Runtime Podcast: Pet the Dogs
Games, like our lives, are just better with dogs. Dogs are objectively superior to humankind in every way, particularly their daily moment-to-joy ratios and their petability.
Lots of games feature dogs because dogs make everything better, but very few games are bold enough to STAR dogs. I don’t know why this is. If I made every game, then every game would feature a dog protagonist. But I digress.
Today on Runtime: The Limited Run Games Podcast, I talk with Lindsey Rostal, co-founder at Timberline Studio, the writer, producer, and game director on The Red Lantern, a game about mushing through Alaska with a team of sled dogs. You can listen right here or on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or other places.
If you’d like to play this game about good boys and fuzzy friends and surviving bear attacks, you can get it right now for Switch at Limited Run Games. And you should.
And hey, here’s a bit more about The Red Lantern from Lindsey:
Jared: Some folks sit down to make a game and start with "alien invasion" or "world at war" or "RPG anime kingdom in peril." You instead went with "what if sled dogs?" What inspired you to create a game about a Musher and their team?
Lindsey: Ha. While I think there’s a lot of fun to be had in all those things, I wanted to explore something a bit more personal… the story of trying to figure out where you belong and what it means to have a “calling.”
And, dog sledding was very much stuck in my brain. A few years ago, I attempted to go dog sledding in Iceland. However, on the day of the adventure, the winds were too intense (the dogs wouldn’t be able to run safely) and that part of my trip was canceled. That lost moment inspired me to explore and revisit my past love of the books of Gary Paulsen and Jack London and dive into this idea of what it might be like to pack up everything you own and go try to live out a crazy dream.
Jared: Can you pet the dogs?
Lindsey: Absolutely. We’re not monsters.
Jared: What makes The Red Lantern tick? What makes it compelling and fun?
Lindsey: The dogs and how they interact with the world. This is a story not only about you finding who you are but also you helping your dogs find their true identity. You’ll find them trying to catch a bird out of the air, helping you fight off the evilest of squirrels, teaching them to bark first, then bite, and protecting one another as you become a team and family. Each dog has their own unique story that intertwines with your own and taking some of the more unexpected choices in the story can often lead you to equally unexpected results.
Jared: I haven't played The Red Lantern yet. Am I going to cry?
Lindsey: Maybe! There are definitely some emotional moments but ultimately, it’s a game about learning to overcome what the world throws at you. As I think we’ve all learned over the past couple of years, we can’t control everything that will happen to us, but we can try to navigate it and we can try to be more prepared in the future. Our Musher set out on this journey ill-prepared for what was ahead, but through her perceived failings, she became more prepared and knowledgeable about the risks she is willing to take. And while she might not ever be able to “master” the wild, she is able to learn to find a way to live within it and find that sense of home and family with her dogs.
Jared: The Red Lantern happens at the edge of the world. I have a lot of love for games set in remote places, especially the polar regions: Arctic Fox, Axiom Verge 2, Penguin Land, and Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey are all favorites. What games influenced the way you depicted the northern wildlands, and how did they influence those depictions?
Lindsey: I think first and foremost we were inspired by the actual wild. Growing up in Oregon and having had the privilege to travel to a few remote places, we had a pretty good base to pull from. As far as games, there’s such a wide range of games exploring different elements of the remote. I’d have to say most influential for remote regions would be The Long Dark, Brothers, Firewatch, and Minecraft.
Jared: The Red Lantern takes place in a setting that seems desolate, but the game is stunningly beautiful. How did you accomplish this contrast?
Lindsey: Thematically we wanted to give you a place that made you feel small and not particularly important. The fantasy of the untouched space that was willing to wipe away all traces of your path was something that I fell in love with. But also, once you get up into lands like these, the light, the air, the energy… it’s all different. When the sun is only up for a few hours but most of those hours are in sunrise or sunset, you find yourself in a daydream-like state. That’s what we were looking to capture a space that is a contradiction of beauty and warmth in its light and energy, but one that can rapidly change to something that can be cold and harsh.
Jared: The Red Lantern blends elements of resource management, survival, exploration, and a story-driven focus. What challenges did you face in combining these? How did you overcome these challenges?
Lindsey: First and foremost, we see Red Lantern as a story-driven game and that leads a lot of the other blending. What was key was setting the player up for choices that would change for them in each playthrough based on their resource state, not just what story they wanted or what they believe I wanted them to experience. Maybe you really want to pet that elk, or would feel terrible about shooting it, but if you don’t you might lose this next round… how does that make you feel? Having the game loop back on itself as you become more prepared, allows you to have more freedom in your choices as you’re not living on the edge but making choices from a state of abundance. Do you still try to collect 30 meat or do you take different risks? At the end of the day, for us, the most important thing wasn’t the ending, but the journey. What was your experience along the way? What made this your own?
From a design standpoint, it was definitely a challenge and I think some aspects work better than others, but we overcame the challenges by keeping our eyes on pushing for an accessible experience about this journey of finding your place in the world and less on the concept of mastering the wild.
Jared: What are you most proud of about The Red Lantern?
Lindsey: With The Red Lantern, I’m most proud of what the game has meant to so many people and the stories of fathers playing the game with their daughters (and maybe inspiring a future game dev). Also, I’m proud to have made a game in which people can see themselves in it and experience a story where you learn you are not defined by your failures. I hope not only can people take some of the story to heart but have a great time in this wilderness with these lovable pups.
Limited Run Games:
the industry leader in the production and distribution of premium physical video games. Founded in 2015, they have published over 1,000 physical games and soundtracks in addition to winning a number of awards for their bespoke Collector’s Editions. Limited Run is the gold standard in bringing digital games to physical form for casual fans and collectors alike. Visit limitedrungames.comfor the latest offerings, or follow the brand on your social media platform of choice for all LRG-related updates:@limitedrungames.