News Article

Interview: Denis Dyack on Shadow of the Eternals, Community Engagement and Eternal Darkness

Posted by Jon Wahlgren

Precursor's chief creative hopes to give players the power of development

Silicon Knights' Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem was hands-down one of the Gamecube's most memorable gems. Its tale of unimaginable death and woe through the ages was all well and good for a horror game in the style of author HP Lovecraft, but the title really carved a name for itself in the annals of gaming history with still-impressive Sanity effects — as characters slowly lost their minds, the game would play tricks that sometimes had players questioning their own mental well-being.

That was in 2002. Despite the game's acclaim, the world never saw an Eternal Darkness 2 — with developer Silicon Knights now on fire after losing a lawsuit with Epic Games over use of the latter's Unreal Engine, it appears very unlikely that a numbered sequel will happen at all. But a spiritual successor, well, now that's a whole other story.

From the ashes of Silicon Knights rises Precursor Games, a small team with Eternal Darkness vets now entering the end stretch of a Kickstarter campaign to get Shadow of the Eternals off the ground.

We had a chat with Denis Dyack, former president of Silicon Knights and current chief creative officer of Precursor Games, about how their new game came to be, empowering their community to have a hand in game development, and rebuilding trust with fans.


Nintendo Life: How does it feel to be back in a similar Lovecraftian universe to Eternal Darkness?

Denis Dyack: Love it. It feels like we’ve come back home.

NL: Tell us a little about the story playing out in Shadow of the Eternals.

Dyack: Shadow of the Eternals is a game where you play the lead role of Paul Becker, who is played by voice actor David Hayter. We're really excited about that — he worked with us not only on Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes but also the original Eternal Darkness. He is called to one of the worst crime scenes in Louisiana history: a mass murder where there's two survivors. Bodies everywhere. One of the survivors is in a three-piece suit, clean cut, not a speck of blood on him, doesn't remember who he is. The other is almost the exact opposite: he's got tattoos, scarification, biker colors, and he's also lost his memory. The one thing they have in common beyond that is they both want to kill each other. As you start interrogating them, you start to realize that they're telling you stories of things that happened thousands of years ago.

Our first focus is Elizabeth Báthory, who is known as the Blood Countess, one of the most notorious historical serial killers of all time. She's suspected of killing over 400 to possibly 600 women to bathe in their blood to become eternally youthful. We have a scenario where you're playing potentially her or her lover Claura, who is her handmaiden, who is being coerced by the police to try to find a nobleman's missing daughter.

We think that these type of scenarios gamers are going to find interesting and unique, and something that stands out from the norm. We invite people from our community to come join us in helping make this game the best it can be. Hopefully that'll interest people enough to say, "Yes, this game should be made, we want to support these guys."

NL: How long has this idea been kicking around?

Dyack: The idea’s been kicking around in a sense since Precursor started up. We wanted to do something that was different, original and had a new take. With each major endeavour that I’ve worked on personally, and Precursor embraces this methodology, which is why I’m happy to be here as the chief creative officer, is for every game that we created, there was something new about it that made it stand out from other previous endeavours.

You take Legacy of Kain as an example: we wanted to create an RPG with no text. When we did Eternal Darkness, which was our next game, we wanted to create a game that had sanity effects that broke the fourth wall — very very different — we had 12 characters going through 2,000 years of history. A lot of characters died — and [it had] a really interesting camera system — so from that perspective that had standouts as well. When we worked on Metal Gear we learned cinema, worked with [Hideo] Kojima-san, spectacle and that kind of thing.

Looking at Shadow of the Eternals, the new thing that’s happening now is the community-created content aspect that I think really makes us stand out. We’re about to head into, and in some ways have already started with the Wii U, a new generation of hardware where the hardware’s better and there’s a lot of unique features. You’ve got the new hardware platforms coming out, plus things like Oculus Rift and the proliferation of digital distribution, those are all good, but one of the main pillars of Shadow of the Eternals is that we’re working with the community to create and add to the universe, which is something really new — you don’t tend to see a lot of [that]. If you want examples of indications of possible success, you need to look no further than Dota, which is a derivative of Warcraft 3 created by the community that’s turned into games such as League of Legends and other MOBAs.

We think this particular aspect of Shadow of the Eternals is going to really stand out on its own, and that’s sort of why the game came about — [we said] “let’s create one of these games that is not being made anymore,” because we haven’t seen a game like Eternal Darkness since...Eternal Darkness. Nobody’s really followed up on it. At the same time, we’re going to throw this new aspect of it where the community can participate, and that should take us in new and exciting directions.

