IGM Interviews – Robert Smith & Chase Bethea (Fenrir Studios)
Forgive me, but I can’t not open with this terrible line: There’s a Dark Storm brewing, and the team at Fenrir Studios plan on bringing it to a PC and Mac near you. Belonging to the stealth-action shooter genre, Dark Storm is an episodic adventure featuring Amber, a tough and capable lady on a mission of survival. The game is apparently already a big deal, reaching over 3,500 yes votes in a single day on Steam Greenlight. (As of today, the game has officially been given the Greenlight thumbs up.) With all systems now go in terms of developing for PC, I had the opportunity to speak with Lead Programmer Robert Smith, along with Senior Sound Designer Chase Bethea, about what to expect from a game that boasts “dynamic AI” and a “unique Heads-Up display.” You might want to bring an umbrella, and hang onto something.
Indie Game Magazine: According to your press kit, Fenris studios has over 50 artists and programmers. That’s a pretty huge team for an indie studio. How did you guys get to be such a large group?
Robert Smith: That would be the team as a whole. Currently, the project is around 20 main developers that put in on a daily basis.
IGM: Oh, okay. And you guys have a studio, or work remotely?
Robert: We currently work remotely, but some members of the team do live nearby and regularly meet.
IGM: Dark Storm was initially conceived way back in 2006. How much has changed between then and now in terms of the the game’s story and gameplay mechanics?
Robert: So the project was conceived early in high school, but it was an idea that was built into our senior project. It was initially based on the Source engine, but shortly after the release of UDK, we made the transition and started learning the pipeline and recruiting. With that change, we rethought how it would play, and over time, it’s changed systemically since its first iteration. We wanted to give players the concept of choice of how to approach situations, and the tools to support that. In early versions, we didn’t have the togglable 3P, or even shoulder switching, it was a typical run-of-the-mill shooter; but over time it evolved into stealth-action, and we implemented such features to better support that base, such as the assassinations system and ISIS.
IGM: One of the features of the game is a “unique heads-up display.” Can you tell me what makes the HUD in Dark Storm so special, or different?
Robert: ISIS is the unique heads-up display that, in a way, will show feedback and outline friend and foe, allow you to monitor information readouts on personnel and enemies and, in real-time, be able to see the current state of AI targets in text readout. (i.e. Patrolling, Alerted, and Roaming AI states.) It will alert you about nearby enemies and allow you to access nearby camera grids in a local vicinity, giving you critical information to get out of jams
IGM: Dark Storm also boasts “Dyanmic AI” that scales to the player’s ability level. Can you talk a little more about what that means? Are there specific examples of how AI will adapt to player performance?
Robert: From a gameplay perspective, we designed the game from the ground up around the concept of choice. From the AI, to the 3rd person toggle camera, and the 1st person angle. We wanted to throw an objective at the player and let them decide how they want to approach it. Whether it’s retrieving a keycard, or saving hostages, the games AI paces to that. Say you want to go Action and bring up the body count, you can do that and the game will ramp up and place more enemies and use tactics to bring you down. If you choose a stealth approach, you can get through the objective killing 1-2 guards, using vents and bypassing patrols, and hiding the bodies of the ones unlucky enough to be in your path. With these systems, players can be successful and use them at any time without restriction.
IGM: Tell me Chase, how do you create the mood and atmosphere for a stealth-action game through sound?
Chase Bethea: I like to create the mood based on the direction given by the Team Leaders, Robert Smith and Javonni Ortiz. I listen closely to their preferred references and work closely with our co-composer Kenny Zhao. Since the builds for the game have been made, it is easier for me to play the game and do some creative things I feel would work, and mix it together with the direction I was given. I normally draw inspiration from Deus Ex, Metal Gear Solid, Call of Duty, Gears of War, and my classic favorite, GoldenEye 007. By knowing the story, and having the references, inspiration and build, I am able to have a clear picture of the mood and atmosphere. These aspects enable me to create this new sound-world.
IGM: That’s great. What sort of audio cues do you give the player to help guide them through each stealth section?
Chase: My ideas for the cues are to slightly intensify the feeling of being caught if they are near danger. I will probably do this through a musical cue and a few sound design ideas, such as heart beats, breaths and other things I can add to the environment. I will probably add elements that will become vital to listening to everything the player is around, which will push two of their senses to the limit. The player won’t just have to look around with the camera, they will have to listen around carefully as well.
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