HL Studio's Survey results from Twitter


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I took your survey yesterday and it must be said, I appreciate you being so direct about asking me what I am willing, and am not willing, to pay for.  Thank you.  I will not duplicate what was asked in that survey here beyond emphasizing that I hope that once The Long Dark is complete you focus your knowledge on making a new experience built on a more modern technological foundation.

I would like to offer some feedback about what I appreciate most in your current game.  Things I wish I could have said in the survey.  Perhaps it may be of use to you as you move forward.  Perhaps not.  I invite others to use this thread to offer similar thoughts;  What were you hoping you would get a chance to say when you started that survey?

The Long Dark has the potential to be a game with more respect for human dignity than any other.  More broadly, your game is respectful of the dignity in all things, not just humans. You’ve accomplished this by incorporating suffering and discomfort into the core mechanics of the game.  The player experience is largely a quest to avoid discomfort.  Also the player is actively penalized for inflicting suffering in the game; The gut shot deer that runs away hurts the player by wasting a bullet or arrow and making the meat exhausting or impossible to get.  A merely injured wolf is still a threat.  Through these mechanics the player is rewarded for going though the effort to kill the animal quickly and with a minimum of suffering. As an example, I find my self delaying hunting till my bow skill is leveled up some though reading and crafting.  The same is true for the pistol and rifle and their skill books.  And stalking close enough to get a proper point of aim is both an enjoyable challenge and a means of minimizing the suffering inflicted upon my prey. Thank you for that.

Most importantly, The Long Dark never forces the player to harm another human. As you go forward, please retain that.  This one choice sets your game above and beyond any other I have played.

While on the subject of dignity, it would be nice to be able to do something to cover or bury the bodies that are found in the game.  And while inspecting the bodies for items is logical, having the option of using them as containers afterwards should not be available.  Also, the way bodies are drawn in the newer maps is much more respectful than the cookie cutter repeats found elsewhere.  In Bleak Inlet and Ash Canyon each body is more or less unique and there are much less of them over all.  I think it well worth the extra system resources to continue that trend going forward.  If only I could cover them in stones.

The other concept that I want to communicate here is more difficult to articulate.  So rather than directly stating it, I am going to be a bit indirect.  It is based on real world experience in hiking. So forgive me if I take a moment to describe something unrelated to your game in it’s completion before I say how it could tie into your future work.

There is a mental tool I use when hiking in areas that have some vertical relief to them.  I pay attention to the way water would flow on the ground, and use that to keep track of where I am.  Water will always carve its own path to low ground, creating individual basins in the process.  So long as there is some vertical relief to the landscape these basins are not shared anywhere except their exit point.  Think of a river wandering though a hilly landscape.  That river carves its own basin.  Each stream leading into that river has its own basin, and each brook leading into those streams has its own unique basin so long as the land is not flat.  This pattern continues on for a while out into basins that are too small or too dry to support permanent surface water.  You can use this trend to keep track of where you are by being aware of which basin you are in and recognizing when and where you enter a new basin as you move.  When landscapes are viewed in this way it is easier to commit the general trend of the landscape to memory.  The shape of the land becomes tamable, and shrinks into something that can be held in the mind all at once.  

I think this trick might be useful to you, if applied in the context of procedural generation of landscapes in future projects.

One of the things I enjoyed most about The Long Dark was the exploration, and for the first few plays, being genuinely lost.  However, that experience is now unavailable to me.  I have memorized both the macro and micro terrain in all your maps…  sadly there are very few surprises left.  I don’t even bother to figure out which way is North or South, it’s all just memorized.  The pleasure of exploring is gone.  It makes me appreciate getting caught out in the fog, as it one of the few times I have wonder where things are in relation to each other.

I would not appreciate a game that is fully procedurally generated.  You have demonstrated far too much still in making your landscapes to contemplate abandoning that skill.  By all means, keep producing maps with well thought out landscapes, micro terrain, authored opportunities and threats.