NL: The current Kickstarter is the game’s second campaign since Precursor canceled the original drive early, and the goal has been reduced significantly from the first time around. In what ways has that impacted Precursor’s vision for the game?

There’s a definite hardcore group of Nintendo enthusiasts within the Shadow of the Eternals community.

Dyack: I think feedback from the community has changed a lot. We removed the episodic model because it was not popular among fans so we wanted to make sure we deliver a full experience. By and large, the vision for the game is still on track. We still have a bunch of announcements to roll out before the campaign ends, we’ve brought David Hayter on board. If anything, [the game has] gotten better in my eyes. The first [campaign], we had a lot of lessons learned, we had a lot of feedback: we had a split campaign between Paypal and Kickstarter which wasn’t a good idea, so we looked at all that and had a lot of other opportunities and we’re really excited about where it’s going. The impact has been in nothing but positive ways.

NL: As this is your second funding campaign, if the current Kickstarter doesn’t meet its goal, does Precursor have a back-up plan for getting the game done?

Dyack: We’re focusing on the Kickstarter right now. If that happens, you know, we will cross that bridge when we get to it. Right now we’re focusing on the campaign and doing everything we can to meet our goal.

NL: The game is a spiritual successor to Eternal Darkness. Are there any fiction ties between the two, like plot, setting or characters? We noticed on the Kickstarter page that the church in the gameplay demo looks a lot like the one that Anthony from Eternal Darkness wandered through.

Dyack: Yeah, there are certainly similarities, but the universe itself is completely original. We may have some homages in there and we may have some light ties but that’s all to be determined. It is a completely new universe with a completely new set of stories.

NL: A big part of Shadow of the Eternals is the community aspect, where Precursor is encouraging input for everything from story elements to sanity effects and characters...

Dyack: More than that! We have an Elder God creation initiative, we’re working with the community to create our zodiac and spell system, our cosmology for a lot of that, we have an enemy creation initiative. What we want to do is have a balance of we know where we want to take it, so we have a structure and an underlying direction that we know where we want to go, and we’re carving out elements where we’re saying, hey, this can have a ton of input from the community. If anyone out there has ever wondered what it’s like to design a game or want to work with people who have worked on a game before, need to look no further. Pledge to the game and check it out. I think people will be excited by what they see.

NL: Traditionally, game development has been pretty opaque. Now that Precursor is taking a more open approach with crowdfunding and an emphasis on community involvement, the development of Shadow of the Eternals is a lot more transparent. How is that adjustment?

Dyack: It’s a tough one, I have to admit. It’s tough but invigorating at the same time. We do not pretend that we knew that this [development approach] would go well or how successful it would be. When we first opened up the community to the Elder Gods we were very concerned if it would go well, and it went exceedingly well. It’s still in development, of course, and history will tell the true tale of how these Elder Gods came out but we’re very enthusiastic about it.

What we’ve found is the more transparent that you are, the more that the truth gets out there, the better off you’re going to be. I think that it’s going to really help our game development, but it’s also very different from anything that I or anyone at Precursor have done. Quite frankly we haven’t seen it a lot in the video game industry, certainly not on the console platforms, so the whole idea of doing this is pretty radical and scary but at the same time really exciting.

NL: What led you to go down that path?

Dyack: I guess we all sat back and thought that something needs to change; that we thought the industry was in a rut, and we didn’t think the path of AAA made sense any more, the traditional console model was certainly under fire and had some issues. The market is something I would call upside down where it was costing too much to make games, and to make money off of that game as a developer is becoming not only increasingly challenging but almost impossible under the current economic environments. We’re even seeing now a lot of AAA publishers are either laying people off or shutting down — they’re not worried about, unfortunately, what games are coming out, you’re just seeing more and more shutdowns.

Something has to change in the industry, and from my standpoint and that of others here, we looked around and asked, what hasn’t really been tried but there are indications that it might be successful? And that’s why we did it. I think that it makes sense and hopefully will work out well. Whether our Kickstarter is successful or not, I can say with confidence that I think our community initiatives have shown nothing but promise and potential. At a bare minimum we’ve sure made a lot of friends.

NL: How has the reaction been from the community? It sounds like it’s been very strong.

Dyack: Overwhelmingly strong. I have not seen such a community like ours. As an example, we haven’t raised as much funding as some of the other Kickstarters have but if you look at our comments section on the campaign page it’s in some cases more than double or triple ones that have raised a lot more money. Our fanbase is...I wouldn’t even call it a “fanbase” as they’re a part of the development team. I think it’s something that everyone believes in, and it’s been just a fantastic experience.

NL: The game is coming to Wii U. In what ways are you planning or hoping to take advantage of the platform’s unique features, like the second screen?

