The Long Dark episode 3 update

Dev Diary – June 2019

Hello community,

It’s time for an update on what the Hinterland team has been busy doing since the last dev diary in March.

First off — most of you probably know that we released a substantial update to Survival Mode, called STEADFAST RANGER, in May. If you happened to miss it, here’s a ~10-minute video that outlines the new content and changes introduced in that update. The most significant new item is the Revolver, which is an important tool in Episode Three. Having STEADFAST RANGER out in the wild, so to speak, has given us some useful player feedback on the Revolver and our revised shooting mechanics, and this feedback goes directly back into improving Episode Three.

Episode Three

I’m sure you’re mostly here to get an update on Episode Three. I’m happy to say that it’s been progressing really well. Since we’re not giving public release dates anymore (reasons outlined here), I’m hesitant to put a label on where we’re at with progress, but I will say that the main story and mission content is mostly in place and we’re heading into deeper playtesting and bug-hunting now.

In terms of overall process, now’s the time where I go in and start doing deeper dives into the episode and making hundreds of editorial refinements to how everything plays — does this event happen at the right time, is there enough time between these two big narrative beats, does this conversation flow naturally based on choices the player has made, do we need to add some dialogue to help clarify this character’s motivations, does this music sound right for this moment, does this part of the episode feel too empty, etc. There’s always a lot of fine-tuning to be done. For this process, I play through the episode from start to finish, trying as much as possible to see it with fresh eyes, as a player would, and I also play through it with my leads team so that we can workshop the episode as a group. The test team also starts doing a more thorough pass on things to make sure everything is working correctly — save files, mission objectives, no content is missing, etc. This part of the process is a bit different from the rest of the episode’s development which tends to be more piece-meal. Now that we can see the overall structure and flow of the episode and test the content as it’s intended, we can see how well everything is (or isn’t) working. It’s the part of the process that can really make or break the quality of the experience, I believe.

A lot can still change with the episode during this part of the process — for example, this was the part of Episode Two (Redux) development that we felt the Bear Hunt gameplay fell kind of flat and as a result we conceived of the Bear Cave section, to give the bear a more impressive ending to the story Jeremiah introduced us to. So, it’s still possible that significant things can be added or changed at this point.

It’s probably also worth recapping for you the things we’ve already shared about Episode Three to date: the episode takes place in Pleasant Valley, the core story and mission path will take about 5 hours to complete, and there is probably an additional 2-4 hours of side mission content. Of course, as with our other episodes, there’s a lot of variability in this play time based on how you choose to approach the game and missions, but we’re pretty sure Episode Three should come in at about the same length as Episode Two, maybe a bit longer.

We’re not ready to spill too many details on the Episode Three story yet, but I asked the team to pull together a few pieces of content they wanted to share with you, with the promise that it wouldn’t spoil too much. Please check the captions for more info:

A new predator stalking you along the Pleasant Valley
 In Episode Three, you might notice a new predator stalking you along the Pleasant Valley horizon line. Timberwolves are a lot tougher and smarter than the average Wolf you may have become used to tangling with. And they don’t usually hunt alone.
In Episode Three, you might notice a new predator stalking you along the Pleasant Valley horizon line. Timberwolves are a lot tougher and smarter than the average Wolf you may have become used to tangling with. And they don’t usually hunt alone.
 New threats mean you’ll need new tools to defend against them. The Blue Flare casts an unearthly glow on the landscape as you risk exploring at night.
New threats mean you’ll need new tools to defend against them. The Blue Flare casts an unearthly glow on the landscape as you risk exploring at night.
Thomson’s Crossing. Most of Episode Three’s story takes place in this former mining town, and the surrounding area. It’ll take all of Astrid’s skill as a doctor to navigate what she finds here. What survivors will she encounter along the way, and what stories will they have to tell?
Thomson’s Crossing. Most of Episode Three’s story takes place in this former mining town, and the surrounding area. It’ll take all of Astrid’s skill as a doctor to navigate what she finds here. What survivors will she encounter along the way, and what stories will they have to tell?
A warm fire within a sheltered hall. But who stands watch here, and why?
A warm fire within a sheltered hall. But who stands watch here, and why?

Next Survival Mode Update

In my last dev diary, I mentioned we’re working on a new region that might be released in the next Survival Mode update (the next one after STEADFAST RANGER). I don’t have much to offer as an update to that yet except to say we’re still working on it. We’re trying something a bit different with this region, sticking with the approach of using each region to support a different play style or gameplay theme. The Survival Mode team is working on some other cool stuff but I can’t talk about it yet or they will [redacted].

Nintendo Switch

Some of you may have seen this shared on my Twitter feed (where I often share unofficial tidbits of news and info about the game, when I can sneak it by the community team), but we recently managed to get the game running pretty well on Nintendo Switch. It’s taken a small group within the dev team several months to get to this point, so we’re pretty happy to finally be here. Performance is not great — mostly the game runs around 15 frames-per-second, which can feel pretty choppy at times (30 frames-per-second (or 30 FPS) is the minimum needed to get smooth performance) so we’re still working on it. We’ve been working closely with engineers at Unity, the people who make the game engine we’ve used to build The Long Dark, because a lot of the issues we’ve encountered can only be solved at the engine level, and they’ve been super helpful and we’re making slow but gradual progress. We’ll keep you up to speed on how things develop but this is the first time we’ve been able to run the game properly without it crashing constantly so it’s definitely progress!

Wrap Up

Looking over this dev diary, I feel like I haven’t shared much. I think it’s because most of what we’ve worked on since the last dev diary has been very spoilery stuff related to Episode Three and I just can’t tell you about it right now. As we get closer to launching Episode Three, we’ll begin teasing out more details and will release a story trailer at some point so that hopefully you’ll get properly hyped for the episode. We know it’s been a long time since Episode Two, particularly for those who didn’t try the REDUX re-release from last December (which, I must say, you really should play, just for all the new content and major improvements made over the original release of Episodes One and Two). I know at this point it feels like news is a bit few and far between, but please know that the team is hard at work on Episode Three and while it’s not as close to shipping as you may think, it’s not as far from shipping as you may think either.

If you’d like to ask questions about the game or our development process in general, I invite you to participate and read the (more or less) weekly Milton Mailbag column I do in the official forums. I’ve answered dozens and dozens of questions in over 36 individual dispatches over the past year, and while I try to stay away from spoilers there too, there are definitely some nuggets of gold hidden within some of my answers there.

I hope you’re enjoying these first early days of Summer. We’ll keep you posted and expect to hear from me with another developer diary in a couple of months.

Thanks, and stay frosty out there!

– Raph