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How Darkest Dungeon mirrors the real highs and lows of game development

The makers of Darkest Dungeon explain how the game's stress system began to reflect their everyday lives.

This week, Red Hook Studios released the latest expansion to Darkest Dungeon, formally known as The Crimson Court. With this new DLC, we wanted to take a chance to catch up with Chris Bourassa and Tyler Sigman, the two leads behind the game, to see what they’ve learned about game development now that they’ve shipped a whole new update for their Kickstarter/Early Access success. 

The answer, as it turns out, is a whole lot. While our conversation (which you can watch in full up above) ranged from everything to designing The Crimson Court to the original design goals of Darkest Dungeon, you may want to know these key facts that came from our conversation with Bourassa and Signam. 

Making a game about stress helped Sigman and Bourassa understand how stress affected their lives

As they put it, the in-game character barks that drive up the stress level with other party members is actually a mechanic that Sigman and Bourassa saw reflected among their game development team in production. According to them, they wound up putting a moratorium on discussing stress as the project went on, instead electing to create a Slack icon based on the game’s stress icon to let other employees know when their mood wasn’t 100 percent. 

The game’s new character, the Flagellant, makes interesting use of the game’s death mechanic

Since we figured we have some RPG designers in the audience looking for interesting character ideas, we delved into the design goals behind the Flagellant, the new class of character introduced in The Crimson Court. Sigman in particular took time to explain how this brawler, inspired by self-flagellating Spanish monks, is meant to encourage players to bring him closer toward death instead of avoiding it, and why it proved worthwhile with players. 

How Red Hook Studios planned to sell a $10 DLC "with $15 worth of content"

Since most expansion packs are generally aimed at high-level, high skill players, it was unusual to see Red Hook Studios sell a separate campaign expansion that integrated with the core of the game, as opposed to appending itself at the end. Sigman and Bourassa explained their general intent behind “going back to the well” and why they think it’s a decent model for single-player DLC. 

If this was useful insight for you, be sure to follow the Gamasutra Twitch channel for more developer interviews, editor roundtables and gameplay commentary. 

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