Exclusive Interviews

Death’s Gambit May Give the Original Dark Souls a Run For Its Money as The Most Challenging Game

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[vc_row full_width=”” parallax=”” parallax_image=”” gradient_background=”” full_height_enabled=”” midnight_logo=”” fixed_background_enabled=”” top_svg=”” bottom_svg=”” background_pattern=”” parallax_enabled=”” border_radius=”” col_height=””][vc_column width=”1/1″ gradient_background=”” border_radius=”” border_column=”” icon_size=”64px” icon_color=”#666″ icon_position=”fa-bg-center-center”][vc_column_text css_animation=””]Death’s Gambit is a new action-RPG that draws its inspirations from the Souls series, coming from newly created White Rabbit Studios. But before we get into the game, let’s meet the developers behind the scenes. I had a chance to talk with Jean Canellas, the lead designer on Death’s Gambit and founder of White Rabbit, about how the studio, and their game, came to be.

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row full_width=”” parallax=”” parallax_image=”” gradient_background=”” full_height_enabled=”” midnight_logo=”” fixed_background_enabled=”” top_svg=”” bottom_svg=”” background_pattern=”” parallax_enabled=”” border_radius=”” col_height=””][vc_column width=”1/1″ gradient_background=”” border_radius=”” border_column=”” icon_size=”64px” icon_color=”#666″ icon_position=”fa-bg-center-center”][vc_text_separator title=”White Rabbit Studios” title_align=”separator_align_center” align=”align_center” color=”violet” style=”” border_width=”” el_width=”” heading_tag=”h2″][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row full_width=”” parallax=”” parallax_image=”” gradient_background=”” full_height_enabled=”” midnight_logo=”” fixed_background_enabled=”” top_svg=”” bottom_svg=”” background_pattern=”” parallax_enabled=”” border_radius=”” col_height=””][vc_column width=”1/1″ gradient_background=”” border_radius=”” border_column=”” icon_size=”64px” icon_color=”#666″ icon_position=”fa-bg-center-center”][vc_column_text css_animation=””]“White Rabbit pretty much started about a year ago after Alex (Kubodera) and I graduated from USC,” says Canellas. “We were working on this game, just both of us, our last semester at USC, so last year between February and May, part time, like 10 hours a week because we had other school projects.”

“By the end of the semester we had something pretty decent going, and the story of how it went was we started posting on some indie forums including TIGSource. And then a few indie websites covered us, and then Kotaku covered us, and then we started getting a bunch of emails.”

With all of the buzz they were getting, the two decided to go full time on the project which led to the inception of the studio. The next step was to name the fledgling developer and their first game.

“White Rabbit was pretty easy to decide on. We liked White Rabbit because it has a lot of metaphorical connotations. It kind of harkens back to Alice in Wonderland and a few other things. Actually, there are too many things named White Rabbit,” laughs Canellas. “We just thought it was a cool name and just the implications of the name were really cool as well. That’s really the best way I can put it.”

“Death’s Gambit was a lot more planned. There was a lot of big discussions over the name of the game. It initially was called Terminus and I believe the first time anyone posted a picture of our game was because we submitted it to Indiecade and they posted it to their Tumblr. Then there were two failed Kickstarter games called Terminus and we were like ‘well that’s just bad luck’ so we changed it to Death’s Gambit after a lot of deliberation.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row full_width=”” parallax=”” parallax_image=”” gradient_background=”” full_height_enabled=”” midnight_logo=”” fixed_background_enabled=”” top_svg=”” bottom_svg=”” background_pattern=”” parallax_enabled=”” border_radius=”” col_height=””][vc_column width=”1/1″ gradient_background=”” border_radius=”” border_column=”” icon_size=”64px” icon_color=”#666″ icon_position=”fa-bg-center-center”][vc_single_image image=”64471″ alignment=”” style=”” border_color=”grey” img_link_large=”” img_link_target=”_self” css_animation=”” scroll_hover_maxheight=”300px” scroll_hover=”” move_horizontaly=”” move_verticaly=”” scale_hover=””][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row full_width=”” parallax=”” parallax_image=”” gradient_background=”” full_height_enabled=”” midnight_logo=”” fixed_background_enabled=”” top_svg=”” bottom_svg=”” background_pattern=”” parallax_enabled=”” border_radius=”” col_height=””][vc_column width=”1/1″ gradient_background=”” border_radius=”” border_column=”” icon_size=”64px” icon_color=”#666″ icon_position=”fa-bg-center-center”][vc_column_text]Since inception, the studio has grown to more than just Canellas and Kubodera,

“We also got a few more artists on the project. We have two new animators as well so now it’s about four people. And we also have a composer and a sound team who have worked on a lot of other indie titles, the most recent being Darkest Dungeon and the new Super Meat Boy. And we’re also bringing in another programmer so now its about a four person team with a lot of part time people.”

