April Developer Diary


Admin
 Share

Recommended Posts

2115167616_DevDiaryApr2022-SteamLibrarySpotlight2108x460.thumb.png.f4a2a479e399a3c943efc77fd2b5fce3.png

 

April Developer Diary -- The Future of The Long Dark

In a couple of months, it’ll have been ten years since I submitted the incorporation documents for Hinterland Studio Inc. and the company became a real business. I guess that milestone has me in a pretty pensive mood as I write this.

Ten years is a good amount of time for a game company to exist. I look back at photos of my basement home-office, to the various studio spaces we’ve grown into and then outgrown, to now looking around at my non-basement home office and big screens with 60+ people Zoom calls, and I reflect back on the journey that has gotten us to this point.

I look at the mix of faces I see looking back at me on that screen during our team Town Hall meetings. All kinds of different people with all kinds of different backgrounds. Every one of them a wonderful human being who is putting their heart and soul into Hinterland, to help create experiences for you, our players, and, in our own way, trying to shift the medium a little more towards thoughtfulness. 

A ten-year anniversary seems like the right moment to talk about the future.

What’s Next for The Long Dark

For those of you who know your TLD (and Hinterland) history, you may recall we announced The Long Dark with a Kickstarter (one of the first to use CAD!) in the fall of 2013, and followed up with a Steam Early Access launch of our “sandbox mode” in September 2014. For the next few years, we continued to expand and evolve the “sandbox” portion of the game (adding Xbox via Game Preview in 2015) while we also slowly built out the first parts of WINTERMUTE, our story mode. We launched our TLD 1.0 with Episodes One and Two of WINTERMUTE in August 2017 (adding PlayStation), then re-released the “Redux” versions at the end of 2018, followed by Episode Three in 2019, Switch in 2020, and Episode Four in October of last year. In between, we continued to update the “sandbox” portion of the game, which we renamed to Survival Mode. Somehow, along the way, we managed to build a community of nearly 10-million players. Without you, The Long Dark, and Hinterland, would very likely not be here today.

When we launched our Kickstarter back in 2013, I promised that all backers would receive the five planned episodes of our story mode for the backing price, a promise we carried over to our Early Access and Game Preview backers. Meanwhile, our plan was to incrementally update the game’s foundational Survival Mode and align those updates (generally) with features and content we knew we wanted to include in later episodes (sometimes we did the opposite and introduced new features or content into Episodes which later found their way into Survival), and to keep players engaged in between the episodes. But this early 2013 backer promise meant that we have updated the game “for free” ever since we launched it, despite the fact that the game’s scope grew with its success and each episode represented a lot more effort and time than we had originally intended. (Keep in mind that our plan for TLD with the Kickstarter was a ~10-hour narrative-driven survival game and no freeform sandbox. Now, each of our episodes can be longer than 10 hours and the sandbox is now one of the biggest available within the entire genre of open-world games.)

Aside from the fact that it’s important to live up to your promises, I think this “free updates” paradigm has resulted in a lot of good will with you, our players, and has hopefully strengthened our relationship and your loyalty to us as a team and studio. So, we’re really happy about this initial promise and we’re happy to have been able to go above and beyond to deliver on this over the past several years.

But it hasn’t been easy. One of the challenges of supporting both Survival and Story modes in The Long Dark has always been managing our resources to sustain both. Delivering WINTERMUTE was a promise, an obligation, but continuing to support Survival Mode was a choice. We did it to ensure our Survival players didn’t feel neglected while we worked on the story episodes, but as a result, some of the “magic” that drove the early years of The Long Dark’s success, and the growth of the game and the community, was lost. We weren’t able to update Survival as frequently, as our studio focus was necessarily split between both modes, and these frequent updates were a big part of what helped the game take off. 

Last year we ran a community poll, asking how you would like us to dedicate our focus for the future of The Long Dark. Amongst other bits of useful feedback, we discovered that nearly 80% of you wanted us to begin producing paid expansion content for Survival Mode. We’ve always felt fortunate that there’s been a core group of you that have been asking us to start charging for content for a while now, but this was the strongest indication of what our players wanted us to prioritize for The Long Dark.

