Yesterday we launched the first part (which you can find here) of our three part interview series on the brilliant mastermind behind New Blood Interactive‘s not-so-retro cult-busting shooter.
We’ll be discussing some of the finer points of the production process, (@DuskDev) David’s unusual favorite genres, and then following it up the next day with an exhaustive overview of his favorite video game levels in Part III.
REBIND: There’s been numerous pieces written on DUSK’s fantastic twisty-bendy architecture, but what’s an underrated component of the game you’d like people to notice?
David: Oh geez, I don’t think I have any right to call anything in Dusk “underrated” given how overwhelmingly positive the response has been.
REBIND: How do you feel about middleware in general these days, you’ve spent a lot of time with Unity and seem to know it well, do you ever find yourself wanting to make your own engine or switching to a different one?
David: Constantly. I’m a big proponent of doing things yourself, from scratch or as close to scratch as is feasible. Now in reality, everyone uses stock assets in some capacity, everyone uses tools of some sort that they didn’t make, etc. Carl Sagan to make apple pie from scratch one must first create the universe blah blah blah. But I think it’s important to recognize that creativity is as much about inventing solutions to problems as it is about imagining things.
I shared a story on Twitter recently about how The Escher Labs–maybe the most popular level in Dusk–only came about because I couldn’t come up with any creative set dressing or visuals for a lab environment, and it would have just been a typical lab if I’d been purchasing set dressing or using a modular set. Any “easy way out” solution you take that doesn’t involve doing the thing in question yourself is a potential lost opportunity to have to work through a problem and come to a solution that’s way cooler than what you originally wanted.
So the idea of making my own engine is always in the back of my mind, but the thing is… it’s hard. And time consuming. And requires significantly more math than I’ve ever dealt with previously. And the flip side to this “working through problems is good” philosophy is that… well, to be frank, you’re going to be spending a lot of time working through problems.
And if you’re trying to make a living as a developer, at some point you have to draw a line and say “this is not worth my time to work through.” In my case, I won’t purchase models or animation assets, but I will happily use stock textures and sounds as a base for things, and I make cautious use of plugins for some tasks (cautious because I’ve found using plugins can sometimes be more trouble than they’re worth, if something goes wrong and you have to dig through someone else’s code to see if you can fix it).
And, of course, I use Unity instead of writing my own engine. Ultimately it’s the results that matter, not the process. I just find that being conscious about getting my hands dirty instead of always trying to rush to those end results can lead to better things.
Would I consider switching to a different engine? Also something I think about a lot, especially recently. I’m surrounded by people advocating Unreal 4, and I’ve been eyeing up Godot, but the thing is… I just really prefer making stuff to learning tool sets. And I’m slow to master tools also, because of this.
I’ve used Blender in 6 games now and I know barely anything about its functionality outside of the few tasks I need it for. At this point I’m quite comfortable working in Unity. I don’t know how long it would take for me to get comfortable in Unreal 4 or Godot, but it’s for sure a longer delay than just sticking with the tool set I know and putting that time toward making games instead.
REBIND: What’s a genre you like that people might not realize you do?
David: I really like point and click adventures. Well… first person horror-y or creepy-y point and click adventures, at least. I do enjoy the more traditional kind but I’m not as drawn to them as other genres and haven’t actually played many. But stuff like Myst, Scratches, Barrow Hill, etc… I love those games. They’re comfy.
Before the Resident Evil 2 remake took over my life I was playing a game called INFRA, which is for all practical purposes a real time first person point and click adventure, and it’s just glorious. I don’t even know if, like, the game design is good or whatever… I’m just having a blast with it. Realistic-ish puzzles in decaying infrastructure. 100% my thing.
Maybe less of a surprise to anyone who played my earlier horror games but, I do actually like walking simulators. Or, more specifically, I like chill low-key games that let me explore a space, and especially ones that sort of play with that idea. Proteus is still one of the most beautiful games I’ve ever played, and every time I go back I’m just enthralled by it.
REBIND: What’s it like, being all fancy and famous now for you?
David: Hahaha well I wouldn’t really describe myself as either. I’ve been very blessed with Dusk’s success though, and the main goal now is to channel that into keeping my family financially secure and allowing me to continue with future projects. To keep doing this as an actual profession, basically. My life hasn’t changed too much since releasing Dusk, other than I’m working on stuff that isn’t Dusk in addition to working on Dusk, and I have more time where I don’t have to be working.
REBIND: How do you feel about audio in your games?
David: I wouldn’t describe myself as a professional-grade audio designer by any means. I approach sound pretty much the same way I approach everything else: the goal is to effectively communicate an idea rather than make something polished and professional. So my process involves a lot of… I dunno, aggressive brush strokes, I guess you could say? Throwing stuff together, doing weird things with speeding up or slowing down or reversing, taking odd or unprofessional samples and cutting them up to find unique sounds, etc.
I’m pretty proud of a lot of it, but there are definitely rough edges if you listen closely (or even not so closely, in some cases).
Andrew and I mostly worked collaboratively on the sound effects in Dusk, and he’s basically the opposite: a consummate professional who knows his craft inside and out. So it’s a little more of a mix than my other stuff. Like, my initial super shotgun sound was super clipped, and Andrew was like “let me take this and see if I can make it less distorted.” So he did and it sounded better but it was lacking the same impact, so I was like “ok let me tweak this a bit” and added in some deliberate clipping to the very front. And that was the final super shotgun sound, which I think turned out pretty great. We did that with basically all the weapons.
For other stuff like background ambiance or environmental noises he’d usually provide the sounds and suggestions how to use them then I’d plug them in and sometimes make modifications or use different sounds depending on what I thought was best for the feel of the level.
Enemies were kind of the opposite, where I did most of them and Andrew would suggest alternatives or changes if something didn’t sound right. We ended up coming to a pretty easy mutual understanding of who mainly did what, then would compromise on areas where one person felt like the results weren’t right. It was a very pleasant working experience and it resulted in what I think most people agree is a pretty great-sounding game.
Join us tomorrow when Part III goes up, don’t miss it!
Emily Rose is an indie developer who writes for rebind.io and resides in the pacific northwest. She’s often seen in the local VR arcade and developer community participating in pushing the medium’s horizons. You can find her on twitter @caravanmalice