CBNAH: First off, how did Red Hook Studios started off?
Chris Bourassa: Well, it's a partnership. Red Hook Studios is basically a partnership between Tyler Sigman and myself. We worked together at Backbone Entertainment in Vancouver, about six or seven years ago and we hit it off and became friends. We always sort of tried to think of ways that we could team up because we felt like we had complementary skill sets. We both had different jobs for number of years and the timing just didn't really work out. When things kind of click, we decided to really take a shot at doing a indie game together and that's how we formed the company
CBNAH: You worked on the Max Steel series as an art director. Can you tell us you experience as an art director or working in animation?
CB: So, I art directed the first season of the Nerdcorps reboot of Max Steel. It was a lot fun and intense amount of work. Very different from video games. I thought it would be cool after I spent ten years working in games as a concept artist and art director to try some TV to get a sense how things were different. It was a real learning experience and the deadlines are a lot tighter in broadcast television, the budgets are little tighter, but you learn how to get creative and you kind of sometimes turn some of those weaknesses into strengths. It was really a fun ride and I'm still in touch with a lot of the team that I had over there. They're really great people.
CBNAH: What's the genesis behind Darkest Dungeon?
CB: It just started as sort of sarcastic observation. I really respect what World of Warcraft has done with its art style and really brought so much color into the video game world. I think they had a huge impact but they done it so well it became a thing like Michael Bay, almost. Sort of poke fun at a little bit with the giant shoulder pads, huge weapons and all that oversize cartoon fun-fantasy vibe, which totally suits that game. I just started thinking it wouldn't really matter how much you had invested in your armor or how giant your shoulder pads were or if your sword was eight feet long, but if the actually person wielding it was useless or paralyzed by fear. You know, these dungeons that we run through in MMOs or RPGs are really just window dressing for a loot pinata basically. There are a lot of fun and I enjoy them but I just sort started wondering, in a half-joking way, what if the game actually treated it seriously? Like what if it was a big deal to be way underground with a bunch of strangers and everybody wants to get paid and you're running out of food and your getting sick and arguing. So from there I pitched that to Tyler a little bit and we talked back and forth, and movies like Aliens and John Carpenter's The Thing came up on how there's ensemble cast put under extreme amount pressure and stress. As you watch these films, what happens to these different personalities in these groups fracture and reform as they try to survive. So we thought it would be neat to try to shoot the dungeon crawler though a different lens. Though something that focus more on the personality and mindset of the people doing it as opposed to the abstract statistics of gear grinding.
CBNAH: What's the story about?
CB: I'm a big fan of H.P. Lovecraft, pulp horror and Hammer horror films from the 60s and 70s. We wanted to try blend those elements with low fantasy Medieval European kind of vibe. So the story of Darkest Dungeon is essentially that you received a letter from the head of your noble family, perhaps a long lost grandfather. Imploring you to came back to your ancestral estate and set right what he sort of unwillingly or through greed unleashed on the land. You arrive at this ramshackle little hamlet and everything is just a mess. The lands is all poison, your house is a big wreck and no ones wants to go near it and your not really sure what happened or why things got this bad. But you've got a chest full of gold and enough money to hire some adventurers. So, you take on the role of this young noble person task with hiring a crew of mercenaries and cleaning up the area.
CBNAH: Speaking of Lovecraft, the art style has a Lovecraftian/Hellboy vibe. What are the main influences to the art style of the game?
CB: Well, there were a couple of considerations, Mike Mignola is obviously a big influence. I wouldn't want to overlook Duncan Fegredo, who also worked on Hellboy. Viktor Kalvachev was the studio art director at Backbone while I was there. He could do this really incredible heavy black stuff that left a lasting impression on me. Artistically those guys are on the forefront of my mind. But we wanted to create an art style for this game, this isn't how I draw all the time. This is really crafted to reinforce the theme, tone and game mechanics. The hard edges kind of speak to the uncompromising quality of the game. The cooling black reminds you of always getting sucked into worst trouble. There's a whole a bunch of theoretical justification of blood. The other consideration is that I needed an art style to tell people that being loose was okay. So I can create a bigger quality as opposed to extremely high fidelity on a crass basis would cripple me as far as getting the game done. We wanted to come up something that felt expressive, dark, a little messy, and disorganized because that blends nicely with the game. But also it makes it easier on me as the artist on the game.
CBNAH: The game has been a huge success on Kickstarter. What's your response to the backing?
CB: We're very very humble and grateful for the show of support we've seen. Honestly the most profound experience of my professional career just going through this whole process. We were hoping for $75,000 and we really want to demonstrate to people that we spent about eight-nine months of our own money working on this, that's how much we believe in it. What does this mean is we're going to be able make the game that we really want to make. Creatively this represents a huge win for us.
