Dredge was one of 2023’s out-of-left field indie greats—we gave it an 89 in our Dredge review, then later bestowed it with Best Setting award for our Game of the Year shoutouts. It wears that mantle well from what I’ve seen as a genuinely brilliant bit of bathophobia–inducing atmospheric horror, in which you man a dinky little tugboat on an ocean of lovecraftian terrors.
It also attempted to create a dire, consequence-filled world where you can fail quests by accident. While the air of sea-soaked tension definitely landed for its players, one choice in that vein was so unpopular the devs patched it out in around three days, as revealed in an interview with the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences earlier this week.
“We have these characters in the game which are the Hooded Figures,” says Joel Mason, a writer and programmer at Black Salt Games. “They don’t give you much dialogue … but when you rock up, they request that you give them a specific fish. When we launched, there was a hidden timer that would start as soon as they asked for this mackerel.”
Mason explains how after 10 in-game days, the unlucky NPC would die—like a lovecraftian tamagotchi. Failing the quest only blocked you off from “a little reward”, but it was “pretty inevitable that people would fail at least one of these, because you just get distracted in Dredge … and we didn’t tell people they were timed. We just said they were hungry, that was the extent of the explanation.”
However, “within three days”—which seems like a record for this sort of thing—”we removed that timer, because it was the number one source of negative Steam reviews.”
I went ahead and flicked through some of those negative reviews at the start of the game’s launch, and surely enough the issue of timed quests came up time and time again. One player wrote: “the last thing that let me down about this game is the timed side quest that doesn’t tell you its timed until you return and they’re dead, too bad so sad.” A more polite player called them “rather annoying, especially since said quests require rather expansive fishing that you might not be able to do at the time you take them.” This person just left a smiley face. I don’t know what’s up with them.
Mason remarks: “And like, I get it (I think). It was a bit of a bait and switch … It’s not like an alien concept. Dark Souls does this all the time, where you do something on one side of the map, and on the other side somebody dies because of your actions. So we thought we could get away with it.” He says that the dev team even made it so failing a quest still counted as completing it for the purpose of achievements. “We just thought it was a bit of fun, but people fucking hated it.”
I do see what Mason’s saying here. In games like Dark Souls and Elden Ring, the sense that you can accidentally kill an NPC by simply not paying enough attention to their questline lends an element of danger to the world. On an intellectual level, I know that mechanics like this add purpose and meaning to your interactions with the game’s story. On a personal level, though? I hate that stuff, dude. I’m not surprised player feedback rowed in the same direction.
“The internet was like, awash with all of these articles within the first few days of like: ‘how to not make the guys die’,” Mason adds that they added another Hooded Figure in one of the game’s DLCs, and he noticed people panicking because “they were like: oh no, they’ve re-added the timers.” Some random NPC deaths stick with you, I suppose.