On Monday, December 5, 2022, The Long Dark will receive its first paid expansion, Tales from the Far Territory, along with a free update that can be enjoyed by all players. Hinterland Studio has outlined an ambitious amount of content that will make its way to the game over the year-long expansion pass, introducing new regions and gameplay systems that promise to change how The Long Dark plays whether you purchase Tales from the Far Territory or not. I was lucky enough to speak with Katie Sorrell, Project Lead on The Long Dark, and Raphael van Lierop, Founder and Creative Director of Hinterland Studio, about the expansion itself and the future of the game. You can read that interview below, as well as take a look at an exclusive screenshot Hinterland Studio was kind enough to share with Shacknews.
Shacknews: The Long Dark has grown in scope every year and added a considerable amount of free content for players who own the game. Why was now the right time to introduce its first paid expansion pass, Tales from the Far Territory?
Hinterland (Raphael): Really, the idea for adding a paid expansion came from the community itself. They wanted us to make something new for Survival Mode, something more ambitious, and also wanted to give us money for it. We also felt that after 8 years of free updates, that maybe it was time to try selling something again, which is an important part of running a sustainable business.
We have this core vocal group of Survival Mode players who have been wanting us to keep expanding the game, and we have a long internal list of features and content we’d still like to add, so we thought trying a limited paid DLC campaign that kind of channeled the energy of our Early Access days might be a good thing to try, and could be invigorating for not only the game and player community, but for the team as well.
Then there’s the fact that a growing percentage of our player community is coming to us through subscriptions like Game Pass and PlayStation+, and creating a new paid DLC for the base game creates an avenue for us to generate revenue from those players who are essentially getting the game for free as part of the subscription. So it’s just us trying to test out new ideas and stay abreast of trends in the industry.
We think our approach with TALES FROM THE FAR TERRITORY, where we have content that is part of the Paid stream, but also free stuff we’re giving away to all our players, strikes a good balance.
Shacknews: The recent developer diary mentioned that the content roadmap for Tales from the Far Territory was aggressive compared to how the game has been updated historically. How did splitting Survival Mode and Wintermute give you the confidence to increase the pace of updates?
Hinterland (Katie): The Survival and Wintermute split makes a huge difference for us! Just the simple fact that we can update Survival mode without risk of affecting Wintermute (and vice versa) can't be understated. Before, any change to one area would result in our test team having to check through the entire game, on every platform!
As we’ve worked through this split, which was definitely not a simple task, we’ve encountered areas of the game code that we took the opportunity to re-work and reorganize. So although all this work is not actually something our players will notice, just know that underneath the hood we are in a place now where the game is easier for us to maintain and add to as we move forward across this next year of Expansion Pass work.
For me personally, I’m really excited for this next stage in the game’s development, I joined the project right at the start of early access, and in those early days we had a regular update cadence and I loved that feeling of getting things into our players hands regularly. As a developer it is so rewarding.
Obviously the game has grown a lot since then, which really slowed down our ability to get updates out more often. This Story and Survival split does significantly help manage that side of things. I do feel genuinely confident in our ability to deliver these more regular updates from where we are now.
Shacknews: By the sounds of it, traveling down the Far Range Branch Line to reach the Transfer Pass hub is going to be quite the adventure on its own. Will there be anything left of survivors by the time they arrive at the Transfer Pass?
Hinterland (Raphael): It’s definitely a journey. We wanted it to feel like a significant trek that you have to plan for, and to get that sense of actually having gone somewhere. In our early iterations of the Expansion plan we had a Fast Travel system that you’d use to get to the Hub, and we quickly realized how poorly the whole concept of fast travel fits into THE LONG DARK. It just didn’t feel right. So we thought, ok if you’re going to actually have to walk the ground and cover the distance to get to this place “far away” from the rest of Great Bear that you’ve seen so far, we have to make it a real journey. We looked at some of the longer transition regions we have in the game—like the transition from Mystery Lake to Coastal Highway—and we thought, “nope, it needs to be longer”. Katie would come to me with these plans and ideas of how to link the regions, two or three times as long as the Raven Falls transition with the trestle bridge. And I kept saying “nope, they have to travel further.” Then she came up with the current structure of transition zones and the hub at Transfer Pass, and we walked it in the game and both thought, “yeah, this is pretty long. It’s good. It feels like we went somewhere”. Traveling there takes commitment.