Unfortunately, updating Survival mode with paid DLC is not that simple. Due to the decisions we made early in the project’s inception, the game’s survival foundation has been inextricably linked to the story mode, and the story mode has been completely dependent on the core survival game. This has meant that over time, as the game has increased in scope and complexity, with new mechanics, new regions, new challenges, and new episodes, the game has become...unwieldy. Every update requires the entire game to be re-tested. Systems, content, and code have their roots deep into both parts of the game. Our testing times have gone from maybe a week per update (in the project’s early years), to more than a month per update. The deep interrelationship between mechanics and content between the two “modes” has also meant some updates we would have liked to make in one area, couldn’t really be done because of how they might impact the other. In short, the game has just become too big for us to maintain well.

To address this, the team has been hard at work since we launched Episode Four, to decouple Survival and Story from each other. It’s been a huge amount of work, involving careful separation of content but in some cases also the wholesale refactoring of code and entire systems. The good news is that we are now at the point where Survival Mode runs as a standalone experience, with no linkage back to Story mode. What this means is that we can now update Survival independently of Story. Updating will be easier, and faster. Testing will be simpler and more streamlined. And it means we can make changes and improvements specifically for Survival, without any concern about how they might impact WINTERMUTE.

The opposite will also soon be true. The WINTERMUTE episodes will be completely separated from Survival, and when we update to Episode Five, we’ll be able to do that without concern for how it might impact (or be impacted) by Survival. This also means that the WINTERMUTE episodes can potentially receive targeted updates without concern for how those changes might impact Survival Mode.

This process has been a ton of work for the team, and unfortunately it’s all behind-the-scenes work to the extent that you are probably asking yourself “but how does this impact me?” 

Well, how it impacts you is that the split opens the door to a whole new era of Survival Mode content updates that will bring new life and new energy back into The Long Dark. It doesn’t change anything about content you already own, and everyone who owns The Long Dark (on all our supported platforms) will still get Episode Five when it releases.

And this split means we can finally deliver on your request that we start producing paid content for Survival Mode. So that’s what we’re doing. 

Later this year, we’ll be launching a paid update path for Survival Mode. This will be the first paid content we’ve added to The Long Dark (apart from our soundtracks) since we launched it nearly 8 years ago. We’re still working through the details of the roadmap and our release plans, but I can tell you this much with a high degree of confidence:

  • It’ll be some kind of “season pass”-type approach (actual name TBD), where we have a ~15-18 month campaign of updates that unlock for anyone who has purchased the pass. The updates will come on a regular cadence over the course of that period.
  • The pass will include a combination of content and gameplay system updates, including new regions, new challenges, new mechanics, etc., as well as general improvements and updates to core systems in the game.
  • Additionally, for anyone who doesn’t like the season pass style approach and prefers to only pay for content when it’s complete, we will re-package the season’s content into 3-4 individual paid DLC packages.
  • We’re still working on pricing, but the season pass will provide a discount on the combined price of the DLC, and each piece of paid DLC will be very fairly priced.
  • We want to make sure our existing players who choose not to buy any more content (or are unable to afford it) are still going to have a great experience of The Long Dark, and won’t feel left behind. So we’ll also continue to provide some free updates to the base Survival game, so anyone who doesn’t buy the pass will get something. These updates will generally be smaller, more modest improvements compared to what you will see being added to the paid content stream, which seems only fair. 

I know that this is a big departure from our history of releasing major updates for free as part of the base price of the game, but we feel that after nearly 8 years of content updates it’s time for us to put a little more attention around ensuring the game continues to be financially self-sustaining, and the kinds of major improvements and content we want to add to Survival Mode are significant enough and require enough team effort that we just can’t justify giving them away for free anymore. We want to ensure The Long Dark can continue to be a vibrant game with a vibrant community, and we think this is a necessary and logical step to supporting that goal well into the future.

We also hope that our three-tiered approach will ensure that everyone can get something regardless of their financial circumstances or their comfort level with “season pass” type solutions. In a way, we see the paid stream almost behaving like a second Early Access, not in the sense that the content isn’t polished, but that it brings us back to a cadence of more frequent updates and faster evolution of the base game, without some of the constraints we’ve been fighting with for the past few years.

