, Marianne Krawczyk, writer of the God of War series, and David Chan, BioWare's first audio designer. A year later, they'd also be joined by Ken Rolston, the lead designer of The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind. Hinterland operate as a virtual team, with its members working remotely. Lawrance cites his ability to work from home as a crucial factor in his decision to join Hinterland.
Hinterland obtained seed funding from the Canada Media Fund, and in September 2013, launched a Kickstarter campaign for The Long Dark to raise C$200,000 and build a community around the game. The campaign was successful, raising C$256,617 upon its completion in October 2013. Paypal contributions following the Kickstarter campaign pushed the final total to over C$275,000 by March 2014. Hinterland announced the game's voice cast during the Kickstarter campaign, allowing The Long Dark to capitalise on the actors' individual fan bases; the cast announced were Mark Meer, Elias Toufexis, Jennifer Hale and David Hayter. Hinterland were mindful of the game's scope, not wanting to expand the team's size and increase risk, and so limited their Kickstarter stretch goals to those that added quality, rather than those that added in-game content.
Following a period of alpha access exclusive to backers of the crowdfunding campaign, a version of the game featuring only its sandbox-style survival mode was released on Steam Early Access in September 2014. Early impressions from critics were generally favourable, but noted the incomplete nature of the game. Leif Johnson, writing for PC Gamer in June 2014 felt that the game's small unchanging map rewarded rote memorisation whereas the game was most engaging when allowing the player to discover its systems. Andy Kelly, writing for the same publication a month later, praised the atmosphere, highlighting the art style, sound design and lighting. Kelly felt that the game's "focus on atmosphere and environmental survival" made it "[stand] out in an increasingly crowded genre". At GameSpot, Shaun McInnis had similar thoughts, seeing that while the survival genre was becoming ever more crowded, The Long Dark was "one of the few games in this genre focused on capturing the solitary wonder of fighting to staying alive in the brutal wilderness". John Walker, writing at Rock, Paper, Shotgun in August 2014, enjoyed the game and found it "impressively full of things to do", but felt that the accelerated passage of time detracted from the realism. In an early access review for GameSpot in October 2014, Nick Capozzoli too criticised unrealistic systems, noting that one should not need "a dozen energy bars and a pound of venison to sustain yourself day-to-day" and that "a crowbar [shouldn't] lose half its integrity after being used to pry open a couple lockers". Instead of stretching his resources as a survivalist would, he felt "like an insatiable force that roves through the environment, picking it clean." Like Johnson, he criticised the limited area given to explore. With an update later that October, Hinterland doubled the size of the playable area, and expanded it again in February 2015.
In January 2015, the game had sold 250,000 copies. Van Lierop spoke of their studio's approach to early access at the 2015 Game Developers Conference where he warned against allowing the player community to dictate the game's direction. Van Lierop spoke of the differing play styles in the game's audience; though players that preferred a "hardcore survival" experience were in the minority, they were most vocal in the player community. Had Hinterland pandered to those requests, they may have alienated the silent majority of their player community.
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