Interview: Dementium: The Ward
Modojo recently had the opportunity to sit down with Dementium Creative Director and Renegade Kid Co-Founder Jools Watsham to find out more about the game's development history & horror inspiration, as well as what's next for the small developer...
Modojo: When conceptualizing Dementium & beginning development, what were your goals for the title?
Jools Watsham: Already being a big fan of the Nintendo DS I wanted to bring a creepy FPS adventure to the DS, as there was a serious lack of this content for the handheld at the time. Having developed games for the N64, we knew that we could create some pretty cool looking stuff on the DS and found it strange that only Nintendo had tried to tap into the power of the console with Metroid. Since then games like Brothers in Arms have been produced, which is great to see.
Mo: Did the game change shape in any significant way between those early ideas and the finished product?
JW: Due to the small team size and our desire to release the game on Halloween 2007, we set our initial expectations pretty low in terms of engine complexity. Our first playable demo showed us that we were going to be able to pull off a lot more than we had thought, so our expectations for the game changed a great deal. When we signed with Gamecock in May 2007 our expectations grew again when we had some extra cash to solicit the aid of some talented artists to help create additional characters and cinematic cut-scenes for the game.
Mo: I believe Dementium runs off of a custom DS engine - how challenging was it to squeeze 3D performance out of the system?
JW: Yes, we developed our own proprietary 3D engine and toolset for the creation of Dementium: The Ward. It took a combination of design, art and programming all working together to create a game that took advantage of the Nintendo DS's power. We needed to carefully divvy out the polygon usage, so we created a budget for environment, enemies, pick-ups, etc. The hospital works very well for a scary setting, and can also take advantage of a low polygon budget, which helps with the creation of the environment art. From a design perspective I knew I could create a 'jigsaw' set of pieces for the construction of levels to help keep the polygon budget under control. After the environments were determined we turned our attention to the enemies and the remaining 3D items, such as weapons and pick-ups, until we got a well-balanced ratio of polygon usage established. We always pushed the limits of the DS and backed off when it negatively affected the gaming experience.
Mo: Many survival horror games use atmosphere to set the tone and mood of the game, and to give the player the trademark frights and jitters that accompany such brooding surroundings. Do you believe a handheld like DS can convey such feelings, and how did you take advantage of the DS capabilities to make this an appropriately frightening game?
JW: Yes, I believe the DS can convey a creepy atmosphere; it takes a combination of visuals, audio, controls, and story. If movies on TV can scare you then the DS can too. In fact, the DS may be able to produce a more intimate setting than a TV set and therefore produce a much more intense experience.
Mo: In the realm of horror, inspiration comes from many places. What scary movies or games have you felt influenced aspects of your games?
JW: Silent Hill 2 and Doom 3 were big inspirations in the creation of Dementium: The Ward. As far as movies go, you can't help but be inspired by everything you've seen in some way, but no specific movies acted as a main source of influence.
Mo: What feature do you think best sets you apart from the rest of the horror videogame pack?
JW: The fact that Dementium: The Ward is on the Nintendo DS is a big thing. We want to bring a creepy and enjoyable experience to the DS audience, because it hasn't been done yet. The combination of run-and-gun gameplay, puzzles, and a creepy story told through cinematic cut-scenes is a really good blend, which creates an interesting gaming experience.
Mo: What would you estimate the total game length is, the first time through?
JW: 8 - 12 hours for a first-time run-through.
Mo: What would you say is the gameplay balance between traditional horror and traditional FPS - is it an even 50/50 split, or does it lean closer to the horror (or shooter) side?
JW: At its heart, Dementium: The Ward is a shooter. It can be creepy as hell in some parts, and even thought provoking in other parts, but the main thread of gameplay is shooting stuff.
Mo: Early puzzles involve jotting down number (or music note) sequences for use a little later - but what do later puzzles look like? Can you describe any in a spoiler-free manner?
JW: The puzzles get a little more challenging and certainly more bizarre as you progress through the game. Some will require you to do more than just search for a number. The notepad always serves as a handy tool to aid you in figuring out the puzzles.
Mo: What's next for Renegade Kid?
JW: We had a blast developing Dementium: The Ward for the Nintendo DS and aim to continue developing games for the Nintendo DS. Our goal is to take advantage of our 3D engine and develop games that we're able to focus all of our attention on the content and not have to worry so much about the engine and learning what we can and can't do. We are now authorized Wii developers, so we'll be looking into some of that action too.