Raphael van Lierop, Founder and Creative Director of Hinterland Studio Speaks.

hinterlandgamesCanadian developers Hinterland Studio have quietly amassed some of the biggest talent in all of the video game industry. Recently the newly formed studio announced the release of its debut game, The Long Dark.

While not much has been made available about the game other than its premise and a few beautiful conceptual images, it has taken the industry by storm.

A game that is inspired by the potentially harsh Canadian wilderness, and who’s protagonist is a Canadian bush-pilot? Sign me up!

I needed to know more about Hinterland and The Long Dark. Thankfully amid a full-fledged Kickstarter campaign; Raphael van Lierop, the Founder and Creative Director of Hinterland Studio was courteous enough to take time out of his busy schedule to answer some of my inquiries.

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Brian Sharon: Hinterland has attracted some of the most influential and creative people working in the industry. How have you managed to amass such an impressive pool of talent?

Raphael Van Lierop: The game industry has changed a lot in recent years, but one thing is constant — talent wants to work with talent. Creative people want to work with other creative people who are passionate and motivated to make great things. Everyone at Hinterland is a world-class developer in their discipline. We came together because we have a shared frame of reference — being ex-triple-A developers — and a shared desire to make great games as independent developers.

Brian: I’ve likened the formation of Hinterland to that of a rock-star super group in the past. I obviously say this jokingly but do you ever feel like you are the gaming industries equivalent to a Velvet Revolver?

Raphael: I’m not sure we would say that, but if the comparison works… Another journalist asked me if we were the Expendables! I’m not sure what we are. The A-Team maybe? Let’s go with that.

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Brian: You and the city of Vancouver have a storied history, how did you convince this very international group to call British Columbia home?

Raphael: Interestingly, a big part of the studio model at Hinterland is to have a distributed team. That’s one of the reasons I can pull this team together — I’m not asking them to move and uproot their families. Developers with 10-15 years of experience under their belts have different priorities. Many of us have families and young kids. We want to do great work but not sacrifice the other things that are important in life.

Having said that, the studio is headquartered on Vancouver Island, and the Island has a huge influence on the spirit and tone of what we are doing.

Brian: It is always interesting to hear how studios choose their names and symbolism. In your case what influenced the title of Hinterland, and what does your symbolic fox represent?

Raphael: Hinterland refers to the fact that my wife and I chose to relocate from the “big city” to a more remote area of Northern Vancouver Island. We live with wilderness on our doorstep. It also refers to the way we’re making our games, and the kinds of games we are making. We’re on the fringe here — creatively, narratively, figuratively, geographically.

The fox is a creation of a British woodcut artist named Jane Beharrell. I was looking for a great logo and came across some of her work, and reached out to her. I told her about my vision for the studio, and asked her to work with me to design a woodcut I could use as a logo. The fox has long symbolized agility and cleverness, which are values we try to have in our daily work in Hinterland. As a small studio, we have to be smart and flexible in order to compete with much bigger, better resourced teams. The shape of the fox and the tail wrapping around echoes the design of the ouroboros, an ancient symbol for eternity and renewal. I like the idea of us being around for a long time, and continuously renewing our creative energy.

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Brian: Could you tell me a bit about the studio’s debut project The Long Dark?

Raphael: The Long Dark is a survival simulation, set in a cold Northern wilderness not unlike one you might see in the North Island, or even Northern BC, the Yukon, Alaska, etc. You play Will Mackenzie, a bush pilot whose plane crashes in the woods after a geomagnetic event renders all technology inert. Your first focus is day-to-day survival in this new world. Over time, as you meet other survivors and learn more about what is going on, you have to make choices about how you want to exist in this world, and what kind of a survivor you’re going to be. The game’s focus is on delivering a deep simulation of wilderness survival.

Brian: You’ve chosen to structure The Long Dark in an episodic nature. How does the game benefit from the format?

Raphael: The episodic structure gives us a strong, coherent framework for narrative. We can deliver content to the player that they can experience and have strong sense of a beginning, middle, and end, and can make meaningful progress through the narrative in a sitting because they know where it starts and finishes. We can expand the story by creating new episodes. The structure is built around the way television series work — episodes, seasons, etc.
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Brian: Where will fans be able to find Long Dark when it releases?

Raphael: We’ll be releasing on a variety of digital platforms on PC, Mac, and Linux. We might tackle other platforms as well, but this is our focus for now.

Brian: Kickstarter has recently launched in Canada, can you share some of your experiences with the crowd-funding titans?

Raphael: We’ve only been at it for a few days but so far it’s going very well. We’ve had great support from the fans and we’re just focused on keeping them engaged and trying to reach as many people as we can. For us, this process is all about building community.

Brian: Where can people find more information about Hinterland?

Raphael: You can visit the studio website at www.hinterlandgames.com, and definitely check out the Kickstarter page for The Long Dark.