Tech­land of­fered us The op­por­tu­nity To Take a be­hind-the-scenes look at dy­ing light 2… and we jumped at The chance

Games TM - - DYING LIGHT 2 -

One day, we will look back upon the last decade and come to re­alise that the great­est trick de­vel­op­ers ever pulled was in con­vinc­ing play­ers that they had any agency over the vir­tual worlds that they in­habit.

Our fas­ci­na­tion with even the most rudi­men­tary in­clu­sion of choice and con­se­quence met­rics makes com­plete sense; we feel em­pow­ered when we feel as if we are in con­trol, be it over the di­rec­tion of a branch­ing nar­ra­tive or the char­ac­ters that pop­u­late them. But, the truth is, many of the choices that we make in so many videogames are bi­nary. Pick be­tween a thinly veiled Op­tion A and Op­tion B to im­me­di­ately re­ceive a re­ward or re­sponse. Ba­sic moral­ity sys­tems leave us to de­lib­er­ate over the con­cept of right ver­sus wrong in an arena that is free of any real con­se­quence. Sys­tems bend around colour-coded slid­ers, hav­ing only the most tan­gen­tial im­pact on the di­rec­tion of a story or the way in which a game is played. There has to be an­other way, right? Tech­land be­lieves that there is.

If you lis­ten to Dy­ing Light 2’s pro­ducer Kor­nel Jaskula tell it, the stu­dio has one hell of a pitch for the fu­ture of open-world sand­box de­sign. “We be­lieve that Dy­ing Light 2 is the first game of its type. It’s go­ing to be a game where your choices will have gen­uine con­se­quences, from how the world looks, to how the game plays, to the events that oc­cur through­out the story. This is an open-world game where you should treat the nar­ra­tive as a game­play me­chanic.”

As far as state­ments of in­tent go, this one has piqued our in­ter­est. The stu­dio is at­tempt­ing to build a game world that is for­ever shift­ing un­der­foot. Tech­land has set out to “cre­ate a com­plex ma­trix” of choices that con­stantly feeds out into ev­ery facet of the game. This is an ex­pe­ri­ence where you will feel the weight of ev­ery one of your de­ci­sions, each of them re­flected in the nar­ra­tive, game and vis­ual de­sign. “Ev­ery­thing can change,” Jaskula teases. “The state of the world is al­ways the re­sult of the de­ci­sions that you make. The choices you make al­low you to make your own ver­sion of this city.”

To make this dream a re­al­ity,

Tech­land has poured re­sources into con­struct­ing new pro­pri­etary tech­nol­ogy, a nec­es­sary ex­pense

(and headache) to en­gi­neer some­thing so am­bi­tious. “You could say that it has been quite the chal­lenge,” Jaskula laughs. “All of this has forced us to change the tech­nol­ogy be­hind our games. We cre­ated a brand new en­gine – the C-en­gine – to sup­port the fo­cus on choice and con­se­quence that runs through the story and the game­play.”

But all of this will be for naught if Tech­land can’t sell the con­cept of its

‘nar­ra­tive sand­box’ to per­spec­tive play­ers.

The truth is, it’s in­cred­i­bly dif­fi­cult to demon­strate some­thing so in­her­ently sys­temic. The en­tire game is lay­ered in such a way that even the small­est in­ter­ac­tions, de­ci­sions and ac­tions can feed back into the sim­u­lated world at large. If ev­ery one of your ac­tions feeds into the wider scope of the story, as well as game­play op­por­tu­ni­ties, si­mul­ta­ne­ously, how do you pos­si­bly con­vey that idea to the play­ers?