While the team doesn’t have decades of experience like an indie studio made up of veterans, members still have some experience to draw from. Canellas has previously interned with mobile game developer Backflip Studios, and worked on a student project in his time at school called The Maestros, an RTS that will be making its way to Steam. Animator Greg Laszlo hails from Canada and also has previous experience working at a mobile game studio. And composer Kyle Hnedak is an intern for the famous Hans Zimmer.

In addition to a growth in size, White Rabbit managed to secure Adult Swim Games as a publisher back in March, still fairly early in the development of Death’s Gambit

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“They approached us,” says Canellas. “After the Kotaku article and a few other articles we had a lot of really good opportunities come our way, which we feel super fortunate about especially right after coming right out of college.”

The publishing deal has allowed White Rabbit to avoid having a Kickstarter, an increasingly common way for indie developers to get the funding they need.

“Today I still wonder what could have been if we had done just Kickstarter. It’s a lot of work and we got a lot of publishers with really good deals who made it seem like ‘yea might as well not go Kickstarter if we can go the publishing route.’”

“There was a potential to do a little bit of both where we would get a little money from Kickstarter as well,” he continues. “But we would’ve had to hire an extra person to handle that because it’s so much work. So we weren’t sure. I still wonder if it was or wasn’t a good idea, but mostly I feel like most people do it for marketing reasons. It’s gone well either way.”

“Death’s Gambit initially came into my head ages ago because I personally really wanted to make a hardcore action RPG that kind of was inspired by MMO raiding.”

“It wasn’t until Dark Souls came out where I finally realized this is going to become a genre. This is going to change everything. And that’s when I got really serious about developing this game.”

And while the influence of the Souls series, and games like Castlevania, are evident in Death’s Gambit, the game draws inspiration from other games and entertainment mediums as well.

“This is our first game. Hopefully we can make a good name for our studio. I completely trust that we will.”

“Story, gameplay and art style all have very different inspirations for Death’s Gambit. The story initially was an idea I had for a sci-fi game with a world filled with immortals, and I just basically applied that to the Castlevania Dark Souls prototype that I had and it fit really, really well. That’s kind of the initial conception of the story, but it has a lot of inspirations. The first thing that got me going was Ghost in the Shell. Then there was Attack on Titan.”

“That was the main reason we made the hookshot,” he explains. “We were prototyping weapons and initially we didn’t have any big creatures in the game, and I prototyped a grapple gun just for the sake of ‘What would happen if we needed more vertical climbing mechanics?’ And I was watching Attack on Titan while working on it, so I got super excited on working on this giant. I spent the night working on a leg, and then I showed it to my friends in the morning and they were like ‘this is really freaking cool, you gotta keep making this’.”

Canellas also points to games like Shadow of the Colossus and Sword & Sworcery as influences, as well as Studio Ghibli which inspired some of the game’s art style.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row full_width=”” parallax=”” parallax_image=”” gradient_background=”” full_height_enabled=”” midnight_logo=”” fixed_background_enabled=”” top_svg=”” bottom_svg=”” background_pattern=”” parallax_enabled=”” border_radius=”” col_height=”” css=”.vc_custom_1443638114813{margin-right: -200px !important;margin-left: -200px !important;padding-top: 175px !important;padding-bottom: 125px !important;background-image: url(http://www.onlysp.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/Tundra-Lord.png?id=64757) !important;background-position: center !important;background-repeat: no-repeat !important;background-size: cover !important;}”][vc_column width=”1/1″ gradient_background=”” border_radius=”” border_column=”” icon_size=”64px” icon_color=”#666″ icon_position=”fa-bg-center-center”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row full_width=”” parallax=”” parallax_image=”” gradient_background=”” full_height_enabled=”” midnight_logo=”” fixed_background_enabled=”” top_svg=”” bottom_svg=”” background_pattern=”” parallax_enabled=”” border_radius=”” col_height=””][vc_column width=”1/1″ gradient_background=”” border_radius=”” border_column=”” icon_size=”64px” icon_color=”#666″ icon_position=”fa-bg-center-center”][vc_column_text css_animation=””]When I asked Canellas what he does for fun, he joked, “What’s fun?” The toll of full time development has generally kept him devoid of free time, with his only real breaks coming from traveling to conventions such as PAX East or EVO. And since taking up the development side of things, he hasn’t been able to play as many games as he would like.

