March 2021 Developer Diary


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Dear community,

It’s time for an update on Episode Four progress, which I’m sure is the topic at the top of all your minds right now.
 

Episode Four Progress

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The aurora illuminates Blackrock Penitentiary, Great Bear’s maximum security fortress and the main location in Episode Four.


We’re at the stage of episode development where I’ve been able to complete a couple of full run-throughs of the entire episode from start to finish. This is an important stage as it shows us what we have as a contiguous experience (this is different from how we build and test during development, which is often more in chunks that are out of order), and therefore highlights what is working and what isn’t. When you can experience the full flow of the episode from start to finish, you can get a sense of the overall pacing, the relationship between narrative and gameplay, clarity around objectives and motivations, peaks and troughs in the player’s activities, and generally a sense of how the whole thing fits together. 

This is the period of episode development where we usually change (or remove) things that aren’t working, and add moments or content here and there where we feel the experience needs to be shored up a bit. It might be something as minor as a single line of dialogue or editing some objective text, all the way to cutting a section of a mission or adding an entirely new piece of narrative (as we did throughout Episodes One and Two when we released the “Redux” versions in 2019). In the specific case of Episode Four, this includes adding a new section of gameplay and a new mechanic we’re experimenting with. It’s a bit late in the process to be doing this, but we just feel the episode needs a bit more of a “punch” in some areas so we’re testing things out to see how they feel, and hopeful that we can make it all work and feel intriguing.

In terms of overall progress, I can say that the episode environments themselves are mostly finished, apart from a few small areas that are getting completed right now. After that we’ll roll into the polish phase for environment content. All the cinematics are complete and have had multiple passes with full voice-over, so we’re now moving into the lighting phase on most of them, and audio (sound-effects and music) which is the last phase. We’re tightening up some objective text, adding collectibles here and there where they are needed, and layering some secondary “side mission” content to reward you players who like to explore off the beaten path a bit.

 

We met Mathis in Carter Dam at the end of Episode Two, when he threatened Mackenzie within an inch of his life. Things have not improved for Mackenzie since then.


The whole team has done a great job despite the challenges of COVID, but I’m particularly proud what the animation team has managed to pull off in Episode Four, despite not having access to our motion-capture equipment (due to COVID and it not being safe to travel to the studio). Instead, they used home-based capture suits and a lot of keyframed (i.e. hand-made) animation including for facial animation, which is a big departure from some of the time-saving tools and tech we were able to use for our Episode Three development. The narrative moments in Episode Four are some of the most complex we’ve produced yet in The Long Dark, many involving multiple characters with heavy acting beats, so seeing them turn out so well is a real testament to the team’s work ethic and creative problem-solving. We also hired our first lighting specialist at Hinterland for Episode Four, so you can expect the general quality of the lighting to improve significantly, both in terms of execution and how it’s used to highlight atmosphere and the sense of drama. 

We have at least a couple more months of production and then a testing and optimization phase, which could take a long time or be resolved quickly, depending on how things go. Being on the Switch now, and also continuing to support a low-spec on PC that goes back to our Early Access launch in 2014, means every major addition to the game introduces a lot of extra optimization and testing work. So, as per our usual studio policy with regards to release dates, I’m not going to guess at this point -- we’ll share a date when we are closer to launch. But, we’re in the final stretch now. You can expect a teaser trailer and a date announcement before we launch; we aren’t planning a surprise launch.

 

Just like everything in The Long Dark, there’s more to Blackrock than meets the eye.

 

What Comes Next?


With Episode Four development coming to a close, I’m finishing up the writing on Episode Five so the team can roll into that development. But, this also brings to mind a big question for Hinterland -- with the end of WINTERMUTE in sight, what comes next for The Long Dark, and for our studio?

This is obviously a lot on my mind lately, not only because I’ve been working on The Long Dark for nearly 8 years at this point, but because incubating new project ideas and building prototypes to prove those ideas is a time-consuming process. It’s important that these things have the space and resources they need in order to find success. The expectations around our work are a lot different in 2021 as compared to when we first launched The Long Dark in 2013. We’ve also learned a lot in the past years, become a stronger studio and better developers, and want to build more sophisticated and more meaningful experiences for our players. These things require time and resources.

One of the gifts of The Long Dark is just how expansive it has the potential to be. The world and gameplay systems themselves are highly extensible, although we have run up against some technical limitations going back to decisions we made in the early years of the project -- things we’d do differently if we were building something from scratch today, but things that we can’t really change at this point without tearing the entire game apart and rebuilding it. That would be time-consuming, expensive, and would delay a lot of other things we’d like to be doing.