What I think is that, in some future project set on Great Bear island or elsewhere, you could make a map that is composed of tiles of authored content scattered about in a procedurally generated mosaic.  And you could use the way water flows on the ground to give structure to that mosaic, keeping the procedural generation realistic and navigable to the player.  The procedurally generated portions of this map could be redrawn each “life” in survival game modes.  This would make loading a new game kind of time consuming, and each saved game would consume a massive amount of memory.  I think it would be worth it.  It would make the mapping tools you’ve developed worthwhile, and most importantly it would give players like me the feeling of exploring new ground.  Every time.

Imagine a playable space that is 100 units wide and deep.  Each 10 unit by 10 unit section is a "tile", equivalent in size to one of the larger sized maps in The Long Dark as it is now.  And if a 10x10 unit piece is a tile of authored content, then the 1x1 “chips” are spaces for procedurally generated landscapes.  If you don’t mind, I will use places from The Long Dark to illustrate this idea, since they are known to us both.  Somewhere on the perimeter of this 100x100 grid is a tile featuring the mouth of a river, “Delta” let's call it, where a big river empties into the ocean.  To the left and right of Delta, or the edge of the playable space, is at least 60 but no more than 200 units worth of coastline, with tiles like Costal Highway and Bleak Inlet offering authored experiences and resources in a otherwise procedurally generated coastline.  (Why the upper limit on the coastline?  To limit the number of outlets for flowing water on the map.  It might be easer to program and play if most water has to flow to Delta, and if there is coastline all around the map the resulting landscape would be rather unrealistic.)  Extending inland from Delta would be a river, and that river would wind across the 100x100 grid as it breaks up into smaller and smaller tributaries.  Each tile of authored content would then attach to that waterway. It will be necessary to keep in mind where the water flows out of each tile, as that point is where it anchors onto the grid.  The volume of water flowing out of a tile would also determine where in the waterway it is should be found.  A tile like Pleasant Valley, with its fairly large waterway, should be found directly off the main river.  A tile like Timberwolf Mountain, with its relatively tiny potential outlet for water (that currently “flows” into Ash Canyon) would be found on or just beyond one of the smaller tributaries.  The space in between tiles would be filled with procedurally generated content, gentile hills covered in forest would be easy on the programming and pleasant for the player.

Why use the way water would flow on the ground to guide the generation of this landscape?  Because it would most easily accommodate verticality in the playable space.  Roads could also be used, but they would be much more limiting in terms of verticality.  Both water and roads could also be used, but I would caution against that.  The more variables that need satisfaction in this system of equations the less number of potential solutions there will be.  And what to do about the edges of the map?  Good question.  Perhaps, upon stepping outside the boundary, the land outside of the playable grid goes black and white while the land inside retains its color, and a timer starts…  there are many options.

If each authored tile is about 10 by 10 units and you had 8 to 12 such tiles, you could get a playable space that is ten times bigger for (what I hope would be) slightly more programming work than would go into making those authored tiles.

The end result would be massive, but at least its creation can be broken up into discrete steps.  First the program choses a space on the perimeter to be Delta.  Then, using coastline themed tiles and chips the coast line is built on a portion of the grid’s perimeter.  Next, starting from the river’s entrance on Delta and using chip sized elements the river and its tributaries are drawn inwards and upwards in such a way that the remaining tiles have appropriate places to be attached.  Once the tiles are attached to the waterways the spaces in-between can be filled in with chip sized procedurally generated land.

The resulting player experience would be excellent, I think.  Each survival game would have its own unique landscape.  Even for experienced players, they would start a new game knowing that Tiles would be out there, somewhere, that would offer known resources, advantages and micro terrain.  But in-between those somewheres and here is an expanse of unknown.  The mapping tool in the game would become essential for long term survival.  But more importantly players would have the opportunity to explore, and in the process of they would have to pay attention to the land, to the rising and the setting of the sun, to themselves, and pay attention to movement of water.


That is a game I would pay for.

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I just made an account to come drop some more feedback from the survey -- thanks for starting a thread.  I love the ideas you've laid out here!

A couple of notes up front: first, I've lurked here from time to time but even though I've been playing since Early Access, I haven't been an active contributor to the community.  There's a very good chance that a lot of what I'm going to say has already been said and maybe dismissed.  Sorry if there's any duplication.

