Interview: Arif Majothi – Lead Developer of Dark Fear

When we heard about the new horror RPG game Dark Fear here at Dread Central, we were certainly intrigued by the concept. So much, in fact, that we decided to reach out to lead developer Arif Majothi to get a clearer insight into this very intriguing looking game.

Dark Fear has just been released, and you can visit the official website for more information.

DC: How long has Dark Fear been in development, and how does it feel to finally be at the end of the long road?

AM: Dark Fear has been in development since July 2014. My original aim was to have it out within six months, but game development is one of those things which rarely ever goes according to plan. Now that it’s all over, it feels absolutely wonderful to see the final product in action. It’s like a weight lifted off your shoulders… that is, until you start the next game development project – then the cycle starts all over again!

DC: Can you talk about the game’s plot and how it features horror elements?

AM: The plot revolves around a mystery. The player wakes up locked inside a small log cabin but has absolutely no memory of who they are, where they are, or how they got there. The only clue is a chilling photo on the wall of a creepy looking old man who makes you feel like you somehow know him. The player eventually escapes the cabin and goes on to unravel a sinister plot involving dark forces at work.

As for horror elements, they vary a lot; and I didn’t just want to be a one-trick-pony and stick to just one type. There’s atmospheric tension, supernatural forces, creepy plot elements, disturbing scenes, etc.

The most important of these to me was the atmosphere, which changes depending on the location you’re in and the events that have occurred there. For example, if you enter a place you’ve been warned about by the NPCs (Non-Player Characters) in the game, the location will feel very creepy and ominous. The dark visuals, combined with the soundtrack, are intentionally designed to portray a sense of fear in the pit of your stomach – like you’re not supposed to be there, and you need to get out now. However, once the location has been cleared of whatever demonic force was haunting it, the visuals and atmosphere completely change and feel bright and radiant – like all the dark, negative energy has been sucked out and you can rest easy. You’re safe, and nothing is going to harm you there anymore. Dark Fear’s audio plays a key role in these atmospheric changes and has been very carefully designed. The game even recommends you use a decent pair of headphones to get the best experience.

Regarding some of the extreme scenes, I’ll admit there were certain times during play-testing where certain elements had to be temporarily disabled because they kept giving me a heart attack while I was trying to fix certain bugs in that area! It’s one of the reasons I felt the need to include a warning at the beginning of the game and on the description in the app store.

DC: Was it a challenge to incorporate both RPG and horror gameplay without alienating fans of either? Did you strive for a perfect balance?

AM: No, not at all. Horror is one of those beautiful themes that you can apply to pretty much any gaming genre out there. Some of the earliest horror games were action-oriented such as Ghosts n Goblins, Castlevania, and Friday the 13th for the Nintendo NES. Although they weren’t exactly scary, it was still a good early attempt at 8-bit horror given the technology of the time.

As for RPGs, traditionally they’re usually based on fantasy, but there’s been many occasions where horror has been successfully applied to role-playing games such as the Vampire the Masquerade series of games for the PC.

DC: Will Dark Fear be more approachable for casual gamers as opposed to some of the notoriously difficult RPGs out there?

AM: Most definitely, yes! This was one of the main design challenges on Dark Fear. One complaint I always hear from gamers who dislike RPGs is the fact that they look overly complicated and cluttered with controls. A casual gamer who has never played a role-playing game can easily be overwhelmed when they first try playing one and are suddenly confronted by all these stats, controls, upgrade trees, etc.

For Dark Fear, my aim was to design it in such a way that even the most casual gamer could pick it up and start playing. This was made even more difficult by the fact that Dark Fear isn’t just an RPG; it’s an adventure game, too, which means you have to talk to people, pick up objects, solve puzzles, etc. The key to bringing all this together was simplicity. Dark Fear’s game mechanics are extremely simplified and easy to understand. The player begins the game with absolutely nothing. Just a blank screen. No instructions, no menus, no interfaces. As the player figures out what to do and each game mechanic is gently introduced, they begin to get a sense of what the game is all about. Before they know it, they’re fully immersed in a role-playing game.

Out of the people who’ve played the game so far, two of them had a dislike for RPGs due to their complexity, and one of them was nothing more than a casual gamer. By the time they were done playing Dark Fear, they were absolutely loving it and were telling me all about how much they enjoyed the way the game gently eased them into each layer of gameplay. I’m really hoping when the game gets released this Friday the 13th, that others will also experience the same thing.

DC: Can you talk about the combat? Will it be turn-based or real-time?

AM: The combat is turn-based, but I didn’t just want to leave it at that. There’s also an element of skill involved which determines how powerful your strike or shot will be. The initial inspiration for going turn-based was from playing Pokemon on the Nintendo Gameboy back in 1999/2000. That’s one of my most loved retro games of all time. But the only issue with Pokemon’s combat system was you press a button and hope for the best, as the game would decide whether or not you missed. That’s why I added a small action-based element to Dark Fear’s combat system. That way the player’s skill would determine how hard you hit rather than relying on just random luck.

DC: What kind of monsters will the player encounter?

AM: Enemies in the game vary. You start off fighting regular creatures such as coyotes, wolves, etc. But then you’re suddenly hit with demonic entities, paranormal beings, zombies, and even mythological creatures – some of which require more than just powerful armor and weaponry to deal with. I can’t really say a lot here because I don’t want to give too much away.

DC: Can you talk about how exactly the RPG elements work? Will there be crafting, leveling up, etc?

AM: The RPG system is extremely simple. There’s a health system (HP) which is dependent on the armor you’re wearing. Armor can’t just be bought. You need to hunt certain animals whose pelts are required for the armor. The weapons system starts off fairly straightforward with melee weapons, but soon the player progresses to better weapons which open up a lot more possibilities as the amount of damage they can do depends on what you load them with. Certain enemies are extremely vulnerable to certain weapons, which means they cause a lot more damage than they normally would. There’s also other RPG elements which I’d rather not disclose because I want the player to discover those for themselves.

DC: As this is an RPG, will there be a large open world that feels alive?

AM: The game is 2D and it’s all the effort of one person, so it’s very difficult to create a large open world within those restrictions. The game has a diverse landscape which the player is free to roam around in (once you learn of each location), but besides that, no, it’s nothing on the level of open world games like the Elder Scrolls or Fallout series. Those games have teams of hundreds of people working on them for several years.

DC: Why did you opt for a retro art style?

AM: I grew up playing old PC games so I have a love for that style of artwork. My most treasured gaming memories are of playing adventure games by Sierra Online. People like Ken & Roberta Williams and Al Lowe are like heroes to me! I love the look of the older Sierra titles, and so I decided to replicate that style within my own game. The advantage of using pixel art is it’s relatively quick to draw and it doesn’t take up a lot of space. There’s also recently been a resurgence of pixel games, not just on the PC but on mobile devices. It’s an art style that’s still admired and loved because it has a certain charm to it. If I see a game on the App Store which has a retro look to it, curiosity naturally takes over and I have to go see what it’s all about purely because of how the icon or the screenshots look. Fair enough… not everyone appreciates it, but there’s still a large number of people who actually do, and I don’t just mean retro-gamers like myself.

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