dev diary

Dev Diary – October 2017

The Road Ahead

Hello, all.

It’s been a little while since you heard much from me. August was our launch month, and kept us quite busy with post-launch support (patching, mainly). Most of the team took September off to rest up, apart from a contingent who worked on some platform support tasks, and now most of the team is back at work and it’s time to fill you in on our plans for The Long Dark, moving forward.

While there were a lot of things to celebrate about our 1.0 launch, one thing it showed us was how 100+ updates to The Long Dark while in Early Access and on Game Preview, didn’t fully prepare us for the challenges of a full 1.0 launch on multiple platforms (including two consoles). Launching a game “for real” involves a lot of extra steps as compared to releasing an update, and while we understood this intellectually, it was only in the last few months of the project that we fully comprehended the scope of the challenge we’d taken on for ourselves. I think that in many ways, we bit off quite a bit more than our small team could handle, and that showed in the first couple of weeks of our launch. As you might recall from my last devblog post, I wasn’t very happy with the state of the game we launched and while we’ve been able to address most of the launch issues, we can’t erase any good-will we lost from the community due to the imperfect launch. This weighs heavily on my mind, as we move forward.

In order to avoid this situation in the future, we’re building up an internal platform and publishing team that will focus on all aspects of getting the game into your hands, including testing, localization, certification, and the promotion and marketing of our updates and future content work. While we’re still sorting out the structure and needs of this team, we’ve already made the first steps towards this plan, and I believe that this approach will help ensure our future launches are as smooth as they should be. This is just the “cost” of self-publishing games, when you are an independent studio.

In terms of the game itself — although our plans for Episodes One and Two were always that they be introductory to both gameplay and worldbuilding, our approach to releasing an open-world game in episodic format was always very experimental. Having been able to better gauge response to this approach, we can see that many of you didn’t like the more constrained approach we took with our Story mode, compared to the free-form, self-directed openness of Survival Mode. Development of The Long Dark has always been iterative, and we see no reason why this approach shouldn’t also apply to helping us make better and better episode content.

While we’re still committed to our episodic structure — as it lends itself well to certain storytelling conceits (ex. playing two different protagonists) and certain production methodologies (ex. we can continue to build the game and world in incremental steps, which means we can remain a small studio) — I think we need to bring our narrative mode more in line with the core experience of Survival Mode. This means, a new approach to how we present story and characters, more variation in our mission type and structure, and more freedom in how you can overcome the various obstacles we throw in your way. This increased freedom means we have to revisit some of the tools and tech we set up for Episodes One and Two, and we also need to rethink our approach to how we create mission content, and how you experience it.

I’d also like to fix some of the areas of criticism in Episodes one and Two, relating to how experienced players found the opening sections of Episode One to be too much of a tutorial, the linearity of missions, the lack of full voice acting in our dialogue sequences, and the over dependence on “fetch” quests. While the fundamental building blocks of The Long Dark’s gameplay do depend on acquiring resources, and those resources take on new meaning in a world where you have to think about people other than yourself, we realize that for some of you, the lack of choice in when and how you approached certain missions detracted from the freedom you expect to find in our game. It’s never good when a game sets certain expectations in one mode, that aren’t fully paid off in another, particularly if players don’t understand this. Although we tried to educate our players around how our Story mode content would differ from Survival mode, it’s impossible to reach everyone, and certainly many players came into the episodes with certain expectations that we just didn’t meet.

I’m not yet fully sure how we will do all these things, but my aim for The Long Dark is to ensure that by the time we launch Episode Three, not only is that Episode a much stronger expression of The Long Dark as a narrative survival experience, but that Episodes One and Two have also been substantially improved.

All of this is going to take a lot of work, so I don’t want to set the expectation that it will happen quickly. We won’t be launching Episode Three this year. We won’t announce a launch date until it’s ready to go.

In the meantime, as we had to put Survival Mode aside while we finished Episode work for launch, we now want to get back to it. We’re working on a big Survival Mode update to launch some time in December. This update will add a few things we know you’re waiting for — for example, Milton as a Survival Mode region, the Moose — as well as a few things you may not be expecting. We’ll share more about the December update as we get closer to launching it. It’ll be a pretty substantial update to Survival mode. I’d also like to try to find a way to balance our resources so that we can get you more frequent Survival Mode updates in the future — it’ll likely mean smaller updates that come more regularly.

With Hallowe’en around the corner, there have been a lot of questions about if we’ll reprise last year’s “4 Days of Night” event. We’re worried about 4DON interfering with other work we’re doing in the game right now, so we *are* going to run the 4 Days of Night event again, but it’ll be in a separate branch of the game. This way, we can roll it out without it derailing our December update. Unfortunately, there’s no way for us to run multiple branches of the game on Xbox or PS4, so this will be a Steam-only event. But we think “live” events could be a fun way to create some shared experiences for you, so we’ll be investigating ways we can support more of these types of community events — across all our platforms — in the future.

I’ll also do my best to publish a devblog update more frequently moving forward, to keep you in the loop about what the team’s working on. Thanks for your ongoing support!

– Raphael