Second, The Long Dark is my favourite game of all time.  I've been playing steadily for years and years.  I always sign up to the Steam awards specifically to vote TLD up for the Labour of Love award, because I actually feel bad every time new content comes out and I've still only ever given Hinterland some pocket change almost a decade ago.  I'm the weirdo that's refreshing the merch page until the coffee mugs come back in the store.  (Seriously, start a kickstarter for sweeping the floor, whatever -- I easily owe you a few hundred bucks at this point!)  So although I have a couple of critical things to say here, I hope it's all taken in the right context.  I love this game and have immense respect for the development team.  

I ranked my choices (1) The Long Dark 2; (2) Co-Op TLD; (3) Remastered TLD; (4) TLD VR; (5) Merch; (6) Everything else.

So I guess I'll ramble a bit about why I went that way, and hopefully there's a thought or two in here that's of some use.

1) The Long Dark 2

Easy enough, I want more of my favourite game.  I'd absolutely love to see where Raph and the team feel they've learned fundamental lessons and what kind of experience that would translate into.  Shut all the way up and take all of my money.

I'd also ranked the personalization of the base and the placement of new structures (drying racks, storage, etc.) highly.  Considering how well the game conveys raw human needs and psychological effects --- hunger, pain, cabin fever --- it remains strange (but completely understandable on a technical level) that other basic human instincts have been entirely skipped.  I wouldn't normally live next to a corpse.  If I was living in a farmhouse I'd pick up an overturned chair. 

I love base-building games and have hundreds of hours in them, but I don't think that would be a productive path forward for TLD.  The snow shelters are the right idea; realistically there's no reason not to just convert a properly insulated shelter, but you could certainly make that process a lot more engaging.  Hinterland could save a lot of time and energy sorting out architectural structures that everyone else has to devise and just focus on internal decor.  If there was to be any kind of base-building mechanism in TLD2, it should be punishing, taking days to put together something even moderately windproof.

I'd also like to echo the post above, I love the idea of a hybrid procedurally generated/planned landscape.  The game communicates so much of its story through its landscape and regulates its challenges through space that I would still want the majority of the landscape to be fixed; but there's no reason why, say, everything north of the Logging Camp in Mystery Lake couldn't be procedurally generated, maybe with a rare cave spawn or a randomly placed ranger corpse -- kind of the same way the prepper caches work.  The fixed elements enable ambient storytelling and allows us to improve as players and communicate as a community, while the procedurally generated elements would also keep each game a bit fresh while increasing challenge and replay value.

2) Untitled Co-Op Game

I think the Long Dark 2 and Co-Op The Long Dark have to be separate games.  The Co-Op game might need to be a separate franchise just to underscore that very little about the two games will be the same other than the underlying survival themes.

I think it's fairly resolved now that you can't just port TLD over into a co-op game.  It's not just the time mechanics; a game that is invested so heavily in ambience and environment, in non-verbal storytelling and individual risk assessment just isn't amenable to playing online with Boobman144 squatting up and down on your roof and dropping off a bag of 40 rifles to get you started, or chatting with your friends on a private server, ice fishing and complaining about work on Discord.  I might be a casual gamer now -- I've had a couple of kids since early access -- but TLD isn't a casual game.  It's a mood and a challenge, and both will be compromised if its envelope is pierced.

That said, I really really want to play this game cooperatively, knowing that it won't and shouldn't be the same kind of experience.  I've tried every survival and base-building game out there -- I've got 200 hours into Conan: Exiles just for the architecture, ugh, I know, please pray for me -- and no one is doing what TLD is doing.  There's always a catch ruining the prospects of a multiplayer game.  How often have you been on Steam looking through the Survival tag and just muttering to yourself, "ugh, zombies... zombies... PvP... rocketships... zombies... zombies..."  No one seems to have learned from the success of TLD that there's an appetite for a pure PvE survival experience that embraces the difficulty and pacing of actual wilderness experiences.  Life is actually hard.  There don't need to be pterodactyls.

I think Hinterland is best-placed in the market to put together a truly challenging, artistically compelling co-op wilderness survival game.  Something with experiences and scenarios that could range from trying to make it as the three badly injured survivors of an arctic plane crash (imagine manipulating microphone audio to reflect distance and weather effects!) to setting up a homestead, to just virtual camping online.  I'd absolutely buy that as a separate game.  But I just don't think there's any way to reconcile that game, which I extremely want to play, with any of the mechanics that make The Long Dark what it is.

