Back in 2013 I Kickstarted a game called Dark Darker Darkest (DDD). It sounded like the kind of thing I could really get into. It’s a horror-based game that reminded me a lot of my first play through of the original Resident Evil on the Playstation. I’d originally noticed it on BoardGameGeek where game designer David Ausloos was talking about the progress of his design and providing the community with snippets of information that kept us hooked.
Almost two years after I first heard of it, on June 11th 2013, the Kickstarter campaign for DDD launched. There was a lot of excitement from the fans and within two hours the game had reached its funding target and was working towards the first of the stretch goals. All was going well and everyone was happy.
Unfortunately as the campaign progressed it became apparent that the publisher Queen Games hadn’t really planned for the campaign as well as they should have. Plagued with misunderstanding and confusion for the backers this particular campaign goes down as the worst run campaign I have backed.
The game released with a rulebook that was more than a little confusing and a whole bunch of other publisher problems. Alas, Queen Games seemed to have moved on at this point and were busy with their next campaign. The supporters of Dark Darker Darkest were left asking the same questions over and over with little or no response.
Despite such a difficult start to its life the game still shows a great deal of promise and David Ausloos has been working hard on improving the rules. He’s been personally sending Geek Mails to anyone on BoardGameGeek who owns DDD to let them know when errata and clarifications are released. In fact, late last week I was happy to receive such an update which stated:
“With some excitement on my part I can finally present you the revised rules for Dark Darker Darkest. This was a massive project, doing a complete rewrite of the original rules that failed to offer consistent information and was riddled with errors that affected gameplay.
It was also an opportunity to listen to the feedback from players all over the world and tweak a few mechanics for optimal gameplay.
I am very happy with the end result, which is a big step up from the previous version.”
On reading this news I mailed David back to thank him for his dedication and asked if he would be willing to answer a few questions that I could then post here on the blog. David accepted the invite and here we are. I hope you all enjoy reading our little chat.
Tom Chats with David Ausloos
Tom: Hi David, thanks for agreeing to do this, I really appreciate you taking the time to have a chat with me.
David: Thanks, I’m glad of any opportunity to support the game.
Tom: I was thinking we’d start with something easy and then move on to the Dark Darker Darkest questions. So let’s kick off with – When and how did you get into the board game hobby and when did you realize you wanted to design games?
David: Actually I’ve been working on board game designs since I was a kid. Nothing serious, but my parents still kept some of the little prototypes I made. Funnily enough horror was my favorite genre for board games even back then. I think my first game was actually about a haunted house. Go figure…
Tom: Speaking of haunted houses, when I first heard about Dark Darker Darkest, the premise and feel of the game reminded me of Resident Evil on the Playstation. What were your main inspirations for DDD? Did you borrow ideas from the video game world?
David: There were a number of inspirations, but the main one actually came from playing another zombie game that, for me, failed to deliver the feeling of being fragile as a human being and totally outnumbered by hordes of the undead. I wanted to capture the feeling of this small group of people struggling for survival.
The remake of “Dawn of the dead” certainly inspired me too, but I wanted the universe to be a little more gothic and weird. I hope to expand further into this unsettling house of horrors, more akin to Dario Argento in its surrealist touches than the urban realistic setting of Romero’s work.
Tom: That’s quite an interesting vision and I think you’ve managed to capture that feel quite well in the final game. You must have been pretty confident that the theme would appeal to lots of people, but thinking back to before the Kickstarter campaign, did you ever imagine you would reach the funding goal? and what went through your mind as you hit that goal within two hours?
David: There were definitely signs that the game was on the radar of a lot of gamers.
It was in the top 15 most anticipated games for years on boardgamegeek.com and during playtests I felt it triggered something with gamers. But of course, these things are hard to predict. In any case I was extremely happy with the end result.
Tom: Later in the campaign there were numerous problems as Queen Games confused backers with some very strange and, what felt like, very reactive stretch goal additions and changes. Did any of the stretch goals get added without you signing off on them? I guess what I’m asking is; were you surprised by any of the additions made by the stretch goals and how did this effect you?
David: It was a hectic period. I think the main problem was that Queen had no previous experience with this type of game. This is not a typical Queen product, as it also attracted miniature gamers. In this genre of games a Kickstarter is as much about components as about the actual game. This was something Queen might have underestimated at the beginning of the campaign.
Tom: I think you’re probably right with that and I suspect it’s a lesson that will only help improve their future campaigns. At the time though, there seemed to be a lot of negative comments flying around, some of which were not even remotely constructive. How did you feel about that?
David: The public can be very harsh in their opinions, and leave a company little or no room for error, regardless of the fact that this is their first step into a new genre or product. I understand both sides, but it was sometimes sad to read all the harsh comments that got posted during the campaign. I had to constantly remind myself: this is only a game.
The campaign itself was a learning process for everyone involved. In this type of production there are so many people involved… As the designer you’re only one small cog in a gigantic clockwork machine. This can sometimes be frustrating because it’s hard to get a view of the whole big picture.
That said, I felt it was an interesting month and on a personal note it made me feel that Kickstarter is becoming this giant monster with campaigns being more and more about eye-candy in the form of fancy stretch goals rather than actual content and gameplay. As a designer this can be frustrating, because everyone is talking about the quality of the miniatures, and nobody even mentions the actual gameplay. It feels as if that just doesn’t matter anymore.
Tom: Does this turn in the industry concern you?
David: I can’t deny that this trend for a designer is somewhat of a concern but I think only time will tell if this will increase or decrease.
Tom: Going back to Dark Darker Darkest and thinking about the rulebook that it shipped with. Obviously you wrote the original rules, but how involved with the production or editing of the final product were you? Where there any issues that appeared in the finished rulebook that weren’t in the rules you provided originally?
