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Deadwood: A Game I Nearly Missed

Red Thomas Posted:
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Deadwood: The Forgotten Curse was not on my radar.  For most folks, that might not be a big deal, but I’m a big fan of the indie scene and make a specific effort to keep an eye out for these games that might normally fly under the radar.  I heard about it on Beyond the Horizon Radio, a podcast gaming and associated geekery that I frequently guest on.  I looked it up after the host mentioned seeing the game at PAX East.

My search uncovered a really cool-looking little project, and when some of the developers joined the podcast later to talk about it, I found myself just as interested in the team working on it.  I found their ideas unique in an industry known for rehashing old ideas ad nauseam, so I was immediately compelled to reach out to the team for more information.  Adam Meyer, Creative Director at Steamroller Studios, was kind enough to return my email and agreed to chat a bit about their new game, Deadwood.

The Game

What attracted me to Deadwood off the bat, was their unique graphic direction that blends a sort of sketched comic book style a la Don’t Starve, that’s also colored in vibrant shades echoing games like Child of Light.  It was pretty obvious after just a short glance that this is a team making the choice to build a very visually appealing experience.

Adam Meyer tells me that the game will be more than just something to look at, with a slew of cool gameplay mechanics and interesting ideas.  One of the core dynamics is a day-night cycle that impacts the game dramatically.  While players will spend days exploring the world and chatting with NPCs, they’ll also need to invest time collecting resources.  Those resources will be needed come nightfall, when the game swings towards more of a tower defense kind of play.

Early examples of the game suggest an art style that’s part Don’t Starve, and part Zelda.

At night, the player’s companion, a lumbering hulk of stone, falls asleep.  It’s up to the player to build defenses around his co-wanderer to protect against the horde of nocturnally active zombies intent on eating the player and…  I guess graffiti the bedraggled bedrock, or whatever it is mineral-hating Zeds do.

Tower defense is a fairly popular genre right now, and while it’s not exactly the aspect of the game that I think the team is planning to be definitive, I do think it’s a significant piece that could take the game from being meh, to something really interesting.  Setting that game in a visually inspired environment and then building on to that with canned emotion via a solid soundtrack, and I think there’s a chance that this game could quickly reach the status of “endearing.”

The Team

If you’re going to understand Deadwood, I think you have to really look at the team, though.  These aren’t your typical developers.  Several of these guys are from the video effects industry, and we’re not talking small time.  Keith Lackey and Jalil Sadool, respectively Technical Supervisor and Gameplay Director, are professionals with little films to their names like The Hobbit, Avatar, The Avengers, and other little names like that.

The team also has a few games in their collective CV, as well.  You’d recognize titles like Bioshock, and Left 4 Dead, to name two.  From the interview I listened to, there’s a lot of cinematic culture among them though, so I asked Adam what the team brings from all that experience in the movie industry and what made everyone make the jump to video games?

Adam replied in excellent form saying, “Well, Keith and Jalil are both from the VFX industry. My background is a bit more in games. But at the end of the day I think we all left our jobs for the same reason, and that’s to tell our own story. Working on a big movie seems glamorous, but at the end of the day, you’re still working on someone else’s vision. Now we can work on our own vision.”

In a world where people are made of timber, zombies are Deadwood.

According to Adam, the team’s history in the other medium brings a lot to the table when it comes to their work on video games, as well.  He says their attention to detail may be one of those definitive qualities that sets Deadwood apart.  Adam explains, “In film especially, you don’t stop working on a shot until it’s perfect. We have a similar mindset. And this is spread over everything from story, to gameplay, to the character designs.”

The Development

Deadwood isn’t just a recent idea over at Steamroller Studios, despite just lately appearing as a Kickstarter project.  Adam tells me, “We’ve been working on this in on and off for about 4 years. But if you look at the hours, it’s only about 6 months. So we’re still pretty early in development for a game of this scope. We are planning to launch the full game in fall of 2016. But we expect we’ll have beta access and potentially early access by the end of this year.”

He continues saying that it’s “still early and so a lot of the rewards we [won’t be able to] fulfill until next year. But we’ll have beta access, exclusive wallpapers, backer forums, and whatever else we can get done, out within the next 6 months. But one thing they can absolutely count on is constant updates and clear communication.”

It’s not a large team, but with work already well underway on the new game, and a group of folks who are used to being under the gun on high-stake projects, I don’t have huge concerns.  Plus, I suspect that we’ll see a development plan very similar to other smaller projects and backers will get iterative access to the game.  Basically, as things get done and are stable, they’ll get rolled out for public consumption.  It hasn’t been officially announced, but that’s the way these projects tend to run.

Regardless of how they get there, I think this game has a chance to be something pretty special.  Time will tell on whether or not it lives up to that potential, but the team has an attitude that makes me hopeful.  As an example, I’ll leave you with a comment by Adam Meyer.  If a player were attempting to explain the appeal of Deadwood to a friend, I asked Adam how he’d want that conversation to start.  His answer:

“That we charmed the heck out of them.”


Red Thomas

A veteran of the US Army, raging geek, and avid gamer, Red Thomas is that cool uncle all the kids in the family like to spend their summers with. Red lives in San Antonio with his wife where he runs his company and works with the city government to promote geek culture.