Nobody understood Deathloop during the development despite following the path of Zelda Ocarina of Time
Stranger Things is a US web television series of suspense and science fiction co-produced and distributed by Netflix. Written and directed by Brothers Matt and Ross Duffer and produced executively by Shawn Levy, was released on the Netflix platform on July 15 2016, with positive criticism by the specialized press, who praised interpretation, characterization, rhythm, atmosphere and clear tribute to the Hollywood of the 1980s, with references to Steven Spielberg, Wes Craven, John Carpenter, Stephen King, Rob Reiner and George Lucas, among others, including several movies, anime and videogames.
History is situated in the fictitious village of Hawkins, in Indiana, United States, during the 80 s, when a twelve-year-old boy named Will Byers disappears mysteriously. Soon after, Eleven (eleven, in Spanish), a seemingly fugitive girl with telekinetic powers, meets Mike, Dustin and Lucas, friends of Will, and help them in the search of it.
The second season premiered on October 27, 2017; It is established a year after the first, and it deals with the attempts of the characters to return to normal and the consequences that persist from the first season. The third season premiered on July 4, 2019 and consists of 8 episodes, with new characters, such is the case of Robin.
On September 30, 2019, Netflix confirmed the renovation of the series for a fourth season.
Since I started playing Deathloop I knew that it was a fun game, with a really polished mechanics and with a playable approach that invited me so much to improvise and carry out my plans. But soon began to appear in my head the feeling that This videogame could be appreciated as much or more if it was dissected, if it was analyzed its design and if I was wondering all the time why they had taken every decision during development.
This is so because Deathloop is a game that starts from a very interesting idea for a triple A, such as temporary loops, and also the possibility of going molding our experience as we investigate what happens on that Nevada island. But beyond that, it is a game that even at first sight surprises with the pile of systems, powers, tools and interactions that we can do with the middle and the rest of characters, creating a design network that supports with slack the Weight of the curious player.
For this reason, to learn more about the design of one of the best games of this 2021, we have interviewed Dana Nightingale, director of the Deathloop campaign and one of the Veteranas de Arkane Lyon. Dana has been responsible, among many other things, of one of the most brilliant levels designed in recent times as is the mechanical mansion of Dishonored 2.
No obstacle is fun if there is no goal behind
DEATHLOOP is a title that surprises for the number of references to movies, artistic styles, series and other contents from outside videogames. Is this sought?
I would say that you are totally right. I was not involved in the Deathloop Art Directorate, and you would have to talk to the geniuses behind that plot. But it is a point that I soon took to development. Arkane usually makes many tributes and references to games that have inspired us. In many cases, we are older millenials and are games with which we grew up: ARX Fatalis, inspired by Last Underworld, Prey, inspired by System Shock, Dishonored is a mix of Thief and Deus Ex… but Deathloop is the arkane game that is Inspired by Arkane games.
We wanted to look at our bookshelf, our legacy and think about the most Arkane game we could do. It is the first game we have done that is truly and in a pure way, ours.
When playing Metroid Dread has just thought a bit about how the games point us out the way to follow, yes, without realizing it. This is something particularly complex to implement in a game with so much decision-making as Deathloop. How did you address this matter?
It is one of the most complicated things to do in our design. I have not yet been able to play Metroid Dread, and I really want to take a spin. But the challenge is about balancing the cognitive load of the player. We have to be very careful to know what to give them to free them and make them focus on the true fun of the game.
That is why we have put a marker in the buildings where the mission will be held, but we let you discover the best way to get there. If we did not put that marker in the building, perhaps you would be spinning in circles for hours. Even if it is a space that lends itself to the exploration, if you do not know that your goal is in that direction, you do not have a reason to explore as you are doing.
Yes, we will sometimes tell a player clearly that his next goal is this specifically, but because the fun is in getting complete that goal. Overcome the obstacles, experience all the content between the initial point and the end; And not be lost without knowing what to do. Because when you enter that mental state of confusion, the most basic action like moving on the map, it is no longer fun.
No obstacle is fun if there is no goal behind. Otherwise, it will be only a physical obstacle.
The first time in which we brought people to the office to try the game, nobody understood nothing
One of the most amazing things of Deathloop is the great sense of humor that deploys. It has always been difficult to create humor in videogames, assuming a great challenge for designers. This has been a clear goal in your development from the beginning, right?
