The Director at QUARTOMUNDO Fernando Rabello talked about the studio's upcoming game The Light of the Darkness, told us how the game was born, and explained why they had to change the game engine several times.
My name is Fernando Rabello, I'm from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. I have a Bachelor's in Design from a local university, which was natural to me, as I grew up drawing on any possible surface I could get. Nevertheless, most of what I know was about being self-taught, including programming. I started my career working as a Content Manager for a major Brazilian enterprise in the Oil & Gas segment, but after 4 years I moved to content creation, wearing many hats in the 2D/3D art and motion design side of things working for local TV and Publicity companies. Later on, I founded this CGI/Game Dev studio called QUARTOMUNDO which is where I work today.
Developing The Light of the Darkness
The Light of the Darkness is an IP that was conceived, since its inception, to be transmedia. The universe, which is a Paracosmo, started when I was a teenager, struggling with my own dilemmas and life issues. I saw people dividing themselves into groups and I never fit in with any of them, so in many ways, I'm like Sephius, the protagonist, who is a hybrid of two ancient rival strains that, instead of being accepted by both, is treated as an outcast.
The game is inspired by beloved classics like Castlevania, Legacy Of Kain, Demon's Crest, ActRaiser, and Outcast; besides the gaming ethos, we also get references from other artworks like "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "The Lord of the Rings", among others.
The game plot is about a major conflict that takes place in a region called The Lands of Oblivion, a mystical place in which death has a major effect: a person who dies there is removed from the memories of every living being, which is like the ultimate death. A powerful Dark sorcerer, Nomegah, has attracted to that place the army of a Pale Hero, Aparthus, as a way to take revenge from his only son, who was killed during an attack of Aparthus troops. Due to a specific reason, everyone – Pales and Darks – gets caught in the Lands of Oblivion and the situation becomes chaotic. In the middle of such a mess, an undefined being, the first and only hybrid creature – and a practical impossibility – arises.
The creature is memoryless and in its search for understanding who he is, where he comes from, and belongs, he experiences lots of conflicting emotions about Pales and Darks, which adds lots of twists. As the story develops, the player uncovers an amazing truth about the creatures' story and nature.
As this game is being developed for a long time we have already changed the engine couple of times. In the beginning, a tech demo was created entirely in Flash using Citrus Engine which is a 2D linear game engine. After a while, we started considering other engines that could allow us to do what we wanted (an open-level exploration with no loadings). However, It was hard by that time to find a 2D engine that was really useful for porting the game out of flash. The overwhelming majority of engines we found were 3D and did not work with 2D side scrollers well.
Because of that we actually developed our own Engine from scratch, Sephius Engine, which is based on ActionScript3, and developed a vertical slice of the game based on it. It has really good features from a developer point of view, so we’ll probably make it open-source down the road, as the developer community could pull a great product out of it.
However, around 3 years ago, we lost sizable funding because our engine supported only PCs and the investors were interested in a specific console. Also, as the engine was proprietary there was a concern by the publisher about the development pipeline itself. It made us decide to port it to Unreal Engine 4, now a very established engine, which makes it easier to hire people, as it uses a standard 3D pipeline. Besides, it gave us gorgeous visuals and the ability to support multiple platforms.
That demanded additional changes in our development pipeline and art direction, for example, the characters are now 3D models, but the change was beneficial to the project. Right now we are polishing the gameplay and UI/UX side of things in order to have more tests with the community and find a final version of it before launching, which is planned for early 2022.
Gameplay and Mechanics
The Light of the Darkness is a story-driven open-level Metroidvania focused on exploration and combat with action RPG mechanics. On top of that, we have a cool physics-based flying mechanic that allows aerial exploration and combat with a unique game feel. Players have the freedom to fly in any direction, can glide, and reach areas of the level by flapping wings like an eagle.
An essence absorption progression allows for absorbing other character's abilities and powers. We developed a particle-based effect that represents essence in a very cool way, so creatures "bleed" essence, which the player can attract using telekinesis.
There are other cool features like a map integrated into the camera itself which allows the player to access the areas by just zooming the camera out; a spell combination system which the player can mix natures to compose different spell effects; and night-day cycle and a weather system which allows the player to revisit areas in different climate conditions, among other features.
The start will be a 4 to 5-hour episode that will introduce the universe and some of the main characters. From there, The Light of the Darkness should become a big game, with almost 30 hours of gameplay and a lot of content supporting a compelling story that translates well to the daily dilemmas of our target community.
Beyond that, this game is just the beginning. After that, there are many things to explore in sequels, spin-offs, and other media.
Balancing the Game
Balancing the game is actually a great challenge. In The Light of the Darkness there are tons of attributes, systems, ways to interact with enemies in combat, etc. The approach we took was to develop things in the most procedural possible way, so while we have an extra effort during development, such effort pays off when we need to change things as everything is event-oriented.
Besides, we have also implemented a number of ways to make it easier to tweak not just objects but also groups of objects in multiple layers. Unreal Engine has good tools that help, like data tables and data assets, which allow us to edit multiple variables together and see values in a list.
Once we got such systems and pipelines in place, we added to the team a Senior Game Designer and UI/UX expert, a Level Designer, and a Narrative Designer to actually start the job of designing the player experience we envisioned.
In the next 90 days, we will be focusing on developing such an experience and then we will have lots of playtesting with the community, in order to get feedback on the features we put together for them.
The Game World
In the level design aspect, as a Metroidvania, we have 1 big environment divided by biomes, each one with its own characteristics. The full story has 9 of them: Death Plains, a wasted lowland where the pale vs dark conflict took place; the Pale Beyond, a group of floating rocks, illuminated by the sun inhabited of cloud creatures called Strathons; the Pit, a sequence of caverns where the darks throw the pales to the death; Desecrated Origins, ruins below the surface, full of mysteries; the Dark Depths, caverns so deep that light never reaches; Frozen Seclusion and Burning Lair, deep sites modified by powerful events; Extirpated Peaks, a destroyed region with deadly beasts and the Thaylant Citadel, an "abandoned" city of an ancient being which dominates the secrets of the necromancy.
All those sites have multiple connections between them, and different ways to be accessed. Each episode takes place on each site. During the game, the protagonist Sephius gains skills that allow for different kinds of exploration and access options, and, close to the middle of the game, the player unlocks the full ability of flying. So there will be a huge incentive to re-explore the initial sites in a different way.
The Light of the Darkness has been developed through initial crowdfunding, some state-owned startup incentive funds, and our own money. Such funds will allow us to release the first episode early next year which is a self-contained adventure.
Right now we are negotiating with some publishers to secure the funding for the remaining episodes, which will add new areas to the game and new content to the previous ones, so guaranteeing replayability and allowing for a deeper understanding of the lore.
On the business side of things, we have been promoting the game with an internal team, posting news on high-impact platforms and social media, as well as participating in in-game events in order to reach a broader audience.
The best thing that happened to the project was winning a Nordic Game Discovery Contest in Italy, early this year. I opened lots of doors to us, including the publishers we mentioned before. Another big impact was being part of Guerrilla Collective 2021, from The Mix, where we were among some of the best Indie games and studios of the market.