How inexperience can lead to the creation of a beautifully weird game: a survival horror game with no jump scares.
Hey there! I’m Gustaw, the co-founder of Acid Wizard Studio, the creators of Darkwood. Darkwood is an open world survival horror that does not rely on jump scares. Instead, it aims to provide a unique and terrifying experience utilizing the fear of the unknown. Why no jump scares, you might ask? To answer that, we need to go to the studio’s beginning.
It’s 2012. One evening, three college buddies meet up, decide that they’re tired of their jobs and want to pursue something they always dreamed of: making video games. Thus, Acid Wizard Studio was founded.
Having no experience in the matter, they decide that the best course of action is to make a very simple tower defense game that would be done in about a month of working after hours. This very simple game concept got a bit more complex over time and in the end, it took us around five years of development to complete it. It evolved into a procedurally generated, open-world survival horror game with RPG and roguelike elements, known to you as Darkwood.
Darkwood did not start off as a horror game. As a matter of fact, we were always too afraid to play most horror titles or watch horror movies and very much disliked the horror genre trends from several years ago, which revolved around cheap jump scares.
But, as the game grew, we saw the potential to create something more ambitious with our top-down perspective. By putting a heavy emphasis on sound and music design, tricking the player with our light and field of view mechanics, and making them get lost in a mysterious world; we achieved a dense, creepy atmosphere that’s enjoyable even by wimps like us.
From a game design perspective, Darkwood is a bit like Frankenstein’s monster — a patchwork of ideas and parts of games the three of us loved and cherished: it’s a top-down survival horror, with a procedurally generated open world, nonlinear storyline with choices and consequences, detailed NPC interactions, roguelike elements, skill trees, crafting, a dynamic day and night cycle and a dynamic weather system. We cannot imagine a more complicated mix of features.
If we knew several years ago what we know now, and how much of a headaches during development they will give us, we would have decided that they are totally at odds with each other and would have cut most of them.
Thankfully, we were much more naive and ignorant back then, and thanks to this approach Darkwood is a beautifully weird blend of genres.
For inspiration, we turned our gaze outside of the game industry, mainly to the works of the old masters of cinema like Tarkovsky (Stalker) or Kubrick (The Shining). We were also heavily inspired by Slavic lore, books by Stanisław Lem, Strugacki brothers and games like Fallout or Dark Souls.
On a side note, many players describe Darkwood as Lovecraftian, and they are actually right as the game shares many (sometimes striking) resemblances with the works of the master of weird fiction. But the thing is, we only started reading his stories at the very end of Darkwood’s development, so all the similarities are the result of some sort of cosmic coincidence.
Thanks for reading! We are thrilled that Darkwood will creep onto PS4. If you want to experience a different perspective on the horror genre, be sure to look for it at PlayStation Store on May 14!