The best way to think about the struc­ture, Jaskula sug­gests, is if you cast it in the con­text of go­ing rogue with a LEGO set. “The player does have an over­all goal in Dy­ing Light 2, but it’s up to you to de­cide how you get to it,” he says of the over­ar­ch­ing nar­ra­tive, one which sees you charged with try­ing to lo­cate an ob­ject that can po­ten­tially turn the tide of the zom­bie apoca­lypse in your favour. “It’s like hav­ing LEGO bricks and be­ing given the goal of build­ing a house. We give you the bricks but not the orig­i­nal set – you don’t have the in­struc­tions that can take you through it step-by-step. You only have the goal and it’s up to you to de­cide how that house will look by the very end, but it is go­ing to be a house. It’s up to the player to fig­ure out how the bricks can con­nect, how they in­flu­ence one an­other, and how the build­ing and its in­te­rior takes shape…”

As far as analo­gies go it’s ad­mit­tedly a lit­tle messy, but it works. Take the demo shown to the pub­lic ear­lier this year. In it, you’ll see a group of smug­glers seize con­trol of a wa­ter tower in a di­lap­i­dated district of the city and be­gin ra­tioning off re­sources that are vi­tal to sur­vival. One of the lo­cal fac­tions, The Peace­keep­ers – the last bas­tion of law and or­der – send us in to in­ves­ti­gate af­ter an emis­sary goes miss­ing. As­sist The Peace­keep­ers in elim­i­nat­ing the squat­ters and the area will evolve ac­cord­ingly as a re­sult, in­tro­duc­ing new game­play and nar­ra­tive op­por­tu­ni­ties.

The Peace­keep­ers may be­gin to grad­u­ally move into the district and bring their con­sid­er­able wealth and in­flu­ence with them, which in turn could give you ben­e­fits such as free health sta­tions and new tra­ver­sal op­tions to bet­ter as­sist your move­ment when night falls. De­cline the of­fer and choose to side with the smug­glers, on the other hand, and you’ll have to pay for wa­ter like ev­ery­body else, but you will get a mone­tary cut of the il­le­gal busi­nesses that be­gin crop­ping up in the area and may even see new hubs ap­pear, such as black mar­ket re­tail­ers sell­ing high­end weapons and rare craft­ing ma­te­ri­als. You could choose to ig­nore this strand of the game en­tirely, forc­ing a whole other set of op­por­tu­ni­ties to un­furl.

If the choice seems clear-cut on pa­per, Tech­land is keen to as­sure us that this is still a world of grey ar­eas. There are no clear ‘right or wrong’ de­ci­sions; The Peace­keep­ers are au­thor­i­tar­ian by their very na­ture, so while the area may be­come more overtly safe

– shift­ing the lo­ca­tions of Dark Zone ar­eas and hordes of zom­bies, for ex­am­ple – the group will be­gin to crack down on any be­hav­iour that doesn’t fall in line with its own. Sid­ing with the smug­glers, on the other hand, will turn the district into a crim­i­nal den, but it won’t be un­der the iron fist of the gov­ern­ment, giv­ing you more free­dom to move and space to act as you please.

Ev­ery fac­tion in Dy­ing Light 2 has its own goals and mo­ti­va­tions. They have their own en­e­mies, friends and plans for the fu­ture. In­ter­fer­ing with any of these el­e­ments will have an im­pact on some­thing else in the city, with the game work­ing be­hind the scenes to con­stantly gen­er­ate new sce­nar­ios and world states, all of which will steadily lead you to­wards the end-game ob­jec­tive. Of course, lit­tle of the change in the city will hap­pen overnight. Tech­land wants the city to feel like a liv­ing, breath­ing space. For this to work, Dy­ing Light 2 has to feel as if it is be­ing con­stantly shaped by player-driven de­ci­sions, rather than be­ing al­tered by scripted mo­ments trig­gered at piv­otal points in key quests.

