One thing that I particularly enjoy about exploring Great Bear's frozen wilderness is the sense of scale it provides. The world in which the game is set has expanded a great deal since its launch, with 9 current regions to explore and survive in- something which gives me, as a player, a profound feeling of insignificance and frailty. That's not something I usually feel when playing a game, and one of the reasons that I enjoy The Long Dark as much as I do.
Contributing to this feeling of scale are the transition zones: links between the true wilderness present in some regions (Timberwolf Mountain; Hushed River Valley) and their more industrialised cousins (Desolation Point; Mystery Lake; Mountain Town). Raven Falls Railway Line, Carter Dam's Environs, Cinder Hills Coal Mine and the Old Island Connector all act as bridges between regions that would otherwise feel sandwiched together- something that might feel nonsensical considering their different character and makeup.
However as it currently stands, many of these zones are either small cave systems or- in the case of regions that are directly connected- not present at all. In some cases, this makes perfect sense, and is obviously intentional; Milton Basin acts as a small transition zone in of itself, and the move between Mountain Town and the Muskeg has never felt particularly jarring for me. Others couldn't feasibly be redesigned without a large amount of hassle- the connections between Mystery Lake and Broken Railroad being a prime example, as additional zones between both these and the muskeg would make the journey Mackensie makes in Luminance Fugue extremely long.
Nevertheless, I still think that some regions might benefit from new, fleshed-out transition zones, so I drew up some ideas.
E.g. Pleasant Valley - Timberwolf Mountain: Mountain Pass
Timberwolf mountain is currently located by making the long hike upthrough the foothills of Pleasant Valley, culminating in a climb. 'An isolated alpine region with very few shelters or resources', it seems fitting to make that part of the journey only the prelude; a climb into the true wilderness, followed by 'a cold and treacherous mountain pass', as described by the Wiki. Strong winds, bitter cold, and a tiring trek would be the main dangers here, with the occasional lethal drop to keep players on their toes. Two of the current transition zones- Raven Falls Railway Line and Carter Dam's Environs, respectively- have wonderfully tense sections where the player is required to avoid a steep and lethal fall, and this zone would be no different. The feeling of accomplishment after successfully dicing with death might make the journey that much more cathartic.
One thing of note is that, as of now, there is little sign of the cockpit that was ripped free during the plane crash on the summit. Unless this is omitted for a reason- perhaps to serve a purpose in the upcoming episodes of WINTERMUTE- I think it might be a good idea to place it here. Near-impossible to miss, it would provide any player travelling to Timberwolf Mountain a sense of mystery and purpose- (What happened here? Can I find its cargo?) as well as being a fitting symbol for the region as a whole. Not only would it give the player a feel for the area ahead, but the damaged cockpit could pontentially contain a cargo manifest and the bodies of the unfortunate pilots, providing a little more backstory for the game world. Perhaps we could learn the purpose of their flight, or their feelings about travelling to Great Bear Island. Mountain Town - Hushed River Valley: Forest Canyon
Hushed River Valley is unique among the regions of the game for several reason, the most obvious of which is its distinct lack of any kind of man-made structure (save for the odd snow shelter). It's pretty telling that, in the near-absence of man, it's done pretty well for itself- something which the transition zone that connects it to the rest of the game world could highlight. While Mountain Town isn't perhaps the most industrialised region, it's nevertheless markedly different to Hushed River Valley, and the forest canyon that serves as a connector between the two would emphasise this point in a number of ways.
Firstly, like the valley it leads to, the transition zone would contain no buildings of any kind. The high walls of the canyon, eroded by the river that runs through it, might contain a cave or two, perhaps showing the first few signs of the bioluminescent moss which grows in the valley proper. Lichen, Rose hips, Reishi mushrooms and Cattails would be a common sight, and wildlife would be prevalent. All of this would hopefully serve to provide a picture of nature in its prime, unburdened by pollution or industry.
Secondly, the Forest Canyon would try and highlight the dangers of being far removed from society, and by extension, aid. Nature's beauty walks hand-in-hand with its darker half, after all, and nothing would highlight this more than evidence of a doomed expedition. Corpses can be found throughout the game world, often pointing to tragic and ignominious endings for the denizens of the island. Many of these deaths were undoubtedly brought about by the sudden flare-up, which -among other things- caused wildlife to behave in unpredictable and often lethal ways. Hushed River Valley 'has long been a destination for the area's toughest mountaineers', but what would expererience or hardiness count for when faced with a pack of snarling wolves, unfazed by gunshots or fire? Evidence of a violent, tragic event such as this would be a pointed reminder of the perils presented by this new world.
Hopefully these regions would mesh well with the world Hinterland is trying to create. Like I mentioned before, some regions which lack clear transition zones are either similar enough for the translation not to feel jarring, (at least for me) or too integrated in WINTERMUTE for any redesign to be easy. Connections that sprung to mind were the cave which links Mystery Lake to Mountain Town, and the westernmost section of the Trans-island railway line.
Let me know what you think!