David: I think the biggest problem is communication. I think the co-operation of an editor and a designer on the rules is crucial, and I feel this aspect was not as tight as it should have been. In general, consistent rulebooks are possibly the most difficult thing to produce. If it was easy to do, we’d see a lot more perfect rulebooks out there.
In practice though, most rulebooks turn out to be anything but waterproof and most games I buy myself in a first print run end up with with a FAQ produced shortly after release, with all the mistakes corrected in the second print run.
The chances of mistakes multiply when the system is more involved like DDD. There are so many variables and I think the editor involved had somewhat underestimated the possible situations the system could render that needed to be covered by the rules. Add to this time pressure and you have a non optimal context.
So again, for me this was a learning experience. It is definitely a focus point for me on future releases, in fact, the rulebook of Rogue Agent that was produced in the same period is I feel, more optimal.
Tom: Over the past few months you’ve been working to improve the rulebook for players. I’ve seen two GeekMails from you to date; the latest of which resulted in this very conversation. I’ve not had chance to try the new rules but I commend you on how much time and effort you are personally putting into supporting the game. With this in mind, if you could go back to before the Kickstarter what’s the number one thing you would you do differently?
David: I would have liked a little less time pressure.
I had to focus on so many things during the production process. It was exhausting. Fascinating but exhausting. I can only hope that gamers remember that each step of a product is usually a step with the aim for perfection, but seldom reaching that.
For me DDD is this living system that I want to further explore with new additions, expansions and ideas. It has a lot of potential for growth in all manner of directions. Now that we have a solid set of rules I feel I have a steady base to work on.
For me the opportunity to rework the original rules and turn it into something consistent and solid feels like a big relief and first time players will be experiencing the game like I intended it to be.
Tom: You said in your GeekMail that you’ve received a lot of feedback and support from players all over the world. How does this make you feel? Are there any people you’d like to give a shout out to?
David: Oh, there are lots. Some of the people I thanked in the revised rules have been wonderfully supportive, offering me feedback on every little detail. Michael Meyers (Scubaroo on BGG) springs to mind. He’s played the game a lot and knows the system through and through, so it was fantastic to be able to communicate with him about some ideas I had for tweaking the system to make it even smoother.
John Bruns was also available to offer me feedback whenever I needed this, and Richard Waszczuk and Richard Keiser did amazing things with the editing. I can’t thank them enough for the amazing job they have done. We had a very intense communication back and forth during the whole editing process. It also helped that they knew the game system well.
Tom: OK, I couldn’t go through this interview without asking. Do you have any idea when the DDD backers will be receiving the rest of their content?
David: If you are referring to some of the new creatures, they are almost ready for production.
They were actually specifically produced upon request by backers, so they could only start work on them after the campaign. I’ve seen first the shots of the sculpts that will be posted on the campaign page soon, and they look great. I’m excited that we can work on new creatures to add extra variety in the encounters. This game is all about creating unique stories with each play, and adding new rooms/encounters/characters helps to ensure that no game ever plays out the same.
Tom: Despite the issues that you’ve had over the past 6 months, I noticed that earlier you mentioned expansions. Do you have plans for any? Or are you working on any other projects at the moment that you’d like to mention?
David: Yes, there are plans for expansions. Not much I can say, but like I said, for me this is like a potentially endless playground to project ideas onto. I see the universe of this game expanding in different directions. Some will focus on the more grotesque gothic side of things, some might even
put things on a larger scale.
At the moment though, I’ve just finished development on a game called Red Moon. I am very happy with the recent playtests I did, which spawned a lot of positive feedback. Some say it’s my most accessible game for a wide audience, and who am I to disagree?
It’s a compact little, hidden information, game set in a small Russian village. You’re a lieutenant sent by the Tzar with a mission to protect the village from an assault by werewolves.
I have tons of other game systems written out on paper that I want to further develop. Enough material for another 10 years of game design! Ahhhh… so many ideas… so little time.
Tom: Red Moon certainly sounds like it’ll be worth a play, when do you think we’ll be seeing this one on the shelves?
David: I’m going to submit it to a publisher soon.
Tom: Going back to DDD, you must have gained a massive amount of experience from working on it, I was wondering if you could give any budding game designers out there a list of the three most important things you’ve learned during this project?
David: Try to focus on one good mechanical idea and build a system around it.
There are so many good dungeon crawlers on the market, so make sure if you want to design one that you can offer a new twist to the genre. A unique mechanical idea that can offer players a new way of playing such a game.
For me with each new design I set out to find that new twist. If I don’t find a way to introduce something fresh and unique to a genre I leave it alone.
Tom: Awesome advice, and something I’ll definitely bear in mind as I work on my prototypes in the future. It’s been really good to chat with you and hear about your DDD experiences. I just want to say a big thanks for joining me here on GeeksThatGame, I wish you all the best with your other projects and I’ll let you know how I get on with the new DDD rules.
David: Thank you for inviting me for this chat. Enjoy the revised rules, and try to stay alive.
So, there you have it folks, a very cool interview with Dark Darker Darkest designer David Ausloos, I hope you found it interesting and I hope those of you who have a copy of the game are going to grab the new rulebook and use it to shed some light on those Darkest of rules.
Interestingly, as I was about to publish this post I got a mail from Kickstarter informing me that there was an update (#44) for the DDD campaign. It looks like the photo David mentioned during the chat is now available to view, it looks very cool, and there’s some positive comments and signs of progress from Queen. Hopefully DDD is now becoming the platform that appealed to me so much at the start of the campaign.
As always, I hope you enjoyed the post, feel free to add comments and I’d be especially interested to hear how people have got on with the new rules!