Shacknews: Forsaken Airfield is the first region being released with the Expansion Pass. Can you give players a sense of what to expect here without spoiling anything? How does it stack up against some of the more challenging regions in The Long Dark like Hushed River Valley or Ash Canyon?
Hinterland (Katie): We decided to go big with this first region! Honestly, this first part of the Expansion Pass offers a significant amount of new terrain to explore. The new transition zone and the hub alone are not insignificant in size, and then Forsaken Airfield is one of our largest regions—it’s the same kind of size as Pleasant Valley (which was previously our biggest region).
In terms of how it compares to Ash Canyon or Hushed River Valley, Forsaken Airfield has a very different feeling compared to playing those. They were both more maze-like, where you need to seek out paths to reach that location you were aiming for (like the signal fire or the mine).
The Airfield on the other hand is vast and open at its centre, so you’ll easily see the path you want to take. So its like, “well I just need to cross that big plain to reach the control tower or that intriguing looking clump of trees…” but its not that simple of course. Do you have enough supplies to deal with that big trek? There’s not much shelter in the middle, are you sure you are ready for that, and what if a blizzard rolls in in or the fog drops? Many of these are already considerations in THE LONG DARK, but in this exposed area the risks get heightened.
It should also be noted that the Far Territories are cold—like, Pleasant Valley cold, and a bit worse. And the big open plain area is naturally windy too, so be prepared. Unlike somewhere like Hushed River Valley, there are buildings and structures to explore. The Airfield obviously has a number of interesting interiors to search, and as you explore around the wider region you’ll find a good number of other spots you could camp out in and make your home for a while, including a couple of really lovely new cabins, so you can watch the Glimmer Fog roll in from the relative safety of your cozy new cabin!
Shacknews: Safehouse Customization sounds great for folks like myself that like to make their base of operations feel more like a home. Will this feature be restricted to locations in the new regions, or can base game locations be customized as well?
Hinterland (Raphael): We’re still working out some of the details of how Safehouse Customization will work, but in general our plan is a system that can be applied to many different locations on Great Bear, not just in the new regions added in the Expansion. That would feel too limiting. The world is huge now, and the prospect of being able to customize certain locations and make them feel more personalized, but also more useful in certain ways, that’s really compelling to me. To think about having more than one of these and being able to leave my mark on the world and feel more like an inhabitant (not just a visitor) is pretty exciting. I’m signing the design team up to stuff by how I’m answering these questions. I can imagine Katie’s eyes right now.
Shacknews: What was the goal with the loot table refresh coming with the launch of Tales from the Far Territory? Were there any specific pain points you wanted to address after years of expanding The Long Dark with new regions and systems?
Hinterland (Katie): For the loot refresh we had two aims really—to refresh the spawn locations of items and then rebalance things. As the game has grown and we’ve added new items and weapons, we reached a point where if you explored everywhere you could collect a large number of high value items like rifles. And some of the rare loot over the course of the game became not as rare as it was originally intended to be.
Since we were going to be updating our loot, it felt only right we should also update most of the start points too, and that makes a big difference even in regions you know well. So that’ll be the first thing you notice on starting a new game.
Weapons are likely where you will feel the balancing changes fairly quickly. Rifles are now much rarer, revolvers less so, and there are a few more distress pistols than before, too. The other resource balancing takes longer play times or play sessions to appreciate, I think.
For the loot placement itself, we just wanted to go into all our scenes and rework where things appear, especially since some of our regions are now many years old, so those old familiar locations in places like Mystery Lake should feel quite new again in that regard!
Overall the loot refresh was an exciting and intimidating task for the design team to tackle. Along with assessing and updating our many loot tables (that control what can be found in which container), we also needed to go into all 110 scenes the game now has, which seemed like a huge number when I was making the tracking sheet! Each scene has a lot of hand-placed items, usually with various random spawn chances and random positions too, so there are a lot of things to take into account and balance when we refresh the loot.
I also feel oddly attached to some of the set-ups we have, so moving my favorite loot and corpse arrangements was weirdly difficult to do at times. I’m sure you’ll find the design team has found some cool, interesting new loot placements to entertain you!