“The one game I played a lot was Bloodborne. I think I finished that the second day I got it,” he recalls.

And that kind of sentiment is how Canellas approaches pretty much any game he plays.

“I always tell friends that if I can’t complete it, or even take online games, if I can’t play it competitively, I won’t even play. If I don’t think I’m going to get to a high rank, I probably don’t even get started. That’s just how I play games, I guess.”

And that same penchant for greatness in playing games carries over to the development side. Despite being on the younger side of game developers, Canellas is confident that his team will be able to make Death’s Gambit great.

“This is our first game. Hopefully we can make a good name for our studio. I completely trust that we will.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row full_width=”” parallax=”” parallax_image=”” gradient_background=”” full_height_enabled=”” midnight_logo=”” fixed_background_enabled=”” top_svg=”” bottom_svg=”” background_pattern=”” parallax_enabled=”” border_radius=”” col_height=”” css=”.vc_custom_1443638803368{margin-right: -175px !important;margin-left: -175px !important;padding-top: 150px !important;padding-bottom: 150px !important;background-image: url(http://www.onlysp.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/DG_gif2.gif?id=64760) !important;background-position: center !important;background-repeat: no-repeat !important;background-size: cover !important;}”][vc_column width=”1/1″ gradient_background=”” border_radius=”” border_column=”” icon_size=”64px” icon_color=”#666″ icon_position=”fa-bg-center-center”][vc_text_separator title=”DEATH’S GAMBIT” title_align=”separator_align_center” align=”align_center” color=”blue” style=”” border_width=”” el_width=”” heading_tag=”h2″ heading_color=”#ffffff”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row full_width=”” parallax=”” parallax_image=”” gradient_background=”” full_height_enabled=”” midnight_logo=”” fixed_background_enabled=”” top_svg=”” bottom_svg=”” background_pattern=”” parallax_enabled=”” border_radius=”” col_height=””][vc_column width=”1/1″ gradient_background=”” border_radius=”” border_column=”” icon_size=”64px” icon_color=”#666″ icon_position=”fa-bg-center-center”][vc_column_text css_animation=””]In Death’s Gambit, your character starts out on the verge of death, only to be saved through a deal made with Death himself. In exchange for your vitality, you need to complete a task for Death. This journey takes you through the world of Death’s Gambit and brings you toe-to-toe with one of Death’s Gambit’s main focal points: immortals. These creatures inhabit the world and act as the game’s bosses.

“There are all kinds of boss encounters, there’s very Dark Souls-like bosses. I don’t know if you saw our trailer, but, for example, the one on the platform that moves from left to right where it depends on the weight,” explains Canellas. “Basically, the idea is we want all of our bosses to have a unique mechanic that’s kind of puzzle-like that makes it strategic, so it’s not just about muscle memory. Like in Dark Souls, it kinda devolves into timing your dodge rolls at the right moment and I kinda wanted to add more. I wanted the end game of our game to be way more interesting and complicated.”

Canellas points to influences such as Shadow of the Colossus, a game that has frequently been compared to Death’s Gambit for the similarities between the immortals and the colossi. The game’s immortals also draw influence from other sources, although Canellas was reluctant to share any further information for fear of spoiling some surprises.

“Our bosses are the thing we’re most excited about, for sure.”

While the bosses certainly parallel Dark Souls, Death’s Gambit will try to emulate the Souls series signature difficulty as well.

