Yesterday I had the pleasure of sharing the very exciting news that Fenrir Studios has launched the Kickstarter campaign for Dark Storm: Ascension, their upcoming open world stealth action title that promises to become the next major entry into the genre. As a part of their Kickstarter campaign, Fenrir Studios provided us with an in depth look at their story and the world that they’ve created. Just in case you happened to miss it, here it is…
However today we’re looking to bring you a whole new level of insight into Dark Storm: Ascension as I had the great pleasure of interviewing Christopher Lee Buckner, the Lead Writer that has been responsible for creating the deeply immersive story.
Well the original idea for Dark Storm wasn’t mine. From what I understand Robert and JaVonni had been playing around with the concept for a long time. When I joined Fenrir Studios about a year ago some of the script had already been written, however, it wasn’t very good (to be honest). So I was tasked with recreating basically the whole story, following only a summary outline that Robert had given me. For Dark Storm: Ascension I guess I have to say I thought a lot about Ghost in the Shell and Tomb Raider as both feature really great women, and as a self-proclaimed Feminist I wanted to see more great female characters – something my own daughter could look up to. It was the character of Amber that drew me to Fenrir Studios in the first place.
I remember reading that the original idea was conceived in 2006, however, development didn’t begin until 2012. Was this purely so Robert & Javonni could focus on school or had they been laying the groundwork during that time as well?
Probably a bit of both – great ideas do need to marinade for a while. I know they had been slowly building up assets and contacts. The thing is, while Robert and JaVonni are young, they are both quite smart. They think about step A, and then B, and then C, while some that I’ve known only care about the end goal. This typically dooms most projects, but these guys have defiantly done their homework. I wouldn’t be with Fenrir Studios if we weren’t structured the way we are.
How did it feel to finally start development after 6 years?
When I joined the team, development had already been going on, but was also at a point of shifting focus. Before my time a lot of concept art had been done, and an early build of the game was nearly finished inside UDK. However, a month afterwards once I finished the new script for the game we shifted gears. As often does, technology changes and we decided to move to the Unreal Engine 4. Nevertheless, it is always a wonderful thing for production to be going. We’re still in that UE4 transition right now, which is partly why we have a Kickstarter campaign going on right now, but being in production is always great – I’ve been on both sides of the production, and I would rather be working than being stagnate.
It’s inevitable that over that period of time the story has made evolutionary changes, looking back, is there anything from those early ideas that you’re glad you’ve changed now? Is there anything from those early ideas that has remained the same?
No disrespect to the writers that joined the team before me, but from what I read, the story needed a lot of work. It seemed that no one on the team was ever happy with the direction of the story, so I was asked to recreate basically the whole thing from scratch. I did keep a couple small ideas, and there were a few things that I, even if I disagreed with had to keep in the new story. Nevertheless, most important for myself that I added was a greater focus on characters, world building, and an emotional connection between the primary characters Amber and Jill.
Robert & Javonni have said they’ve taken a lot of inspiration from the Metal Gear & Deus Ex franchises, what was it from those games that spoke to you the most? How have they influenced the look and feel of the game?
I’ve always liked the Metal Gear franchise, but I hadn’t played any of them since MGS2 (I’m not a PlayStation owner). For myself, I absolutely love Deus Ex, with Human Revolution among my all-time favorite games. For both MGS and Deus Ex, I love their characters, story and unique sci-fi worlds. I looked at both of them for a long time for my own personal writing, so being able to develop Dark Storm around those games was a dream come true. Basically, for our production, hardly a day doesn’t go by that we aren’t mentioning either of these games; we always want to keep them as a basis for our own design, which influences everything from the creation of art, writing, music, and level design.
There are a lot of similarities amongst the games in the Stealth Action genre, how does this game separate itself from the rest?
Speaking for myself, I don’t know if standing out too far from other stealth games is a focus – at least not for myself. This is a genre that as a particular set of rules and things that players expect, almost like 2D side-scrollers, or fans of JRPG’s expect when playing games within those categories. I think if you go too far out from what a stealth game is, you lose the essence of what makes the genre special. I know there are things under the hood that Robert and JaVonni want to separate Dark Storm from other stealth games, but for myself, I choose to think about how good stealth game stories and characters are, and ensure that Dark Storm lives up to the quality of MSG, Deus Ex, Splinter Cell, or Dishonored in terms of narration.
From conception, did you always know you wanted the protagonist to be a women? Were you ever concerned that gamers wouldn’t buy into a Stealth Action title with a female lead?
I know I wouldn’t have cared that much about Dark Storm if it didn’t have a woman in the lead. Amber is such a great character, as are all of our women that we feature in Dark Storm. I know that Robert and JaVonni love female characters and I believe they always wanted a strong female protagonist even before it was considered trendy. I do believe fans can accept a female lead in a stealth game – we aren’t the first, and just look at how great Dishonored 2 is shaping up to be, which will now star a female lead.