I would not say it was a priority, but I know it s something done on purpose. When you think Dishonored, a game so serious, you have to be very careful with the tone. The things you ask for the player, the solutions that you give them, the dialogues… everything has to be truly consistent with the hard nature of the situation you have in hands.
But Deathloop is fun, silly, crazy, wild, unpredictable… so at a certain point of development, we realized that with the humor that had been kneaded inside the DNA of the game, we could be much more crazy at the time of requesting things to the player. It was possible to reach ridiculous situations, as well as ridiculous solutions, and they would work.
I do not like to count too much about possible spoilers in the interviews, but there is a situation in which you open a safe… and inside there is something ridiculous. There is a puzzle in which there is a person inside a cannon, and there is a whole situation about how to get what I have with it. It is ridiculous, and very funny, but it fits in Deathloop.
Triple A Games have begun to tell new stories and experiment with the themes, but it is not so usual that things like Deathloop are doing, a game in which it is the player who marks the rhythm and who makes decisions that change the Rhythm of the story. How to complicate is to make a game like that?
Doing it is the easy, help the player understand it… that s how complicated. From the beginning, four maps were going to be four stages of the day, you advance the day by visiting the maps, you learn things you could do earlier in that same area or even in others… and everything made sense for us. We design the campaign and put the track system that take you from one place to another.
And for the first occasion we brought people to the office to try the game, nobody understood anything. Everyone was lost, nobody understood how the advance system operated in time within the same day, they did not understand why I would like to go on a map at night and not in the morning, they did not understand why we had to end the visionaries…
Nobody had played Ocarina of Time?
[Laughs] Maybe some of them do, but they did not understand that this was a game of that guy. It was an experience that opened our eyes and that gave us a lesson of humility when seeing the players heading against a wall. I remember the stomach pain that came in to see how we had to implement massive changes.
Deathloop has been one of the games with more presence in digital events. Did you afraid to explain too much about the game, or even show much before the launch?
Obviously, he trusted fully on our marketing team. I am an expert in what I am an expert, and this is your department. Yes, I got involved pretty much with one of the trailers, specifically the one who explained the situation of Igor and the party, because it was something that I designed.
But what I spoke with friends, family and other acquaintances is that, after a couple of videos, they still did not understand the game. Then I realized that it was not our problem or his problem, it is simply a complicated game of showing.
At a time when videogames have a tendency towards enormous scenarios and open worlds, Deathloop brings us a great density of content, objects and things to do in relatively small and closed areas. Was this a challenge?
Sure, it was a challenge, but it is also the kind of challenges for which our designers and developers live. We have a lot of people dedicated to giving life to our locations, and we give them a lot of autonomy to our level designers and artists to be creative. This allows them to leave their mark, show their talent and create their own vision of the game. To this day I continue playing, and I find myself with small details that our talented team has left there after spending several days leaving the perfect location.
Although there is no intentional history behind each object, it is done with as much expertise that it is easy to think about that there is, it is credible. We want the player to feel immersed, think about who would live in that place. It is the reason why these people came to our study to work, and a game like that allows them to do that.
It is very easy to lose the player s attention if it is given the solution before he understands the problem
The game has a cross progression system. On the one hand you can keep weapons and tools along the adventure, while there are certain things that do not last throughout the adventure, as certain progress. The interesting thing is that all this has an argument explanation.
It is a decision that we arrive relatively late in the development of the game, being part of a process that we call welcome (onboarding), in which we try to acclimatize the player to the world where action is developed. But the trick here is to dosage the elements at a rate that the player can go making his head to it, in giving him news just when he is prepared for it… who understands the problem before giving him the problem.
It is very easy to lose the player s attention if you are given the solution before you understand the problem, because you will not know what to do with that new tool. That is why we let them play a few hours before giving them interesting talismans with which to improve weapons, so that they can see the limitations of them before they can improve them.
When you get the wink, you have already understood how complicated it is to move through these areas full of enemies after a few hours without powers, and you understand how useful it is. When you get the link, the power to link enemies, you know there are groups of enemies and that it is very complicated to face them.
