There’s a plague afoot. Rats swarm the streets, the houses and the town. There’s no practical escape from them… except the light. In Asobo Studio’s A Plague Tale: Innocence, you take the role of Amicia, a young girl who is trying to find safety in the dark recesses of 14th century France, for her younger brother Hugo, away from the rats who eat everything in their path, and away from the human threat: the Inquisition. Solving puzzles, and using the rats against your enemies to get to safety is your only hope for survival.
We had a chance to sit and talk with David Dedeine who is the creative director of Plague Tale: Innocence, and asked him some of our questions.
You obviously must have been aware that many players would fear that this game could be looked at as one large escort mission. What steps have you taken to make sure that that doesn’t happen?
The mindset is to take this as an opportunity. We really believe that it’s the strength of the game. We are basically playing with this feature, giving it more context more situation. Hugo will never be a backpack. He has its own behavior, his own feelings. Hugo will just take Amicia’s hands. It’s not something we forced to use on her to do most of the time, Hugo will instinctively go to Amicia and have her protect him because he’s just five.
But any moment you can ask him to stay somewhere, or to follow you. Basically, if you believe you don’t realize how dangerous something is, basically ask him to follow you. That very simple tool generates a lot of different situations. For example, if you ask Hugo to stay somewhere, and he stays too long, or if you’re out of his sight for too long, he will panic, he will shout, he will call for Amicia, and that will probably attract guards, for example. It basically forces Amicia to manage the environment around Hugo, or create a time window to do what she has to do. There are some very cool gameplay elements near the end. We have all these things to fix right now in the game, but this aspect, to me, works pretty well.
Is A Plague Tale going to have horror elements as well? Because those rat swarms remind us of crazy zombie hordes.
No. Except, I would say the supernatural nature of the rats, or the behavior of them is weird. There’s a little bit of alchemy which was the science during the middle ages. But this game is set in the middle ages itself. It’s how we try to keep the game grounded. It is already brutal and crude and sometimes violent, which was enough.
If the rats touch Amicia is she just instant dead at that point?
No. Basically, we have tried to create a visual gauge with the rats. It’s not an instant death. As soon as you enter, the rats start to climb on the characters, and you have very little time to react. If you go into the light they will jump off and then you can recover. There is a little time to react, I would say.
Given that Alicia’s actions are going to have an impact on Hugo and his growth as a character, how much choice is the player going to have over her actions? Is what’s bound to happen going to happen, or can we, for instance, decide not to kill some particular people, or conversely save some particular people?
In terms of narrative, very few. There are some little things but it’s not the theme of the game. As I was explaining, the way you will manage a situation, managing Hugo and his emotions, facing a challenge is a real part of the gameplay breaks we try to use in the game. But in terms of narrative there is no branching.
Given the game’s focus on two characters and how they work together to survive, was including co-op ever on the agenda?
No, it has never been the plan. It’s a single player game, and the main character is Amicia. There are some co-op elements for offense, but no, it is not a two player type of a game. It’s more about the relationship between the two characters. So, jumping from one to the other, we really wanted the game to have that experience. This journey is to be filmed from Amicia’s eyes. If you switch from one character to another you are basically doing another game.
There are two threats in the game. The human threat and the plague threat. How does this work with respect to game design?
I think it’s really a story about the kids and the Inquisition, and the rats. I would say there’s light and shadow in the middle. It’s the fact that sometimes you need to avoid the rats, sometimes you need to create a path with the lights through the rats. Sometimes players will use the absence of lights, basically the shadow to hide from the other humans, but it will expose you to the rats. But sometimes you will use the rats against the humans. The struggle fuels the game progression.
Can you tell us about how the progression work and the skills system behind it?
I can’t say too much, it’s not the right time to talk about it. I would say there are three things: a sling, Amicia uses the sling; improve the sling in many ways, the range of the sling, the power of the sling, and lastly the stealthiness of the sling. There is equipment in general to make her less noticeable to the humans. There is some alchemical potion, I’d say. I don’t want to reveal too much about that, but that will improve the gameplay. So, basically she can improve her skills, her gear, and sometimes even Hugo’s gear.
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 on the cards?
Yes, that’s the goal. Definitely. we are on track. I hope we will do it completely. Right now we are on track.
Is that including 60fps?
I think what we have so far is 4K and 30 frames.
And how will the PS4 Pro version turn out in terms of resolution and frame rate?
Same thing. Basically it has the same goal.
From a development perspective, how do you find the Xbox One X to be? With so much GPU power, we are sure you must be doing some amazing things.
I’m not an engineer, so I’m sorry. It would be hard for me to give personal feedback on this. I just know that it has been super simple for us to use this extra power. In the past, without giving any names, consoles were pretty powerful, but this power was super hard to use. In this case it’s quite easy to take the best presentation proposed by Microsoft or Sony. That’s the big difference from the past.
How is the game running on the original Xbox One and PS4, frame rate and resolution wise?
I’m not sure. It’s 30 again, and I think it’s HD. So not 4K, obviously, but it’s HD.
Do you have any plans to bring the game to Nintendo Switch? If not, why?
Basically, we would like to. It’s just that with the current scope of the game it would be too much for us. I hope we will have time at some point to develop a dedicated Switch version. But at this stage it will require too many engine programmers, tuning in adaptation to make it run on Switch. We don’t have time right now to do this.
Next gen is coming sooner or later. From a development perspective, what is your biggest expectation from the next PlayStation and next Xbox?
I still believe it is not going to be the case for a while. And that the next-gen consoles will actually slowly integrate more of the VR. Because you know when you do VR you basically need two different types of rendering. I’ve read some paper about ray tracing in real time. I guess there are lots of improvement in tech out there. It sounds like maybe we might have surprises regarding this type of tech. Maybe Microsoft or Sony will find a way to have a dedicated processors for this type of ray casting rendering. It seems like it might be revolutionary in terms of late rendering. In our game we would be happy with such a thing. For a game that plays so much with lights and shadow it will be great.
You know what I mean? Personally, maybe it’s because I’m an old gamer, I still love to buy [physical] and to have a box, although I’m completely comfortable with digital. But sometimes I just need a picture of the box for some games. You know the games that you’re a fan of? Like with music, I have no problems buying music digitally. For some things I like to have the video. Right now in the street it’s really about that: full digital, no retail, code-base service. I don’t think it will be the next generation that will solve that. It’s too early. Nobody knows. I meet some people saying something, six months later they completely change their mind. Something is going to happen, but not next -gen. The industry is not yet completely sure enough to make a decision.