Indie Darkwood to Capitalize On Your Fear of the Unknown

HorrorScope is a recurring feature exploring the horror genre in gaming and drawing attention to its elements, its tropes, and its lesser-known but still scary titles.

Gustaw Stachaszewski wants to rob you of your sight and your sanity.

That’s why he, Artur Kordas and Jakub Kuć, the three friends who make up Polish indie developer Acid Wizard Studios, decided on the somewhat unorthodox top-down perspective for their survival-horror game, Darkwood. Put simply: the perspective is meant to f–k with you.

“The decision to make it top-down came from our belief in the strength of the fear of the unknown,” Stachaszewski said in an instant message interview with Game Front. “By using this perspective together with a pixelated art style, you won’t be able to clearly identify the things you see around you, which lets your imagination run wild to activate your own, sometimes hidden fears.”

The perspective is easily the most striking thing about Darkwood, but a close second is Stachaszewski’s description of the title: “a top-down, psychological survival horror with RPG and roguelike elements. So there will be lots of surviving, which includes crafting, scavenging, and hiding in a corner praying to live through the night.”

It’s that description of the game, along with the addition of elements like permadeath, random map generation and a heavy emphasis on psychological storytelling, that seems to really resonate with players.

“…You won’t be able to clearly identify the things you see around you, which lets your imagination run wild to activate your own, sometimes hidden fears.”

The developers have written that they intend to make Darkwood “old-school hard,” cutting out the sort of hand-holding and guidance common in modern titles. You might die a lot, the developers admit, but those deaths will teach you the ins and outs of the game and through them, you’ll become better.

Just what those ins and outs are, however, is still somewhat up in the air. Stachaszewski said the game is still in deep development and subject to a lot of changes in just how it’ll play, but there’s a definitive emphasis both on “survival” and “horror,” as somewhat separate entities. You’ll travel the Eastern European woods of Darkwood by day in order to gather the materials you’ll need to keep yourself alive during the night — not unlike other recent survival titles such as Don’t Starve and Miasmata.

The difference is, you’ll be actively fending off enemies at night, which will require you to barricade the houses and other locations you come across. You’ll also be highly dependent on light, as the campaign notes, and will need to keep a generator fed and active.

But perhaps somewhat surprisingly, it’s may well be the perspective that will make these activities frightening, Stachaszewski explained.

“You might say that horror and a top-down perspective can’t make a good match, but we have a few tricks that really make for a eerie experience: An FOV mechanic, where you can only see characters that are inside your field of view, but if that character interacts with a inanimate object outside your FOV, you can see the object move,” he said. “And you won’t be able to tell at first what exactly moved it, or if it was really a figment of your imagination. So we hope to play with the player’s mind, and make his imagination work against him in terms of pumping up the atmosphere, because we believe the fear of the unknown to be very powerful.”

“We admit that we want to play with the player’s mind a lot and sometimes playing Darkwood will feel a bit like an acid trip,” Stachaszewski said. “We also hope to add sanity effects but these probably won’t be so obvious and you will find yourself wondering if something really happened, or was it your, or the protagonist’s, imagination.”

As shown in Darkwood’s trailers, players’ field of vision will be fairly limited by both the direction they face and what objects obstruct it, much like in games such as Teleglitch or Monaco: What’s Yours is Mine. You’ll be able to see the map around you, but you’ll only be able to see what’s moving and changing in the cone of your field of vision — and that narrows when you raise your gun.

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