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Interview: Fenrir Studios Talks Dark Storm; VR, Inspriations, Kickstarter

Many might not know this, but the name Gaming Conviction actually came from the Webmasters love of the Splinter Cell series and mostly Splinter Cell: Conviction. So it’s only fitting that we would eventually do an Interview based on a Tactical Stealth Action game. I stumbled across a game that is in development called Dark Storm and was very intrigued. A Stealth action game using Unreal Engine 4, Fully voice over with some big names in the voice acting industry, and True First-Person!?! Sign me up! We recently got to talk with Lead Designer Javonni Ortiz and Lead Writer Christopher Lee Buckner to discuss Dark Storm.


GC: You’ve noted that your inspirations for Dark Storm are from Deus Ex and the Metal Gear Solid franchise. Are there any others?
JO: When we approached the design of Dark Storm some key inspiration came from Metal Gear and Deux Ex’s framework, indicating a level ingenuity we wanted to achieve. We were also inspired by Half-life 2 and Bioshock for how they handled their narrative, which was free form cut-scenes but instead had audio logs left for you to discovery, allowing the player to explore the universe in multiple ways. We also took ques from Resident Evil 6 and Tomb Raider for their respective Third Person Camera’s and how fluid they were overall. Playing these games and experiencing what made them special was a huge impact on development of Dark Storm.


GC: What are your inspirations for the environments?
JO: We looked at lot at the movie Blade Runner and Half-life’s Black Mesa when we sought out to design some of the interfaces and environments in Dark Storm. A bit of inspiration also came from Avatar for some of the grand set pieces, which we plan to feature in Irving Dynamics Apex Facility, such as the Hadron Collider, as well as a number of other interior locations. And of course lastly we can’t forget about Shadow Moses Island, where both games take place in Alaska.

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GC: What type of gamers do you think this will appeal to the most?
JO: As large as a spectrum we can get (lol). We plan to have the game scale to the player, based on how they choose to play the game. If the player wants to stealth all the time, the game will be set to this type of level, but if action is more of the player(s) desire, then the AI will scale to handle this more aggressive approach. Hopefully, this means you can play through our game multiple times and experience it differently from beginning to end. But more to the question, we also hope we can engage a large female audience, which do make a large proportion of gamers. We have a lot of really strong, and believable women in this game that aren’t portrayed in the typical sense that games and film have treated women. We feel people will see this once they start to get into Dark Storm: Ascension and become immersed in the story of Amber, Jill and others.


GC: Can you tell us a little bit about the main character Amber Kingsley?
CLB: Amber Kingsley was a decorated Army officer until she was dishonorably discharged after a failed mission in North Korea a year prior to the events of Dark Storm: Ascension. For much of her early life as a child and teen Amber was without direction or focus, often getting into fights as she had a tendency to stand up against people she felt were doing wrong – bullies and such, even teachers. Basically, Amber has been always out to fight the good fight.


While in college with her best friend Jill Haley (also featured in Dark Storm: Ascension), Amber decided to join the military, and as to her nature she looked for the biggest obstacle – the US Army’s elite Delta Force. She made it through her training, joining the Delta Squads as a junior officer, and would ultimately work her way up to leading her own team.

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Amber a person that wears her emotions on her sleeve – she cares deeply for people, and is very popular among her peers who enjoy her carefree spirit; she is basically a football and beer kind of girl. However, in private Amber can be withdrawn and dwell too long on her emotions and failures. Nevertheless, when the chips are down, Amber will go to the ends of the earth to help a friend.



GC: Amber will also have support from an AI named Sya, how much support will she bring into the game?
CLB: Sya will be a constant in the game, acting both as an information giver for Amber and the player. In regards to the player we have something called the Sya vision, which, when activated gives greater detail to the player about the game world, all done in real time. Amber and Sya, however, are also constantly at odds with one another. Sya doesn’t understand Amber’s drive or her seemly suicidal desire to save Jill once the events in Dark Storm: Ascension gets underway. This isn’t to say that Sya is unfeeling – to the best of her abilities. She was created by Jill, and much of her own personality is based on Jill’s own, so in many ways Sya sees Jill not just as her creator, but a mother as well. Nevertheless, Sya is grounded by her programing and will often question why Amber is doing what she is.


