After the email interview with Michael Blackney, the director of Team Fanclub, we are more excited than we ever were to get our hands on their latest game, Dead Static Drive. When asked to describe the game in a few words, he said the game was basically a grand theft Cthulhu.
Road trip… but not the fun kind
Dead Static Drive is an existential road trip adventure game through a nightmare, nostalgic American world. The players get to drive through a fictional version of the USA, stopping in small towns, gas stations, and rundown city limits. What starts as a road trip evolves into a game of survival against a progressively oppressive world.
All aboard the hype train
After receiving a lot of attention from this year’s GDC, we decided to track down the game director of this captivating game. In love with the unique art style of Dead Static Drive, we were excited to learn about the game’s journey so far and what the developers were cooking up next.
Guided: How far ahead are you in development? Can we expect a 2018 release?
Mike Blackney: I can’t really say how close I am right now, but I don’t expect a 2018 release. It’s a very small team and I want to make the game well and release it when it’s great; I’m not interested in getting the game out there before it’s really perfect to play. But thankfully there’ll be lots of opportunities to play early as I’m regularly taking the game around the world to show it off at conventions like PAX.
You described the game as Grand Theft Cthulhu. Can you elaborate on that? What kind of features can we expect from the final version of the game?
Well, that’s a hook, and I’m trying to make sure that the game follows that proposal. To me, the Grand Theft part means a non-linear game where you can drive awesome cars, stealing them if not acquiring them legitimately, run about on foot, cause mayhem, and (if you choose) unravel a story. But also, the Cthulhu element comes into play when horrific creatures from other time and space enter our world and threaten life as we know it. It’s a horror game with a very strong dose of humour injected into it!
As for features in the final version, it’ll be an adventure game with a lot of investigation and survival mechanics. There will be mysteries to unravel and you’ll be expected to do a lot of travelling. You need to eat, sleep and manage your bladder, and failing to manage your character’s needs will make the game’s driving and combat more difficult. There’s a large world with hand-created locations, but there are lots of procedural storylines that shift and react to the player’s actions. Characters in the world can be saved or left to die, and you’ll be expected to play the game multiple times to unravel all of its mysteries. I love the novel I Am Legend and how the lead was trying to survive and also investigating the cause of the vampires that had taken over his world. I really want players to have that mindset.
Although we love the art style of this game, how do you plan to make the aesthetic fit the genre of Survival/Horror?
Thanks! I’m making a game with a moody, ethereal style but also with a feeling of warmth and vibrantly pastel colours. I want the game to feel hot and cold at different times of day, moody and lonely, and isolated. I think a lot of those emotions can work really well with a tense mood, and hopefully, the sound design in the final game brings together the feelings that I’m trying to get the player to feel.
There are roguelike features to the game. Once you die, you can never get that character back. Most roguelike games facilitate some kind of progression system in the form of unlockables or powers. Is there a similar feature in Dead Static Drive?
I wouldn’t really push the game as roguelike – when I’ve tried to talk about the game, I try to push it as an anti-roguelike. It’s informed and an extension of some of the gameplay elements that you’d see in Rogue, but often they’re different features from what players are used to seeing as the “roguelike” genre. I don’t have randomized maps, for example. The world is hand-crafted. I have procedural elements, but not in the sense of “randomly generated” procedural: the game’s storylines are generated using a complex set of rules and each playthrough will obey those rules. That gives a lot of variation as you play, but it’s quite determinative; so, if you play through multiple times you’ll be able to know how to influence the story and progression of storylines and quests to change which characters are alive, where monsters will be, and (eventually) what ending you receive.
The game doesn’t presently have any levelling or stat building: most progression is inventory-based. Getting more gear (and the right gear!) greatly increases your powers of survival and your ability to complete the game.
What was your experience with GDC ’18? Did you get a lot of attention from any other conventions?
I had a fantastic time at GDC, which is pretty much always the case. It’s a wonderful time of year when I get to see a lot of my friends and find out what they’re working on. This year I had the awesome privilege of showing off the game at Day of the Devs, so I had thousands of people in the industry playing it and giving feedback. It’s been such a boost to my profile being a part of that, and I can’t thank Double Fine enough for being so keen to help out indies. They booked out the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema and the devs who had their games in Day of the Devs got to go on stage and play their games in front of a huge crowd. It was just so much fun.
I’ve shown the game off at four PAX events (PAX Aus twice and PAX East and West in 2017) and those have helped me get a little interest, but not much. It was a little too early to be showing it off and I think players knew that as well. Press is starting to care now that more of the game is out front, and that’s been so encouraging. Most of the benefit for me out of showing the game at events is that I can watch people playing the game and learn about what’s working and what’s not – where players get hooked, where they might stumble? What’s their reaction to death, how easily can they pick up the controls? I always come away with extremely long lists of changes that I want to make, and that iteration is usually the heart of the game becoming really polished and accessible.
Is there a multiplayer option for Dead Static Drive?
There’s no multiplayer at all. I’ve tossed around ideas for what the game might look like if I wanted to add it at some point. Right now, it’s a single-player experience only.
Which platforms are you releasing for?
I don’t know yet! I hope to be PC and console and I’ve looked a little into other platforms like Mac and Linux, but I haven’t gone much further than initial talks with the consoles. I’ve designed the game to be played both with a gamepad and mouse/keyboard. I don’t have any mobile plans yet.
What message do you want to give your fans who have been following you for the past couple of years?
I love you and I appreciate all the support! It’s been fantastic to have fans support me as I grow the game and improve it, and every time you share your excitement with me I feel a great boost. I hope that you love the game that’s released!
The Next Pitstop
The game is still in development and we cannot expect Dead Static Drive to release in at least a year, but we are excited about the direction Team Fanclub is taking with it. Stay tuned for all their latest news and updates, as we will be staying in contact with the developers until their final release.