Fenrir Studios is currently working on a game called Dark Storm: Ascension. It’s a third-person action-stealth title made in a similar vein to titles like Metal Gear Solid and Deus Ex. It stars a female protagonist named Amber Kingsley who is a disgraced ex-special forces operative who finds out one of her long time friends has been captured by militant forces. Players will take Amber into the hostile territory of a military complex in order to free her friend.
The game’s futuristic setting and militarized lore lends itself to a lot of futurist theories and current day discussions about hostile takeovers and military states.
At the moment, Fenrir Studios is seeking funds on Kickstarter to help bring Dark Storm: Ascension to life. I managed to get in some questions with Fenrir’s lead writer Christopher Lee Buckner who explained some of the concepts behind the game and what the studio hopes to achieve with the title. Check it out below.
One Angry Gamer: On the Kickstarter page it’s mentioned that this game was originally being designed on the Unreal Development Kit and that it’s now being moved over to the Unreal Engine 4. How much work is involved with making that transition and how much of the assets from UDK did you have to redo or bring up to par to work in the Unreal Engine 4?
Chris: Quite a lot of work actually. Most of Dark Storm: Ascension had been done in UDK, but taking into account that Epic was no longer going to be supporting UDK we decided it was best to switch over to UE4, since Epic gave us that opportunity. While smaller assets are fine to move over, as they only need a slight bump in poly counts and reskinned, larger assets such as characters and levels have to be completely rebuilt. So it is quite a lot of work.
OAG: Why did you choose the future setting for Dark Storm as opposed to modern day settings? And will the futuristic setting play a role in the technology that Amber will be able to use?
Chris: At Fenrir Studios we are all sci-fi fans (seriously, we can talk for hours about the stuff), so it was a natural desire to want to set Dark Storm in the future. Plus, future settings offer more flexibility to play around with as we can take some current events and predict where they might lead, such as the movement towards energy independences, Russia’s reemergence as a world power, or the collapse of the Chinese economy and how it might affect the rest of the world. It is just far more engaging from a story point of view than to be limited to a modern timeline.
OAG: So why a stealth-action title as opposed to a straightforward shooter?
Chris: Originally Dark Storm was conceived as a FPS, but since the project leads really love games such as Metal Gear and Deus Ex, it felt like a stealth action switch would be more appealing from a story and gameplay standpoint, as the genre better serves the lead character and the narrative we are trying to tell.
OAG: Will the game have disarm techniques or will players mostly rely on killing or knocking out enemies?
Chris: Right now we only have a basic kill attack, but that is more or less just a place holder. Eventually, as development moves forward we want more realistic take-downs that better serve the skills of a highly trained, former Special Forces officer. We do plan to play around with weapon disarming – even having the ability to use the enemy’s weapon to throw at another soldier, or use empty clips to distract patrols.
OAG: Will there be gadgets in the game for Amber to use or unlock, or will most of the focus be on utilizing the environment to distract and subdue enemies?
Chris: It is both. There are basic ways to distract enemy patrols, like the aforementioned using empty clips to pull enemies away from their patrol patters. We do have a small device right now in our early build called a noisemaker. At this moment it only serves to distract an enemy soldier, but in UE4 it will be able to create holographic displays of yourself or others, emit sound, duplicate enemy speech, or be manually controlled to roll on the ground and pull enemy soldiers away from a larger area.
OAG: Since you’ve been working on this game long before the media started attacking the gaming industry for not having enough females in action games, do you think this makes Dark Storm more eligible for branching out and attracting more gamers in different demographics or was the focus of having a female protagonist more-so about telling a story about a character, regardless of market reach?
Chris: A female protagonist was always something important to us, regardless of recent media outcry (which I agree with wholeheartedly). We all grew up loving Lara Croft and those few other good female characters out there presented in positive light such as Meryl (MGS), Cortana (Halo) or Faith (Mirrors Edge). We’ve always felt it was important to portray women in a better light and not always just as bimbos with guns, or need to be supported by men. As a result, we wrote Amber to be very human: strong, independent, capable, yet still emotional, vulnerable, and fearful. She doesn’t let her weaknesses overtake her, but has to learn to live with them, and move beyond them in order to achieve her goal in Dark Storm: Ascension.
We believe our audience will and can relate to Amber, and see that she is a special girl that will one day join the elites of positive female video game role models. As to whether having a female hero might bring us more gamers outside of the norm, we certainly hope so. Women are a big part of gaming, most of all among PC gamers, so hopefully they’ll take notice and support Dark Storm: Ascension.
OAG: On the subject of market reach… have you found that having a female lead in your game has made politically motivated media outlets more willing to cover Dark Storm?
Chris: Perhaps. I would like to think that Dark Storm can get all the attention it deserves without having to focus solely on having a female lead. But right now, in these times, we live, we need to create more positive female figures for young girls regardless if Dark Storm is successful or not. I have a two year old daughter who is also ethnically mixed (Caucasian, Asian and Hispanic) and I want her to grow up in a world where she knows she can do anything a man can, and deserves equal rights, pay, and opportunities that we have. Of course there are those that will disagree with us, and we’ve been called out from time-to-time that we only want to cater to a changing demographic, but those individuals are entitled to their views, but that does not reflect Fenrir Studios intentions, nonetheless.
OAG: In regards to getting the media’s attention… how has that process been? Because to me this seems like the kind of game many Perfect Dark enthusiasts would love to showcase and promote.
Chris: Getting media attention is a rocky road and very frustrating. I’ve worked as a video game journalist for a number of sites, so I know what goes through the minds of editors and writers – that covering the big stories from AAA developers is top priority, and that most independent developers don’t have the credibility or knowhow to actually produce a product that anyone wants to play. We are always happy to get media coverage, but we find it is easiest to get the attention of those that focus on smaller games, yet at the same time, we need the coverage that major sites such as IGN can bring to our game. With it, however, are headaches as larger media has more jaded audience, or so it seems to me, while smaller media as a more open minded viewership. Needless to say, at this point all coverage is welcome – and we do remember our friends.
Huge thanks to Christopher Buckner for taking time to answer questions about Dark Storm: Ascension. If you like what the game is promising and you want to learn more or contribute to the project, you can check out the game by visiting the official Kickstarter page.
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