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A Tropical Apocalypse: Wyrmbyte Discusses the Making of Nightmarchers

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Thanks to the influence of the mass media and word of mouth spread by travellers, Hawaii has the enviable reputation of a paradise: palm trees, beaches, laid-back locals, and spectacular waves. The volcanoes of the Ring of Fire add an element of danger that, to some, is even more alluring than the Edenic reputation. However, the islands are also home to a rich, ages-old culture and mythology.

As video games have traditionally drawn inspiration from more widely-known sources (such as Ancient Greece and the Norse religion) few projects have explored the possibilities offered by the Pacific islands. That tendency will change with Wyrmbyte’s Nighmarchers.

Brought to the public’s attention earlier this week via the commencement of its Fig-based crowdfunding campaign, Nightmarchers offers a tropical take on the increasingly tired genre of post-apocalyptic fiction. Set in Oahu, the game begins a century after a cataclysm has destroyed civilisation, dividing society into a series of splintered and disparate factions. At the same time, the Hawaiian boar god Kamapua’a has returned to Earth with an army to take control of what remains. Faced with this fearsome foe, players will step into the shoes of an ordinary man named Kai.

Unbeknownst to him, Kai is the descendant of kahuna who, since their deaths, have ascended to become Akua (deities). Kai’s quest begins when one of these Akua, Kū, wakens him to the threat posed by Kamapua’a and grants him access to the powers of a demigod.

Despite the inclusion of such abilities, the game’s director Scott Brown confirms that “action/shooter-styled gameplay certainly defines the genre [the team] is building towards.” The “supernatural Hawaiian abilities” act as an extra layer to give the player more options and diversify the core gameplay. “While there are some spells that are damage dealing, many deal with abilities outside the spectrum of a shooter, like taking bird form and flying or shark form and swimming.”

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These elements will lend the title some novelty, yet one of the central gameplay loops is sure to feel familiar to those who have enjoyed open-world games in recent years. Although the island of Oahu has been recreated at full scale “to make it as authentic as possible,” the environment will be dotted with outposts for players to attack and claim on behalf of the various factions. The core structure is well-established, but Wyrmbyte is giving it a tangible effect on the moment-to-moment experience by linking outposts to the game’s dynamic content systems.

Bethesda’s Radiant Quest mechanic created quests on the fly, but Wyrmbyte’s solution is more elegant. Every mission in Nightmarchers will be pre-built, with the custom content engine tracking “the changes the player has made to the game world and having those have real changes to gameplay.” According to Brown, “as you capture outposts and choose which faction will gain power, you also change the island and the encounters nearby.”

This system will be vital to ensuring the world feels alive, but the developers’ passion will underpin everything else. To that end, Brown admits to having a “long-standing love for post-apocalyptic game settings.” However, rather than simply replicating Mad Max or another of the genre’s legends, the team “wanted to do something different […] and make a game that takes place in a paradise instead of a desert wasteland.”

To that end, Hawaii was almost providential for the idea of the game. Brown says he has visited the islands “many times” and fallen in love with them, and the setting “just felt perfect for the story idea.” Furthermore, Brown states that as the team has “studied the island more, the game has just fallen into place.”

To discover that Nightmarchers has enjoyed such an organic process across its almost four-year development period is surprising, given the team’s pedigree. Wyrmbyte previously released the 5-vs-5 MOBA Dragons and Titans, and most of the staff members have gained their experience at studios specialising in MMOs and multiplayer-focused titles, with LEGO Universe, Fortune Online, and Auto Assault being among their collected credits.

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Despite the apparent incongruity between such titles and the single-player-only Nightmarchers, Brown insists that the projects are not so different: “Much of the experience we gained from making really large world MMO games has directly applied to building an open-world single-player game.” Indeed, the change has been liberating. “Being free from the limitations of online gaming has been a fun experience for us all,” says Brown.

This smoothness of this process has also given the team the confidence to list a Q3 2018 release window for the project. Although crowdfunded games are notorious for slipping well beyond their projected launches, Brown is bullish about the set date. “We have most of our technical and gameplay milestones passed. Now, it is all about adding more content, which is the most predictable part of game development. We have spent a lot of time building strong tools that will make building the remainder of Nightmarchers possible.”

The game got off to a strong start during the backstage period of the crowdfunding campaign, earning more than 20% of its USD$100,000 goal. Its performance during the public phase has been a little more sluggish, although the project is currently more than one-third funded with 26 days left to go. Brown says that Wyrmbyte is “excited about [the] start so far, but success is only about how you finish, so [they] have a long way to go.”

