Disco Elysium lead writer Helen Hindpere speaks with GamingBolt about the acclaimed RPG’s upcoming extended cut.
In late 2019, a little game called Disco Elysium came out of nowhere and took everyone by surprise. The CRPG genre has had a lot of all-time greats over the years, but Disco Elysium was not your typical CRPG. Eschewing a traditional focus on combat, and zeroing in instead on player choice, rich world-building, unique investigation mechanics, and a deep dive into the psyches of its excellently written characters, all on top of a story that was full of though-provoking narrative conceits and questions, Disco Elysium was a game that took the games industry by storm, immediately raking in critical and commercial success to reflect just how good it was.
Developer ZA/UM, however, clearly isn’t done with its modern masterpiece just yet. Soon, a definitive, extended version of the RPG, titled Disco Elysium – The Final Cut, will be releasing, with the game itself also ready to make its awaited debut on consoles, and will be expanding upon everything that made the base release so good with additional content and improvements to what was already there.
To learn more about The Final Cut and how it improves on an already great game, we recently reached out to ZA/UM with a few questions. You can read our conversation with lead writer Helen Hindpere below.
"The thing about video game development is that games never really feel completely ‘finished’, there is always so much more that could be added or improved on. I’d say that a lot of what we’re adding with The Final Cut – full VO, four mutually exclusive quests, extra animations – seemed like ambitious luxuries at the time of the release. We couldn’t be more excited that now a little more than a year later and with over one million copies sold these luxuries are going to be part of the game."
You’ve said recently that Disco Elysium – The Final Cut is the version of the game you originally wanted to release. Given that, can we assume that it was always the plan to come out with this extended cut sort of experience of the game, or is it something that only came about following the game’s widespread success?
Yes, so the thing about video game development is that games never really feel completely ‘finished’, there is always so much more that could be added or improved on. I’d say that a lot of what we’re adding with The Final Cut – full VO, four mutually exclusive quests, extra animations – seemed like ambitious luxuries at the time of the release. We couldn’t be more excited that now a little more than a year later and with over one million copies sold these luxuries are going to be part of the game. They have changed the way it feels to play Disco Elysium so much that now they really feel essential – I couldn’t imagine sitting down with a controller and opting out of the VO for example, it’s just too fun to hear your skills argue with each other out loud.
But we’ve also listened to the feedback we’ve gotten and this has influenced some of the new content – the game will now be better balanced and offer even more reactivity with the new quests. The Final Cut is our way to say thank you to everyone who has supported us since the release.
Can you tell us about the circumstances that arose that led to the cuts that you had to make for the original release?
The political quests are exactly that type of a luxury content that’s easy to cut if you want to look like a sane and trustworthy designer for your producers. All four quests are mutually exclusive, which means that players will only see 1/4th of it in a single playthrough. And these are expensive quests – there are new characters and complex animations, and one of the quests even takes you to a completely new secret location. Super exciting for the player, but goes totally against the market logic when you’re struggling to get your debut out. So yeah it just didn’t make sense to make content most players are going to miss just to show off that we’re able to do that. We weren’t in our Witcher 2 phase yet (Witcher 2 has two different mid-game areas that are mutually exclusive; it’s a very impressive show off in that regard!).
That’s not the only content we cut. We’re putting back other tiny things too. Let’s just say there’s a surprise to those who say we messed up with a certain must-do Shivers check on a certain coast.
Given how crucial you say all the new additions in The Final Cut are to your vision of the game, how much of an impact can players expect these to have on story and gameplay? Should we expect things that are designed to enrich the experience that already exists in the game, or are they completely new and additive elements on top of it?
They’re separate from the rest of the game, but we still wanted them to have an impact on the main story. The conversations in the vision quests won’t revolve solely around politics – players will be discussing questions of love, hope, money and ambition with both new and old characters. It will reveal new aspects about some of the original characters in town as well as about the protagonist’s inner motivations. Some of those changes will stay with you until the very end – but I’ll leave it to players to discover exactly how.
"Some of those changes will stay with you until the very end – but I’ll leave it to players to discover exactly how."
The game’s entire script is being voiced in The Final Cut, which sounds like a huge undertaking. Disco Elysium is obviously a game that lives and breathes by its characters and its dialogue. Given that, what was the process like of adding complete voice work to the game on such a large scale and ensuring that a certain level of quality is maintained?
Yes, voicing one million words has been a Herculean feat, especially during the year where most of our work has moved online. As a studio we’ve put all our weight behind the VO department, assisting them in any way possible. There are three VO directors leading the show and they’ve done an excellent job. We’ve had numerous shared playthrough sessions and long discussions to make sure that we’re all on the same page about the characters and their motivations, plus we have the writers department doing part of the QA – a very fun task, considering that the outcome is just that good. It’s incredible how much more lively the dialogue feels with full VO.
What can you tell us about the additions being made with The Final Cut on the art and animations side of things?
We thought a lot about how to upgrade the original content – it now comes fully voiced, yes, but what else can we do to offer something new for the returning players and elevate it for the newcomers? That’s why we’ve been sprinkling new animations all over the game – I’d say that our animator Eduardo Rubio is one of our secret weapons, his style works wonders with the writing. Especially the ending should now feel much more complete with the added visual storytelling.
The art department has also updated some of the portraits – but there are no drastic changes, just some final polish. And then there’s The Final Cut content that will include new characters, animations and changes to the map – and some visual secrets at the end of the quests.
How substantial is the new content in The Final Cut going to be, in terms of gameplay hours?
Honestly we’ve realised that we’re rather bad at predicting gameplay hours. Players are somehow always faster readers than us or our internal QA team, plus they’re really good at missing missable content. What’s more, the length of each quest really depends on the player’s choices – we’ve purposefully designed all quests to be asymmetrical. Some of them are longer, others shorter, some more visual, others wordier. What’s certain is that each of them offers an entire separate questline tailored to your ideological choices in the game. With full VO and vision quests everyone’s play time should lengthen in total.
"The length of each quest really depends on the player’s choices – we’ve purposefully designed all quests to be asymmetrical. Some of them are longer, others shorter, some more visual, others wordier. What’s certain is that each of them offers an entire separate questline tailored to your ideological choices in the game."
It’s probably too early to ask this question, but given how successful Disco Elysium has been and how well it’s resonated with audiences, have you given any thought to the future of the property? Is there some vague hint that you can give fans about what the future holds?
The future holds more of Elysium – we’ve spent years designing the world and we’re not ready to leave yet. Martinaise is just a slice of Revachol – and Revachol just a single capital among many others. Who knows where the future will take us?
Disco Elysium: The Final Cut with the political vision quests and full VO will be out in March on PlayStation. It will also be available at no extra cost to all current owners of Disco Elysium (PC & Mac). Original players expand their experience for free while new players can enjoy the new content from their first playthrough.