Interview With Acid Wizard: The Guys Behind Darkwood

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Darkwood looks set to be a really interesting game and already has me salivating at the mouth for its release, despite only a teaser trailer of Pre-Alpha gameplay being shown at this point. Recently, I had the opportunity to interview the group behind the game, Acid Wizard, an independent ensemble set to revolutionise the way we look at horror, literally. Read on, friends, as I find out more about the game and the people behind it.

Darkwood is Acid Wizard’s first big production. Can you give us a brief rundown of who you are and what Darkwood is?

Hello! We are Acid Wizard, a group of 3 hardcore gamers from Poland. We used to play all sorts of games together through the years, and recently decided to try and make a living by creating them!

Darkwood is an old-school, top-down survival horror, with RPG and rogue-like elements. In a nut-shell, it can be described as a mix of Project Zomboid, Teleglitch and Don’t Starve, directed by David Lynch.

Darkwood is most definitely a horror game but it’s shot from a new perspective. What, if anything, inspired you to make the game from a top-down point of view?

A top-down perspective hinders your ability to clearly identify what you see on the screen. One might say it’s a hindrance, but we embrace it. It’s much less literal that way, and forces your imagination to work and visualize things you can’t clearly see in the game by yourself. We find the fear of the unknown to be very strong and want to evoke that feeling not only through the gameplay, but also the art style.

Do you take much inspiration from anywhere else? Such as TV, books or film? I couldn’t help but get an Evil Dead vibe from the Pre-Alpha trailer.

Hah, we haven’t seen Evil Dead since we were kids, seems that it imprinted itself onto our brains somehow, but we remember it as a pretty awesome movie! Our main inspirations would be the works of David Lynch and the Strugatsky brothers. We also take inspiration from Star Control 2, with its incredible sense of exploration, a huge galaxy to explore and the chance to interact with amazing, memorable characters.

How important is the horror aspect of your game? Is there any room for humour or are you focused completely on scares and tense atmosphere?

As you can see from the trailer, Darkwood is not all horror. Talking to the generator can be seen as a comedy stress relief for some people. We find that too much intense emotions without pause for a breath can be a bad thing, so there will be lots of things for the player to discover in Darkwood that won’t necessarily scare the crap out of you.

How would you best describe the gameplay for Darkwood?

It’s a very intense experience that never plays the same way twice. There are lots of survival elements, and the player is not a killing machine – you can die quite easily, this forces you to always be a step ahead of your enemies. There is a big emphasis on melee combat, as ammo is pretty scarce and guns are noisy, so they attract attention. The game is divided into two parts: you can explore the forest at day, discover locations and trade with other inhabitants of Darkwood, and return to your home at night and try to survive to live another day. We want to force the player to think tactically. For example, as you can see from the trailer, the lights in your house are powered by your generator, which needs gasoline. The more electrical devices you have active, the more gasoline is eaten up. So if your generator pal gets dry in the middle of the night, you’re pretty much screwed.

You describe the gameplay on the official website as ‘hardcore’ with an emphasis on the player figuring out things on their own, which is something I love, along with exploration. How do you keep the difficulty tough while remaining fair to the player?

That’s a good question and a very hard thing to achieve in a game, in our opinion. We hope to make the game hard and unforgiving, but at the same time very rewarding – we feel that too much modern games guide the player by the hand, giving him no sense of achievement. There is a lot of emphasis on risk vs reward, but also on the consequences of the player’s actions. You see, Darkwood is like a organic being, and can treat the player like a minor parasite or a severe threat to its existence based on your actions, and will react accordingly. This way, the player can pace the gameplay on his own without following a linear path.

Speaking of exploration, your game has a number of rogue-like elements such as randomly constructed levels. How difficult is it to create different scenarios that seamlessly fit together? Do you encourage players to explore a level or does that come with risk on the players part? We all know what happens when someone wanders off in a horror film.

I wouldn’t say “levels”, as we wish the world to be open. “Locations” seems to suit the game better, and we hope to make them random in a way that if a player visits it on his other playthrough, he will have a different experience, but also recognizable enough for him to realize how much dangerous (or not) a specific location is. That way, you will be able to calculate risk vs reward before venturing deeper into some places. And yeah, it’s pretty difficult to make such locations blend together, both in technical and balancing matters.

Permadeath is also a very important feature in the game but lets the player keep certain things so they don’t feel like they’re making no progress. How difficult was it to balance a rewarding experience with a sufficient challenge?

You will die a lot in Darkwood. The term “what does not kill me, makes me stronger” does not apply here. Each time you die, you will have learned something new, and that knowledge will help you on your new playthrough. We want to give the player a deep sense of achievement of learning the game’s mechanics, and a new experience each time he plays it.

It’s hard to say how difficult the balancing was because… It’s not balanced yet. There’s a ton of work to be done to make the game fair to the player and we may have to resign from some of the elements we are planning along the way, but we hope to stay as close to our vision as possible.

Crafting also has an important role in Darkwood. Can you give our readers a small example of how crafting is used in-game? Such as the use of wooden barricades, as seen in the trailer, and the role they play?

You will be able to craft lots of stuff with different uses: barricades, traps, combine items into new ones. Barricades aren’t too special, they hinder enemies’ advances and occlude their vision. But we plan to have some cool traps that can be used creatively… You will get to see a sample of that in our next trailer.

I know that you are focused on a PC release but do you have any aspirations to bring Darkwood onto other operating systems or consoles?

We hope to add Linux and Mac support, but console versions aren’t planned now. We have no experience with developing on consoles and Darkwood was designed to have mouse & keyboard controls, which could be hard to translate to a gamepad.

I know that I’m excited for the game so when can we expect to see Darkwood? How can people support you if they’re interested?

Well, we hope you will visit Darkwood in your nightmares next time you go to bed! Just kidding, there is no planned release date as of now, but we will be starting a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter or Indiegogo in the near future, where you will be able to pre-order the game and get some cool limited edition stuff! If you want to get notified when we launch, follow us on Facebook or Twitter, or sign up for the newsletter at www.darkwoodgame.com. Other than that, you can vote for Darkwood on Steam Greenlight if you want it to get published there!

Thank you very much for talking to us!

Thanks very much for the interview! And remember kids, don’t do drugs!

You can see, and vote for, Darkwood on Steam Greenlight by clicking on THIS LINK. Here’s hoping that the group can live up to my expectations and deliver something truly incredible. But, from what I’ve seen so far, there doesn’t seem to be much danger there.