Hey, so... Whatever happened to Total Dark?

A couple of months ago, we confirmed we were working on a self-funded title called Total Dark. We said it was currently an isometric adventure thing that took inspiration from those old paper-based RPG systems of the late 80s and early 90s, and that we’d be pretty open about its development.

Some early concept art from our artist Alex

And then it all went quiet and some of you are probably wondering what the hell is going on.
So here goes...

Right, the short version is that Total Dark is still in development, but it’s slowed down a bit. Total Dark is much more mechanically focused than anything we’ve done in the past, so those mechanics have to be really, really good or the game won’t be. That means as much time in iterative prototyping as we possibly can to get them absolutely honed before we start chucking lots of art and audio and story time at it all. So whilst we’re working those up, we’re also doing another unannounced project that we’ll hopefully tell you all about in more detail in a few months’ time. So whilst that is happening (through until late spring/early summer next year), we’ll keep making and refining, and ripping up and starting again on Total Dark until it feels like the game it should be and we’ve got the lion’s share of the whole thing greyboxed and ready to have art and audio thrown at it.

Which is a short way of waving a flag and shouting “We’re still here!” into the void but doesn’t really tell you anything about Total Dark itself. There’s a few reasons to be cagey, but screw discretion – just as long as we don’t get held to any of this in eighteen or twenty-four months when Total Dark comes out, and just as long as we don’t get held to eighteen or twenty-four months as being when Total Dark is going to come out (etc, etc, you know the drill). What follows is a rough description of a game in prototype, so it’s very much all subject to change.

Quick in-engine representations of early concepts by Rich

Right now, this is what we’ve got on the table. There’s a stripped-back 3rd person RPG-lite system that operates around five core stats. The core gameplay loops around exploring areas to fulfil missions and goals whilst all of these stats are depreciated by dangers in the environment (and sometimes by your own actions). You can collect loot and items by cracking open containers – yes, we have made a game with button mashing in it – and by engaging with NPCs through a simple branching dialogue system, and there’s an inventory system to use, manage and combine the things you find. There’s also the special sauce bit of it which makes it a bit different, but I’m going to hold onto that for a while, until we’ve done a bit more working up on it and can stick some decent visualisations together.

What’s really important is that we’ve got an adaptable and essentially fun set of tools to play with to set up those engaging gameplay loops at the centre of the experience. So right now, it’s about setting up greybox scenarios and playing with different ways of working with those systems; it’s a process of making sure the central spine of the gameplay experience is fun and compelling, and seeing if we need to add in more systems, mechanics and so on until it feels like a good, solid game at core. That’s a few months’ work, then we start expanding those scenarios into levels, and off we go...

In the meantime, it’s time to loop back over the story, the world and everything else. I’m a bit reticent to let too much of the cat out of the bag at this point, as these things always change and shift a bit, but I can give you a few hints of where my head is at right now:

  • In 2016, in a basement of the local history department at Bangor University, there’s a pocket universe nineteen inches across...
  • In 1941, SIS agent Anna Dornstein leaps from a plane above North Wales in search of bier roads, and vanishes...
  • In 1887, on a dark February night, all the clocks in Holyhead begin to strike thirteen...

Now, that all might change of course, but that’s right now where it is. There’s a slice of Adam Roberts, a dash of Connie Willis, a decent chunk of Dave Hutchinson and a fair old sprinkling of China Miéville. Meanwhile, the art team have been playing around with what they call a Rave Noir aesthetic and we’re mainlining TV like Detectorists and Flowers, so almost anything could happen. But it’s going to be fun.

Definitely not the final title

Finally, there’s the name. We’re probably going to change it. But for the moment, hope that’s raised more questions than it's answered whilst giving you just a briefest of peeks behind the strange, strange curtain of Total Dark...

  -Dan