How the dev behind Duskers let his game be what it wanted to be

There's more than one way to skin a dragon, and more than one way to make a game. The lead developer of Duskers explains how he stuck to themes instead of features lists.

“I decided to evolve [Duskers] and let me teach me what it was, instead of going after these pillars up front.” 

Duskers lead developer Tim Keenan, on listening to what his game wanted to be.

During our Twitch stream on Friday with Tim Keenan, creator of the search drone-piloting simulator Duskers, he explained how instead of adhering to genre expectations or pre-determined features, he focused on staying true to the specific themes that he wanted to convey.

“I feel like a lot of times people list features out, and people go ‘well we’re really going to nail exploration [mechanics],' or something like that, whereas if you say 'we’re going to nail isolation,' or [ask] 'what’s our relationship with technology?' then that can be so much more pervasive....That can affect sound design, UI, and you can see how it’s seeped into every corner of the game.”

Keenan goes on to talk about how this even affected how he responded to player feedback. Though he was convinced at first that some of his gameplay decisions were absolutely correct and true to the vision of the game, he realized that his game was talking to him in a more nuanced fashion, and his players were picking up on it before he did. 

“Everything in Duskers is about adapting to survive," he says. "Things break down, situations change, that stuff. But every time I ask you to adapt, you have time to react.”

And that’s what his players weren’t getting during a portion of his Early Access development—time to react. As Keenan explains it, designing games this way can lead to a stronger, more cohesive game, but it also means treading more carefully and putting a huge amount of faith in your instincts and your ability to judge when things aren’t working. 

This was also the subject of Keenan's recent Fantastic Arcade talk, where he goes more in-depth on why developers should let their games speak to them. 

For more stories from Duskers’ development (including when Keenan’s own AI turned on him in the most devious, surprising ways), be sure to watch our full conversation with him from last Friday’s Gamasutra Twitch stream.

Be sure to subscribe to our channel for regular interviews with game developers every Friday at 3PM PST! 

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