Dread Delusion has been in the works for some time. A demo was initially launched as part of the Haunted PS1 Demo Disc back in 2020 and now, two years later, it has finally launched in Early Access. To celebrate this launch, we sat down with James Wragg, the game's lead developer to talk about influences, the design process, and World War 1 poetry.
"The Night is Darkening was the first game I put out. It was just a game jam. From putting out games like that, the main thing I learned was just the kind of highs and lows of community engagement" As you might expect, our conversation started out with the past. Dread Delusion is a game fueled by nostalgia so we started with the projects that got him there in the first place. James' move into games was the culmination of work in animation, comics, book covers, and more.
"I'm surprised anyone's even really remembered it or has played it. Essentially, the island was like a doughnut, like I just threw the landmass together really quickly. A circle. Just dumped a load of weird assets around. But I think it speaks to the fact that people kind of vibe with really weird lore"
Connecting With Dread
"Vibing" with James' games is kind of like vibing with him. Our conversation went off on many tangents, talking about his history, work, and hobbies. In this sense, his games are a microcosm of experiences and influences.
James spoke a lot about his love of Morrowind, something made abundantly clear in the opening minutes of Dread Delusion. It has this wonderful ability to mix things you understand with things you don’t. “You basically had the Roman Empire invading like hell.”
Dread Delusion’s aesthetic manages to nail that same balance. James revealed how intentional this decision is. “I used to work for a stock image website that did book covers. I did my own book covers for a while and one of the things I learned about that was how to grab people's attention on a crowded storefront."
Every screenshot in Dread Delusion is shareable, mostly down to its unique splash of colours and characters. As you might see from our early access review of the game, Dread Delusion manages to blend influences to make something strikingly unique. After talking to James, it's apparent why this is the case. He appreciates Dark Souls' tone, Morrowind's feel, and was very grateful to the designers and artists he worked with to get the game into the state it launched in. It doesn't just emulate what Morrowind does, it takes them to make something different.
Pushing the Boundary
"I did my dissertation on World War One poetry, and you know that you got a lot of gallows humour around that time. There's a lot of cultural trauma that exists in Britain". He revealed to me that the humorous characters are the ones he enjoyed writing the most. They have a larger scope to play around with, which leads you down unique paths.
Dread Delusion has a freedom achieved through the same method. When you are willing to step outside of the norm, you can readjust and touch on something sincere or different. Sincerity is something that came across in my short conversation with James. He spoke of fantasy's wonderful ability to recalibrate and question things we believe in a safe environment but never hid away from talking about the bigger things. On Dread Delusion's religious conflict, he said:
"There's quite a large percentage of Britain, I think, that grows up kind of atheist, but instead of having a replacement for that, we just kind of don't really talk about it, and just kind of sweep those feelings under the rug. And I think you can end up with people feeling quite, almost, like spiritually lonely, I guess. The epistatic union is a bit of my exploration of that. They're trying to kill their own gods"
To caveat this point, James wanted me to know this wasn't him trying to one-up religion or tell people how they should feel. Although describing himself as atheist or agnostic, he said "I think atheists can be real assholes". Although he has messages he wants to get out and feelings to express, he made it clear that there should be a degree of interpretation to Dread Delusion.
Fans shouldn't take one belief about the game as the truth. It should encourage exploration. "I am obviously filling delusion with my own kind of like agendas and politics, but because it is a is a fantasy space, I think that allows people to kind of interpret it in their own way"
Speaking of the future of the game, he said:
"The next area we're going to add in is the clockwork kingdom, which is very steampunky and quite a big contrast to the two areas that are already in the game. Then, after that, we're going to be adding in a proper main quest which involves hunting down a kind of mercenary captain… There's going to be more of an end game, like, there's going to be islands on the periphery that are much more challenging. And there's going to be a big kind of story event that separates the early game from the late game, which is that you visit the planet's surface, which is a seething hell full of ancient Victorian-style ruins. "
For a game with such a flair for the best, James very often spoke of the future. He spoke about where Dread Delusion goes next, what the final project looks like, and what he may work on when it is all done.
"We do hope to release it onto consoles, but obviously, right now, we're not really thinking about that very much because we need to try and make a good PC game. Hopefully, we'll move it onto consoles and switch. It's definitely something we're talking about."
It seems that James is focused on making the final launch of Dread Delusion as good as it can possibly be and, if our time with the game is anything to go by, it's certainly well along the way.