We’ve been hearing a lot from our players that you would like to see more content beyond WINTERMUTE and the free Survival updates and events we produce a few times a year. Given that we’ve never charged for content beyond the purchase price of the game, our revenue has come entirely from new sales of The Long Dark. We’re really fortunate that the game still has a vibrant audience and continues to sell really well for us, allowing us to cover our costs and make a tidy profit which we pour back into the business. But in thinking about new projects and how we’d like to build them, and how important it is to maintain our independence and avoid putting ourselves in a financial position as a studio where we lose that independence, we have to start weighing the future of The Long Dark against the future of the studio.

To be clear -- we are 100% committed to shipping Episode Five for all our players, as part of your game purchase. That’s a promise we made back when we did our Kickstarter in 2013, and that’s a promise we will deliver on. What I’m talking about here is what comes *beyond* Episode Five. Since so much of what we’ve done as a studio has been informed by what you’ve told us about what you hope for the game, we’d love to hear from you. 

We’ve set up a simple survey that will give us some idea of what you’d like us to do with The Long Dark after we finish Episode Five. There are also questions about what you’d like to see us do with Survival Mode, which while it can always be improved, has technically been complete for a while now. Please take a few minutes to review the survey and share your thoughts so we can take them into consideration as we plan our future. We aren’t committing to anything beyond Episode Five, but depending on how passionately you want us to keep expanding The Long Dark, and provided we can make it work from a business perspective, we are open to considering a variety of things. We love The Long Dark as much as anyone, and would love to see it continue to grow and flourish into the future. For us, it’s more than a game. For me, I still want to push forward and show that Hinterland is the industry leader in creating thoughtful survival experiences.
 

Milestones


We don’t tend to focus too much on these things publicly, but I’m really proud of what the team has made and it’s not often you get to celebrate these achievements, so I just wanted to share with you the exciting news that sales of The Long Dark have now surpassed 5-million units, with another 3.5-million active players coming to us through Xbox GamePass and the Epic Game Store (through the free give-away there at Christmas), bringing the total to over 8.5-million players to date! 

That is a shocking number to me, when I think back to the humble origins of The Long Dark (which was then called, simply, “Survival Story”) back on a whiteboard in my basement home office years and years ago. One of the most exciting things about this number is how international our audience is! We’ve been humbled and amazed at how popular our little Canadian survival experience has resonated with players around the world. Thank you for your support over the years, and we look forward to continuing to deliver delightful experiences to you in The Long Dark, and hopefully in other games in the future! For us, there is a joy in exploration in its many facets, and we are excited to continue sharing this journey with you.
 

Onward!


In any case, it’s back to Episode Four reviews for me! I hope this developer diary has been informative and answered some of the questions you have about our progress, and we hope you like the teaser content we’ve shared here. Expect more news about Episode Four in the coming months including a teaser trailer, episode name, and a release date. And please take some time to respond to our “Future of The Long Dark” survey. While we’ll always make our own decisions about what is best for the game and our business, we love to hear from you and feel privileged to have your participation in this virtuous feedback circle.

Thanks for reading, and stay safe out there!

- Raphael

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Dear community, It’s time for an update on Episode Four progress, which I’m sure is the topic at the top of all your minds right now.   Episode Four Progress The aurora illuminate

Let’s stop arguing over font colours.    Also let’s try to be sensible when using colours and font sizes. Some emphasis is useful but don’t use them just to troll or be annoying.    Than

I'm now at pennies per hour played but there was no "I've received so much value I feel almost embarrassed for buying it on sale" option. 🤣

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Thanks so much for the update/dev diary! I know most people REALLY wanted one, myself included! :) 

13 minutes ago, Admin said:

The aurora illuminates Blackrock Penitentiary, Great Bear’s maximum security fortress and the main location in Episode Four.

 

Can't wait to explore this area/region as well! :) 

Edited by The Orange Birb
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The mathis exit clipp looks a little choppy in the character's movements, as in they wig around particularly with their arms in unnatural ways and the texture on the left pipe in the tunnel one seems off, but I can't put my finger on why.

 

    Aside from that I think that I speak for lots of us when I say that I would love to see another game in the same vein of the survival genera as the long dark. Especially one from Hinterland. I mean right now I'm seeing more and more games that are Long Dark "inspired" to put it lightly. In fact the long dark is doing the genre defining thing where a pretty good game that has a unique~ core experience gets a bunch of decent~ imitators. Then those clones start innovating again and then the first game becomes the  keystone of a genre.

Edited by RegentRelic
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I hope there will be Survival mode updates after Episode 4. Even more so I hope that region goes to survival mode as well.