3) Remastered TLD

I hesitated on this one.  I would love to see a remastered game, but the brilliant art direction is the heart and soul of The Long Dark.  Hinterland seems to have learned the lesson Blizzard learned ages ago when it overthrew Everquest to create the biggest MMO of all time.  Realism is a red herring; there's always going to be a more beautiful game as technology advances, but there's an uncanny valley to master, you're never going to be seamless and there's no point in trying. 

There are dozens of survival games out their doing their best to provide the most "realistic" experience, and none of them feels as true to life as TLD, the least "realistic" of all, because you get distracted by lousy shadows, pixellated blowing grass or square tree leaves.  Your axe never quite makes "correct" contact with a tree; there are 20 animations for breaking stones and eventually you've seen all of them.  Realism shouldn't be the goal; a coherent and beautiful environment should be.  This game is eight years old and it looks better and is more enjoyable to explore than any new entry on the market.  I don't think Hinterland is about to fall into that trap, so I ranked this fairly high.  I'd like to see what they come up with as "improvements" in the context of their own established motif and artistic vision.


If anything ever makes me buy a VR setup, I guess this would be it!

5) Merch

I'd love to see the merch options extended.  In-world clothing and kitchen items are great.  I want an atlas!

6) Everything Else

This is where the tough love might have to come in.  As much as I love the game, I'm not planning to take in any other TLD media: novels, TV shows, audiobooks, comic books.  Not that I wouldn't be interested; I'm a huge reader.  But I'm sorry, guys, the writing is not good.  It was atrocious, now it's been upgraded to okay.  And it kills me to say it -- it's my favourite game and the direction and cinematography are solid and the casting and voice acting are both phenomenal -- but although the atmosphere is dead-on, writing is a craft and you need to hire professionals to put a compelling product together.   I love RPGs and I'm the kind of guy that exhausts every dialogue option, but every time I try to play Wintermute I just ask myself why I'm not back in Survival Mode.  Until that part of the game is internally compelling, I'm not going to look to get into more of it.

I think the root of the problem is predominantly stylistic.  The allusive, elliptical, mid-90s Vertigo comic style dialogue is just fundamentally unsuited to the kind of game The Long Dark is.  No one seems to be able to package a subject and predicate in the same utterance, let alone convey a full and productive declarative thought.  People have secrets when they shouldn't. They don't connect with each other when the plot compels them to do so, for reasons that are often left unclear.  Conversations take three times longer than they should so that the characters can sound cool; and no one develops effectively as a character because the depth of their interiority is sacrificed for ambience. 

It's the kind of dialogue you see in a grad school creative writing class -- being vague and mysterious isn't eerie and auteur-like; it's annoying and unrealistic.  There's a great analogy to Lovecraftian fiction here; the plot and environment might be so compelling that you gain a mortally dedicated cult following, but the fact is no one talks like that and it starts to grate on an audience that correctly assesses that if they really were this character they could be moving the plot along much more efficiently.  As a player, you feel held back by the script.  A vague allusion to something menacing is an accent pillow.  It can't be the bricks and mortar of a story.

There's a reason why Hemingway did so well with plots involving man versus nature.  The prose is bare and direct.  Sentences are short.  Look, he just needs to get that fish in the boat and the fish isn't getting in the boat.  You can build a deeply compelling, historically brilliant story about that without adding anything more, as long as you tell that story as effectively as you can. Struggling against nature is a journey into oneself.  There's a reason why we all eventually end up shutting up and just staring into the campfire.  Hinterland is the only studio positioned to tell that story in this medium.

There's no artifice in The Long Dark.  That wolf is going to bite you and you're going to bleed to death.  You are lost.  There is no water and you cannot get any.  Those imperatives are so elegantly expressed in every other aspect of the game, and communicated with such clarity and immediacy that layering on multiple levels of human subterfuge is incongruous.  Both sides of the story pull away from each other. The contemplative survival experience feels like wasting time in the context of Story Mode; there's suddenly a clock on it.  And the story mode draws away from the narrative that develops naturally as an infection stands between you and the survival objectives you have in mind.  (That's also why I voted against a blended story/survival game.  The story survives to the extent it does because the survival mode is a masterpiece.  Blending the two would just sully your competitive advantage in being the sole studio on top of a growing genre.)

