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In The Long Dark, the apocalypse isn't the end of the world

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If you're going to survive The Long Dark, you'll need to be knowledgeable about your surroundings and critical of your decisions, creative director Raphael van Lierop told Polygon during a recent interview.

The Long Dark is a first-person post-apocalyptic disaster sim currently raising funds via Kickstarter. It's the first title from Hinterland Studio, a newly formed team stacked with industry veterans from Relic Entertainment, Volition Inc. and BioWare. Set against the backdrop of a mysterious disaster, players step into the role of bush pilot William Mackenzie. After crashing his plane into a mountain forest, William must find a way to survive the barren winter alone.

Danger is present in the game's environment — the harsh temperatures, lack of resources and wildlife. The only way to live is to outsmart your surroundings.

"In the game, knowledge of the world is a really important resource," van Lierop told Polygon. "Everything is kind of pressuring you to make good decisions about how you're going to use your time. Daylight, for example — the daytime hours are really critical, because at nighttime temperature drops and wildlife is more active. It's harder to travel. You're always trying to maximize what you can do with the day."

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Players have to manage their time with thought, van Lierop said. Wandering aimlessly through The Long Dark's open-world may be rewarding, but costly. Information you're able to glean from other survivors or locations will have an element of decay. As time passes, key items can disappear, or people you're trying to return to will leave. You'll learn the most useful tips from other survivors, but you'll also have to be mindful of their intentions. This will tie back into the game's episodic narrative, which takes more after games like Fallout 3 than The Walking Dead.

The Long Dark will follow a TV-like model of storytelling in terms of overall seasons, van Lierop said. However, its narrative favors a British television structure over an American one to give the team more room to work. Think of a British show's 90-minute structure per episode vs. a half hour to an hour of American TV.

"Maybe you can play a role in defining what that world is going to look like."

"Because [British TV shows] have longer episodes, the depth of storytelling tends to be more interesting," van Lierop said. "They can take their time. In a 40-minute episode, you tend to have to rush around and you can't afford to take your time and really build up a lot of nuance with the characters and whatnot."

If the game's Kickstarter funding is successful, Hinterland will continue its story through seasons — literally. Players will be exposed to The Long Dark in winter, while future expansions will cover the spring and so forth. This will give the team the chance to play off the wilderness aspect in new ways. Van Lierop said that the game's setting was an attempt to explore something that felt "more intimate."

"I think we all can visualize that ‘end of the world scenario' within the city, where you have the rioting and the looting and all that stuff," van Lierop said. "But what would it mean for people who already live in a more remote setting? That's really the starting point."

Safehouse

Post-apocalyptic titles such as Cormac McCarthy's The Road and the "rugged wilderness" that surrounds his own home in Northern Vancouver Island inspired van Lierop. But despite The Long Dark's catastrophic, end-of-the world setting, van Lierop thinks of it as a hopeful game. The team is trying to give The Long Dark a sense of beauty through its music and art. Unlike other scenarios set in a dark future, van Lierop added, where it feels like the world will never recover, there is a potential for things to get better.

"We're not saying it's the end of the world, it's never going to change and humanity is going to die out and you just have to struggle and suffer from now on," van Lierop said. "It's more like, yes, the world has changed. It's never going to be the same, but that doesn't mean it has to end. It's just not the same. Maybe you can play a role in defining what that world is going to look like and maybe through those actions you can help decide whether that's going to be a hopeful place or a depressing place."

The Long Dark is being developed for Windows PC, Mac and Linux. At the time of this posting, the Kickstarter campaign has raised more than $70,000 of its $200,000 CAD goal. Funding ends Oct. 16.