2016 IGF Interviews: Darkest Dungeon


Finalist | Excellence in Audio, Excellence in Visual Art, and the Seumas McNally Grand Prize

Keir Miron is one of the creators of Darkest Dungeon.

Each year at GDC, MFA students from the NYU Game Center interview the Independent Games Festival nominees, asking them three questions about their development process. In addition to this interview, you can read all the insightful interviews from 2016 here. These conversations, and much more, will happen when the Game Center returns to GDC in 2017. Learn more about the Game Center at GDC 2017.

Alexander King: All game projects start with some kind of spark, from a design question to a feeling you wanted to evoke. What was the spark that grew into your game?

Keir: Well Chris Bourassa and Tyler Sigman had been shooting around ideas before even any development started and one of the core concepts was that in a traditional fantasy setting, the idea that you would go slay a dragon, kill a hundred skeletons, come home, kick up your feet and read the newspaper is like completely nuts. People would have to be messed up to be able to accomplish what you would normally accomplish in a fantasy setting. And then that kind of just sparked a lot of ideas, like “oh well, what if things are not going well? How would they react? What if they’re in a party? How would they react?” And that kind of built out of it, and during some of the talks, I think Chris Bourassa’s creative direction talk at GDC was mentioning, it’s about the “arm that’s holding the sword”, not the sword itself. So I think that kind of core question of just how a fantasy setting actually work, kind of opened up all the possibilities of what we were able to do.

Alexander: On a lengthy game projects, many developers say they enter what you could call a “valley of despair”. Did you experience this during your development process and how did you push through it?

Keir: I mean, in Darkest Dungeon’s development, I mean, even right now is we are still trying to fulfill our expectations and commitments to our fans and everybody that wants to support the game. So, I never felt like, we were in some sort of long slog because we either needed to get gameplay ready for the Kickstarter video, or show it at PAX, or PAX East, or PAX Prime, or then we have Early Access, and then we have builds because of community that we need to put it out there, so it’s constantly been a focused thing, focused on what’s next. And also we’re all like traditional developers. I mean, I’ve only worked in smaller studios of maybe sixteen people on a team, so I’m used to the kind of small development schedule and everybody else has triple A experience as well, and they know what they’re doing, they know what needs to get done. They understand about hitting deadlines because… I mean, it’s even less relaxed than triple A, because you need to hit a milestone, and you need this thing or you need to hit that. I mean, we even have more flexibility, so I imagine for them, some of them, they’ve worked multiple years on projects that never came out. So with this, we need to constantly validate ourselves and get stuff out. I mean, even for GDC, we did a build the week before, which I wouldn’t suggest! But we needed to get it done, and we’re fixing the build on the Saturday before we need to fly out and working on our talks and stuff like that.

Alexander: It’s interesting how much of the development was public. That is a big difference from your typical game. Because almost your entire process was done in concert with fans and supporters.

Keir: And they care. They care that we add a hot key, or that we fix the narration that wasn’t showing up, they’re pumped about that. Which is rewarding too, putting all that stuff out there, because some tasks you work on, you’re not sure how many people would even notice or you start to wondering about, okay, is this going to really fix that many cases? But when you see those one or two comments, like, “Thank you for fixing this bug about how text input works!” You’re like, oh man! That’s good that its appreciated and you get that validation the more you put out there.

Alexander: And lastly, how different did that end product end up being from your original vision?

Keir: From the preproduction that was happening between Tyler and Chris, it changed a lot. Like, I see images in their talks that I’ve never even seen and it looks completely different from anything I’ve seen. We’ve always been very focused on what we wanted to accomplish and putting out the media we put out, putting out the trailers and stuff like that, to set an expectation of what we needed to strive for. So I mean, the game’s had its changes but, like we have not thrown out a lot of content. It’s also just the way the production is, like, the amount of time it takes to make a monster, I mean, maybe a month… two man-months of art time, and then the design time, and then if it has new features, then code time. Not a lot of stuff gets cut, like we don’t have the time to do that. And we also wanted to maintain relevancy in our release schedule. So, a year between Kickstarter and Early Access, then less than a year between Early Access and final release, and even then, we wanted to get a lot of content out this year after release. Stuff’s changed, from community and from design, but if you look at… I mean, there’s a popular video of someone breaking a keyboard… that’s close to two years old, or sorry, a year old and it looks very similar to [now], and a lot of the things are still there. We were watching and seeing all the mini things that have changed and all the different stuff we’ve added. And we’re planning to do more!

Alexander King was once an analytics and strategy consultant, who used Excel, statistics and common sense in order to improve businesses. Now he puts those skills to much better use in making games!