Rock Paper Shotgun has recently published a fantastic piece centering on the design of Deathloop and Arkane’s overall approach to game design. Writer Chris Wallace interviews Arkane Lyon Campaign Director Dana Nightingale, as well as Studio and Co-creative Director Dinga Bakaba, on broad design questions and Arkane’s philosophy.
Much of the piece is specific to Deathloop and the lessons the developers learned in making it. (For full disclosure, I haven’t played it yet, even though I remain the universe’s biggest immersive sim fan. It will happen, and I will likely love it.)
But the piece’s headline references one particular quote from Nightingale about the studio’s stance on creating linear single-player campaigns like Dishonored and Prey in the future. It reads:
“I don’t feel any interest in making a completely linear campaign again,” says Nightingale. “It’s not something I want to do again. I fell in love with the way Deathloop is structured, where the players’ goals are their own. The idea of saying, ‘Okay, mission one, mission two, mission three…’ that feels like a step backwards for me. I feel like I wouldn’t necessarily have a job on a game structured like that. I’m sure I’d find a way to make it work, but that really shifted my perspective of what we can do in a game. Like hey, this is actually structured quite similar to an old school RPG – we can do that type of structure in this type of game, and it works. And that’s really exciting for me.”
Personally, I’d be very sad if Arkane never did a linear single-player campaign again. That’s how I enjoy immersive sims: playing and replaying these campaigns, learning new information and mechanical quirks (and even story paths) with every pass, and playing with every imaginable element the developers thought to include.
Somewhat assuaging my pain over this statement is the fact that the studio has a history of making me like every single thing they make (at least, from Dishonored on). I was worried about them adding this whole roguelike element to Prey in its phenomenal Mooncrash mode, but I ended up putting dozens upon dozens of hours into it, feeling it was arguably even stronger than the main game.
That’s saying something, as Prey is one of my top five games of all time.
I only worry about Arkane’s upcoming Redfall in this way: that making something more multiplayer-focused does, on a fundamental level, change the “conversation” element that Arkane talks about all the time — the conversation between designers and the player. That conversation is referenced even in this interview.
Regarding frustrations the team had with unclear objectives in the past, Bakaba says:
“That was always one of the objectives, it’s de-emphasising the idea that there’s a right way to play. I think, inherently, that immersive sims and Arkane games are about this dialogue with the player. How can we give you all these stories without implying that there is a right way to play and also without you feeling lost?”
Arkane normally makes incredible spaces — cities, space stations, clockwork mansions, time-travel witch houses, you name it — and player powers that are designed to facilitate interesting interactions. The designers want you to think on your feet, so they try to say yes to your whims as a player, even when those whims are a little goofy.
Can they do that at the same quality and intensity when developing for a squad? I hope so, but I don’t know yet. I’ll play (and probably enjoy) Redfall when it arrives, and I’m excited about it because I think Arkane has some of the best level and systems designers in the industry. Their design directive encourages experimentation — I just hope they don’t lose out on that spark when going for something else.