What happens when you put a dozen or so veteran game designers in a cabin in Vancouver for a few days? They take walks and eat breakfast together, and then they form Hinterland Games and start development on their first project, a survival sim called "The Long Dark."
"The Long Dark" is a first-person, open-world survival game that takes place after a solar flare has knocked out most modern technology. As pilot William Mackenzie, it'll be your job to survive as long as possible in the cold Northwestern winter -- not until rescue comes, but forever as a new way of life. There's no trailer yet, but Hinterland's Kickstarter video is a good introduction:
The basic of wilderness survival include, I guess, finding food and water and staying warm, but "The Long Dark"'s list of gameplay systems is expansive. Here's a taste: time of day, dynamic weather, wildlife, caloric intake, and wear and tear on your gear will all determine Mackenzie's chances of survival.
It's one thing to know that eating snow is a source of (relatively) clean water, for example; it's another to keep in mind that snow lowers your body temperature. Would you rather die of hypothermia or thirst? Hinterland are promising difficult moral choices, of course -- the tag line is "How far would you go to survive?" -- and interactions with key NPCs will ostensibly push an episodic story forward.
In addition to background factors like fatigue, there are also direct actions -- such as shooting or lock picking -- that inform Mackenzie's survival. These could have RPG-like stats associated with them or require certain gear, but these will also be directly controlled by the player. Polish up on your caribou marksmanship, folks, and try not to eat too much rabbit.
If the premise -- and, gosh, Hokyo Lim's vibrant art direction and that haunting fiddle composition -- doesn't pique your interest, know that Hinterland is staffed by a group of industry big-timers, with pedigrees from BioWare, Volition, Relic, Riot, and Sucker Punch. There are enough ins and outs at Hinterland to keep "The Long Dark" on the radar for a while yet.
The only (?) problem with somewhat-realistic -- or, at least, gritty and mature -- open-world simulations is that they're expensive. "The Long Dark" is being funded in part by the Canadian Media Fund's Experimental Stream, but they'll need an extra $500,000 CAD "to make the game we want to make for you, and we want to do it in such a way that we can stay true to our creative values, retain our independence, and not 'sell out' to the corporate world," reads the campaign.
Hinterland have raised about a quarter of their goal, with 27 days to go. If all goes well, expect digital copies of "The Long Dark" to start rolling out on Windows, Mac, and Linux in October 2014.
Joseph Leray is a freelance writer from Nashville. Follow him on Twitter