Darkwood first launched on PC a couple of years back, and it's gone on to be something of a horror darling. With the undeniably unsettling title coming to PlayStation 4 this month, we got together with developer Acid Wizard Studio's co-founder Gustaw Stachaszewski, in order to discuss the game and learn more about what could be the console's creepiest indie yet.
Push Square: To start with, can you give us a quick overview of what Darkwood is?
Gustaw Stachaszewski: Darkwood is a challenging survival horror that does not rely on jump scares. It features a open world with a day and night cycle, RPG and roguelike elements. It’s a beautifully weird game set in a Polish village in the 80s.
Darkwood received a lot of praise when it launched on PC a while back -- have you improved or added to the experience for the upcoming PS4 release?
Indeed! Our friends at Crunching Koalas have done many improvements to the gamepad control scheme, making it more user friendly. There are also UI improvements, so that navigating the inventory and menus is more fluid.
A top-down perspective for a horror game is a rather unique premise -- where did this concept originally come from?
I’ll be honest - making Darkwood a horror game wasn’t a conscious decision. At least, not at first. The game started as a simple tower defence type game that was supposed to be finished in a month. It was our first serious project, so the top down perspective was chosen because it was easier to make. Over time the game grew more complex and with the different mechanics we had, like the limited field of view, lights, and a big emphasis on sound design, we saw the potential to make a horror game that we always wanted to play. Something that relies on heavy atmosphere rather than just cheap jump scares.
Horror games often make use of tightly designed environments to maximise their creepiness or the tension of certain situations, but Darkwood uses randomised locations -- at least to an extent. Is it more difficult to create a scary atmosphere when environments aren't hand crafted?
The woods themselves are generated procedurally and the placement of locations is randomised each playthrough. A open world structure with a day and night cycle and a map that does not always tell you where you are forces the player to navigate the world by themselves. Getting lost and not being able to get back home until sundown is a very real threat in Darkwood. It’s something that is always at the back of your mind and keeps you on your toes, but also provides a cathartic experience once you reach your hideout and survive until the morning light.
The locations you encounter in the game are hand crafted, but can be changed drastically due to player actions. Thanks to this approach we can provide a feeling of being far away from home when exploring the woods, but also a more fine tuned, directed experience when scavenging through locations and interacting with the NPCs.
Are there any specific games, movies, or other media that Darkwood takes inspiration from?
We take most inspiration from movies, like the works of Andrei Tarkovsky or Stanley Kubrick. Influence from books by Stanisław Lem and the Strugacki Brothers can also be seen in Darkwood. As for games, I would say Fallout and Dark Souls had the most impact on us when designing Darkwood.
We obviously don't want you to spoil anything, but what would you say is the single scariest thing in Darkwood?
Your imagination! Darkwood uses all sorts of tricks to make your mind work against you, bringing out your own personal fears and anxieties.
A number of years ago, it almost felt like horror games were dying out, but the genre's seen a recent resurgence. Obviously we have blockbusters like Resident Evil 2's remake, but so many smaller development teams are now experimenting with horror. Do you think the genre will continue to grow? What would you like to see from horror games going forward?
Honestly, I haven’t been playing any horror games recently, but I have been watching many movies and shows within the genre. It Follows, Hereditary, Under the Shadow or The Haunting of Hill House are all great examples of works that use horror as a means to explore the human psyche, and I hope game developers will take take note of this to explore the genre more.
Lastly, if you had to describe Darkwood with just one word, what would it be?
Do you have your eye on Darkwood? Gather supplies and then get ready for a long night in the comments section below.
Darkwood releases for PS4 on the 14th May, 2019.
Thanks Gustaw Stachaszewski for taking the time to answer our questions. Special thanks to Tom Tomaszewski and the team at Crunching Koalas for making this interview possible.