Not So MMO: Darksburg Devs - 'We're Making a Game We Want to Play'
Darksburg is an upcoming co-op survival action title from Shiro Games, developers of the highly regarded Northgard strategy game. Taking a break from strategy, Darksburg pits teams of four against hordes of “infected” that threaten to overwhelm the town. We had the chance to speak with Lead Designer Fred Oughdentz to learn more about the game.
MMORPG: Please introduce yourself and tell us about your position on the development team.
Shiro Games: My name is Fred Oughdentz and I am the Lead Designer on Darksburg.
MMORPG: As the developers of Northgard, what inspired you to move to a completely different genre with Darksburg?
Shiro Games: The most important thing for us is to develop a game we’ll play once its development is finished. This has led the team to develop very different types of games, from the RPG Evoland to the RTS Northgard, and now Darksburg, a top-down cooperative survival game. Of course, it represents a challenge for the team, as every new project requires to start almost everything from scratch.
We also think it’s something that helps the team to remain focused and passionate about the job!
The idea for Darksburg came from our strong attachment to co-op game mechanics (our main point of reference here was Left4Dead). We wanted to add a more tactical dimension to the general experience, hence the top-down view that allows the player to get a more advanced view of the situation (their allies’ position, enemy waves sizes, etc., which is something that is less easily achievable with a first-person perspective. But because the players see much more around them, we decided to add a Fog of War, which is typical of MOBAs and RTS games. This adds tension through (usually grim) surprises around corners and allows for a good overview of the map’s layout, ensuring easy navigation.
MMORPG: What is the backstory of Darksburg? How much will players learn through playing?
Shiro Games: When starting the game, players will only have a very opaque knowledge of what happened to Darksburg. This medieval city has been suddenly overrun by hordes of zombies… and that’s it. To learn more about the origin of this outbreak, players will have progress through the game. All the playable characters have different backstories, and during their progression through Darksburg, they will be faced with various situations that will trigger conversations. These conversations will vary depending on who’s on the team and will give crucial information about what is really going on in Darksburg!
MMORPG: How would you classify Darksburg? Action RPG? Survival RPG? Horde-mode? Something else?
Shiro Games: Darksburg is a bit difficult to classify as it blends several genres together. I guess a survival cooperative game is the easiest definition, but there’s also action, character progression and PvP present in the game. Our goal is to make a game that will appeal to players who like tension, cooperation, and fun yet challenging games.
MMORPG: Currently you have four playable characters. Will more be added at or after release? Will you also add new maps or locations as well?
Shiro Games: When released in Early Access, Darksburg will have a fifth playable character. The objective is to have 7 characters before official launch. Each will have unique skills and talents to provide a diversity of style and synergies with specific maps and group set ups. Regarding the map count, we will be adding many new maps to the game as development goes on, introducing new settings in and around the city of Darksburg as well as new gameplay styles (escape, defend, escort…).
MMORPG: Will other types of enemies be added after release?
Shiro Games: Of course! We found that one of the best features in Darksburg is the PvP mode, and we intend to add as many Revenants as we add Survivors. We currently have the Executioner, the Raven Master, the Brute and the Burning Witch, all former citizens of Darksburg. Rumors have it that the Jester and the Grave Digger have suffered a similar fate during the infection, among others… More normal and special infected will also be added, especially for higher difficulties. Last but not least, we currently have one boss (Baron Manfred von Darksburg) but some of his family members and followers will soon be joining him!
MMORPG: Personal opinion but the Nun is the wildest character we’ve ever seen. What was the inspiration for her? What about the others? That giant spoon….is awesome!
Shiro Games: Sister Abigail is actually a character that was in our Artistic Director mind for a long time before we started working on Darksburg! She fitted perfectly in Darksburg universe. Every character we design for this game has to have a strong personality to keep with the over the top style of the game. Like in a zombie movie, our objective is to take ordinary citizens and put them in an extraordinary situation (a zombie apocalypse). We really wanted to go past the classic view of “classes”: Runolf, the innkeeper is surely the most relevant example of the intention, his size and character design suggest a tank, but not really a soup-throwing support type character!
MMORPG: How in depth is the character progression in Darksburg?
Shiro Games: When playing with a particular character, players will gain experience points depending on how they performed during the level. Reaching a new character level will unlock different perks. They are specific to each character and you can only pick three before a game, but they do change the way you can play each character. For example, you can build Varag (the Werewolf) as a tank, a frenzied damage dealer or a very mobile harasser depending on the needs of your group and the challenges of the map you’re playing.
MMORPG: How many active abilities are there for each character? Is there a “skill tree”?
Shiro Games: Every character has 4 active skills (one being an ultimate), and every Revenant has 2. There isn’t a “skill tree” though; perks can be selected without any constraint once they are unlocked. When progressing with a character, the player will have the possibility to tweak the effect of those skills, increasing for example the range of a jump ability or adding a stun effect. This allows players to specialize their character and create interesting synergies with the other members of their party.
MMORPG: How does PvP function in Darksburg?
Shiro Games: PvP in Darksburg is asymmetrical and pits 4 Survivors against 4 powerful infected we call the Revenants. The goal for the Survivors is to complete the map (defend an area, escape…) while the Revenants have to prevent them from doing so, usually by defeating or incapacitating them all. Survivors have limited resources (bandages, healing salves and some other special items) while the Revenants respawn indefinitely on a 30 seconds timer, and also have the passive ability to heal when out of sight (the game’s perspective being top-down, the Fog of War materializes clearly the “safe” areas for Revenants… and danger lurking in the dark for the Survivors).
While waiting for respawn, the infected are in ghost form and have access to specific skills that consume ichor (a resource gained by damaging the Survivors while “alive”). Ghost Abilities include things like summoning and controlling a pack of undead rats or making nearby zombies go berserk. This feature allows for even more teamplay between the Revenants and also makes downtimes virtually non-existent.
Any player leaving the game as a Survivor will be replaced by an AI immediately to ensure 4-player coop at all times (minus the dead ones), and if them or another player jumps in, they will take over the AI character again (this is not specific to the PvP mode, though). For Revenants, the logic is a bit different in that fewer Revenants means a shorter respawn timer for each player on the team. We prefer the Revenants to be played by players, and the shorter timer gives us a margin without resorting to AI teammates that would not be as vicious ambushers as actual humans :)