How important was it for you to depict Amber Kingsley as a strong, realistic women? How do you feel you’ve managed to balance the strengths and weaknesses, making for a realistic character?
Writing women was why I was brought into the team. My own novels each feature a woman as the lead, or is an important part of the protagonist’s identity. It was my goal from the start to depict Amber as a human being, and not a sex-symbol shooting guns. Amber can stand against just about anything you throw at her, but as strong as she is on the surface, there are underlying pains she is suffering and can’t share with anyone, not even her best friend. I think that we all feel this way at some point – that the weight of the world is on our shoulders, and that there is no one we can turn to for help, because how could they ever understand us. This is something that Amber is facing at the start of Dark Storm, and carries through the whole game. It is my hope that players will be able to relate to Amber on an emotional level, even more so than the enjoyment of the game.
Considering you’ve created an original futuristic sci-fi universe as the backdrop for the game, does technology play an important role in the game? If so, how does it manage to shape the world and impact the story?
Technology is a pretty big part of any sci-fi world, and I think fans come to expect that. Most of us (the developers) are sci-fi geeks, and inherently technology nerds. While I don’t go into the specifics (no need to lecture the audience about certain technologies) we do feature some pretty important advances, from Sya, your AI companion throughout the game, to the concept that Dark Matter being the best hope for mankind’s energy independence, to even our map, which is actually a drone – giving how important drones are becoming in everyday life and the military.
Currently the Kickstarter campaign has a total of nine stretch goals planned, however, only the first two have been revealed. Are they all going to be in game additions/ improvements or will there be the possibility of a console release?
We do actually plan to reveal all our stretch goals soon. Most are in-game features such as the first two that can be seen on the Kickstarter page, which will be new sections of the game that will expand the story and give hints to what players might expect down the line. But we do plan – or more so hope that we can release Dark Storm: Ascension on consoles in the near future, which would make me happy since I’m more of a console player than PC gamer.
Considering that you guys are gamers yourselves, what aspect of the game are you most looking forward to fellow gamers playing? Do you think this will be become a game for gamers, casual and hardcore alike?
The safe answer is – Dark Storm: Ascension is for everyone lol. But seriously, we do plan to have an AI scaling system that responds to how the gamer chooses to play. For myself, I like to go full-on stealth mode and silently kill everyone in the room. But I know there have been those on our team that love the action elements more. Hopefully, our scaling AI will ensure that both sides of the fence find something enjoyable. As to what fellow gamers playing? Watching the cinematics, because I wrote them lol. But really, there is so much cool things going into this game that I can’t pinpoint any one thing that gamers might enjoy above something else.
Currently what’s your favorite video game? How about of all time?
I’m a big Star Wars nerd, so naturally I really love Knights of the Old Republic, and the MMO Star Wars: The Old Republic. Other than that, I don’t have any one outright favorite. I love RPGs and Stealth games, and as such I really enjoy Mass Effect, Assassin’s Creed, Deus Ex, Fallout and Elder’s Scrolls. Currently, I don’t get the chance to play too much, but I do have Batman: Arkham Knight sitting on my Xbox One.
What advice would you give anyone wanting to pursue their dream of developing a game? What would you say is the most important building block to start with?
The first bit of advice I would say is, just do it. No matter what people say to you, or how hard it might seem, just go for your dream no matter what it might be. It is your life and no one else’s, so do what makes you happy. Now if you do want to get into video games, firstly, find something that you are good at: art, writing, design, modeling, etc. And practice, practice, practice. Second, get an education – there are so many schools that offer affordable studies in video game design. Myself, I went to Sacramento City College, which has an amazing game design program for a city college price. And then third, when you find what you are good at, learn something else. Seldom do you find someone only doing one thing. I myself am a writer, but I am also a game designer, and can model, and do character concept art. Just make sure you are as useful to your team as you can be. And last, build your portfolio. Work for a small indie companies if you can, or join hobby groups. Even if you never have a game that gets released you will still come out with a solid portfolio and invaluable experience.
If you haven’t yet made it over to Fenrir Studios Kickstarter page for Dark Storm: Ascension, please check it out… Remember showing your support doesn’t always mean contributing financially, sometimes the best thing you can do is to take to your social media accounts and share the info with your friends/ followers… the more eyes on it, the better.
I’d like to take this moment to thank Christopher for all of his time, I definitely look forward to staying in touch with him and the rest of the Dark Storm: Ascension team. We’ll continue to roll out updates as they come down the pipeline, especially when they’re able to confirm we’ll have an opportunity to play on current gen consoles… As I mentioned to Christopher, my PC is essentially a glorified paperweight.
As always, if there are any burning questions that you’d love to have answered please let me know in the comments below and I’ll do everything I can to get them answered for you…