Some of these changes may be im­me­di­ately ap­par­ent, while oth­ers will be smaller and es­tab­lished over time – such as grad­ual al­ter­ations to the to­pog­ra­phy of the city, a change in pop­u­la­tion types, or the lo­ca­tion of hu­man and zom­bie en­e­mies, among other things. As we said, ev­ery de­ci­sion yields a dif­fer­ent re­sult, and it is only as these out­comes be­gin to layer up on top of one an­other that you will be­gin to see them man­i­fest in the world as com­pletely dif­fer­ent com­bi­na­tions of game­play, story and vis­ual el­e­ments. “Changes aren’t im­me­di­ate,” Jaskula reaf­firms. “They can take some time be­cause these aren’t bi­nary changes… when we showed how the vista of the city changed [in the demo] it wasn’t based on any one de­ci­sion, there were many de­ci­sions that the player would have to make lead­ing up to that mo­ment and each of those de­ci­sions can cre­ate some­thing dif­fer­ent.”

Tech­land doesn’t know ex­actly how many dif­fer­ent branch­ing and di­ver­gent paths Dy­ing Light 2 will have just yet, or if it does it isn’t say­ing. Af­ter all, it must be dif­fi­cult to pin­point. To sup­port this di­rec­tion, Tech­land has had to cre­ate, frankly, an in­cred­i­ble amount of con­tent. “We are de­sign­ing the game with the foun­da­tion that some of the play­ers will miss con­tent and we are okay with that,” says Jaskula. “It’s al­most like we are cre­at­ing sev­eral games worth of con­tent right now. But, thanks to the va­ri­ety of sto­ries, of mis­sions, con­tent and as­sets, we be­lieve that it will make play­ers want to play the game again and again or try to play with other play­ers in co-op to see their worlds. That’s some­thing that we es­tab­lished as a foun­da­tion at the very be­gin­ning, it’s one of our de­sign goals, and it’s some­thing that we still keep in mind.”

All of this work is be­ing done to give you the op­por­tu­nity to build your very own world and story within Tech­land’s sand­box. In the­ory, that means ev­ery player’s ex­pe­ri­ence will be unique. Dy­ing Light 2 is de­signed to in­crease depth in open-world ac­tion ad­ven­ture games in a way that we haven’t quite seen be­fore, and it is pur­pose built to cause con­ver­sa­tion and en­act sto­ry­telling ses­sions be­tween friends.

Or, bet­ter still, you’ll be able to jump into a friend’s world and ex­pe­ri­ence it for your­self if you want to. “Of course, Dy­ing Light 2 will sup­port co-op­er­a­tive game­play. It’s in our DNA,” Jaskula con­firms, be­fore re­veal­ing how the four­player co-op sys­tem will bend to each player’s unique world state. “Who­ever plays the game, it is their game. You can join my game – with your ex­pe­ri­ence, your skills, your equip­ment – but it’s go­ing to by my world, built by my de­ci­sions and I’m go­ing to make the de­ci­sions that con­tinue to shape it. But I can then join your game and it’ll be com­pletely dif­fer­ent, with com­pletely dif­fer­ent out­comes shaped by your de­ci­sions.” If you’re look­ing for the word to de­scribe all of this, it’s ‘wild’.

So what has em­bold­ened Tech­land to take on such an evo­lu­tion­ary stance to game de­sign? It prob­a­bly has some­thing to do with the un­likely suc­cess of the first Dy­ing Light; a game that seemed to ar­rive out of nowhere, from the ashes of Dead Is­land, to prove that there was still work to be done in the openworld space yet. In fact, since its re­lease in 2015, Dy­ing Light has be­come some­thing of a cult clas­sic of this gen­er­a­tion.

The game may well have eluded the at­ten­tion of the me­dia for the last three years, but the play­ers have cer­tainly taken no­tice of Tech­land’s ded­i­ca­tion and re­sponded in kind. “We haven’t been talk­ing to the me­dia! We have been talk­ing di­rectly to the play­ers, so maybe that’s why it has been such a suc­cess,” he says, laugh­ing. “No, no, the truth is, we have this huge com­mu­nity now. If you com­pare the orig­i­nal ti­tle, when it re­leased three years ago, to how it looks and plays to­day, it’s al­most like it’s a com­pletely dif­fer­ent game. We made a lot of changes and gave it a lot of sup­port – a lot of ad­di­tional con­tent, most of which was free. That has got­ten us a lot of sup­port from the play­ers


and we just want to give them more free­dom and more of what they want.”

