Dying Light 2 - Good Night, Good Luck, Games Industry
Post by Steve Farrelly @ 06:30pm 18/09/18 | Comments
We've not only now sat through both the E3 and Gamescom Dying Light 2 presentations, but also managed to grill Lead Game Designer Tymon Smektała about the studio's new open-world action-RPG effort on an in-depth level. Read on for our huge interview feature...
In 2019, we’ll maybe have Cyberpunk 2077 but we will have Dying Light 2, or we’ll have both. That latter thought should ruffle more than a few feathers in the same way Red Dead Redemption 2 is this year, and while it’s Cyberpunk 2077 right now hogging all the headlines, ignore Dying Light 2 at your own peril, other publishers -- because this shit is the real deal.
Red Dead Redemption 2 is going to impact many publisher sales this year, which is largely to be expected. This is a Rockstar game after all, and while the first game wasn’t as immediately successful as GTA V was, it has firmly established itself as another untouchable Triple-A from the premier open-world developer. And with Call of Duty, Battlefield and even Destiny struggling to make the same impact they were just a few years ago; mostly playing catch-up to the industry with knee-jerk Battle Royale-like additions to their normally dominant annual entries, we’re in a unique and creative-driven release and design space. A space where open-world, action-RPG, character-action games -- especially in the single-player space ala the recent Marvel’s Spider-Man and Shadow of the Tomb Raider, alongside the forthcoming Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, Darksiders 3 and Just Cause 4 -- are now becoming the norm.
Watch the gameplay video reveal embedded above
Meanwhile, those games are also accompanied by the multiplayer offerings of the likes of Forza Horizon 4 and Fallout 76, as well as the fighting game resurgence we’ve been lucky to be exposed to over the past two years, rounded out in 2018 by Soulcalibur VI starring Geralt: the Witcher and ending with the Switch’s most anticipated title of 2018 -- Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. And that’s not taking into account numerous other games filling out the year against the usual annual entry monsters in the aforementioned Call of Duty, Battlefield and Destiny series.
What all of this is telling us is that the punters have spoken, and the decision makers at some of the bigger publishers are really starting to get it wrong. Fatigue is real and if you look at the way in which Ubisoft recently revealed how they intend to keep Assassin’s Creed Odyssey not just relevant through 2019, but very much alive with new, episodic content and live in-game events, a real shift in gaming is beginning to emerge off the back of efforts by new standard bearers like CD Projekt RED and how they handled The Witcher 3 post-release. And speaking of 2019...
We already know that the original Dying Light has been a success. And a lot of that success has been built around a solid post-release, transparent community-first content model as talked about above, that not only rewards players -- both the die-hards and the casuals -- but also goes a long way to highlighting how much this studio has both loved its work on a clear passion project, but has also learnt -- and grown -- from it. So much so that they went and built a custom engine called “C Engine” capable of seeing out their vision for the ambitious sequel while also being next-gen ready for future products. And they also brought on board Chris Avellone.
“We decided as Techland we want to make open-world games that are first-person and [that are] extremely immersive in terms of the details you can see at any given moment,” explains Lead Game Designer Tymon Smektała. “So we knew that we [needed] a new engine and that’s why we created “C Engine” [which will] support our games for many years to come. This is extremely flexible technology where you can add elements and remove elements from it as we see fit.
"If you haven’t heard of Avellone before, there’s still a very big chance you’ve played some of the games he’s been involved with. Specifically, he has had a heavy hand in some of the most important RPGs in videogame history..."
“[One of the] most important features of the game is the "narrative sandbox" and the power of choice; choices and consequences. And as you play the game you’ll face many difficult dilemmas and the choices you make through gameplay or through story will change or transform the world around you. We created this non-linear narrative with the help of legendary game designer, Chris Avellone.”
If you haven’t heard of Avellone before, there’s still a very big chance you’ve played some of the games he’s been involved with. Specifically, he has had a heavy hand in some of the most important RPGs in videogame history, from Planescape: Torment to Fallout 2, Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and Neverwinter Nights 2, among many others. He also co-founded Obsidian Entertainment where he would triumphantly return to the Wasteland with the seminal Fallout: New Vegas which focused heavily in factions, alliances and hardline decision-making, something that features heavily in Dying Light 2.
Excitingly, alongside Chris are a group of writers from The Witcher series. Specifically, Tymon reveals, the writers who worked on The Bloody Baron questline as well as across the Blood and Wine expansion of The Witcher 3. There’s some serious narrative and quest-design royalty in this beefed up Techland team.
Tymon goes on to explain that they wanted to play with a different kind of sandbox to that of the first game -- a “narrative sandbox”, where choice and consequence, obviously, drives this but that it’s not specifically a story or character shift as a result of choice, rather the whole world “on many levels” changes. And while that can sound like a binary system, this is all done through the aforementioned non-linear narrative, so traditional story beats aren’t the ‘forks in the road’, so to speak, here. Moreover, Avellone has explained that choices affect the world on three levels: Narrative, Gameplay and Systems, and that the combinations of those through player-choice can either impact the world in a way you hoped, or in totally unpredictable ways that undermine your overall goals.
In numerous games filled with choice and consequence, you’re rarely locked out of essentially being able to backpedal or at least fix what you might have broke, or it’s largely just smoke and mirrors anyway, with no narrative gating. This isn’t necessarily the case with Dying Light 2, however.