I'm bit concerned with the overall "after Episode 4, we go Episode 5" without mentioning survival mode updates before Episode 5.

EDIT:

Personally, I believe Survival mode is not "technically completed". Mountain Lions / Cougars are missing. The wildlife's variety is very minimal, the AI is pretty basic, there are no NPCs, the variety on food items is also low, the gameplay mechanics are okay-ish and so on.
This is not meant to harshly criticize the devs, they did awesome job! But, I find it, in my opinion, bit concerning you call it complete when it probably isn't too complete. :P

I filled the survey. I hope the survival mode will be expanded beyond (and before) Episode 5 release!

Edited by thekillergreece
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Good to hear that the studio still pulls in enough money from game sales. I remember thinking in Dec 2018 after you doubled back to release Redux, that your morbid obsession with completing all 5 episodes (for free) to honor some long forgotten promise would be your undoing. Good to know I was wrong.

1 hour ago, Admin said:

 ...we have to start weighing the future of The Long Dark against the future of the studio.

Right.

 

This survey was well put-together, and I hope its very informative to you for your business decisions.

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I do believe The Long Dark Survival Mode could be tweaked and added to quite a bit, BUT I would prefer it to only be actual core system mechanics and/or A.I. changes/additions plus new regions.  Not crazy about cosmetics unless it helps round off the experience or is fun.

Now, an entire new sequel sounds like music to my ears!

What it comes down to for me is, I think the time spent tweaking and "dressing" The Long Dark with DLC is a great way not only to make money and make the current game better and more well rounded, but I believe that in doing so you will also be better prepared for creating the structure for a sequel once we all have all seriously confronted the game's ultimate limitations and exhausted over what works well and what needs to change.

What strikes me as the weakest parts which only a sequel could possibly address for Survival Mode is; better climbing/jumping, a greater more fleshed out progression system, late game or end game consideration, procedural generation implementation, changing seasons, farming, in depth hunting, trading hub... to state a few.

Thank you so much for inviting us to participate in the discussion and for listening to my thoughts.  I look forward to more The Long Dark in the future.  

 

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2 hours ago, Mistral said:

Really, really appreciate the update, for far future in particular.

Here's the link to the survey, since it doesn't appear to show up on the forum post
https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/thelongdark2021

I really welcome the survey's focus on Survival Mod.  Regarding DLCs, which I would gladly shell out $$$ for, the most powerful experience for a Survival Mod person is "WHERE THE F AM I??!?"  It's the biggest danger in the game.  Kills faster than Interloper or DeadMan.

While new Regions are great, a procedurally generated area would be ideal, even if 33% were unsurvivalable, and 33% were OP, the community would spread the seeds for the 33% "barely survivable", which would make the game perpetually challenging.

Don't know if this is mathematically possible, but it would be worth the cost of the original game to me.

That said, I would gladly plop down $$ for a DLC that gave me that moment of sheer terror in a game I've otherwise mastered.  The lack of a Map UI is the single best 'feature' of this game, other than permadeath.

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3 minutes ago, NardoLoopa said:

I really welcome the survey's focus on Survival Mod.  Regarding DLCs, which I would gladly shell out $$$ for, the most powerful experience for a Survival Mod person is "WHERE THE F AM I??!?"  It's the biggest danger in the game.  Kills faster than Interloper or DeadMan.

While new Regions are great, a procedurally generated area would be ideal, even if 33% were unsurvivalable, and 33% were OP, the community would spread the seeds for the 33% "barely survivable", which would make the game perpetually challenging.

Don't know if this is mathematically possible, but it would be worth the cost of the original game to me.

That said, I would gladly plop down $$ for a DLC that gave me that moment of sheer terror in a game I've otherwise mastered.  The lack of a Map UI is the single best 'feature' of this game, other than permadeath.

The survey was great!

In the Milton Mailbag the random map gen question has been answered in the past - #1 it can't be done with the way the environments are set up to be created and #2 they also like the handcrafted nature of the maps with recognizable landmarks and learning about the place.

That said I do like your sentiment and I share it.  Being lost and learning about the map is a great part of TLD that eventually you can't get back.  My favored mix would be some degree of set map (because I do like the sentiment of known landmarks from handcrafted maps and sometimes there's a sterility to total random gen) and some degree of randomization (for areas that need less of that personal touch to add zing).  I'm not sure if it's possible.