CBNAH: Can you tell us about the combat or turn-based system?
CB: We're really excited about our combat system. Obviously we're still in knee deep in early development but mechanically everything works. It's a pretty cool take on sort of the traditional RPG combat. Basically to reinforce the idea, we set characters up in ranks, they're in a lineup, single file from the side view. Front row guys or front row abilities can be hit and be launched from certain ranges. That translate into it's own little puzzle game where your trying to damage front row enemies with different front row attacks. Use your back row guys against their back row guys and every time you kill an enemy that entire row shifts forward. Some enemies will be forced out of their comfort zone and their attacks will diminish with power. So there's a real back and forth tension. Sort of modern RPG kind of mechanics and sensibility with on top of it, more classic turn-based strategic approach.
CBNAH: How many people are working on the game?
CB: We have four people in-house full-time and a couple of subcontractors and partners. So there's myself, Tyler Sigman who is the executive producer and game designer, Kelvin McDowell who is our lead systems engineer, Keir Miron is the gameplayer engineer, and we partnered up with Stuart Chatwood as our composer. He worked on the Prince of Persia games and he's in a very successful Canadian rock band called The Tea Party. Wayne June is our narrator, he's done a whole bunch of audiobooks. We hooked up with him to basically provide some sort of in-game color commentator, he narrated the trailers. And Power Up Audio which is Jeff Tangsoc and Kevin Regamey, there doing our sound mixing and sound effects. They have been fantastic to work with on the trailers. So we're really looking forward to getting right into development with all of these moving pieces.
CBNAH: Will you be appearing at PAX East or any other conventions coming up?
CB: Yes, Tyler and I are going to head out to GDC(Game Developers Conference) and then I think we're going to make an appearance at PAX. It'll be a lot of fun.
CBNAH: With the success of Kickstarter, where do you see the video game industry in the next few years with Kickstarter?
CB: I, by no means I'm an expert or prognosticator on the video game industry. From somebody who is in the middle of their campaign, what I think is amazing about Kickstarter is that you can speak directly with your customer base. I look at our game as we're trying to provide entertainment to a community and how big that community is will determine how successful the game is. Sort of like a farmer, you farm your crops and sell them off to the surrounding village and return you use that to buy whatever else you need. It's been amazing from my perspective to be able to interact with these people directly and see what excites them about the game, and just engage in back and forth dialogue. That's been really cool. It's great for us as well that we're able to pursue our vision for the game and not have to pander to or be concern with executive reviews, feedback, and publisher relationships. Although, it's certainly not a giving thing due to there's some great publishers out there, as well. But just the creative freedom of just being able to go for it. I think Kickstarter provides that to creators because since your working directly with people who are supporting what you're doing it gives you a little bit more latitude of how you want to do it. It's a fantastic platform especially for indie games. It costs a lot to make a decent game nowadays. This type of platform is really great for the diversity in the industry. There's a lot of interesting indie stuff that's coming up. I find most of the innovative gaming mechanics are coming out of that community as opposed to the giant companies are sort of sticking with the tried and true recipes. It's definitely a hub for innovation.
CBNAH: Did you get to play the new Thief game?
CB: No, I'm preloading it right now. I can't wait. I'm on the PC and I'm really scared because the reviews have not been to kind to it. Thief 2 is probably my favorite game of all time. So, I have not a lot of expectations for this game more like a lot of trepidation. I'm staying up a bit late tonight as soon it goes live and check it out. My fingers are crossed that I will enjoy it.
CBNAH: Where do you see Red Hook Studios in the next few years?
CB: I don't know, quite honestly. I think we're such a small team we have to wear a lot of hats. So, we're really focus on this game and getting this game to be as good as we think it can be. To get it finish and out the door in the hands of the people who pledged their support to make it happen. If it does well, I think it would be awesome to continue working in the same vein with the same people. Everything hinges on how well this game does. I kind of look at it almost like a heist. We assemble the team, we're going in and get the diamonds, we're going to meet up by the fountain at midnight, split up the take and then never talk to each other again (laughs). That was at least the plan going in but if it continues to go the way it has been, I think it will pave the way for much more stable kind of relationship, perhaps something long term. It's exciting
CBNAH: Before we go, can you give the hard sell of the game to our readers?
CB: Well, the game is called Darkest Dungeon. It's a Gothic roguelike that focuses on the personality and state of mind of your adventurers instead of just their gear. We've got a lot of really interesting features in the game, some pleasing looking art, cool horror angle, an Affliction System, and a pretty fresh a turn-based combat system. So, if any of that sounds interesting to you, we love to have you come and check out our Kickstarter page. It's under Darkest Dungeon.