The Dark Crystal has largely been secluded to a film and a handful of graphic novels. As of this year, however, the world of Thra is evolving. Netflix is providing us another 10 hours of dark puppet fantasy in the form of a prequel series titled The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance. Accompanying this is a tactical RPG from developers BonusXP: The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance Tactics. I had the immense pleasure of sitting down at PAX West with the CEO of BonusXP, Dave Pottinger. During our appointment, he and his team let me go hands-on with their latest efforts.
Pottinger comes from a history of strategy games, from the Age of Empires series to Halo Wars. Most recently, he’s worked with his team at BonusXP to make Stranger Things video game tie-ins. I’m a dedicated fan of The Dark Crystal and greatly enjoyed the slice I played from the upcoming video game, so I ended up barraging his team with a variety of questions. We went over a great deal, including their design process, how they replicated the authenticity of puppetry, and their own love and passion for Jim Henson’s most imaginative creation.
How did Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance Tactics come to be?
When asked about how this game came to be, Dave said it followed the success of the Stranger Things titles. Netflix approached BonusXP to see if there were properties that they would be interested in making. After getting the pitch approved for a game in the Dark Crystal universe, Dave came back to the studio to share the news. He was greeted with cheers and enthusiasm from his employees. Andy Cotnam, BonusXP’s senior artist, immediately went to work on designing the game. He specced out a few mock-screenshots in a couple of days.
Finding authenticity and living up to fan expectations
Transitioning from the Jim Henson Company’s practical effects into something entirely digital is surely no easy task. When asked how the team retained the spirit of the original aesthetics, Dave confirmed that it was indeed their objective to replicate the unique style. A great deal of effort went into how the animations were crafted, with animators working hard to make the characters movements feel “puppety.” After all, fans of the Dark Crystal franchise have spent almost 40 years familiarizing themselves with the mannerisms of the puppets of Thra.
Dave went on to say that this recreation effort was important to every facet of the design of the game. Some things fit perfectly. For instance, the Skeksis specifically transitioned to a video game well, retaining their machiavellian demeanor. Other things did have to be adjusted, though, such as the size of Fizzgigs. Given the game’s birds-eye-view camera angle, these couldn’t scale to how they’re portrayed in the film. That would have simply made them too hard to notice.
Working with the big N (the other one)
This all made complete sense to me. After my time with the demo, it’s evident that Dave and his team have focused on making it the best strategy game possible. From the two missions I had the chance to play, I was able to get a feel for the nuanced strategy combat, which reminded me of Final Fantasy Tactics. With over 15 jobs and a New Game+ mode, it’s sure to encourage multiple playthroughs.
I was also curious about the relationship between Netflix and BonusXP. Dave beamed about how Netflix has been accommodating with sharing footage and clips from the various shows they work on. This has greatly helped with the authenticity they’re striving for. As well, the development team met with the Henson company, who were cited as being incredibly helpful. They imparted many details about the exponentially growing lore of Thra, and it’s been easy for the team to find exactly what they can give nods to in their game.
Widening the lens on the age of resistance
The Stranger Things video games were almost direct on-screen adaptations of the property in terms of the narrative. With Dark Crystal, though, BonusXP has taken in plenty of feedback concerning what an audience looks for in a Netflix tie-in video game. This game will adapt the first season of the Netflix show, but Dave also assured me that they would expand the scope of that story. When playing through the 70+ missions within the game, a lot of situations will contain events that the show’s characters experience off-screen.
Dave capped this particular question off by talking about how the expectations of Dark Crystal fans are different from those of Stranger Things‘ fans. Since this series has been ingrained in some people’s lives for decades, there’s a unique love for the franchise that’s shared by many on the development team. He hopes that this is a complimentary product to fans wanting to dive deeper into the Dark Crystal universe. Of course, they also want it to be a core tactics-RPG people will enjoy.
What’s next for BonusXP after Dark Crystal?
Dave said that the team never really set out to develop licensed games, but they’re finding the passion for projects like these to be as strong as their original titles. He teased that they have a few more licensed properties in the works that they’re really excited about. Finally, he expressed how fortunate he and the team feel for having the opportunity to contribute to these massive, beloved franchises.
The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance Tactics is expected to release on the Nintendo Switch and other platforms in 2019. In the meantime, you can check out the 10-episode Netflix series, which is currently live.