Anyhow, if this is a big aspect for you there's likely two paths for it, from the survey.  First is a whole new game that implements it, ie Long Dark 2 - those options in the survey.  That way the infrastructure would be set up to be able to do it.  The other option is likely these DLC/subscription of just adding new areas - either by permanent addition, which is probably more like DLC, or maybe the subscription model would have some sort of new area per season so you'd get a flow of unknown area.

Those are some things I would like.  I wouldn't mind some of the core systems or other additional gameplay items (new wildlife or temporary effects) adding to an unknown aspect.  It's quite fun to try to figure out things.  There would be some balance needed as always to not feel sideswiped by an unknown addition or randomness, but close to that edge is the intrigue of it, risk/reward, and adding to gameplay with the unknown.

Thanks TLD Team and Raph for a great Diary and Survey - look forward to Ep 4 and the future of both TLD and Hinterland.

 

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I'm generally not one for paid DLC in games, but I'll make an exception to this rule in this game. I don't mind paying a few dollars to get a new region to explore in survival mode. Ash Canyon alone was definitely worth an extra $5 Canadian if you ask me.

I generally am not a big fan of subscriptions, because I go through phases where I play a lot for a couple weeks, then much less to hardly at all for a few more weeks, then play a lot again... if I had to choose between subscriptions and DLC, I'd go with DLC. Personally, I agree with Raphael's mission: to develop the best survival game possible, and not to try and maximize profit for shareholders.

I personally think the decision whether or not to release DLC should depend on whether the game keeps attracting new players. If new players keep joining in sufficient numbers to keep Hinterland financially viable even well after Wintermute is finished, then the DLC issue may be non-existent. If existing players are willing to get merchandise/watch films related to the game (see my opinion on that later), then that would make DLC even less necessary for the studio's future.

Anyways, I'm looking forward to seeing what the game has to offer, both in episode 4, and in future survival mode updates. I can't wait to explore a new region, or to continue story mode. But you know what I'm most excited about? Watching my favourite gaming YouTuber, Paulsoaresjr, play Episode 4. He was the one who got me into the game, so big shout out to him.

As for other additions to survival mode? Aside from regions, more wildlife would be interesting. Raccoons that steal food left on the ground or in certain types of containers outdoors (you know they can open garbage cans and green compost bins...), but are prey to wolves, could spice things up a bit. TBH, it'd be cool if bears could break into some containers, too...

Oh, and yes, I would enjoy nothing more than a novel set in The Long Dark. Perhaps release it on audiobook too so I can listen to it while driving my (hopefully by this point) electric car?

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I'm kind of torn, Hinterland. I mean, part of me wants to see the whole island get mapped out for a truly massive survival sandbox, but at the same time there are some hard limits that I'd love to see fixed by creating a new version of the game. One of the truly brilliant parts of the TWM is that the hut is not an interior; having the entire game be like that would be truly excellent and something I'd totally be willing to pay real money for. I don't think the art style and maps would really need to change all that much, though I'd really love to see what could be accomplished with ray tracing in this game; the way light is used is so very very cool and I'd love to see it get the RT treatment, with full atmospheric light extinction it could be truly truly beautiful; see some of the work blackrack has done with scatterer (from Proland) in kerbal space program, for example; that coupled with ray traced light from the sun and moon etc with the massive landscapes you've built would be really beautiful, I reckon. Imagine looking down Mystery Lake during an aurora and seeing it reflected on the ice surface. Imagine having a fully seamless experience no matter where you go in the world, with no loading screens and the ability to always know the weather by looking out the window. So, new regions (sugar)? Or a new version (meat)? I'm torn.

I also would really like to see map making tools released; I think it would be amazing to let people try and make regions. I for one would dearly love to see a set of regions based on the Killarney region in Ontario, but I think it'd also be amazing to have something like TLD: Gros Morne. I'd go for it but my visual art skills are not what you call "the best".

You guys should also make a new story/IP; as a studio I think you very much need to consider diversifying; it'll be much better to get another successful world built for your long term prospects I'd think. Something completely different from TLD.

So yeah, if you guys can just keep expanding the current game (I'd really really love to see a mountain lion, deep game events like extra long blizzards and other things of that nature, and more regions), make some new related stuff (new engine with funky fun stuff for TLD 2, then after you release the Great Bear Island map use the reimplementation to build some new stories; for example, what happened in Vancouver after the first flare? Or Manicouagan?) and you know, get going on whatever the next set of stories you want to tell... I bet a near-future William Gibson-style cyberpunk Vancouver after global warming and some ten metres of sea level rise could make for some very very cool settings and environments to explore human nature in.

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Thank you for the update and for this great game! I filled out the survey, I hope that helps.

