Q & A With The Collector Designer: Ryan Cleven

redhookjohn Community, News

Since it’s calmed down after our official release, I wanted to share a short Q&A I did with Kickstarter Backer and Collector Designer Ryan Cleven, which was done before our full release. Ryan pledged to our Kickstarter at the Baron Tier, which invited him to design a monster for the game. The Collector is a wandering boss that haunts adventurers wherever they may be exploring. He always seems to appear when things are going well, looking to add to his own personal collection. We debuted The Collector back in the November 30th Update while still in Early Access. Interested in knowing more about the history of the monster? Look no further.

John Lindvay: To start, a bit about yourself? Who are you? What do you do? Where are you from?

Ryan Cleven: My name is Ryan Cleven, @nodezero on Twitter. Firstly, I’m a gamer. Games of all kinds have fascinated me since the C64, through to the Xbox One, to DnD and tabletop games. I’m a new dad and husband to an amazing woman here in Vancouver. I’ve been part of the local game development community here for almost twenty years. Currently, I’m the Multiplayer Design Director on Gears of War, at the Coalition. Originally, I was born in Winnipeg, but I was raised in Vancouver.

JL: How did you first become aware of the project?

RC: The first time I met Chris was when we worked together on an unreleased game a few years ago. He was amazingly talented, and after the project folded, I wanted to see what he was up to. He showed me the pitch he had put together early in development and I was blown away. When he told me he was going to Kickstart it, I was there day one (or two) to sign up.

JL: What lead you to the decision of backing the project at the level that got you a design role on the game? What did you like about Darkest Dungeon?

RC: Well, Darkest Dungeon had a ton of things going for it. I had a few friends on the project, and I knew it was going to be something special. I wanted to help them out in some way as well as hopefully add something to the game that players would remember. I love the theme and am a big fan of the ancient eldritch horror mythos, so I wanted to make a creature. I also felt that this game was going to make a mark, and I wanted to be a part of it, even in a small way.

Both the art and design of the game are very fresh. The turn-based, placement driven combat system they have is simple and very powerful. The insanity mechanics are elegantly frustrating. Tyler and crew did a great job designing the game. Then, there’s the art. Holy shit. Chris’ work draws you in immediately and never lets go. It’s simple but incredibly dynamic. The rich blacks and tone of the game is enthralling. I can’t gush enough about it.

JL: Do you have a background in game design or are you just a fan of dungeon crawling/RPG? What’s your game history?

RC: I have been designing games for a number of years, but this was my first dungeon crawler. I’ve been an RPG player for most of my life and am a huge fan of the genre. I had yet to design a monster from scratch professionally and I was very excited to do so for DD.

JL: How did you go about coming up with the concept for the Collector? What inspirations where you drawing from?

RC: I wanted to do something that had a touch of meta in it. I remembered the way that Kojima broke the fourth wall in Metal Gear Solid I and II. I wanted a tiny nod to that kind of design. So originally, I wanted the game to reanimate the corpses of your previously dead characters, so that you’d be fighting against the choices you’d made in terms of skills. I liked the core idea but it was too complicated. So I went looking for some inspiration. There’s a Japense folktale about the Rokurokubi that had been featured in an old Hellboy comic. They are monsters whose heads can come off and fly around trying to drink human blood. I drew from that to combine with the bringing back of your characters to make the floating, attacking heads.

I needed to unify the idea, so I came up with what I thought was an understated monster, a dude without a face in a tattered cloak. One that you initially think you understand but when he reveals himself you see he is actually something very different. He needed to be incomplete. I liked the idea of a creature that was looking for something in the same space that you were. I wanted him to be incomplete. So, the collector fit all these together. Plus, the thought of him opening his cloak to reveal that he is actually dead skulls terrified me, so I thought it might terrify others.

JL: What is exciting about the monster creating process? Obviously you mention you are a fan of tabletop and engaging new monsters in say a D&D campaign is always exciting and I know creating them is even more fun, but why is that?

RC: A hero must have the seed of something aspirational, while monsters have no such restriction. With a monster, you can take an idea further, to its breaking point. You can see the end of the story for some poor creature that used to aspire to being the hero at some point. Best of all, with Darkest Dungeon, you can take a personal fear, and give it form. To me, the best monsters are always tragic. Either victims of circumstance or their own nature, they have become twisted. You’ll see a lot more extremes when designing creatures than something that the audience needs to identify with. I also liked the idea that no matter which class you’d play, eventually, you’ll run into the Collector.

JL: What were some other ideas that you had while brainstorming for the Collector?

RC: Where it ended up was pretty similar to where I started, but along the way I considered a few other angles. One of the better one was a golem that was incomplete. It was built without a head and sought to find it. It would take the heads of the adventurers it killed and then wear them for a while. The other idea I wanted to toy with was an Eldritch Cartographer. I wanted to create a creature that when killed, would interact with the map. At the time I played, I felt that there could be more map meta-mechanics. He could have had some maddening attack that revealed the secrets of the depths, causing stress. Ultimately, I’m happy that we went with the original idea.

JL: Who’s better to work with Chris or Tyler?

RC: I won’t compare. I have tremendous respect for both of them, but I have worked a lot more with Chris. Tyler did a great job interpreting the creature into the mechanics, but Chris’ visualization of the creature is unarguably amazing.

JL: The boss is in, have you had a chance to face it? If so what do you think?

RC: Personally, I’m playing as little as possible until the early access is done. I played just enough to design the creature. I’m waiting until the full game to see the final version. That being said, I cheated and watched some of the play throughs against the collector. The image of the attacking heads make is perfect. I love the ghostly body. The yellow king direction they took the collector in works perfectly.  I wish I’d thought of it. From what I’ve seen they’ve nailed it, I couldn’t be happier.

JL: You said you are limiting your play sessions, but so far whats your favorite character/party composition?

RC: My favourite character is the Hellion. Chris did a great job with the portrait and I thought that having a female barbarian was fresh, especially for the horror genre. Being up front with big abilities and no armour is my kind of hero. No playing it safe.