While at GDC 2019, we got a chance to speak with The Red Latern game director Lindsey Rostal from Timberline Games about the narrative-survival game coming to the Nintendo Switch in the summer of 2019. “It was a pretty great way to unveil something that I’ve been toiling away on in the dark… of Los Angeles,” Rostal says about appearing in the latest Nintendo Showcase. The game tasks players with journeying with your dog sled team across a (procedurally-generated) harsh Alaskan landscape, where you get lost while training for your first Iditarod race.
“We have a strong narrative background,” Rostal says of Timberline Games. “I’ve made branching games and I wanted to find a new way to have a more dynamic narrative. Something that worked more in a streaming context and for a larger variety of audiences.” You aren’t racing in the game, you’re struggling to survive against the wildnerness. Due to the randomization of the game’s elements, your runs through the game vary wildly, but you can definitely get lucky.
“It’s a fun way to write. You don’t know what’s really going to happen. There’s likelihoods and there’s relationships between animals in the environments and everything like that,” Rostal says. “But things are changing all the time. The unexpected nature of the world is really exciting. You’re like, ‘This is likely to happen, but [then again] this squirrel might murder me… It can happen.”
Rostal describes the tone of the game as “darkly comedic”. While there’s the tension ice might break beneath you, you’re running low on med packs, and a moose might stomp on you, she says a lot of the game’s lighter moments come from the narration. The main character (voiced by Horizon Zero Dawn’s, Ashly Burch) will be editorializing the world and contextualizing situations like the tension between a squirrel and your team of dogs. “It’ll probably be an entertaining and weird game,” Rostal says about the fact that the character will be talking for their dogs in a lot of situations.
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The announcement trailer for the game ends with a bear attacking a sled dog, which was shockingly grim for a Nintendo Showcase. “The horrible thing is I don’t think I realized that it was as dark as it was… I probably should have put a trigger warning on the trailer,” Rostal says. “We wanted to set the stakes. When you’re going up there to change your life and you’re setting out to do something that’s a little naïve and a little crazy.”
The small team at Timberline games have fallen in love with their game’s environments, saying they joked about creating a “screensaver zen mode” to let players soak in the scenery while using the gyro controls when the Nintendo Switch is in handheld mode. When bringing up the idea of creating a version of the game compatible with Labo VR Rostal says “You never know! If they give me a parka version I’m in.”