Eerie Canal's Dreadline grabbed our attention last week. An RPG/RTS hybrid, from a five-person indie team made of former Irrational/Harmonix developers. That's rather appealing. Even more so when you learn the game is about playing as a group of monsters who travel through time, killing humans during famous disasters. Wanting to find out more, and how they came to be working together, I spoke to three of the number, Bryn Bennett, Aaron DeMuth and Arthur Inasi, as well as prising out of them a couple of completely exclusive screenshots. Note that both are pre-alpha, and the UI is obviously temporary.
RPS: How did Eerie Canal come to be? Clearly you must have known each other from Harmonix - what inspired the decision to step out into the wilds of indie development?
Bryn Bennett: Steven and I met at Irrational Games around 2000. He was a level artist and I was the lead 3D programmer. We were also struggling musicians in the Boston music scene, so we hung out a lot. I went to Iron Lore to work on Titan Quest, but we eventually both ended up at Harmonix. It was a good fit as musicians. That's where we met Aaron, Arthur, and Mallika. Eerie Canal came together in a pretty organic way over a period of months. Steven and I started talking about putting something together. We threw a number of ideas around for a while. We were at a bar one night when we started talking about playing as the monsters instead of the humans, and the idea for Dreadline came together nearly instantly. We were cracking up, and knew we were on to something. I think too many good ideas get thrown away at big companies because everyone laughs, and then they say “OK, let's get down to business” and forget the great idea they just had.
Aaron DeMuth: I ran into Bryn and Steve drinking at the Middle East (a bar) one afternoon, I had about two weeks left at Harmonix and was super burnt from it. It wasn't until about 6 or 7 months later that I became interested in making games again. They were still at the Middle East in the exact same chairs so it was easy to find them and tell them I was ready to help.
RPS: How have you found the experience over the last six months? Are there any surprising advantages or disadvantages working in a small independent team?
Bryn Bennett: I have loved it! We can come up with these crazy ideas and just go for it, without having to worry about what it would do for our previous customer base or some demographics report. It's very freeing in a number of different ways. We are probably going to make a lot of decisions that turn people off from our particular game, but that's cool because we don't need to sell Rock Band or Bioshock type numbers. (Phew!) I guess the downside is that I'm not making any money right now.
Arthur Inasi: Working with a small team makes asking for and updating audio tools a breeze. I just hit Bryn up with a "I need randomizing/audio groups/extra logic/etc/waaagh" email and he turns it around in minutes to hours. That would take 2-4 weeks at a big studio. Another awesome thing? No producers telling you what to do. I love that. With a group this small there's no need for bloody tps reports!
Aaron DeMuth: When we actually started meeting at Bryn's house, our productivity seems to have greatly increased. The main advantage is implementation time. If we have an idea we can put it into game rather quickly to see if it's worth polish time.
RPS: Did the idea for a game exist before the forming of the company? Or did you begin with a blank whiteboard and a feeling of terror?
Bryn Bennett: Total terror. Ha. At first I was all excited about being able to do anything I wanted! Then I freaked out thinking about how I could do anything I wanted. Too many options can sometimes lead to writer's block. So, it took a while for us to settle on this idea. Steve had some idea about being animals in a deserted mall. I had an idea about being in an alternative future where humans now ruled supreme, and hunted demons and orcs as some kind of gameshow. Terrible ideas. Plus, we were just freaking out because we didn't have any money coming in, and that didn't really help the creative process. Luckily, we ended up with something we're all excited about... which is monsters with time machines.
RPS: Perhaps the most surprising thing about the announcement of Dreadline is the lack of a Kickstarter page. Is that about to happen?
Bryn Bennett: That's definitely an option. I mean, I can't imagine that there's a single indie developer on the planet that's not thinking about Kickstarter. We just want to take a thoughtful approach and really look at our options. There are a number of projects out there that I think have over-promised and are going to be in major trouble in the upcoming months. We definitely don't want to do that. On the other hand, I think crowdfunding is an amazing new model, and I'm really pumped about it. I've contributed to everything from local Boston bands to Republique. But I really hate being on camera.
RPS: So monsters are responsible for the deaths during disasters? Or monsters take advantage of disasters as an excuse to cause deaths?
Aaron DeMuth: Either way. The fate of the doomed hasn't changed. They're still dead.
Bryn Bennett: Look, monsters will be monsters. They are going to kill people. So, we think it's the moral choice to kill the people that are going to die anyway. We actually have some good fiction that explains why there is a bunch of monsters in a time machine, but we're not quite ready to talk about it yet. It will probably change a bit before we put the game out.
RPS: Can you explain a bit about how Dreadline will play? It's an RPG/RTS hybrid, so people obviously immediately think of Freedom Force. Is that the right idea?
Bryn Bennett: It's more like Freedom Force mixed with a racing game. Freedom Force is deliberately slow, and very tactical. In fact, Ken Levine would play it almost like a turned based strategy game. Dreadline is going to be a lot faster and more frantic. Arms will be flying, and monsters will be ripping through people to kill as many as they can before the calamity hits. It will be very important to work together as a team to not only survive, but to kill as many people as possible. So, why don't they just go back in time slightly farther so they can take their time? I'm not sure. I think monsters like it this way.
RPS: What feature of the game so far do you think will be the thing people remember it for?
Arthur Inasi: I'm looking forward to people's reactions to the characters. Audio plays a huge part in how a character feels. Their voice, their grunts and deaths, even down to their attack sounds and footsteps. It's super subtle and it usually goes by unnoticed, but usually when someone likes a character it goes beyond just their appearance. I hope to help reinforce Kimura's characters so that they become super memorable.
Bryn Bennett: I hope people dig our “sketchy renderer” that makes our game look like an illustration. Of course, I hope people also dig our new take on an RPG/RTS.
RPS: You've said that it's PC-only so far. Is that something that's fixed? If so, is there a reason to not make it for consoles/phones too?
Bryn Bennett: No, it's not fixed. The tech I wrote currently works on PC and Xbox, but it's much easier to get your game onto PC. If Dreadline does well when we release it, we will definitely look into other platforms and weigh our options. One I think I DON'T want to do is make a terrible port that doesn't work with the controls on other platforms. I really hate that.
RPS: Oh, and for my curiosity, did you come up with Eerie Canal and then only a few days later realise it sounds a bit like a euphemism for a haunted bottom?
Bryn Bennett: No way man. That's what we were after the whole time.
RPS: Thank you for your time.