When The Molasses Flood rolled into town with The Flame in the Flood on Xbox One back in 2016, it was obvious that they knew what it took to make a proper game. With past history in some major franchises, a stunning art direction, a soundtrack to die for, and some super rogue-like gameplay, it was a bit of a hit. Now though the team are back, this time with a dynamically generated cooperative action village-builder – Drake Hollow. With the same unique visuals and a world full of cute creatures, we just had to find out more about how this latest title came about. And so we grabbed Forrest Dowling, Studio Director for The Molasses Flood for a little chat about Drake Hollow and exactly what Xbox One and PC gamers should begin to expect.
Hi. Please introduce yourself – what is your role at The Molasses Flood and on the development of Drake Hollow?
Hi, I’m Forrest Dowling, and I’m both the Studio Director for The Molasses Flood, and the Creative Director on Drake Hollow.
So sell it to us, why should gamers be interested in Drake Hollow on Xbox One and PC?
Drake Hollow gives players a chance to experience something pretty unique in the world of games: the opportunity to care for something other than yourself. Drakes are lovable vegetable-like creatures and they need help from you and your friends if they’re going to survive. They need food, water, shelter, entertainment (think puppet shows) and protection from some nasties. We’ve also built a beautiful, mysterious world with some fun backstory and lore to uncover. I think anyone who loves games that let them build, who like a little bit of strategy around that, and love to explore either alone or with their friends will really love this game.
Multiplayer adventuring seems to be the backbone of Drake Hollow. Are we looking at an online-only experience, or will there be local opportunities too?
We’re only supporting online co-op at launch. As a small team we need to pick our battles, and couch co-op adds a bunch of technical issues that we’ve just not got the bandwidth to tackle currently.
And for those who prefer to play alone, how would a single player find solo adventuring? How challenging has it been to ensure that there is something included for all gamer types?
Personally, I generally prefer playing solo, so making sure that experience is robust and enjoyable has been really important for me as a player. I just completed a solo run of the campaign and I think it’s a lot of fun to play that way. I even like how it slows things down a bit relative to playing with friends, which can get chaotic as many multiplayer games do. Balancing for both these experiences is definitely challenging, but one interesting thing is that Drakes are really the thing that dictates your progress, and their needs and the supplies available to meet them are the same if you’ve got 1 player or 4. So, there is no shortage of things to do when playing solo. The main differences between solo and multiplayer play are around numbers of enemies.
The Drakes seem like a lovable little bunch. How have they evolved through the development process?
The Drakes went through a lot of wild variations and concepts before we settled on the final design. Over the last year or so we’ve continued to iterate and refine their appearance. In terms of gameplay, they’ve changed quite a bit in terms of the way they work, but the overall experience of interacting with them and what they need has remained largely unchanged. I think the main development that came pretty late was the ability to interact with them directly to collect charms, gifts, buffs, and to age them up. We just found that people weren’t engaging with them enough, so we came up with this whole system to give you a reason to take a moment and say ‘hi’.
In terms of playable characters, is there a variety in those available?
Players can choose from a wide variety of customization options. We don’t have a named protagonist or anything – since we wanted this to be a story you are helping write as you play – so you can make your character look how however you’d like.
Could you tell us more about the resource gathering/building aspect of the game?
Resource gathering involves a few different things, but you’re always looking for building materials and crystals. Building materials primarily come from supply trucks that dot the landscape. To get supplies from a truck to your village, you rely on networks of lightbeams that connect the trucks back to your base. Not only do these networks carry building supplies, but you can travel on them as well, so they become your highways around the Hollow. Crystals are what you use to age up the Drakes. The older they get, the more powerful their buffs become, your health grows, and you can build more stuff. Crystals drop from all sorts of things: chopping down the vines that spread around the landscape, defeating Feral creatures, and completing raids and ambushes.
And further to that, what types of feral beasts will we be left defending our villages against?