If I were to ask for one thing with the existing game, it would be for smoother, more natural animal animations - in particular the animations of the animals changing movement direction. A second thing would be that it would be nice (more immersive) to not have the transition screen when entering a building but I'm guessing that wouldn't be easy or perhaps even possible in the current game.

Let me preface this by stating that I love the unique art style of TLD. Having said that, I have to admit that I have pondered what a version of TLD (TLD 2) would be like with a realistic art style made with UE4 or whatever engine, the thought of that makes me drool a bit lol.

Thank you again and cheers!

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Always love your developer diaries. I know it's a question in the survey, but right now it's the main way I learn about game updates. Congrats on the staggering sales numbers, and continuing gratitude for making such a remarkable experience. I've bought the game several times over on different platforms and for friends. Looking forward to seeing what your studio will come up with next. Whatever it is, I'm in. Stay safe, and cheers from your less mature, more impulsive neighbor to the south. :D

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6. How would you rate the value you feel you have received from The Long Dark, based on your enjoyment of it and the price you paid?

I had to answer "I don't feel I have received good value. " because there was no answer that said "I don't know yet since the story mode isn't complete". That would be a better answer, but I guess as of yet I don't feel I have received good value since I haven't even played the story mode. Once that is done I will be able to answer the question.

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* 7. The Long Dark is currently priced at $29.99 USD (and scaled according to the power of local currency, so in some countries it is much less expensive). How do you feel about this price point?

On steam this is far, far, far too expensive for me. On GoG or some other DRM free service it's fine and I think(?) I did pay full price for it. However, since it's only on steam and maybe epic now my answer is "I would not pay full price for it. "

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* 16. If Hinterland continued to update The Long Dark after Episode Five ships, how would you prefer to support this ongoing development (understanding that it would not be done for free)?

This was hard to answer too. It's not that I wouldn't be interested in content that you COULD make, it's that I don't think you guys WOULD produce content I care about. Chances are I will not be spending any additional money on TLD. I would be much more likely to buy any new games you make. Of course, see #7 for how that will go.

Edited by odizzido
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This is so wonderful. Every line of this update is full of good news, interesting details & exciting teasers, I am super jazzed about episode 4!

Thank you so much for this update & your hard work. And for such an open peek at how the studio works, some of the decisions you all are tossing around & what goes into making this game.

The sales numbers are awesome & inspiring.

And omg Blackrock looks incredible.

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If any thought to new wildlife is in the works (hinted in the survey) let my vote be for some type of bird. I have enough four-legged 'friends' on the ground, it would be cool to be forced to look up more & put those gorgeous trees to more use.

(I want to shoot those crows lol.)

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23 minutes ago, odizzido said:

I had to answer "I don't feel I have received good value. " because there was no answer that said "I don't know yet since the story mode isn't complete". That would be a better answer, but I guess as of yet I don't feel I have received good value since I haven't even played the story mode. Once that is done I will be able to answer the question.

I'm now at pennies per hour played but there was no "I've received so much value I feel almost embarrassed for buying it on sale" option. 🤣

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2 minutes ago, Sherri said:

I'm now at pennies per hour played but there was no "I've received so much value I feel almost embarrassed for buying it on sale" option. 🤣

I am glad you're enjoying it. I hope I will too once the story is done, patched up, and will give me the best experience possible. I will dedicate a weekend to plowing through it in one go when it's time.

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Just now, odizzido said:

I am glad you're enjoying it. I hope I will too once the story is done, patched up, and will give me the best experience possible. I will dedicate a weekend to plowing through it in one go when it's time.

I was initially meh about Survival mode... but give it a try. The open world freedom to make your own story, is a full game itself. While you wait for the complete story.

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Just now, Sherri said:

I was initially meh about Survival mode... but give it a try. The open world freedom to make your own story, is a full game itself. While you wait for the complete story.

I fully intend to play the story mode. It's the main thing I want from the game. However I am old and patient. I enjoy story games the most when I can sit down and play the entire thing so that is what I am waiting for.

As to survival, I've tried it out. I find it's not challenging enough in the ways I like to be challenged to keep me interested. To me the long dark is at its best when you're fighting against the environment. I am not interested in the wolf thunderdome, I have STALKER: Anomaly which is vastly superior for fighting animals.

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Queria decir que los amo, y eso no estaba en las opciones de la encuesta jajajajaja

y tambien que me encantaria que la muerte permanente fuera opcional, entiendo la logica que se juega en morir y tener que comenzar realmente de cero, nos hac mas cuidadosos en nuestros pasos, frustra, enoja, decepciona pero siempre volvemos por más. Pero me gustaria que fuera opcional.  

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