We’ll release more information about our plans, and provide some visuals to help communicate our planned roadmap and a simple product matrix well before we launch. There will also likely be a short pre-order period for the pass, on the platforms where such a thing is possible. Currently, we are targeting a launch of the paid stream for the second half of this year.

Leadership Changes

The Long Dark has sustained Hinterland for nearly a decade. I’ve worked on it for nearly a decade. Just like it’s time for the game to turn to new things, it’s time for me to do the same.

I’m handing leadership of The Long Dark to Katie Sorrell, who takes over as Project Lead. Katie is no stranger to TLD or Great Bear Island, having personally designed every region from Pleasant Valley onwards, and having led the development of all our WINTERMUTE episodes as Lead Designer. Not only is Katie a 30-year game design veteran, but she’s been my close design collaborator for the past seven years, and I can’t think of anyone more qualified, or more suited, to take The Long Dark into the future. I feel so fortunate to have such a strong partner in this game, and so grateful that under Katie’s leadership, The Long Dark will continue to thrive well into the future. Katie is supported by a fantastic team of leaders and creators on the team across all disciplines, many of whom have also worked on The Long Dark for years, and I know that under her leadership and their steadfast support, The Long Dark is stepping into a new era of exciting growth and innovation.

As for me -- it’s time to move on to new things. I’ve put more years into TLD than I initially expected, and while I love the game, its world, and its fans (and it will always occupy a special place in my heart), I need to flex my directing, design, and writing muscles by solving some new creative challenges for Hinterland. It’s time to create something new.

My final hands-on contribution to The Long Dark is the script for Episode Five, where the WINTERMUTE story is brought to its conclusion. Beyond that, I’m heading into a quiet, and hopefully fruitful, creative period so that I can attempt to come up with something that has even greater longevity and impact that The Long Dark has had on you and all of us during these past years. It will be difficult. I hope you will be there to see the results when I’m able to share more.

I promise this is not the beginning of the end, but the end of the beginning.

Despite this shift in leadership for TLD, I remain the creative director at the studio and I will always have a hand in reviewing and guiding the experiences we make, so this doesn’t mean I won’t still look at every bit of The Long Dark that goes out the door to you. It just means I won’t be driving it in the hands-on way I have been over the past several years. And I think this will be good for the game, good for the team, and allow Hinterland to evolve into a multi-project studio that can thrive and impact the medium positively well into the future.

I now turn my thoughts to new horizons, and the next Hinterland decade. Thank you for all the incredible years you have given me, and us, so far. And I hope that I, and the entire team at Hinterland, can continue to count on your support and your fandom, in all the current and future worlds and experiences we create for you.

In the next dev diary, we’ll share more details about our plans for the Survival Mode paid stream. Episode Five is also still firmly on our radar; I currently anticipate a 2023 release, but we won’t have much to say about that for the rest of this year. There’s a lot of story to tell, and a lot of threads to tidy up, before we close the chapter on the epic survival journey of Mackenzie, Astrid, and the other survivors of the Quiet Apocalypse.

Thanks for reading, and until next time, stay safe and see you out there in the snowy wilds of Great Bear Island, where I will be wandering, thinking, and looking to the future.

 

- Raph

dev-diary-april-2022-end-of-post.thumb.png.b7aa2b09bd684ffe098c02847621b1c6.png

 

Edit: Thank you for the feedback and response to this Diary. The term "Season Pass" is causing some confusion, and we are working on a more accurate name that properly encompasses the nature and spirit of our new update and DLC system. Some important things to note are:

  • You will not lose content you already own.
  • DLCs will not be mandatory.
  • We will release more information before changes roll out.

We appreciate your patience and support. Thank you for your comments and feedback.

  • Upvote 6
  • Like 32
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Great news on the dlcs . Looking forward to episode 5 when it comes out too!  This game has been a blessing  to many people and bought me joy ,peace and endless hours of beauty and entertainment so I thank you all for your hard work and dedication .  

