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Darklands - Q&A with the Designer

by Silver, 2017-01-12 09:32:24

On the Steam forums for Darklands the original designer/producer has a thread open dedicated to answering questions about the production.

Ask the original designer why...

Over 20 years ago, I almost bankrupted MicroProse by designing Darklands and leading the team that built it. I will do my best to answer design questions in this thread.

There are some caveats:

- I do not have any legal rights to the game or its code, so I can't promise any improvements or follow-ons.

- I am unfamiliar with the code adjustments made to produce this version. I can't help you with bugs.

- I'm a designer and producer, not an artist or programmer, so I can't help you mod the graphics or decompile the code.

- I don't have 10+ million of dollars to invest in making a new version. If somebody were to offer me a decent budget,I could do it. I've built and led teams many times in the game industry. However, I don't think that's going to happen for Darklands in what's left of my natural lifespan.

Nevertheless, for those seeking insights into the mind of a designer/producer, I'm available.


Yasha 13 Oct, 2016 @ 1:37pm
I've always been a fan of RPGs, going back to the paper and pencil era. It took all my political clout and influence at MicroProse to get the project started. I'm also an academically trained historian, which helped inspire the topic and the approach to it. You can see echoes of Traveller and Runequest in the Darklands design, although the setting was totally original.

The problem with making a modern sequel is money. A decent-looking and playing RPG is NOT cheap. The amount of content for RPGs is staggeringly expensive (lots of art time for world building, character creation, animation, etc.), not to mention all the game data and game logic. If you want it playable online (an MMORPG), that roughly doubles the game programming cost, and adds a whole business-software layer to handle monetization (whether subs or F2P style cash shops). As a producer with solo game and MMO experience, I know the level of effort needed. The classic indie mistake is underestimating the work required, but not realizing it until you've burned through your money and are only half done, at best.

People I know have tried crowdfunding game projects. With a few rare exceptions, most projects can only pull in 0.5 to 1.5 million dollars, assuming they even succeed to that degree. I calculate that I'd need at least 10 million to staff a team for 2 years to build the a Darklands sequel. Therefore, for a modern version, I'd have to find a "white knight" who was willing to invest multiple millions in a core team. That team builds some early demos to attract most of the remaining funding. Crowdfunding helps validate the project (or help us find how to change it) and provide additional money for marketing and reserves. Steam Early Access might play a role in the final phase of testing and financing near release.

It is possible that such a "white knight" investor might be a game publisher. Unfortunately, I don't know of any publishers who would be interested. Even in the heyday of MMORPGs, publishers were very leary of projects that didn't have a big license to generate nice sales estimates from the marketing department.

Information about


SP/MP: Single-player
Setting: Historical
Genre: RPG
Platform: PC
Release: Released