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Keeping Dungeons: DarkForge Talk Nekro

Dead Good?

A recent notable Kickstarter success was Nekro, which is an action-strategy hybrid sort of thing in the classic vein of playing as the badguy. Referencing the likes of Dungeon Keeper and Myth, the Nekro team seem to have sparked a great deal of interest in their randomly generated game of necromancy and summoning. We spoke to excellently-named lead designer Scott Thunelius about the project.

RPS: Can you tell us a bit about darkForge as a company? Who are you guys and how did you come to be making the games you are making?

Thunelius: DarkForge is a small group of gamers and industry professionals. We have been working together for years at companies such as Red 5, Sony and Microsoft. Throughout that time an idea for a game about summoning undead units kept coming up over and over. So, a little over a year ago now, we decided it was about time we stopped talking about it and started making it. It was by far the biggest idea we've had an we knew we were going to need outside help. So, we formed DarkForge LLC and got to work on finding a core team and making Nekro!

RPS: When you describe Nekro you reference Dungeon Keeper and Myth - what is it about those games that players will recognise in your work?

Thunelius: We are doing our best to make Nekro its own game and a completely unique experience. That said, we definitely borrowing some concepts from some of our favorite games. We are striving to make the game take on a similar 'feel' as Myth and DK. We want you to feel right at home summoning lots of minions and watching them run around like in Dungeon Keeper as well as blasting enemies into little chunks that leave permanent blood stains on the map like Myth. We are also going to have a possession mode in Nekro (my personal favorite feature in Dungeon Keeper). This will allow you to take control of the units and move them around directly. The cool thing about this mechanic is you can choose to play Nekro in a Diablo-style click-to-attack way, or never use possession at all letting you just focus on strategy.

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RPS: Tell us a bit more about how a game of Nekro will play out. What happens as you play?

Thunelius: Nekro is a game about summoning, exploring randomized worlds, and brewing creatures to control. As the Nekro, you start off at your tower. You set out into the world to find reagents that will be used to brew new minions. Since the world is completely random, on your way you may encounter neutral monsters like the "Ertum." If you manage to kill the Ertum tribe leader all Ertums you encounter from that point forward will follow you and help you. We are really striving to make the game very situational in that way. We want to be presenting the player with different random events all the time that can help you or hinder you. As you continue, you may come across a human town. If you manage to raze the town you can destroy the 'power node' which the town was bound to. This allows you slowly advance your tower's influence towards your goal. The game will be a constant back and forth between the Nekro, Neutral, and Royal factions fighting for territory on the map.

While all this is happening, the world will sometimes invoke a random world event like the Blood Moon. This will cause demonic werewolves to spawn everywhere around the map. All factions are affected by this event, and it can radically change how the game plays out.

Each game of Nekro will always be different, and encourage new styles of play with each iteration. This ideology has been a core design concept since day one and we are doing everything we can to stay true to it.

RPS: How will your co-op mode change that process? Are you giving players ways to work together?

Thunelius: We are still designing our co-op experience so a lot of it is up in the air. We are down to two main ideas at this point: The first one is that one person plays the Nekro, and the other player can permanently posses all of his summons. The second idea is that both players are Nekros and share a mana pool. We want the game to feel different to both players, where one person can fill in a role that the other cannot. Whatever we choose, Nekro's co-op will be different enough from the core single-player experience that it feels fresh, but close enough that it's instantly understandable and playable.

RPS: Does having randomly generated maps create any problems for your game design? And how big are these maps?

Thunelius: Random maps have been the best and worst part about making Nekro. When the maps work, it's the best feeling because it's so fun to walk through a world that's different every time. However, we face the same design nightmares as any other dev who has attempted a random world: How do you control the player experience if you don't know where things are going to be? We have created rule sets for how the world is generated so we can better control how random generation occurs and it's been working out very well so far.

Maps are generally small by comparison to other games. The largest maps take a couple of minutes to walk from end to end. However, these are maps for individual levels. The 'overworld' map contains dozens of these smaller maps, so the world itself is actually quite large.

RPS: Can you tell us a bit about your Kickstarter campaign - why did you go that route?

Thunelius: I instantly saw huge potential in Kickstar when I first heard about it a couple of years ago (well before the gaming explosion on KS). I knew it was the way to go because it let us keep our IP and make the game our fans wanted without any compromises. We spent over a year building our game demo so we had something to show people when we started out Kickstarter. It was extremely rewarding and humbling of an experience and I'm very glad we took that route as opposed to more traditional methods. I would highly recommend it to and up and coming developers.

RPS: You've hugely surpassed your goal, finishing at over $150k. What does that mean to you?

Thunelius: To me, it means that people really did want to play this game as much as I did. I've been thinking about making Nekro for a long time and I was very excited to see others share my enthusiasm about the concept. The support we got (and are still getting) is incredible; more than I ever thought possible. It's a life-changing experience to see an idea I scribbled on a notebook turn into thousands of people discussing, creating and anticipating something.

RPS: So what's next - what as the Kickstarter money allowed you to do? When you do expect to make the game playable?

Thunelius: The money we received has enabled us to work on the game full-time, as well as hire an animator and a couple of artists. The game's scope exploded, allowing us to make more content than we ever thought possible! It's been coming along fantastically, and is looking really good even at its early stages. We hope to be able to share the game with our fans within a year as a beta, and do a full release another 6 months from that.

RPS: In your Kickstarter pitch you talk about taking player feedback on board, but you can explain a bit about how that will work? How is the community involved in the direction of the game?

We have a very active community over on the forums and they have been coming up with amazing ideas. We have already implemented many of their ideas into the game's design. Also, we have a couple of pledge tiers from the Kickstarter that let the pledger design various elements about the game. We are constantly talking with our community, taking feedback, and designing the game that they want, and that we want. We really try to make ourselves as accessible as possible and I personally love the feedback. It's been a great experience so far, and I encourage anyone else who wants to be part of the game's direction to join!

RPS: Thanks for your time.

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