Interview: Dread Delusion Developer Discusses Open World Size As A Major Development Challenge

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Dread Delusion - Lovely Hellplace

If you enjoyed playing The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, you will surely love Dread Delusion which is also an open-world Adventure RPG. The game allows players to explore the uniquely designed floating island and navigate through the challenges of diverse enemies. Not only that, but the game features an interactive campaign that hooks players till the endgame with numerous twists based on your gameplay decisions. 

The game heavily inspires the 2000s-themed design and sound to deliver a nostalgic gaming experience. Dread Delusion aims for evergreen gameplay with a multitude of activities and content to provide a unique experience with each playthrough. To discuss more about the hand-crafted world of the game, we emailed James Wragg, the Creative Director behind Dread Delusion. 

Dread Delusion - Lovely Hellplace
Dread Delusion – Lovely Hellplace

Please introduce yourself and tell us a bit about your work on Dread Delusion

James: I’m James Wragg, founder of Lovely Hellplace and Creative Director of Dread Delusion.

What inspired the creation of the shattered land with flying continents and a seething undead curse on the surface?

James: Well, the idea behind all the flying islands was just this pragmatic thing. When I was first messing about in game development, it was easier to just make islands floating in a void than it was to make a landscape with horizons and natural boundaries.

Later I joined the dots and dreamt up some lore about it. I think it’s often fun to like, set yourself arbitrary limitations and spin a story from there.

Dread Delusion - Lovely Hellplace
Dread Delusion – Lovely Hellplace

The game boasts a rich, interactive narrative and open-world exploration. How did you balance guided quests with the freedom of exploration?

James: I’m really pleased with how the narrative has been received by players – everyone seems to comment on how they love the characters and the lore. I think, from the offset, I tried to make sure that we were enticing players’ imaginations wherever possible. Both with my own writing and with that of our fantastic writing team (Io, Harry, and Ben), a real effort was made to distil thought-provoking fantasy into snappy dialogue that never outstayed its welcome.

As to how this relates to exploration, well – I think they balance each other out quite nicely. Quests naturally lead the player through a series of world locations – but without map markers, this means that finding your next quest destination requires some good old-fashioned exploring. Dread Delusion is a game where having a compass is a real asset, and I think players appreciate that in this era of gaming.

One of the most attractive aspects of Dread Delusion is its offering of multiple ways to approach challenges, such as using charm, lock-picking, and forbidden knowledge. Can you expand on your approach to designing these challenges and rewarding players?

James: When first developing Dread Delusion, I described it as a “bitesize RPG”. The aim was to take those experiences you find in games like Deus Ex and Baldur’s Gate, where there are multiple ways to solve a problem and crunch that experience down into something a bit simpler.

I actually think a lot of cRPGs have a lot of unnecessary skills (like, who used swimming in Deus Ex?), so boiling those down to just a handful: Lockpick, Lore, Charm – felt appealing to me.

Of course, over-development the game kind of expanded from being a “bitesize” experience into… a pretty midweight RPG, and we realized that even just allowing alternate routes for this handful of skills was a very time-consuming process. I really have no idea how those larger cRPGs get made!

Dread Delusion - Lovely Hellplace
Dread Delusion – Lovely Hellplace

How does the retro aesthetic influence the game's atmosphere and storytelling?

James: I grew up with a PlayStation, and I always found those wobbly, irregular polygons to evoke a real dreamlike atmosphere. I think the less detail you show, the more it leaves space for the player’s imagination to fill in the gaps, much like a novel.

When everything is rendered in painstaking, photorealistic detail, it may look beautiful – but a part of the mystery has been destroyed in the process.

Also, the game evokes a strong sense of nostalgia with the sound. Can you share more about the creative process behind the sound design and how it complements the game's atmosphere?

James: So, it’s probably no surprise that we were inspired by audio from PS1 RPGs such as the Final Fantasy series and Vagrant Story. I just fed a bunch of these sounds to our audio team, and they produced some truly spellbinding stuff.

Our composer Dan Staley has created this hauntingly beautiful score that really underpins the whole experience, while our Senior Sound Designers – James Post and Lazzie Brown – both worked some audio magic on all the sound effects.

Dread Delusion - Lovely Hellplace
Dread Delusion – Lovely Hellplace

Given the depth and complexity of the world, how do you ensure new players are not overwhelmed and can easily immerse themselves in the game's lore and mechanics?

James: Well, because a lot changed during the development process, I always intended for us to develop the starting area last so that we could adequately foreshadow everything that came later. Kind of like how, when writing essays, it’s common advice to write your introduction last!

So, this led to Pwyll – a lil’ bitesize mushroom forest in which all the core systems and mechanics are represented, and all the quests have multiple endings and solutions. Because we worked on this at the end of development we were really in our stride, and it’s one of my favorite areas.

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced during the development, and how did you overcome them?

James: Honestly, just the sheer scale of making a Bethesda-style open-world RPG. These things are big, and it’s so easy to underestimate how long it’s gonna take to flesh out all the tiny details.

Our Lead Developer Schera was invaluable here – she’s very much a details person, so when we brought her onto the project, things became a lot easier!

Dread Delusion - Lovely Hellplace
Dread Delusion – Lovely Hellplace

How has the community feedback influenced the game's development so far after its release?

James: Well, it was absolutely invaluable during the Early Access period. A lot of the core mechanics, like combat and spellcasting, were refined with help from community feedback, and I think because of this, the game was in great shape when we launched.

Post-release, really we’ve just been focusing on bug fixing – and again, the community has been amazing, and has been communicating really well with DreadXP’s QA team to help us iron out all those bugs.

How long the game had been under development and how many developers actively worked on the project?

James: About 4 years ago I made an alpha build of Dread Delusion; back then it was just me and our composer Dan. About six months later DreadXP stepped in to publish the game, and we were able to bring on board Schera (our Lead Developer) and Clara (our Lead Programmer), whose help was essential in elevating Dread Delusion from a ‘scrappy alt-game’ into a ‘proper indie RPG’.

We also work with about a dozen contractors who provide everything from beautiful 2D artwork (the excellent Artyom Trakhanov illustrated all our cutscenes) to 3D assets (Heinn and Cody’s character models are absolutely exceptional).

Is there anything else you'd like to share about Dread Delusion? Anything from the upcoming announcement, feedback, or something we have not touched upon yet?

James: Really I’d just love to thank, on behalf of the team, everyone who’s played and supported the game. The reaction from fans has been both humbling and overwhelming, and we’re so glad everyone is having a good time with it.

Dread Delusion is an open-world RPG developed by Lovely Hellplace. The game was released on May 14, 2024 for PC.

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