New indie gameco Hinterland embarks on The Long Dark

The B.C.-based studio is taking a TV-inspired approach to its first title, an immersive survival simulation for PCs.

While many games are structured to emulate the storytelling structure of film, it’s the long-term vision and episodic style of TV that inspires The Long Dark, a new immersive simulation game from B.C.’s Hinterland studio.

Launched in September, Hinterland is a new indie game studio founded by Raphael van Lierop, a 13-year veteran of the game industry who has worked on triple-A titles such as Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War, Company of Heroes and Far Cry 3.

The studio’s first title, The Long Dark, is an immersive survival simulation game in which the player takes on the role of Will MacKenzie, a bush pilot in survival mode following a global electrical-grid shutdown.

The Long Dark’s $1.2 to $1.5 million budget is made up of just-under $1 million from the Canada Media Fund, and a Kickstarter campaign, which had raised $179,397 of its $200,000 goal as of Oct. 11.

Raphael van Lierop - Creative Director - web

Raphael van Lierop

This week, Hinterland announced Mass Effect voice actor Jennifer Hale has joined the cast of The Long Dark, alongside her former ME voice acting costar, Mark Meer.

MacKenzie’s adventures start as winter approaches, the season being both a plot vehicle and structural element of the game’s release strategy. Inspired by the idea of a traditional TV season, each “season” of the game will be the basis of future phased releases: winter will roll out in 2014, spring will follow sometime later, and so on.

Seasons aren’t the only inspiration TV provided to The Long Dark: in fact, unlike the film-narrative-based approach, in which there is a beginning, middle and end to a game’s story – such as in Mass EffectThe Long Dark will continue on in an evolving narrative, more like a long-running TV show than an immersive feature film.

So a strong story, characters and setting will be equal or more important that the razzle-dazzle mechanics of many triple-A titles, feeding an immersive world van Lierop hopes will pay off with long-term IP value.

“It’s not just one game we’re making – it’s a whole world that we’re drawing people into and we want them to be completely lost in it and completely invested in it,” he says. “They never get enough.”

Of the game’s transmedia strategy, he explains, extensions will be character-focused. For example,  developing secondary characters outside of the game to give them a back story and a deeper connection with players – even possibly a new audience.

“I don’t want to have a show that’s based on the same events as the game or that there’s necessarily a connection between them, like the decisions I make in the game have an impact on something else,” he says, citing Syfy’s Defiance as an example. “It’s more about creating an overall setting with a series of characters, and plotlines that weave into each other.”

Pictured above: concept art by art director Hokyo Lim