Dyack: I think in every way possible, really. We had a poll on our forums picking between all of the next-generation console platforms plus PC, you know, what platforms do you want to see this game on, and the Wii U won like four or five to one. There’s a definite hardcore group of Nintendo enthusiasts within the Shadow of the Eternals community. Everyone wants to do everything we can to make this game shine on Wii U and we’re going to do everything we can to make sure it is special.

NL: Are there elements of Eternal Darkness that you look back on and think “well, we certainly could’ve done that better” that you hope to revisit for Shadow of the Eternals?

Dyack: Oh, for sure. One of my biggest regrets in Eternal Darkness, and I love the game to death, is that we didn't really have what I call a sustainable economy between magic, sanity and health. Essentially, what happened was that if you ran around, over time magic would just regenerate. Rather than just it being a time-based thing, we'd rather have an economy where players determine what attributes they have left. There's going to be a completely different underlying mechanical system to this game; we want a true economy for the gameplay that goes very deep and is under the player's control rather than just, as an example, if you're out of magic, go off in a corner and run around in a circle, heal yourself and then go back in. [In ED] it wasn't horrible, but it certainly as good as it can be, and those are some of the things that we really want to go forward on.

Another one, which [can] already [be] seen in our demo, we want to be doing things in outdoor as well as indoor terrains. We've got a lot of exciting directions we want to take the game; back when we did Eternal Darkness we were really confined by limits of technology to mostly indoor terrains.

NL: It's no secret that in the past you've been considered something of a controversial figure, and perhaps people may not necessarily be as confident in giving money upfront for a new project. We know that you've said that you want to rebuild that trust with fans, and perhaps that transparency in development is a big step in that. Are there other ways that you hope to rebuild that trust?

Dyack: We're showing what we're showing, being transparent. Come to the community to see what it's like. I think that those that come to the community see it for what it is and what we're doing. We've had, I'd say, an extremely high turnover rate for people who come to the community and say that there is really good creativity and initiative, and that "these guys are really there" — this is a labor of love for everyone at Precursor who want to make this great. We're doing all we can, and hopefully our actions will speak volumes. That's the best way that I think that can be resolved, and that's what we're doing.

We thank Denis for his time.

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User Comments (37)

Warruz

#2

Warruz said:

I doubt they are going to make it, they are so far off and only have a week left.

Peach64

#3

Peach64 said:

I thought they said they were going to keep Dyack away from the spotlight this time? He's a major reason why nobody trusts this project, so why wheel him out again in the final stretch?

I loved Eternal Darkness about as much as anyone, but I have no hope for this game. If it comes out and scores well, I'll pick it up, but I can't donate to this Kickstarter. Anything I donate to on there, I know there's a chance it won't come out, but the idea is you only fund something you really, really believe in, and I can't do that with anything involving Dennis Dyack anymore.

G3ry

#4

G3ry said:

ps4 doesnt need that title, Wii U needs as much console exclusives as it can!!!

unrandomsam

#5

unrandomsam said:

Don't get the point of these type of interviews unless they are just a thing that companies pay to be printed.

(The Earthbound one / The Shi'ien one and the one about the Wii game a bit like Nights into Dreams that is still not released are the only ones that have had a none negative effect on me.)

The negative effects are compounded if there is lots of interviews with the same person in a very short space of time.

unrandomsam

#6

unrandomsam said:

@Peach64 As far as I am concerned if you back something like this if it succeeds you should make significantly more than you put in as it is so risky. 50% to the backers the rest to the dev's or whatever. (The people making Giana Sisters just started another kickstarter for the next game took all the profits from the first one.) These people are not charities.

Kirk

#7

Kirk said:

Hope this happens because I really want to see a new game in the vain of Eternal Darkness made with today's tech and I'd especially like to see how that might come together on the Wii U with it's unique GamePad.

PS. I think it would be cool if some aspect the game actually used the NFC capabilities of the controller so that you could buy some physical object that you'd be able to scan into the game for some cool effect or whatever. Imagine some enchanted jeweled ring for example, that if you have the actual physical thing and you scan in into the game, it grants you extra magical attack powers, or gives you extra protection or something like that... You could even have a proper set of them; one ring that grants you extra attack stuff, one ring that grants you extra defense stuff and so on... Could be a cool way to use one of the unique features of the GamePad and would fit with the game quite well I think.

sinalefa

#8

sinalefa said:

@Peach64

I feel the same as you. What I think is that Dyack's ego is much too big to stay away from the spotlight, and that may hurt this in the long run.

unrandomsam

#9

unrandomsam said:

@sinalefa Funny thing is the people who I actually admire (From these type of interviews) at least come across as not really having an ego. Even the CEO of Nintendo just talks common sense. (Even when people ask him the same stupid questions all the time).

element187

#10

element187 said:

@Peach64 They bring him out because things he says winds up on every news page... so it brings attention to the kickstarter. With only a week left, expect to see his ugly mug on every site, every day, for a different reason trying to bring attention to their kickstarter.