Ice Elemental[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row full_width=”” parallax=”” parallax_image=”” gradient_background=”” full_height_enabled=”” midnight_logo=”” fixed_background_enabled=”” top_svg=”” bottom_svg=”” background_pattern=”” parallax_enabled=”” border_radius=”” col_height=””][vc_column width=”1/1″ gradient_background=”” border_radius=”” border_column=”” icon_size=”64px” icon_color=”#666″ icon_position=”fa-bg-center-center”][vc_column_text css_animation=””]“It is difficult. I think that one of the interesting things is that I do say it’s as hard as Dark Souls I, which in my opinion is probably the harder one of the series, though I do say that it is going to have content for everyone. There’s going to be some very, very challenging stuff that’s much harder than anything I think in Dark Souls I, for sure. But I don’t think it’s going to be required to complete the game, that’s all I’m going to say.”

“We’re definitely going for a more approachable game because we’re explaining the controls, we’re explaining the stats, we’re explaining a lot of things and Dark Souls doesn’t exactly go into it at the beginning of the game. And although you die as much, we want to make it feel less punishing. And by that I mean you want to keep going.”

“So one of our big things is I remember when I was playing Bloodborne one of my big complaints was when you die, the loading screen is like 20 seconds or more, which is absurd,” says Canellas. “When you die in Death’s Gambit, Death comes down, reaps your soul, and you’re back at the save point like as fast as possible. We want the player to be back in the fray as fast as possible so it’s not super punishing. The save points in most Dark Souls games are not right next to the bosses. Ours are, but thats not to say it makes our game easier. That actually gives us an opportunity to make our bosses more complex and harder.”

Despite a seemingly rigorous trial, Canellas affirms that difficulty is not the point of the game, both for Death’s Gambit and the Souls series.

“I think the point is to make it just challenging enough so that your decisions matter. So that you have to pick the right weapon, or pick the right ability, or pick the right strategy. And if it’s not challenging enough then you could just do whatever and kill the boss or beat the level.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row full_width=”” parallax=”” parallax_image=”” gradient_background=”calm-darya” full_height_enabled=”” midnight_logo=”” fixed_background_enabled=”” top_svg=”” bottom_svg=”” background_pattern=”” parallax_enabled=”” border_radius=”” col_height=”” css=”.vc_custom_1443638528823{margin-right: -200px !important;margin-left: -200px !important;padding-top: 100px !important;padding-bottom: 100px !important;background-image: url(http://www.onlysp.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/Bulwark-of-Aldwynn.png?id=64758) !important;background-position: center !important;background-repeat: no-repeat !important;background-size: cover !important;}”][vc_column width=”1/1″ gradient_background=”” border_radius=”” border_column=”” icon_size=”64px” icon_color=”#666″ icon_position=”fa-bg-center-center”][vc_text_separator title=”READY FOR A CHALLENGE” title_align=”separator_align_center” align=”align_left” color=”sky” style=”” border_width=”” el_width=”90″ heading_tag=”h1″ heading_color=”#ffffff”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row full_width=”” parallax=”” parallax_image=”” gradient_background=”” full_height_enabled=”” midnight_logo=”” fixed_background_enabled=”” top_svg=”” bottom_svg=”” background_pattern=”” parallax_enabled=”” border_radius=”” col_height=””][vc_column width=”1/1″ gradient_background=”” border_radius=”” border_column=”” icon_size=”64px” icon_color=”#666″ icon_position=”fa-bg-center-center”][vc_column_text css_animation=””]Like its influences, the penalty for death is more than just lost time between loading screens and going back to a save point.

“When you die you drop your healing items. The main way to heal in our game is through this healing item called phoenix feathers and those regenerate at save points. There are some other very minor ways to heal, but nothing too game breaking. For example, one of our items is a cape that regenerates your health when you’re below 30 percent health.”

“When you die, you drop that (phoenix feathers) where you die. So say you have three heals at the beginning of the game when you die. Then you have to get back to the place you died with two heals. And if you die again, then you have to deal with one heal, but trust me it’s not impossible.”

And while the game will have its challenge, there is no correct way to go about conquering its trials. Death’s Gambit wants to give players a choice, exemplified in how they give players a wide set of ranged weapons, swords, and other offensive fire power to choose from.

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“You always have the hookshot. You have two main weapon slots. You have three ability slots. And you have your equipment, but the things that matter for combat are your weapon and ability slots. You’ll always have a shield. In Dark Souls you had to put your shield on a weapons slot, but we felt that a lot of players just didn’t run with a shield at all and we feel that actually shields add a lot to the strategy part of the game.”

