The Darwin Project is a new game from from Montreal-based independent game developer Scavengers Studio. It’s a Battle Royale style of game that has more in common with Hunger Games than with H1Z1, but also shares some elements with PUBG.
I got my hands on the game at E3 and I enjoyed it a lot. I think the combat loop the game sports is really neat, encouraging engaging and accessible "battle royale" combat.
I also sat down with Lead Designer for The Darwin Project, Keane Tan, to talk with him about the game.
What was the inspiration for The Darwin Project?
Our creative director, Simon Darveau, he had a real vision for a game that was as fun to watch as it was to play, because right now there are more people watching people playing games than playing games themselves. And this was a vision for the company and something we wanted to get into. So, we searched for various inspirations last year to figure out the first game we should be making, and we saw that the Hunger Games works really well, where players compete in arena and the same time there can be sponsors, help the player or, bet on the winning player, as well as having a show director making the whole thing spectacular.
When did you start the project?
We started working on this project in September, and since then it’s been about 9 months, and back then we didn’t know that this genre "Battle Royale" existed, but once we knew we started evaluating again to see what kind of difference we could make to this genre, rather than make the same thing again.
What in the Darwin Project do you think makes it different, what did you want to differently from other games?
One of the key differences from a player perspective, is this feature we call “the manhunt.” What makes us different from other survival games like Day Z or H1Z1 is — well, as a player I feel very anxious about moving if I find a comfortable spot. Me and my friends we all group up and try to defend our spot [in those games.] So with “manhunt,” the player will get resources and craft items, and every time they gather resources or craft items they leave behind something we call a clue, and another player can come along and pick up the clue and use it to follow the player. And if you pick up a clue, you can follow a player too. So, we’re going for a more active play-style, where the gameplay loop is very dynamic.
What’s the combat like in this game, and how does a player create their own experience and play-styles in this game?
So with the company, currently, we want our games to be consumed by a more casual, friendly base, so our combat system is more of a brawler than a shooter. This means the player has to use various strategies to win, what I mean by that is that — in a shooter with the hit-scan mechanic, generally it's the player who is really good at shooting that wins the game. So we have a bow and arrow instead of a hit scan weapon, and a melee weapon, so the players can more or less brawl it out with each other, encouraging more varied play. And throughout the game, the player will also be able to get electronic items that spawn erratically throughout the map too. A player use these devices to do things like turn you invisible—
Oh yeah I saw that in the trailer!
Yes exactly — and other, more powerful items that help you play the game. Right now the team is doing a lot of R&D to help create more of these powers. We’re also thinking of eventually letting the player customize their own crafting wheel, create their own build and create their own character. One aspect that’s important to mention, is that we want the player to still make cosmetic choices so they can feel like their playing their own character. This will also help create personality, and so when streamers stream, they will be able to tell their own stories.
It seems like the mechanics of this game are encouraging people to build their own community. What’s one of these mechanics that you really like?
Oh! For that I really like the Show Director power. We announced at E3 that we’re releasing a patch in the Summer that will put these powers in place. The Show Director will be able to influence the arena through various means, for example he could close off a zone on the map to make it forbidden, he can give health to a player, he can maybe even revive a dead player. So these powers allow a Show Director to customize his own arena, his own gameplay, his own way he wants to cast the show. You’ll see the details in the patch itself, but why I feel it’s a very strong push for the community is because — say you know a streamer that you follow regularly and who casts the match in a very friendly way; he’s able to help new players, he teases them, he jokes with them, tries to make fun of them with his powers. These kinds of personalities and play-styles can characterize a streamer. But say in a more serious game like in E-Sports-style game, you’d want the director to be more fair and balanced. So it’s really up to the community and who they choose to follow, as well as the streamer themselves to determine how you play the game.
How many people are on your team, by the way?
There’s about 12 of us, so most of us are crazy people, and industry veterans.
What style do you play as and why?
Ah! I am fascinated by the idea of traps, because I thought it was the underdog play-style. And it’s bizarre because, as a level designer, the world I am trying to build is open world, so the player has a lot of freedom to move around, hide behind trees, go into a cabin when they want to stop moving. So really, it’s counterintuitive to build traps, since you’re moving all the time. But somehow [the traps] work. If you use the trap properly in the middle of combat, like putting a trap behind you after leaving a combat situation, or putting it right outside of a cabin, then you can just fire an arrow at the opponent's head. That's definitely my favorite play-style.
That makes sense because as a level designer, I bet you like that the level is open, but still highly mutable.
Well thank you so much for chatting with me.
The Darwin project is set to come out in Spring 2018.
[This interview has been edited for length and clarity]
[All images courtesy of Scavenger Studios]