I hope they hit their goal, I'll buy a copy of the final product, but I don't think I trust him either, so the people with deeper and braver pockets than I can take the risk, and I'll buy the final product later on the eShop.

mbh911

#11

mbh911 said:

@Peach64
Exactly! I used to be ok with this whole project but since Dyack has been hogging so much of the spotlight that he needs to just shut up and go back to doing whatever he is doing to make the game. Someone else without a bad reputation and doesn't spread lies needs to take over the media/press stuff for Shadows of Eternals. I just can't trust Dyack after he lied about taking a huge amount of money from another company and not using for the project that the money was intended for, that just shows how shady Dyack really is. After the kickstarter ends for the 2nd time, I bet they will relaunch it again and ask for $500,000. First they wanted over a million, then they wanted $750,000, etc. I just can't trust someone who is lying about how much money they need to make the game and no matter what, Dyack just comes up with an excuse for everything.

shuis

#12

shuis said:

The game looks neat and I would like to see it realized. I definitely understand everyone's comments on the trust factor. Reading Dyack's responses to many of the questions seemed vague generalities at best. It looks like it could really be a good game if it all came together.

unrandomsam

#13

unrandomsam said:

@shuis Seems like most of the interviews on here. (With the odd exception where the responses are profound - like the Earthbound one / The one that looks a bit like Nights into Dreams - I wouldn't read any of them if it wasn't for those).

Unca_LzStaff

#14

Unca_Lz said:

Dyack isn't charge of money anymore. That's why you can trust him more.

Vermithrax

#15

Vermithrax said:

Denis definitely is treated unfairly. I pledged to this game for a mere $25 and you are getting quite a bit in return. Denis has been nothing but nice, helpful, and enthusiastic. For people dissapointed in xmen and too human (underrated), he still as some impressive titles under his belt. I really think Wii U needs a game like this and for a low $25 you get a kick donkey follow up to one of the best games ever. Also, you get to be apart of the dev team.

Vermithrax

#16

Vermithrax said:

@mbh911 that's really unfair and honestly quite untrue. They scaled back the episode content to make a single fame experience as well as got private funding and signed a deal with AMD. That's why the kickstarter was scaled back. If Nintendo fans don't support this it hurts the system and weakens their library.

Tobi_to

#17

Tobi_to said:

This is going to be the best last chance for another game like Eternal Darkness to be made. What was killer about Eternal Darkness was the story and the sanity effects, and it is clear, especially from watching the twitch stream yesterday (recorded here: http://www.twitch.tv/precursorgames/b/446198182) that these guys are definitely following what made ED so awesome! I'd liken this to what Dark Souls came out of Demons Souls.

This team is clearly devoted to this project and you can hear it in their voices such as from Shawn and Gio.

And Denis does get an inordinate amount of hate. He's apologized profusely several times for his behavior and its clear he wants to make things right. Though the reason he gets all the attention is because he's the only one the media will talk to because of his name recognition. Because I totally wish the press would talk to Shawn Jackson and Paul Capporici who are just as enthused and passionate as Denis.

Vermithrax

#18

Vermithrax said:

@Tobi_to I agree. Looking at the videos they posted I think it's going to be something really specially. I hope Wii U owners realize what a gem this is and jump on board and pledge. If it doesn't get funded, they aren't charged, if it does fund they get an amazing game for $25 which they can help develop.

TheroniousMonk

#19

TheroniousMonk said:

Just to clarify some misgivings about how the current campaign was announced, they dropped the funding goal by half because they received private funding and are in partnership with AMD. As for Denis hogging the spotlight, he is well aware of the mistakes he has made and is trying to make amends for them. Plus, the name Denis Dyack (and the infamy associated with it) draws hits to any website he is interviewed on, so it's a win for the journalist doing the interview. I invite any of you who are sitting on the fence or somewhat mistrustful of this campaign to visit the forums at www.precursorgames.com/forums/index.php and take a look at what the community has been working on. Like what you see? Pledge the $5 to get access to the Order of the Unseen, where decisions are made about which community created community makes it into the game. And if the campaign doesn't fund? You keep your money. Not much of a gamble, just a little time invested. Thanks for reading!

