Ahead of the release of The Pale Reach expansion, the Black Salt Games team joined 80 Level to tell us more about DREDGE, discuss the game's map and gameplay mechanics, and share their thoughts on the game's reception.
We’re Black Salt Games, an indie games studio based in Christchurch, New Zealand. We all spent our childhood and teenage years playing games and got into the industry after college. We worked together for a number of years at another studio here in New Zealand before starting our own.
The Appeal of DREDGE
We’re really proud of how atmospheric DREDGE ended up being – whether it’s days out on the open ocean relaxing in the calm or navigating storms when the weather turns on you, or reckoning with the unknown when the fog rolls in at night and you can’t quite make out what’s around you, the game has an undeniable mood to it.
Having the day-night cycle really helps keep things fresh, and having the ability to pick and choose what you want to spend your time doing, whether that’s progressing the story, upgrading your boat, or just doing some good old fishing, we think, really gives the game longevity and broadens its appeal to all different types of players.
Thoughts on the Game's Reception
We have been blown away by the response to what we thought was just going to be our little fishing RPG. We knew that with a team of four and only two years of development time, we wouldn’t be able to do everything, so we just focused on doing a few things really well.
Receiving praise from critics and finding out that a lot of people just really love our game is the biggest achievement for us. Even though it’s not the longest game, seeing that people who played DREDGE really enjoyed their time with it, fishing, exploring and even just existing in the world, is more than we could have hoped for.
The upgrade and research trees really came from the RPG side of our game design. We also wanted to make sure it was really accessible and tried to avoid adding in any unnecessary grind so players wouldn’t be removed from the story by having to deal with unnecessary progression gates.
The fishing was something we spent a lot of time playtesting. We wanted to make sure that, even after eight hours, players wouldn’t be bored of what are, ostensibly, really quite simple minigames, so that's where our spatial inventory came in. Alongside the fishing itself, we found that people really enjoyed having to be tactical about how their cargo was arranged. It kept them engaged, even when the fishing itself might be wearing a little thin.
It was also really important to us that there wasn’t a skill check to stop players from engaging in the fishing. Yes, you can time button inputs to speed up the process but unlike in real life, we wanted to make sure everyone would have that really satisfying feeling of eventually reeling in a fish. We also added additional accessibility options to remove penalties from things like mistimed button inputs so that we could ensure everyone could enjoy the fishing no matter their situation or skill level.
Designing the Game World
It was very early on in development that we decided on five main game areas as we knew how long we wanted to spend developing the overall game. We did still increase the game’s overall scope along the way though, such as adding a more fleshed-out story and lore for the world, so that became a really important piece of the game that we didn’t originally plan for.
Since launch, we’ve had countless requests for more areas though so we’re really pleased that we’ve been able to add another one to the game with our upcoming paid expansion The Pale Reach. This expansion adds a new ice biome – an area we had originally thought about including with the base game but one we simply didn’t have time for. Our community has been really vocal about wanting to explore this type of area too, so we’re excited that we’ll be able to share it with them very soon.
The biggest learning curve for all of us was console development. None of us had much experience in this area but from the start of DREDGE’s development, we decided we wanted to develop it for at least the Nintendo Switch alongside a PC version, so we always kept a close eye on its performance on Switch and spent a lot of time playtesting with Joy-Cons and controllers alongside keyboard and mouse input, which is (hopefully!) why it feels so natural to play on everything.
We also spent a lot of time getting the ocean to behave the way we wanted it to, adding things like your boat slowing down when you’re navigating stormy seas and then giving the player a bit of a speed boost when you’re shooting across the open ocean. The color and clarity of the water in each biome too lent itself to the tone and feeling of each area: like crystal-clear waters that can reveal bioluminous lifeforms in Stellar Basin; and murky, silty avenues of mangroves in Twisted Strand.
The Pale Reach DLC
We’re launching our first paid expansion, The Pale Reach, today and we’re excited to introduce players to a frozen landscape with a malevolent past, as well as new fish, boat upgrades, and other special items they’ll have to explore the world to find.
Beyond that, we will have our second expansion ‘The Iron Rig’ coming in 2024 and after that, only the ocean knows...