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Wednesday, May 22, 2024
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Solo dev Walter Woods (Here Below) of Dark and Deep “Strategic partners are crucial” 

In the upcoming first person horror game Dark and Deep players take on the role of an underachieving IT guy who gets caught up in a conspiracy podcast. As he delves deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole, the real and surreal merge in a nightmarish world filled with weird creatures and deadly secrets. Solo developer Walter Woods, working under the name of Here Below, used the distinctive black and white illustrations of 19th century artist, Gustave Doré as the textures for much of the game. “His work has always inspired me and I wanted to bring it to a new medium and audience.”

Another big inspiration was the visual storytelling of A24 movies, the American independent film studio that created movies like 2023 Oscar winner ‘Everything Everywhere All at Once’. Woods started his studio Here Below with the vision of becoming the A24 of game companies. “Solo and tiny dev teams have a lot of superpowers, but we have some weaknesses too”, he explains. “Here Below is an attempt to pool resources between small devs. Strategic partners are crucial. You can be a solo dev, but you need the right partners to push your project forward.” 

Why did you become a solo developer?

“I’m not a solo dev. My artist Gustave Doré has been dead for 150 years though. All kidding aside, I just enjoy autonomy and control.” 

What are the biggest advantages of working solo?

“I’m nimble. I spend less time explaining and more time creating.”

And the biggest pitfalls?

“When I don’t work, nothing gets done. It gets lonely, your only friend being a dead artist from the 1800s.”

What’s your creative process?

“I try to bring players in as soon as possible in my process. Even if it’s just for testing a small mechanic. The game has to feel good and be fun or all my big weird ideas are really for nothing.”

How do you stay motivated through (years of) development?

“I take the approach of a craftsman. I don’t rush and I take pride in it. I try to be patient and set myself up for success by tightly scoping things.”

Will you ever work in a team or is it only solo for you?

“I would love to work in a team.” 

How did you come up with the idea for Dark and Deep? 

“It started with a love for the artist Gustave Doré. His work has always inspired me and I wanted to bring it to a new medium and audience. In 2020 (during covid) I was also writing a short story that addressed many of the same themes of work he illustrated like The Bible, Paradise Lost, Divine Comedy. It was sort of a modern retelling. I thought it would be really cool to make a game that brought these together. It evolved over time and became Dark and Deep, an ancient/modern mashup where a conspiracy podcast plays the role of narrator in a hauntingly illustrated world that I built by scanning Doré’s illustrations. I have a 150 year old illustrated Bible that I used. It’s really cool. I am nearing release right now for August 2024. People have been playing the demo and it’s been amazing to see people really enjoy it.”   

You mention that you want to become the ‘A24 of game companies’

“I love games that are the brainchild of very few people. Solo and tiny dev teams have a lot of superpowers, but we have some weaknesses too. Here Below is an attempt to pool resources between small devs. No genre restrictions, just a fierce dedication to originality and craftsmanship.”

What’s the biggest lesson learned from this project?

“Strategic partners are crucial. You can be a solo dev, but you need the right business and marketing partners to push your project forward.” 

The toll on your mental health can be quite high for solo devs. How do you deal with that?

“I try to keep a balanced life. I’m always busy, but I step away and take time with friends and family. It’s better that it takes longer, but you maintain your health and happiness.”

Eric Bartelson
Eric Bartelson
Editor-in-Chief of PreMortem.Games. Veteran game journalist for over 20 years. Started out in 1999 for game magazines (yes the ones made of paper) such as PC Zone Benelux, PlayNation and GameQuest, before co-founding Dutch industry paper Control Magazine.
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