Tobi_to

#20

Tobi_to said:

Also for people worried about the game's quality. Keep in mind that there will be a Beta give out for those that pledge in the $100 tier or higher. There will be hundreds or maybe thousands of pairs of eyes on the game to ensure the quality is high.

Considering they've got such a great working knowledge of the CryEngine3.5 already, that at least removes a lot of hurdles. Plus the demo shows that they've got the camera system nailed down in a sweet hybrid of cinematic angles and player controlled.

MAB

#21

MAB said:

Hopefully it will be released along with another follow-up sometime down the track. I don't see how Denis is a bad bloke, he's just trying to make good games within a cutthroat industry full of dodgy AAA companies and selfish internet whiners... People complain about crappy companies like EA all the time but still run out to buy their games, so what's the difference ;)

sutekiB

#22

sutekiB said:

I'm sure that if some of the people who are on the fence were to look at some of the concept art and and gameplay videos on their facebook and youtube channels they'd change their minds. From my experience Denis has always been nice. He's a funny, chatty guy. The community is great, we're all very friendly and everyone loves coming up with ideas, especially sanity effects. Anyone can think of one (it's really easy!) and there's a good chance it'll make it into the game at some point.

Vermithrax

#23

Vermithrax said:

People just need to look at what's being done with this game. Graphically it would really show off what the Wii U is capable off. They had a live stream if the game the other night and went into debug mode to show off the details. Cryengine3 is stellar and they said it will be virtually identical on Wii U. I hope Wii U fans back this up and help and pledge on kickstarter; a great game like this on Wii U might help sell the system.

Tindre

#25

Tindre said:

I don't really trust Kickstarters anymore because I backed one last year and I still haven't gotten my "reward" that was supposed to be sent out in december. Mailed them a lot and finally they should have sent it. I backed a high amount just to get it, a signed print of one of my heroes. ..
But other than that, I loved eternal darkness, and I hope this project gets realized. I don't really care about personal drama since I don't know his side of the story, but my negative kickstarter experience prevents me from giving any money (that and becoming a student. xD)

mch

#26

mch said:

I did my part of financial support. I really hope i won't get my money back and get this game instead on Wii U.

DarkCoolEdge

#27

DarkCoolEdge said:

I didn't like much this interview. His answers weren't interesting.

I hope the game gets funded, it looks quite promising. I'm even considering to pledge.

Vermithrax

#30

Vermithrax said:

I'm surprised more Wii U fans aren't supporting this game. In my opinion Nintendo needs a graphically impressive game, let alone an adult horror game with great gameplay systems. I think if this game isn't supported by Wii U owners it will either not get made or they will go straight to Sony or MS for funding. Amazing that one 3rd party actually wants to support Wii U and people aren't supporting them back. It's only $25 and if it doesn't find you won't get charged...

CaviarMeths

#31

CaviarMeths said:

Is it just me... or does Dyack's head kinda look like the tip of a pecker? I guess you could say he's a Dyackhead.

Vermithrax

#32

Vermithrax said:

If this doesn't succeed I doubt any company will ever try to make games for wii u on kickstarter again. As a wii u owner I'm really disappointed wii u owners aren't jumping all over this. Eternal Darkness was one of the best Nintendo exclusives ever. It's a real shame all we have to count on is nintendo for games. Glad I preordered a PS4

MHK

#33

MHK said:

It really is an amazing value. 25$ for a full AAA game featuring David Hayter, running on the CryEngine 3. Take one look at the demo and artwork, and you will see how amazingly high quality the game is.

MHK

#34

MHK said:

@andrea987
Indeed. A full 8-10 hour game. Join us, help create or vote for content to go into the game, and tell your friends.

ViktorNY13

#35

ViktorNY13 said:

I don't know why some people are so shocked that this isn't doing well at all on kick starter. The people making this game haven't made a quality title since the first Eternal Darkness. Too Human, That X-men crapfest. I have zero faith they could make anything worth while and looking at how the kick starter funding is going since they failed hard the first time around, it seems the majority of people agree and would rather just stay away.

cmk8

#36

cmk8 said:

Interesting the way the fact they have less money donated and a lot more comments than others is put forward as a positive, I wouldn't have thought it was.

mbh911

#37

mbh911 said:

@Vermithrax
I agree with you and I should be supporting this but everytime Dyack name is mentioned, I just get very disappointed. I honestly and seriously believe that he needs to just stop being the marketing guy or whatever. He should just remain working/offscreen and keep quiet because he is still getting heat for what he has done in the past. Someone else with a better reputation and more experience with the marketing/media/press/etc should take over because I bet the project would get more support/money raised. That is just my view and I think it would be the best way to help get more supporters/funding/etc

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