On a side note, Sya was originally named Isis, but we had to make the switch following recent Middle Eastern events.

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GC: Dark Storm will support both 1st and 3rd person views. Where did the idea to have both come from?
We looked at a lot of stealth action games past and present, and it never failed to annoy us that we never had full control — there is something about 1P that isn’t always done right, or developers exclude 3P and reserve it for cover systems. MGS4 was the closest to use both perspectives but it was still very limited. We wanted to approach it in the way the Arma series did where you can freely use 1P or 3P as you want without any restriction. We will allow our camera system to be customizable by the player. Our goal is to build each view with strengths and weaknesses and let the player take it from there.


GC: Since the worlds will be placed in a VR world, is there a possibility that it could be integrated to work with VR Headsets?
See that was our fault with how we labeled the VR, which is a callback to the original Metal Gear Solid VR Missions from 1998. Our game (Dark Storm: Ascension) does not take place in a VR world at all. The actual game you are referring to (Dark Storm: VR Missions) was originally designed as a test platform for us to try out some of our features. Originally it was very crude, ugly, and not very fun to play. We ultimately got carried away and continued to improve it for seven months until it became its own thing. We saw the potential of making it a standalone product that our fans could play-around with and enjoy, while we worked on Dark Storm: Ascension. Also, we originally were going to develop DSA using the Unreal Developers Kit (UDK), which the VR Missions was built with, but we made the switch to the Unreal Engine 4 for Dark Storm: Ascension.


GC: You are currently running a Kickstarter campaign for Dark Storm. What are the goals?
Our Goal is to raise enough money to support the team for the next year and a half. This will give us time to fully convert hundreds of assets from UDK to UE4, upgrade the shaders, and give the assets a final touch-up, while completely redesigning our character models and other important game related features. We also aim to use the kickstarter money to help us integrate higher level features from UE4, such as hair and cloth simulation and destruction to open up new ways of playing Dark Storm.

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GC: What kind of emotions do you hope players will feel after playing Dark Storm?
In the end, we hope the player will be attached to the lore and characters from the Dark Storm universe. While we have a lot of great game features planned, we also believe our story and future potential is something that will hook gamers. We can’t wait until we will take their criticism and apply it to the next chapter. We simply want to tell a story worth telling and leave them in complete awe for what is going to happen next.



GC: Dark Storm will be fully voiced over and will include some pretty big names like River Kanoff and Danielle McRae. How did that all come about getting them on board?
River Kanoff is the greatest Metal Gear fan you’ll ever meet. He was really excited when we picked him up a few years ago from an IndieDB job posting we put up. As for Danielle, we approached her and was really intrigued after we explained her character and how important in the long run she would play in the Dark Storm story. I like to think we wooed them based on the promise the game had and where it was going. They are amazingly talented, and so are all our voice actors that have since joined us. We can’t wait for our fans to finally get the chance to hear them bring our characters to life.


GC: What kinds of roadblocks have you ran into during development and how have you overcome them?
JO: Far too many to list. Fenrir Studios wasn’t built over night, and to the nature of game developer, we’ve lost some really talented people for a number of reasons. There are times when many of us feel this project will never see the light of day, and I feel that affects people in very profound ways – not to mention the work load can be exhausting. Of course, the biggest issue is money. We don’t have a publisher, and we don’t have deep pockets – no one on our team is independently wealthy. We have received donations from time-to-time (love you guys btw). We’ve also had general team problems, forcing us to reevaluate who we bring on the team – it just isn’t talent, but also the person and how they react to criticism and work alongside other people. Today I’m happy to say we have some really incredible people working on Dark Storm: Ascension both industry veterans, and new comers alike.

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GC: Is there a time frame that our readers can expect Dark Storm to be released?
JO: If our kickstarter is successfully funded we would estimate around late summer of 2016. It will take a lot longer if we don’t reach our Kickstarter goal, since we would be forced to drastically cut content and rethink how we might attain new funding. So we definitely don’t want that to happen.

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