There are 4 types of beasts that you’ll need to contend with. The first are Grunts, basically they’re like pugs, but evil. Their bigger cousins are the Fangs, wolf-like creatures that have a powerful bite and can lob attacks from a distance. The meat and potatoes of any encounter is the Stalkers, big tooth-faced creatures that pack a serious punch and can charge like a freight train. The last and most important is something I’m not going to talk about quite yet. I’d like players to meet this one in game for themselves.
There is promise of both a full Campaign and additional Sandbox mode included. How many hours would you expect the average gamer to find in the former? And what is there in the latter to keep them going back for more?
Campaign playtime will vary wildly depending on how the player wants to play, and how many players are actively working together. Since it’s a dynamically generated sandbox experience, even in campaign, the duration can swing greatly.
As far as sandbox goes, it’s coming shortly after our July 17th initial launch, and will offer an unguided experience for folks who want to build the most spectacular village possible. I view sandbox as being very much like a city building game, where you play because you like the experience of designing, building and creating, rather than some games that feel more like an MMO type experience where you’re grinding for loot.
Both Drake Hollow and your previous game The Flame in the Flood have got rather unique art styles. How important was it to not just find a style that works, but to continue with that across both titles?
Having a clear visual identity is really important for us. We want to make games that are based on strong systems-based gameplay, but that are also brimming with heart and soul. Having a strong art style is critical for that identity to come through.
Keeping to The Flame in the Flood theme, and the soundtrack for that was a stunner. Are we likely to hear the same quality of tunes here with Drake Hollow?
I think so, but you’ll need to be the judge of that. We’re working with a great musician and their band, Walter Sickert and the Army of Broken Toys. The Drake Hollow soundtrack is definitely less in your face than The Flame in the Flood’s, but it is just as unique. Walter actually created a number of instruments specifically to create the sounds of The Hollow, and I think it shows.
Xbox gamers love achievements – can you give us any insight into the types of Gamerscore givers we’ll find in Drake Hollow?
We’ve got a really great variety of achievements (totalling 1000 gamerscore), and reward all sorts of stuff, from the typical like completing the campaign, to the unique. like using the tools you craft in a unique way.
With launch on Xbox One and Windows 10 PC will Xbox Play Anywhere opportunities be in place?
Yes, that’s our plan!
And how about Xbox Game Pass? Are you looking at that as a launch avenue?
We are launching on Xbox Game Pass for PC and Xbox One on day one, as well as Steam.
How about gamers not entwined in the Xbox and PC gaming scene? Are we likely to see Drake Hollow roll out on PS4, Nintendo Switch or even the likes of Xbox Series X or PS5 further down the line?
We shall see, but right now we’re focused on getting the launch right on Xbox and Windows.
If you could give gamers just one pro tip which will help their Drake Hollow journey progress, what would it be?
I think the best advice is to take your time. If you rescue and age up your Drakes before you can support them, you’re likely going to have a rougher time. You can always recover from that, but I think it’s best to grow your village a step at a time and not let things get out of control.
And finally, how does Drake Hollow lend itself to future content? Is the DLC route one that is being considered?
Initially we will focus on free updates and post-launch support. As far as DLC and longer term plans go, we’re going to evaluate the initial launch and gather feedback from players prior to committing to those plans. That said, we’ve definitely got a wish list of things we’d like to roll-out post launch and if players love the game as much as we hope, it’s on the table.
And finally finally, what’s next for The Molasses Flood?
We’ve got another project in the works that’s way too early to talk about, but really the main thing on the road ahead for us is continuing to support Drake Hollow once it has launched.
Huge thanks go out to Forrest for answering our questions, particularly as they have come at a time when the build up to launch of Drake Hollow on Xbox One, Xbox Game Pass and PC is fast approaching. If you wish to embark on a journey with the Drakes then you’ll be able to do so for yourself when the game launches on July 17th 2020. In the meantime, make sure you check out our recent hands-on with the game, and ensure you are following The Molasses Flood on Twitter for direct updates. We will of course bring you them too.