Nevertheless, the team is excited by the response Nightmarchers has received and that its passion for the “under-represented” Hawaiian mythology and setting is shared by a global audience. Furthermore, given its mix of real-world locations, Pacific legends, and the fiction of post-apocalyptica, Nightmarchers is shaping up as a title that lives up to the development team’s goal of creating a universe that “hopefully [tells] a really unique and fascinating story.”

If Nightmarchers has piqued your interest, let us know in the comments below. For all the latest on the game and much more from the world of single-player gaming, be sure to bookmark OnlySP and follow us on FacebookTwitter, and Tumblr.

Damien Lawardorn is an aspiring novelist, journalist, and essayist. His goal in writing is to inspire readers to engage and think, rather than simply consume and enjoy. With broad interests ranging from literature and video games to fringe science and social movements, his work tends to touch on the unexpected. Damien is the former Editor-in-Chief of OnlySP. More of his work can be found at https://open.abc.net.au/people/21767

Interview

The Long Return Creates a Beautiful Aesthetic in Each Level — An Interview With Max Nielsen

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The Long Return is a beautiful third-person puzzle adventure game, following the story of an orphaned cub. The player explores hand crafted levels as the cub retraces the steps it once took with his mother. The Long Return’s level design is familiar yet still distinct and refreshing, taking inspiration from both new and old games to create this muted low poly feel.

This gorgeous, debut project is the work of solo developer Max Nielsen. Although he is currently finalising the game ahead of its release later this year, he took the time to talk to OnlySP to reflect and tell us more.


OnlySP: What inspired you to bring The Long Return to life? Was it an idea you were sitting on for a while or did it come on quite suddenly?

Nielsen: Actually, I never planned on releasing this game, or even finishing it. I had just quit my job at Microsoft and wanted to create a quick demo for my portfolio, so that I could apply for jobs in the industry. At the time I was working on a 2D RPG mostly for fun, and I knew I would need to make something in 3D for the bigger studios to give me a chance. So I decided to make a fairly simple demo with around 10 minutes of gameplay. However, while working on it, I got offered a job as an application consultant at a great company, and they said they would let me work on my own games and run my own company on the side, so I accepted the job and since then I have been working on this game as a hobby on my free time.

OnlySP: Each zone in The Long Return has such a pleasing aesthetic, how did you go about level design in a mostly natural world?

Nielsen: I am a huge Nintendo fan, Zelda OoT is still my favorite single player game ever, and I had just played through Zelda BotW, and wanted to create a world with a similar color palette and feel. After trying out a few different things I decided to use the low poly style because that would mean I could actually model some stuff by myself. I think I’ve gone through the level design of each zone in my game at least 10 times since I started, it’s crazy how much you learn just by trial and error (although time-consuming).

OnlySP: Will the game have a stronger focus on gameplay and location or story. Is The Long Return is a mix of the two?

Nielsen: Since the start I really wanted to tell a story without any words or text, and I have kept true to that. Instead I tell the story using memories and visuals. This does set certain limits to how gripping and detailed the story can be, especially when working with animals, but I think the message comes across quite well. The game is, at its core, a puzzle/adventure game, and you spend most of your time solving different puzzles and finding your way past obstacles, accompanied by an amazing original soundtrack that I still cannot believe is for my game.

OnlySP: Being your first big project game, what have you learned during development?

Nielsen: That list is incredibly long, and hopefully I can create a post-mortem detailing most of it. But I would say the main things I will take away from this project is:

– Plan, research and test; When starting out I kind of just created features for the game by trial and error, this leads to some really messy code. Nowadays I always make sure to properly plan, take notes, research best practices and test everything in a dev-environment before putting it in my game.
– Marketing is a necessary evil, even as a hobby developer with very limited time, I still don’t do enough of it, shame!
– It’s okay to take a day off, don’t burn out, it’s supposed to be fun!

OnlySP: Overall, how long has it taken for you to develop The Long Return?

Nielsen: Roughly a year. But I’ve been working on games for 4-5 years before that as a hobby.

OnlySP: Do you have any plans after The Long Return is released?

Nielsen: Big, BIG plans, haha. While I love this game and all I’ve learned, I am so excited to start my next project. It is much more “my type of game” and I have very high hopes for it. I won’t say too much yet, but it will combine my two favorite genres of single player games; RPG and city management.

The Long Return is set to release in August 2019.

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