Edited by Leeanda
  • Upvote 3
  • Like 5
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I am new to the TLD world. I will tell you, I was addicted the first life I played and died in. The same day. LOL. My last game was 128 days. Unfortunately, after I died my PS4 blue screened and corrupted all my data. I think your next venture will be just as phenomenonal. Thank you so much. This Grandma can play all day.

 
  • Upvote 4
  • Like 5
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I don't know if anyone is bummed about the idea of paid Survival Mode updates, but I have gotten SO much out of this game over the past many years for such a tiny initial investment. I'm just happy that Survival Mode updates will keep happening, and I hope the season pass/DLC bundles will help to keep TLD fresh for a long time. Truly the best game I have ever played, hands down. 🥳

  • Upvote 5
  • Like 4
Link to comment
Share on other sites

honestly....just take my money now... there is no gaming experience like Great Bear in winter

hell I would pay just to be able to hang stuff up like in the rail car pic. (console)

  • Upvote 3
  • Like 3
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thank you Raph, I think you are ready to take on another groundbreaking project for the good of your team and the community.

This game has helped make me who I am today, get me to today, and for that I can't be grateful enough.

This "Second Early Access" excites me really! Combined with mod support I think this is an excellent way to solidify The Long Dark's legacy on the gaming medium. 

It's time to begin a new run armed with what's been learned from the previous. 

  • Upvote 2
  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thank you for the update, Raph!

If I may make a humble suggestion, I think a lot of players would appreciate if the new lead, Katie (I hope it's fine to use her first name like this), would post some sort of introductory post of her own, perhaps sharing a bit of her vision for the game?

The decoupling of Story and Survival is a great decision and as far as I'm concerned, with over 1000 hours of entertainment for the measly price of 7 dollars during Christmas Holiday 2015, I fully support the idea to charge a reasonable price for future updates.

  • Upvote 6
  • Like 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

If Katie can design great regions, I can't see why she won't do just fine leading The Long Dark. Seriously, it still amazes me how impressive her work was with the Hushed River Valley -- it is a very impressive use of level design that I really haven't seen in many other games. Ash Canyon is nice too, but I just wish it wasn't so... well, burnt. Makes it a little depressing :(

Can't wait to see what new project Raph has coming down the pike. I bet it's going to be amazing though!

  • Upvote 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'm a middle aged woman who is a very casual gamer.  Just a regular desktop, not set up for gaming.  Stuck at home during the fall of the pandemic in 2020, I was bored and looking for something interesting.  Found The Long Dark.  I loved it!  I do have a family and play very intermittently, sometimes going many months before I'm able to pick the game back up.  But I have always returned to it.  I'm not a power player on Interloper and prefer the more simple exploration level of play.  I love that TLD supports all different types of play styles.  There are so many wonderful options.  Thank you for making this game accessible to us folk that are more casual, and/or prefer the exploration aspect, and not up to playing the difficulty of Interloper.  Based on my sporadic game playing, I wouldn't be a candidate for a season pass, but I would continue to support TLD and Hinterland with purchasing updates in finished packs.  For the $32 I originally paid for TLD, it has been worth every penny and then some.  Looking forward to Episode 5, but it's bittersweet with knowing the story of Wintermute will be over.

  • Upvote 4
  • Like 6
Link to comment
Share on other sites

59 minutes ago, Alcator said:

Thank you for the update, Raph!

If I may make a humble suggestion, I think a lot of players would appreciate if the new lead, Katie (I hope it's fine to use her first name like this), would post some sort of introductory post of her own, perhaps sharing a bit of her vision for the game?

The decoupling of Story and Survival is a great decision and as far as I'm concerned, with over 1000 hours of entertainment for the measly price of 7 dollars during Christmas Holiday 2015, I fully support the idea to charge a reasonable price for future updates.

Yeah, same here. It´s ridiculous how much money I paid compared to the hours I played this game. I just can´t wait to see more content for survival mode and you deserve to be paid. :) tbh: JUST TAKE MY MONEY ;)

  • Upvote 5
  • Like 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thank you and your team for all of your incredible hard work!  Part of why I (and many TLD fans) love this game is the great thought and care you put into both the content itself and how to provide it to us.  I know many of us will be more than willing to pay for a season pass or DLC and are excited for more new horizons in the game!  And thank you personally Raph for all your creativity - wishing you a fruitful, fun, and productive beginning to your next journey! 