We re­cently had the op­por­tu­nity to view a fresh be­hind-closed-doors demon­stra­tion of the game in ac­tion and we left in awe of what the stu­dio is at­tempt­ing to put to­gether. It’s also given us cause to re­flect on the last three years, on the suc­cess of Dy­ing Light and how that pas­sion­ate com­mu­nity has pushed the stu­dio to broaden its hori­zons.

By pour­ing so much time and en­ergy into sup­port­ing Dy­ing Light, Tech­land had the wits to gather key feed­back on the minu­tiae of its cre­ation by en­ter­ing into an hon­est and open dis­cus­sion with the play­ers. The huge va­ri­ety of con­tent on of­fer, from smaller-scale DLC such as

Cui­sine & Cargo and The Bozak Horde, to larger stand­alone ex­pan­sions, such as The Fol­low­ing and Bad Blood, has ef­fec­tively given Tech­land the time and space that it needed to prop­erly process what a full se­quel could or should look like in 2019.

As proof of its com­mit­ment to this process, Tech­land even put Hell­raid on hold back in May of 2015 (much to the dis­may of some cor­ners of the com­mu­nity) to fo­cus on serv­ing the bur­geon­ing Dy­ing Light com­mu­nity. All told, all of this ex­tra work has been in­stru­men­tal to get Tech­land to where it is to­day. “Our com­mu­nity has a voice,” con­tin­ues Jaskula. “That’s why we are still sup­port­ing Dy­ing Light even now, three years af­ter its pre­miere. There are still more than half a mil­lion play­ers playing the game each week. They have given us a chance to gather im­por­tant feed­back – we are con­stantly talk­ing to the com­mu­nity. We are get­ting this feed­back from them and we are putting it all into this bold se­quel to the orig­i­nal game.”

‘Bold’ barely cov­ers it. While a lot of the stu­dio’s cre­ative en­ergy has been fo­cused on cre­at­ing the en­gag­ing, dy­namic world and nar­ra­tive that we’ve just scratched the sur­face of, it has also spent con­sid­er­able time im­prov­ing upon the core pil­lars of the orig­i­nal game.

The size of the new ur­ban play area is huge. Remember, Dy­ing Light took place over two huge sprawl­ing open-world maps, which was later ex­panded to a third in The Fol­low­ing – which was ac­tu­ally twice the size of the previous two com­bined. Well, Tech­land is promis­ing that the new city will be com­ing in at some four times the size of all three of those maps com­bined. “Not only is the city big­ger at a 2D level, but it’s also more ver­ti­cal – it’s higher, you could say, be­cause it’s like a Euro­pean me­trop­o­lis,” says Jaskula of the prin­ci­pal dif­fer­ences be­tween the new city and Har­ran. “There’s also a lot more space to fight on the ground now, es­pe­cially against hu­man en­e­mies. We needed more space to re­ally chal­lenge the skill of player fight­ers.”

Move­ment has been en­tirely over­hauled, with Dy­ing Light’s fa­mously slick tra­ver­sal now made even bet­ter by the in­clu­sion of dou­ble the num­ber of park­our moves – nav­i­gat­ing this open world should be an ex­pres­sion, Jaskula tell us. As too should the tech­ni­cal com­bat, with Tech­land push­ing to en­sure that its ro­bust melee, weapon craft­ing and AI sys­tems work in tan­dem to cre­ate mem­o­rable and en­gag­ing ex­pe­ri­ences.

