Game director Kevin Choteau speaks with GamingBolt about the upcoming narrative-driven adventure.
Amidst a year that is busy with megaton releases from some of the biggest franchises and developers in the industry, A Plague Tale: Innocence has made its own mark as a highly anticipated game. With gorgeous aesthetics, a focus on narrative and characters that appeals to all story enthusiasts out there, and the promise of a cohesive, guided adventure without any bloat, Asobo Studio’s upcoming action adventure title has continued to look better and better from the day it was first revealed.
Like many others, we’ve been very excited about the release of the game, and as such, we recently reached out to the developers to ask them a few questions about the game, hoping to learn a little bit more about it before it launches worldwide in May. The following questions were answered by game director Kevin Choteau.
"The Plague, embodied by the rats, is a natural force against which nobody can fight."
What made you decide to set the game against the backdrop of the plague and the Inquisition?
The Plague, embodied by the rats, is a natural force against which nobody can fight. The Inquisition carry all these popular misconceptions of an army burning witches and doing anything to stop what was “out of the boundaries” of their vision for society. This context creates the perfect opportunity to expose innocent children to one of the most extreme situations humanity has had to face and to see how they will grow up in this brutal world.
A Plague Tale: Innocence seems to be very focused on the personal story of Amicia and Hugo, but then again, other elements, like its historical setting, and the plague itself, also look very intriguing. How does the game’s story balance those two sides?
The 14th century is a crossroad for many major events in medieval history – the Hundred Years’ War with the Plantagenet and Valois fighting for the French throne, the end of the inquisition, and the arrival of the black plague which killed almost half of the European population. People were so scared and desperate that it was the source of a huge number of horrible stories. We’ve taken some of those elements to feed our tale, Amicia and Hugo will have to face what was happening by this time. As the game is about them, everything we have chosen to put in the game is here to serve (or mainly harm…) the story and the evolution of the relationship between those siblings.
How challenging was it to nail the rat swarms just right, especially in terms of them featuring in gameplay so heavily?
Our rats were a great challenge for three main reasons- We had to find a good balance between having believable behaviour when there are few of them on the screen, but also when there are up to 5000 displayed where they must move organically.
As the rats instantly kill anyone nearby, the safe zone, in the light, must be super clear for the player. Light is usually a good tool for designers and artists to guide players, but in our case almost all lights are interactive, making it a nightmare to manage.
Finally, the swarms had to be technically viable to ensure performance is still good.
"Overall, stealth represents a bit less than one third of the game but there are a few “pure” stealth sequences. The game is more about puzzle sequences, since Amicia and Hugo cannot directly face soldiers. It’s often observation and being smart that can solve a situation."
What would you say is roughly the percentage split – in terms of gameplay – between stealth and non-stealth sections?
Overall, stealth represents a bit less than one third of the game but there are a few “pure” stealth sequences. The game is more about puzzle sequences, since Amicia and Hugo cannot directly face soldiers. It’s often observation and being smart that can solve a situation. The rest of the game is a split between puzzle sections (without humans), narrative moments and some action sequences.
Does the game let players decide whether they want to be stealthy or not in any situation?
Later in the game Amicia will have more tools available to choose how to solve situations but she will never become a soldier and will never overpower trained guards with heavy armor. Failure in A Plague Tale means death, so brutal approaches are always very risky – but sometimes it can unlock access to hidden rewards.
In an industry that is constantly moving toward service elements or huge open world in order to maximize player engagement, A Plague Tale is doing something that very few other games do – tell a guided, focused story – and it’s being praised for those efforts by a large number of people already. But was there ever a time, perhaps during early development, when you were considering whether this was a risk that you should be taking?
When we started working on this concept a few years ago, we just wanted to make our own tale, our own story and take on the narrative adventure genre. We never thought that we would be praised for that. On the contrary, for us we were starting with a disadvantage.
The team is both amazed and stunned with the previews so far, we wanted to make a simple game that sounds true and honest for the player with features that are here to serve our story and it seems to work.
Decisions based on willingness to survive seem to be a theme in this game- is that something that will be reflected in terms of a reactive narrative?
The whole story is about tough dilemmas. How will two children tracked by the inquisition and facing huge swarms of rats survive? What can people in this world do to survive in such moments? How far will Amicia go to protect her brother? Sometimes the way Amicia approaches things can have a short-term impact on Hugo and her surroundings, but there are no long-term choices. Ours is a linear tale without branching. We wanted to focus on one story to make it as compelling and engaging as possible.
"When we started working on this concept a few years ago, we just wanted to make our own tale, our own story and take on the narrative adventure genre. We never thought that we would be praised for that. On the contrary, for us we were starting with a disadvantage."
Can we expect to see many supernatural elements in the game’s story? It’d be very interesting to see, given the game’s historical setting.
The only thing I will say now is that the supernatural elements of A Plague Tale always revolve around the rats… I will let the player discover this aspect of the game!
Will the game will feature Xbox One X specific enhancements. What can players expect if they are playing the game on Xbox One X? Is 4K/60fps on the cards? And how will the PS4 Pro version turn out in terms of resolution and frame rate?
The game supports enhanced resolution and HDR at 30fps on Xbox One X and PS4 Pro. It runs smoothly on PS4 and Xbox One without any impact on the visuals (nor the rats).
Any plans to bring the game to the Switch?
No plans right now.
Next gen is coming sooner or later. From a development perspective, what is your biggest expectation from PS5 and Xbox Scarlett? Do you think cross platform will be one of the defining features of PS5 and Xbox Scarlett? What is your take on Sony’s reluctant policy on cross-play with Xbox?
As a player and as a designer, what I like most of all is to be surprised. Each new technical innovation, method of use or new control system forces us to question our way of doing things and our concepts; it is extremely motivating and enriching. I can’t wait to see what will happen next!
Do you think Microsoft is missing out by not investing in VR? Furthermore, do you think the next Xbox will lack VR support?
Microsoft is pushing mixed reality and they are doing incredible stuff with HoloLens. They’ve just announced the V2 which can create great gaming experiences – maybe we can dream about a bridge between these two platforms?