Dev Diary: The Light at the End of The Long Dark04.05.2017.
NOTE: This post contains Story Mode spoilers.
It’s been some months since you heard from me. Last time, I shared an update with you that shed some light on the challenges of working through Story Mode development through 2016. This time, I’m happy to share some definitive news, not only about Story Mode, but about our next Sandbox update as well.
Today, I’m here to tell you that THE LONG DARK will be leaving Early Access/Game Preview on August 1st, 2017. On that day, we’ll be releasing the first two episodes of WINTERMUTE, our five-episode “story mode” for THE LONG DARK.
Here’s a teaser of what’s to come in WINTERMUTE:
The first two episodes of WINTERMUTE are about bush pilot Will Mackenzie and Dr. Astrid Greenwood, and what happens when they get separated after a mysterious geomagnetic event causes them to crash deep in the Northern Canadian wilderness. In Episode One: “Do Not Go Gentle”, Mackenzie tries to survive the savage wilderness long enough to find shelter, hoping for the comforts civilization might bring. He quickly learns the world around him is not what he expected. In Episode Two: “Luminance Fugue”, Mackenzie begins to understand the true nature of the disaster he finds himself in, all the while searching for signs of Astrid. He also begins to learn the answer to the question, “how far will you go to survive?”, as he navigates relationships with the other survivors he meets along the way.
Total gameplay for the two episodes ranges due to the open-world nature of the game, but we’re finding 6-10 hours for the two episodes seems pretty consistent. Episodes Three to Five will be released over the remainder of 2017, and into 2018.
I can’t tell you how excited I am to finally be able to give you a definitive launch date for the game. So that we can continue to share more information about gameplay and content in the months leading up to launch, we've created THIS site for the game. It will be the primary source of information moving forward.
Another thing that’s really amazing for our studio and team is that we’re going to be launching the 1.0 of THE LONG DARK on three platforms: Steam (Windows/Mac/Linux), Xbox One, and PlayStation 4. As there is no “early access” type program on PlayStation, we haven’t yet been able to bring the experience to that audience, and expanding the community around THE LONG DARK to include PlayStation players is a huge step for us. It’s going to mean more players, and more resources to pour back into the game, and expand it in new and interesting ways, perhaps even beyond our current plans.
As many of you know, THE LONG DARK has always been a passion project for us, and the first Season of the game -- Winter -- was always meant to be only the first part of the experience. By expanding our audience, this gives us a better chance of being able to continue investing resources into the world of THE LONG DARK, while also retaining ownership of the Intellectual Property, and the independence of Hinterland as a studio. Unlike many “indies” in this space, Hinterland is 100% independent and self-funded. This independence is core to our development philosophy and our team culture, and it’s a big part of why we’ve been able to take creative risks so far.
I know that the PS4 announcement might not seem important if you’re already playing THE LONG DARK on Steam or Xbox One, but I hope you can see how for us, it’s a really monumental step in expanding the reach of this world’s fiction and gameplay foundation we’re building, so that we can continue to build THE LONG DARK into the experience we dream for it to be.
That brings me to the recent countdown we launched at www.thelongdark.com. I know that in some corners of our community, this countdown timer was not a popular thing. Some people felt that it was insulting to be given a “timer for a timer”. I can see this and I’m sorry that it created frustration for some of you. This was certainly not our intention.
It’s hard to remember, sometimes, that our whole approach to Story Mode development -- and the reason why we’ve said so little about it to date -- is about building anticipation. It’s also easy to forget that most of our community is waiting to come back to the game -- waiting to wake up and feel excited about it again. And the PlayStation community hasn’t had a chance to feel a sense of excitement or ownership for THE LONG DARK yet. As a small studio handling all our own marketing, we need to use the tools we have to get people excited about the game, and often these people are not the ones who are scouring our social media posts every day. It’s the fence-sitters, the journalists, the people who have yet to discover this game. This is why we’ve not said much about development over the past months, and why we’re taking the next three months to run a campaign as we lead up to full launch. This is about doing everything we can to get the word out, and building buzz takes time. Most Early Access games don't get to have a second launch, and we're doing everything we can to overcome this. We hope we'll have your support in this, as it's critical to our ongoing success.
Let’s talk about what the next three months look like for us, so that you understand more about what this time means leading up to the launch. We have to finish final art content, polish, and playtest to ensure the first two episodes are as compelling as they can be. That’s the rest of this month. Then we fix all the bugs we find in the first two episodes -- that’s going to happen over the rest of May and most of June. We have to work on some performance improvements (optimizations) and get all the new content translated and integrated into the game. That will mostly happen in June. And then July, we go through an intensive Certification process on Xbox and PlayStation, to ensure everything is ready to go for August 1st.
Phew. Lots still to do!
Besides that, I promised one more Sandbox update before Story Mode launches. Later this month, we’ll open the Test Branch with an update to the game called FAITHFUL CARTOGRAPHER. Here’s a loose list of what you can expect in that update:
- Complete Save System Overhaul.