“Your abilities are kind of our way of spicing up combat even more, so we have all kinds of abilities. Some are based on the weapons, so some abilities you have to have a specific weapon equipped, and some of them are general and they do all kinds of stuff. You find them in the world, through merchants, dropped by enemies.”

“Our abilities have uses, just like your heals, and they regenerate at a save point so you can’t just spam an ability”

As you make your way through Death’s Gambit, collecting better gear will be necessary as you encounter more challenging bosses, which will also be one of the primary ways you get gear.

“Bosses will drop items and they will drop the best items. Our bosses are immortal, so what that means is you can come back and fight it if you want. You can progress to the next level, but if you come back, you can come back and fight the boss and some bosses depending how you fight them, you might get a different item. So some of them have a ‘harder’ way to beat them and they might give a better item, for example.”

While fighting, you’ll want to keep an eye on your health. But more importantly, you’ll want to pay attention to the green stamina bar, which you need to manage whenever you engage in combat.

“You use it to attack. You use it to dodge roll. You use it to block. If you block and you run out of stamina you get a shield break and you get stunned for a little bit so you have to be careful. Managing that is part of the combat, when you fight some of the more challenging bosses managing that is part of the fun. You gotta figure out how many attacks you can get in before the boss attacks you and maybe you can’t block anymore. Or maybe you have to dodge roll instead of block.”

“Timing is huge in our game. You got to commit to your attacks and the enemies also commit to their attacks so you have to plan accordingly and I think that makes the game way more interesting than if it was super-fast paced, but that’s just me.”

In addition to weapon layouts, players will also be able to customize through some RPG elements.

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“There’s all kinds of stats,” explains Canellas. “You have to pick one whenever you level up. So vitality, strength, finesse, haste, etc. You get experience from killing enemies obviously and you also get gear.”

“At save points you can choose to forgo a heal in exchange for more damage,” he adds.

The game isn’t going to be entirely linear and will take a page from the Metroidvania playbook to allow players to slowly uncover the world as they unlock new areas both by foot and by horseback.

“It’s definitely a nonlinear game. There’s many areas you get access to right from the get go that are too hard for you, and potentially you could totally do them, but it’s going to be very challenging. My whole goal is to make the player decide what he wants to do and have several options right from the get-go. You know, have a few levels that if maybe you’re having trouble with one, you can try the other. And it’s kind of like Castlevania, where the whole world you’re slowly uncovering new areas, new levels.”

“There’s barely any big blockades. It’s mostly just ‘can you the level, can you beat the boss?’ And that’s kind of how we want it. You’ll probably want to do certain levels first, and there’s obviously a best order of levels to do, but that’s kinda for you to figure out and you don’t have to do it in that order. There will be some gated stuff, but nothing huge.”

With a Hans Zimmer intern creating the tracks, Death’s Gambit is planning to have a variety of soundtracks throughout.

“There are some atmospheric tracks, especially for our darker levels were it’s a lot about the ambiance and the immersion of the level”

“We have a lot of neat tracks for our bosses,” Canellas adds. Tracks for boss fights will range from expected levels of epic and grandeur found in a lot games, but will also feature some darker and sadder music for certain fights.

Death’s Gambit is still fairly early in development and won’t be releasing until next year. Death’s Gambit is scheduled to release for PC, and White Rabbit will also be bringing the game to PS4, a decision largely based on how many of Death’s Gambit’s influences came from Sony’s consoles.

We’ll hear more about Death’s Gambit in the coming months as there is still a lot people haven’t heard about, but Canellas closed with a sense of confidence.

“Everyone’s gonna be surprised.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row full_width=”” parallax=”” parallax_image=”” gradient_background=”” full_height_enabled=”” midnight_logo=”” fixed_background_enabled=”” top_svg=”” bottom_svg=”” background_pattern=”” parallax_enabled=”” border_radius=”” col_height=””][vc_column width=”1/1″ gradient_background=”” border_radius=”” border_column=”” icon_size=”64px” icon_color=”#666″ icon_position=”fa-bg-center-center”][vc_video link=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wNZyFJacZGQ”][/vc_column][/vc_row]

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