On changing the decisions you’ve made in the game, Tymon ponders for a minute. “Usually no. We want you to live with the consequences of the decision you’ve made -- just like in real life: if you decide to cross the street on a red light, you need to be aware of the consequences of that -- sometimes they are tragic, sometimes they work. But we also realised, and we are looking at the whole of the decisions you can make, we feel that sometimes some of them may be some of the most important ones, but not all the time. So we thought maybe some of the decisions are so controversial that players start to think “is there a way to [fix the decision]?”. So on some of the special [decisions] we give you additional quests and additional bits of narrative that allow you to change that course of action, but you will have to put in extra effort; extra skills, extra time… whatever. So there are some that you can change, but these will require you to work harder. The rest of them no, you have to live with the decisions you’ve made.”
"All you know when you come into the game-world is that you’re looking for something, and that something is a word. It could be a person, a location or an object..."
The game-world presented in Dying Light 2 on Techland’s new C Engine is a thing of vast beauty. The game is set 15 years after the events of the first game in what they are only referring to as “the City”. It’s the last major human settlement left as a result of the war against the Infected and is four times the size of Dying Light. Interestingly, Avellone and Techland have created a unique spin on post-apocalyptia with what they’re referring to as a “Modern Dark Age”. Traditional laws, morality and basic human interaction has somewhat devolved in the wake of the state of the world, which has given the designers plenty to work with from a character and story perspective, as well as in level and overall world design.
Specifically, the play-space has been crafted with numerous aspects from the ground up that shape unique playstyles. Parkour plays a huge role in traversal which also means there’s meaningful verticality as well as intricately-designed parkour puzzles that will challenge the player’s timing, finesse and lateral thinking. It also features meaningful interiors that play host to the numerous factions you’ll deal with -- both in friendly and not-so friendly ways, while others house the Infected during the day as darkened spaces. Exploring these in day time can be too dangerous, which opens them up for exploration at night, but at night the Infected spill out onto the street creating something of an exploration double-edged sword, to play to the game’s return to intense melee combat.
“I don’t think it is a zombie game,” Tymon says emphatically. “We have developed, we have designed, we have come up with the idea that the day is for the living and the night is for the Infected. So during the day you will note that encounters with the zombies don’t happen as often as in the first game. Usually they hide inside buildings and other dark places. First of all, this allowed us to build a part of the city where you really get to encounter humans; you get to work with them; see how they would behave in a situation like this. You know, it’s an extreme situation: technology is gone, civilisation is gone… we didn’t have as many dynamic encounters [with humans in the first game]. So the day is for the humans, but the night is for the infected and this creates a lot of gameplay opportunity.”
All you know when you come into the game-world is that you’re looking for something, and that something is a word. It could be a person, a location or an object. But you have no idea what it is, and so the investigation, or your quest, begins on the smallest bit of information possible, which prompts an even deeper level of exploration, interaction and experimentation of the world, thus opening up exposure to the touted “narrative sandbox”.
Once you’re more intimately exposed to the world and the factions and other NPCs that fill it, you’ll start to shape it in ways you might not have expected. If you help a drug farm prosper, for example, you can get access to those drugs which will have buffs, however, as there’s an economy tied to this through the world’s NPCs, and so you’ll come across enemies who also now have access to those drugs, meaning you’re essentially facing them with the same powers. The divisive balance here is to work out what’s going to favour you and what’s going to hinder you, or how you might be able to manipulate choice and consequence in intricate ways for the right outcome. But there’s always going to be some form of fallout from the decisions you make.
And while you contribute to the survival of myriad factions and the game-world NPCs, it’s not a survival game in a traditional sense like, say, Subnautica. You don’t need to drink or eat, for example, and there’s no micro-management around this. This is still an action game at heart -- it’s the world you’re attempting to shape through your own actions, not the world working to shape you from a survival perspective, despite the harsh setting.
“I’m not saying there won’t be a survival mode sometime in the future,” Tymon reveals when we ask about any player-based survival mechanics. “Because that’s one of the ideas we have for additional [content].”
He also explains that you can’t create your own faction, you merely interact with the established ones and build relationships and the dynamic world around them. It is something they toyed with early on in production though, he reveals. Essentially it just hamstrung the dynamic narrative nature of the game as it impacted too heavily on how those sandbox narratives played out based on player-choice.
How deeply layered the choice and consequence system is still remains to be seen, but on the surface of what we’ve now seen at both E3 and Gamescom, it’s certainly unique. The larger questions remain about how binary some of the decisions you make are, and if any smaller decisions contribute to any of the larger dynamic shifts in how the world functions. The drug farm example from earlier -- will that impact more largely with your relationship with the Peacekeepers and any interactions you have with them? Will it gate quests for them, or any opportunities you might have to hand them more power in the game-world? Or are smaller and larger decisions disparate on the whole?
"So while the “narrative sandbox” deep-dive was just that, we get the feeling we’ve only just scratched the surface of what Dying Light 2 could offer in the open-world gaming space..."
That we want to know more, however, speaks to what the talented cats at Techland have here. We asked about dynamic weather given there’s a day and night system and were met with “we’re not talking about that yet”. We saw a prompt to “Press X to Drive” come up in the demo to which Tymon revealed “we’re not talking about that yet”, but that it was there specifically as “a tease”. So while the “narrative sandbox” deep-dive was just that, we get the feeling we’ve only just scratched the surface of what Dying Light 2 could offer in the open-world gaming space. And we couldn’t be happier with even just the baseline knowledge of the game we now have. Whatever they’re putting in the water over there in Poland is working -- the level of polish (heh), creativity and community-first importance from Triple-A studios is, frankly, embarrassing many other established development houses around the world.