There's certainly room for a Story Mode to add a lot to the game as a separate experience, but Hinterland should look to where your storytelling has been overwhelmingly successful -- in the visuals, in the art direction, in the natural plot elements of hardship and in the delicate balance of the mechanics of need versus capacity.  The party decorations at Mystery Lake, the animal behaviour during the aurora, the placement of bodies and the fact that the post office has been picked through.  The fact that you'll never make it to the lodge if it's noon and you're already half-frozen.  That's your story.  In the right hands, with the right story editor, there could be a spare, subtle narrative like nothing else in the medium.  

If you're going to go on with a Story Mode and look into more narrative outlets, I respectfully suggest you're going to want to bring on new writing talent because absolutely everything else is there.  You'll always have business from us, but I don't know if you're going to grow your audience with similar narratives.  40% of your proposed future projects are really not playing to your considerable strengths, and we all want to see you guys succeed.

New TLD Content

I don't have any rational basis for saying this, but I'd prefer the yearly pass option or one-off DLC options for new content because I'm sick of monthly subscriptions to things.  I like getting excited for something substantial and dropping a reasonable amount of cash to get into it.  I think Hinterland might have left a bunch of money on the table over the last few years -- who wouldn't have paid $5 per new map? -- so I think there's a lot of residual goodwill out there from players that would be happy to chip in for new content after receiving the kind of value we have so far.

That said, I wouldn't be a big fan of the in-game store; it really distracts from the game experience.  I put a bunch of time into Fallout 76 and not only is the ambience basically shot, in order to drive profitability there's a strong incentive to just keep dumping junk for us to keep up with until it begins to dwarf the actual game content.  No, thanks.  You guys are great at meaningful updates -- just let us pay you for them more often!  We can see the connection between we pay, you hire more staff, more stuff comes out for our favourite game faster.  We want to help that along!

Hopefully there's something useful in there -- the idea of a sequel would be incredibly exciting news!

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Greatwisebob, what you said about " Life is actually hard.  There don't need to be pterodactyls."  gave me quite a laugh.   I agree entirely, and thank you for saying it in such a succinct way.  A few years ago there was a group of guys at work who were trying to get me in on their group in Arc Survival, and that comment reminded me of them.  (By the way, I never thought of that game as interesting, too fantastic for my taste.) Three years ago might as well be a decade, with all thats happened, and the memories were welcome.  

Re-Reading my post now makes me realize I should have sat on it a while longer.  There is something I should have said:  "...When landscapes are viewed in this way it is easier to commit the general trend of the landscape to memory.  The shape of the land becomes tamable, and shrinks into something that can be held in the mind all at once.  The more empirical method of distance and direction based reckoning can them be projected on to this mental image.  Changes in the slope of the ground  while in route can then be just as useful a terrain feature as a hilltop or other landmark, if you are in the habit of paying attention to that sort of thing." 

This extra bit of information has nothing to do with the game as is, or with what the successor of TLD could be.  It just needed to be said is all.

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On 4/6/2021 at 1:31 PM, Dum_Gen said:

All in all, I hope this survey won't be used without consideration of survivorship bias.

It is quite obvious, that in majority, big TLD fans (some even purchased the game 2 or 3 times) participated in the survey. Meanwhile only miniscule part of people(those 2%), who were dissatisfied with the experience, even bothered to submit their answers or even noticed the questionaire.

For instance, according to Steam achievements stats, only around 20% lived through 10 days mark in a survival game and less than 5% on players finished ep.3. Therefore, IMO it will be safe to assume, that none of those 80% participated in the survey.

As a result, HL should carefully consider how helpful will the survey results be in prediction of expectations of much broader audience, who did not return to play the game longer than a few hours. I have some doubts that they will be eager to purchase a DLC or even a sequel without noticable improvements. I hope the devs will notice actually critical areas and will not try to add aircraft armor where it is not necessary.

Yup, I can't remember if I mentioned that here or just thought about it but that's totally correct.

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