  • Upvote 1
  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thank you for all your kind words, your feedback, and your support. Keep it coming -- we read and appreciate all your comments. We're very excited to share the future of The Long Dark with you. 

  • Upvote 3
  • Like 9
Link to comment
Share on other sites

"It’ll be some kind of “season pass”-type approach (actual name TBD), where we have a ~15-18 month campaign of updates that unlock for anyone who has purchased the pass. The updates will come on a regular cadence over the course of that period. "

I personally hate this so much. I just want to be able to buy something and then have it unlocked forever, not have it be taken away if I decide to stop paying. Who the hell voted for this??

Link to comment
Share on other sites

They addressed that in the DLC option instead, so there are multiple ways to get the content.  Unfortunately no option will be perfect for everyone but it sounds like they are trying to make it as reasonable as possible.

5 minutes ago, JaySovereign said:

"It’ll be some kind of “season pass”-type approach (actual name TBD), where we have a ~15-18 month campaign of updates that unlock for anyone who has purchased the pass. The updates will come on a regular cadence over the course of that period. "

I personally hate this so much. I just want to be able to buy something and then have it unlocked forever, not have it be taken away if I decide to stop paying. Who the hell voted for this??

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Sounds good, Raph! I was one of the guys who voted for paid DLC updates. I feel kinda guilty for having over 2200 good gaming hours for only 15 bucks.  I'll be in line for the pre-order for the seasons. Still hoping for a co-op mode in the future, but still the best value for my gaming dollars. Really interested to see what you come up with next.

  • Upvote 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

2 hours ago, JaySovereign said:

"It’ll be some kind of “season pass”-type approach (actual name TBD), where we have a ~15-18 month campaign of updates that unlock for anyone who has purchased the pass. The updates will come on a regular cadence over the course of that period. "

I personally hate this so much. I just want to be able to buy something and then have it unlocked forever, not have it be taken away if I decide to stop paying. Who the hell voted for this??

Thanks for sharing your concerns. We have no plans to remove content for people who have bought it. While some season passes take this approach, that's not our plan nor our intent.

Additionally, we want to emphasize this bullet: 

  • We want to make sure our existing players who choose not to buy any more content (or are unable to afford it) are still going to have a great experience of The Long Dark, and won’t feel left behind. So we’ll also continue to provide some free updates to the base Survival game, so anyone who doesn’t buy the pass will get something. These updates will generally be smaller, more modest improvements compared to what you will see being added to the paid content stream, which seems only fair. 

We look forward to bringing you more great content in the future in a way that is sustainable and meaningful. 

  • Upvote 3
  • Like 6
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Amazing news. Dunno, I've been advocating for paid content since.... pretty much I am on these forums. Great to finally see it come to fruition. While 10 million players means that the company probably really isn't in any danger of going out of business anytime soon, a smart Canadian person recently told me (and it's fascinating that this was such an eyeopener for me) that doing something nobody would be willing to pay for isn't worth doing in the first place, and that having financial gain from something worth doing only means you can do more and better of it.

Interesting to hear about the change in project leadership. Sure, new leadership always means things change, but that also means they might change for the better. And I can understand and feel why after 10 years in a project the eyes are drawn to the horizon, wanting to do new things, explore what else is "in it" for one. I'm running my current project bordering a decade myself, and I can very much feel the impulse to see what else is out there. All the best for those new projects to come.

Finally: over the years I've stumbled across confusion with the term "season pass" again and again, and I think it's just something terribly inaptly named. If I go to the zoo and buy the season pass I'll be able to frequent the zoo all season long, but next season I'll be left standing outside unless I purchase the season pass again. So with games: people not too familiar with how the concept has established itself on platforms like steam often assume that "season pass" means "paid subscription to play the game". And since that's in almost all cases not what it's about I think "season pass" is just a woefully misused term and, if anything, has prevented far more sales than generated. Call it "Prepper's Stash" or so. You'll find something. 😄

  • Upvote 5
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
 Share