Thanks to the influence of the mass media and word of mouth spread by travellers, Hawaii has the enviable reputation of a paradise: palm trees, beaches, laid-back locals, and spectacular waves. The volcanoes of the Ring of Fire add an element of danger that, to some, is even more alluring than the Edenic reputation. However, the islands are also home to a rich, ages-old culture and mythology.
As video games have traditionally drawn inspiration from more widely-known sources (such as Ancient Greece and the Norse religion) few projects have explored the possibilities offered by the Pacific islands. That tendency will change with Wyrmbyte’s Nighmarchers.
Brought to the public’s attention earlier this week via the commencement of its Fig-based crowdfunding campaign, Nightmarchers offers a tropical take on the increasingly tired genre of post-apocalyptic fiction. Set in Oahu, the game begins a century after a cataclysm has destroyed civilisation, dividing society into a series of splintered and disparate factions. At the same time, the Hawaiian boar god Kamapua’a has returned to Earth with an army to take control of what remains. Faced with this fearsome foe, players will step into the shoes of an ordinary man named Kai.
Unbeknownst to him, Kai is the descendant of kahuna who, since their deaths, have ascended to become Akua (deities). Kai’s quest begins when one of these Akua, Kū, wakens him to the threat posed by Kamapua’a and grants him access to the powers of a demigod.
Despite the inclusion of such abilities, the game’s director Scott Brown confirms that “action/shooter-styled gameplay certainly defines the genre [the team] is building towards.” The “supernatural Hawaiian abilities” act as an extra layer to give the player more options and diversify the core gameplay. “While there are some spells that are damage dealing, many deal with abilities outside the spectrum of a shooter, like taking bird form and flying or shark form and swimming.”
These elements will lend the title some novelty, yet one of the central gameplay loops is sure to feel familiar to those who have enjoyed open-world games in recent years. Although the island of Oahu has been recreated at full scale “to make it as authentic as possible,” the environment will be dotted with outposts for players to attack and claim on behalf of the various factions. The core structure is well-established, but Wyrmbyte is giving it a tangible effect on the moment-to-moment experience by linking outposts to the game’s dynamic content systems.
Bethesda’s Radiant Quest mechanic created quests on the fly, but Wyrmbyte’s solution is more elegant. Every mission in Nightmarchers will be pre-built, with the custom content engine tracking “the changes the player has made to the game world and having those have real changes to gameplay.” According to Brown, “as you capture outposts and choose which faction will gain power, you also change the island and the encounters nearby.”
This system will be vital to ensuring the world feels alive, but the developers’ passion will underpin everything else. To that end, Brown admits to having a “long-standing love for post-apocalyptic game settings.” However, rather than simply replicating Mad Max or another of the genre’s legends, the team “wanted to do something different […] and make a game that takes place in a paradise instead of a desert wasteland.”
To that end, Hawaii was almost providential for the idea of the game. Brown says he has visited the islands “many times” and fallen in love with them, and the setting “just felt perfect for the story idea.” Furthermore, Brown states that as the team has “studied the island more, the game has just fallen into place.”
To discover that Nightmarchers has enjoyed such an organic process across its almost four-year development period is surprising, given the team’s pedigree. Wyrmbyte previously released the 5-vs-5 MOBA Dragons and Titans, and most of the staff members have gained their experience at studios specialising in MMOs and multiplayer-focused titles, with LEGO Universe, Fortune Online, and Auto Assault being among their collected credits.
Despite the apparent incongruity between such titles and the single-player-only Nightmarchers, Brown insists that the projects are not so different: “Much of the experience we gained from making really large world MMO games has directly applied to building an open-world single-player game.” Indeed, the change has been liberating. “Being free from the limitations of online gaming has been a fun experience for us all,” says Brown.
This smoothness of this process has also given the team the confidence to list a Q3 2018 release window for the project. Although crowdfunded games are notorious for slipping well beyond their projected launches, Brown is bullish about the set date. “We have most of our technical and gameplay milestones passed. Now, it is all about adding more content, which is the most predictable part of game development. We have spent a lot of time building strong tools that will make building the remainder of Nightmarchers possible.”
The game got off to a strong start during the backstage period of the crowdfunding campaign, earning more than 20% of its USD$100,000 goal. Its performance during the public phase has been a little more sluggish, although the project is currently more than one-third funded with 26 days left to go. Brown says that Wyrmbyte is “excited about [the] start so far, but success is only about how you finish, so [they] have a long way to go.”
Nevertheless, the team is excited by the response Nightmarchers has received and that its passion for the “under-represented” Hawaiian mythology and setting is shared by a global audience. Furthermore, given its mix of real-world locations, Pacific legends, and the fiction of post-apocalyptica, Nightmarchers is shaping up as a title that lives up to the development team’s goal of creating a universe that “hopefully [tells] a really unique and fascinating story.”
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