It is a complicated process, and quite long, to refine things like making the player lose their team before being able to preserve it. It is something very risky, and you can disconnect the player if we do it soon, but that allows you to see the problem before finding the solution. After this process, the solution has a meaning and it is something that the player wants in first person, not being imposed.
Flying posters can hit on that first visit on the beach, but they soon ended up being a brand from the house in Deathloop that contributes a lot. At what point of development did this come to this?
There are a handful of ideas that carry with us from the beginning of development and this is one of them. We are in a temporary loop, there is an icy island from the north and there are these floating messages so rare. It is integral to the conception of the game.
Maybe one day there can be a protagonist in a video game that looks a little more like someone like me, who knows?
You have a Twitch channel, you have participated in documentaries such as NOCLIP or GAME MAKERS TOOLKIT. Do you think we are at the best time for people to understand how complex it is to make video games?
I think it s very complicated to convey. It is a theme that has more trick than it seems. Yes, we want players to understand how complicated it is to create this form of art, but personally I do not want to spend and encourage that the game is not as good as you expected because it is complicated to make games. I do not think it s something that helps, and more when we love talking about how much we like our work, and how much we love it. Of course it is complicated, but creating things is always complicated and more when it is such a collaborative effort and joining so many disciplines.
I like the idea that developers have more visibility, not only because players see that their favorite titles are made by human, but by showing the diversity of teams. Showing that the games that you like so much, may not be made by people who are like you or seem to you.
And this is a good thing, because you add voices and perspectives other than yours, and that s how you can grow as a person. That is why these worlds so different and interesting are that attractive, because they come from people with a perspective that does not have to be yours.
I hope in a totally genuine way that in the same way that cinema fans are very interested in the actors, directors or directors of photography, we can reach a point where the fans of videogames want to know more about those who do them.
And, of course, I suppose you will be very proud that Deathloop has two black characters as protagonists. What does it suppose for you as a team to be able to represent minorities that do not usually have so much weight in videogames?
The funny thing about this is that we have a director as it is Dinga Bakaba, but the idea of these characters arrived by Sebastien Mitton, manager of art. Again, it is something decided before I arrived at the project, but I have been telling me things and stories. But it really believed in them, in part by the films, series and other content that consumed as a child. He wondered how Chulo would be to make a character from those outside the cover of the video game, something he had barely seen. They collaborated in this idea, and carried out together.
It is something that I am very happy, with what I am very grateful. I always feel curious about those who say they identify with Colt and Julianna, for any reason. Not only for how they look on the screen. If people can be interpreted by these characters, it has an important value.
I feel that this is something wonderful. Maybe one day there can be a protagonist in a video game that looks a little more like someone like me, who knows?
The way Colt interacts with the weapon of it, it tells you things about him
How do you focus on development now that there are so many people doing Speedruns, not Hit-Runs and, in essence, trying to break your game? Is it necessary to have all this in mind during development?
Oh, totally, all the time. I think Dishonored 2 was the first occasion I thought about the development considering the speedruning. You have to think about all possible experiences for a player. This implies that you have to think about who wants to relax on the couch after a whole day working, and also in the fans of action, in whom you just want a story Chula of Science Fiction… and above all of them, you have the speedruners.
And it is another legitimate way to play the game, and that we want to make sure it is fun. We can never do everything we would want for them, because there are technical limitations, and scenes that can not be skipped. This is a case of not being able to please everyone. I think it s a great way to experience the game, to live the game of new ways, because if you can go so fast, it s fine.
What I do try is not to design too many things for the speedrunners, because I understand that part of the interest of speedruning is to discover the xploits and break the game.
Maybe one of the things that have been modeled most, created and used in the history of videogames are weapons. Deathloop does a great job when proposing new weapons we had never seen. What can you tell us about this matter?
We have one of the most talented teams in the world, I do not know what else to tell you [laughs]. It is not one of my responsibilities within the design, but I have seen your work. I do not even like weapons, but I like what you have achieved. In fact, never team the talisman that reduces the recharge time, because I love seeing the animations so achieved they have done.
I remember seeing how people realized this in Doom, as the way in which he recharged or related to the gun, said things about him. This I think it s something we ve done very well in Deathloop. The way Colt interacts with the weapon of him, tells you things about him. And I find that very satisfactory.
Gracias A Bethesda for granting us this interview and Zirán for coordination.