Of course, Interloper is a whole other complex mode to balance and we have made updates to those loot placements too, and be warned that we have added a bit more randomness to some of those important tools. Hopefully you don't die too quickly while trying to locate that first box of matches!
Shacknews: In The Long Dark, the high resolution screenshot option on PC (F10) already lets players take screenshots without the HUD. What’s the benefit of using the new photo mode and dark room chemicals?
Hinterland (Raphael): Well as you know, nothing in THE LONG DARK can be easy, so you know that when we add a Photo Mode, that it’s going to involve all kinds of harrowing adventures to just find the supplies you need. Also, since no technology works in the game world (apart from when the Aurora is active, and even then...), the Photo Mode will be pretty analog. And I think that’s probably all I should say about it at the moment.
Shacknews: There’s a lot of new content coming to The Long Dark between Tales from the Far Territory and the free updates. How difficult is it to maintain a balanced experience for the player with so many new moving parts?
Hinterland (Katie): Yes, there are a lot of moving parts! From our side, as we add new features to the game we are continuing to be deliberate and thoughtful about how we add them. We definitely don't want to add things that upset and unbalance what THE LONG DARK is at its core. To be honest, this kind of difficulty is where some of the joy of game development comes from—so many things to consider, design, create, balance and tune.
As you might imagine, some of things we have in our Roadmap for the next year are things that have come up in discussions and brainstorming sessions at various times in the past, so it's not like we’re just dropping all entirely new ideas into the game; we’ve already had a good number of them bubbling around in the back of our minds for a while.
One significant element of this Expansion Pass year of content is that I’m hoping to see how the community jumps in, give us feedback and let us know what they like (or not!). Especially with things like the loot refresh, we are fully expecting to have to go back in and tweak and tune as we progress. So if you’ve not dug into our forums yet, please do—we genuinely love getting feedback and it's a great place to share experiences and thoughts about the game. Our community is fantastic, so supportive and helpful—so a big thank-you to all who contribute!
Shacknews: How do you decide what goes into the paid Expansion Pass versus what you’re going to add to The Long Dark as a free update? Is it difficult to bring DLC owners value without leaving the base game behind?
Hinterland (Raphael): We had a pretty simple approach. Bigger features and pieces of content that are entirely new and fairly self-contained to the Expansion Pass would generally be part of the Paid stream, therefore providing good value to the people who buy it, while not feeling like something we were intentionally keeping out of the rest of the game for anyone who didn’t buy the Expansion.
More global things that are a bit smaller in scope or general refinements to existing systems—things like the Loot Refresh, for example—go in the Free stream, because they have great benefit to all our current players and support the tradition of free updates we’ve observed over the years.
Of course, our preference would be that people find good value in the Expansion and choose to buy it, but we know not everyone is in the position to spend more money on the game and we don’t want them to be left behind. This way we can keep the game fresh and up to date for all of our players, while also adding specific features and content for those who want to spend a bit more money to get it.
Shacknews: The Long Dark has been playable since 2014, and has grown every year with new regions, stories, challenges, and systems. Is the release of Tales from the Far Territory a sign that there’s much more to come once the 12-month Expansion Pass has concluded?
Hinterland (Raphael): It’s really too soon to say. Ultimately, it’ll be up to the players. If they are happy with TALES FROM THE FAR TERRITORY, and they buy it, that will tell us there’s a thirst for this content and that we should probably make more in the future. I’ve always said THE LONG DARK could be expanded almost endlessly, both as a game and as an IP, so really we can keep going with it for as long as it’s financially viable and as long as people want to play it. I actually have timelines for THE LONG DARK as an IP that go out for years and cover many different stories. It’s a whole world, and so far we’ve only shown a small part of it. Let’s see what happens.
Tales from the Far Territory launches on December 5, 2022, for PC via Steam and the Epic Games Store, in February 2023 for Xbox and PlayStation consoles, and March 2023 for Nintendo Switch. Please note Hinterland Studio recently delayed the Tales from the Far Territory for Mac users until January 2023. For more, check out The Long Dark on Shacknews.
Bill Lavoy posted a new article, Tales from the Far Territory interview with The Long Dark developers