As you can imagine, maintaining backwards compatibility for saves over the past 3+ years has made our save system a bit of a tangled mess over time. We think this may be part of why there’s been some instability, on Xbox One in particular, with lost saves and some corruption at times. This new system should improve stability, and also prepare us to handle the new Save requirements of the WINTERMUTE episodes. Keep in mind that all your current profile data will continue to work -- this means existing progress towards Feats, or Survival Journals you’ve saved, will still be valid post-update.
- Completely New UI.
We’ve done a complete aesthetic overhaul of our UI & HUD, and added a lot of new functionality -- too much to list here. Every screen has been completely rebuilt. In some cases, as with the Radial for example, we’ve streamlined the usability (for example, you can now eat or drink directly from the Radial). We’ve improved the Pack, Clothing, and Status screens, and updated the HUD with a bunch of improvements. Really, there are 100s of improvements nested in this overhaul. The FAITHFUL CARTOGRAPHER update will have about 80% of this process complete, with the rest being done in time for our full launch.
- Cartography Gameplay.
Mapping has never really been part of the “sandbox” experience of THE LONG DARK, but as we’ve seen a growing interest in the use of external maps from the community, we thought we’d add some entirely “opt-in” cartography gameplay. You’ll have to use charcoal from campfires to update your own map of the world, which you survey bit by bit, and this map’s value will depend on how well you keep it updated. The goal with this system is to provide a useful tool for players who’d like to map their world, without making the game any easier, and without penalizing players who prefer to continue playing as they do currently, sans maps!
- Throwing Stones.
You’ll now be able to throw Stones at wildlife. They make a good tool of “last resort” against Wolves -- you might get lucky enough to scare one off -- and you can hunt Rabbits with them. Stun a rabbit, then see if you have the heart to finish it off. This tool provides a good “early game” tool for defense and acquiring food, and is something we plan to build on in the future.
- Throwing Flares & Torches.
Some of you may remember the game before we added Brandishing. That mechanic has never quite achieved its intention, so we’ve pulled it out and put Throwing of Flares and Torches back in. This gives you a useful, re-usable tool for scaring off wildlife.
- Carcass Quartering.
A long-standing community request has been the ability to harvest animal carcasses from the shelter/safety/comfort of...anywhere that isn’t outside. We’ve added a system where you can Quarter carcasses and move “chunks” of them around. But keep in mind that -- like everything in THE LONG DARK -- there is a risk/reward scenario to be considered. Quartering carcasses is less efficient, and also makes you much more interesting to prowling wildlife, both at the Quartering Site, and when you are carrying heavy portions of carcass around with you.
- Struggle Weapon Selection.
You can now select the tool/weapon you want to use in the moments before you engage in a Wolf Struggle. We think this works to address some long-standing complaints about the Struggle system, and we’ll continue refining this in the future.
- Improved First-Person Presence.
You’ll see we’ve added first-person presence to the Rifle, Bow, Distress Pistol, and improved the presentation of the Light Sources like the Flare, Torch, etc. As always, we plan to continue improving this as the game continues to evolve.
- Tons of New Art.
In addition to the UI overhaul, you’ll notice that a lot of the game world looks better. We’ve been slowly updating all the old item labels and signs, to create a more cohesive world.
- New Graphics Settings.
We’ve added more variety in the display and quality options so that you can find a better balance of performance and beauty, based on your specific system. (Note, this is for PC/Mac/Linux players only.)
- Tons of Bug Fixes and Optimization.
Holy cow we’ve fixed a lot of bugs over the past few months. TONS.
“But what about ____?” We know there’s a lot of stuff on the Roadmap that didn’t end up in this update. No Cougar or Moose. No improved Cooking. Some of those features have been prototyped and will most likely end up in the game at some point. Others, we just haven’t got to yet. Keep in mind that our Roadmap has always been aspirational -- we reinforce that to help manage expectations. We see the Roadmap as a shared “wishlist” of what we’d like to add to the game over time, to help you understand our vision for the experience. But it’s not a restaurant menu, or a promise. We hope you’re excited about the things you’re getting very soon, and we’re just as excited as you are (maybe even more so!) to continue improving the game with new features, content, and of course, refining the features and content that are already in the game.
We know that this is a lot of info to take in -- and we know you probably have questions. We’ve created an FAQ section on the new site, to hopefully answer some of the questions you may have. Aside from that, we’re here and ready to answer you, and now that the release date is published and the PlayStation 4 announcement is in the wild, we can focus on the next few months of finalizing the FAITHFUL CARTOGRAPHER update, finishing Episodes One and Two, and getting this game into your hands!
I hope you’re as excited to be at this point in the journey as we are. Launch isn’t far away now. WINTERMUTE is around the corner.
See you in the quiet apocalypse.