This, we’re told, is a per­fect ex­am­ple of how feed­back has in­flu­enced the de­vel­op­ment of Dy­ing Light 2. “We’ve been watch­ing a lot of PVP matches of Dy­ing Light to in­flu­ence our di­rec­tion. We ob­serve how the play­ers be­have and re­act to each other’s ac­tions, and,” Jaskula ex­plains, “we are cre­at­ing our AI sys­tems to be as re­flec­tive of real play­ers in PVP matches as pos­si­ble. We want you to feel like you are fight­ing real play­ers in­stead of AI.”

Com­bat is heav­ier and more de­lib­er­ate as a re­sult. En­coun­ters with bat­tle-hard­ened hu­man sur­vivors – Dy­ing Light 2 takes place 15 years af­ter the orig­i­nal in­fec­tion, this city is the last that hu­man­ity has – will now be real chal­lenges to sur­vive. En­e­mies fight smart and look to over­whelm, push­ing you to block, dodge and work for your open­ings. If that should fail, you’ll now be able to un­leash park­our at­tacks, al­low­ing you to tra­verse more ag­gres­sively than be­fore or utilise phys­i­cal ob­jects in the world as part of your com­bat strate­gies. And should that fail, well, you’ll still be able to add a litany of ridicu­lous makeshift im­prove­ments to your weaponry – the stu­dio es­ti­mates that more than 50 new cus­tomis­able ef­fects can be added to your cus­tom builds.

This is still just scratch­ing the sur­face of Dy­ing Light 2. The day and night cy­cle has been com­pletely re-worked, as too has the ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence of the in­fected and the gen­eral pro­gres­sion sys­tems.

All of this is im­pres­sive, but we’re still strug­gling to pull our at­ten­tion from what it is try­ing to achieve with its in­ter­twined story and game­play.

Dy­ing Light 2 is first and fore­most an open-world ac­tion game, there’s no doubt­ing that. Its fast and fe­ro­cious, a game that still de­rives real joy out of its free-flow­ing move­ment sys­tems and ki­netic com­bat. But it’s an ac­tion game that draws from RPGS in a way that we weren’t ex­pect­ing. This isn’t about mi­cro­manag­ing stats or skill trees, nor is it con­cerned with hav­ing you pick through rudi­men­tary di­a­logue choices or in mak­ing you sit back and watch as a game re­acts and shifts to your de­ci­sions in a cutscene. Dy­ing Light 2 treats its nar­ra­tive de­sign the same as it does its game­play – this is a sand­box, a true sand­box. It’s a game about choice and ex­pres­sion, about feel­ing like you’re in full con­trol of your char­ac­ter and their des­tiny, in a world that is con­stantly re­flect­ing your suc­cesses and fail­ures, no mat­ter how large or small they may be.

It can be easy to scoff when Tech­land an­nounces that Dy­ing Light 2 might in­deed be the “first game of its type”. But af­ter see­ing it in ac­tion, af­ter speak­ing with the team work­ing so dili­gently be­hind the scenes, we’re hon­estly strug­gling to find ways to ar­gue with the as­ser­tion.


Tech­land has made some notable changes to the com­bat sys­tems. Fight­ing is now more phys­i­cal and tem­pered, re­quir­ing pa­tience and skill to make it through en­coun­ters alive.

Four-player co-op will re­turn, giv­ing you the op­por­tu­nity to ex­plore new and dif­fer­ent worlds along­side your friends. To help sup­port its am­bi­tious new nar­ra­tive sand­box ex­pe­ri­ence, Tech­land has brought Chris Avel­lone into the fold, along­side a host of other famed RPG writ­ers such as for­mer CD Pro­jekt RED em­ployee Karolina Stachyra – the scribe re­spon­si­ble for The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt’s in­fa­mous Bloody Baron quest line. Dy­ing Light 2 will in­tro­duce a stamina sys­tem that will im­pact ev­ery­thing in the game, from park­our to com­bat to sprint­ing. While it might sound restric­tive, the only time we re­ally saw this come into play was in the new park­our chal­lenges.

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