As someone who has always been intrigued by Dontnod Entertainment’s output, and as a fan of action role-playing games, I couldn’t resist the opportunity of finding out more about Vampyr after the studio unveiled its latest project. And even though details regarding Dontnod’s game are still pretty sketchy at the moment, I’m fairly certain that Focus Home Interactive have a winner on their hands – especially when taking into account the studio’s lofty achievements. And so as to find out more about Vampyr, I spoke to Gregory Szucs (Art Director, Dontnod) and got to ask him as to why Vampyr is so markedly different from what Dontnod have attempted previously. Enjoy!
Vampyr looks quite different from any of the games that Dontnod have developed previously, such as Life Is Strange – which had a very colourful, almost cell-shaded aesthetic. And Remember Me also had a sci-fi aesthetic as well, which was very bright. But Vampyr takes a very dour, retro, and dirty look. What influenced that decision?
First, Vampyr has many common points with Remember Me‘s style. We are rendering on PBR – Physically Based Rendering techniques, which are integrated into Unreal 4. But we’re not doing the same thing with it. Our main influence has been Phil Hale’s painting with their sculpted figures, the strobe lighting, the kind of obscure suffocating atmosphere. And it had to be different because the story is completely different. The setting is different. We wanted to portray London in a dire situation right after the First World War with the mass casualties. It’s right in the middle of the Spanish Flu, which was the worst pandemic the world has ever known. So it called for a different art style.
Your first game was Remember Me, which was published by Capcom. Then Life Is Strange, which was published by Square Enix. And now Vampyr, which is being published by Focus Interactive and coming out in 2017. What made you decide to work with Focus Interactive for Vampyr as opposed to going back to Square Enix? I understand that Capcom probably weren’t a good bet as they weren’t very impressed with Remember Me‘s sales. But why Focus as opposed to staying with Square Enix who did a great job with Remember Me?
I think all publishers have an editorial line. And they are looking for games that will fill their catalogues in a particular way. And Focus was really keen on Vampyr‘s story and its tone. It has a very mature tone. They were ready to give us free reign to tell a very complicated story, so they picked it up.
How has the publishing support from Focus been? How different is it from Square Enix? What have they done differently from Square Enix – apart from picking up the game?
All publishers are different. I mean they all have their different processes, which is something I cannot really delve into. It’s a complicated matter. But I can say that with Focus… we looked into it very closely. They have a building next to ours, so communication is very simple. And really, it was about freedom of tone, and a risk they wanted to take with us.
Vampyr is coming out in 2017. Do you have a specific time line?
I cannot say exactly when. All I can say is that it’s going to be out on Xbox One, PS4, and PC some time in 2017.
How long has the game been in development for?
It’s been in development and production for around one and a half years.
Previous titles of Dontnod – Remember Me and Life Is Strange – were all highly regarded for their writing and characters. In what way do you think Vampyr will continue that strong writing tradition? Or like the art direction, will Vampyr represent a break from what Dontnod has been associated with previously?
Dontnod… no matter if it’s with Remember Me, Life Is Strange, and now with Vampyr, has always been about strong stories with a strong narrative backbone. And really, the gameplay element that we’ve built our games around are a vehicle for storytelling. Life Is Strange was a point-and-click adventure game. Vampyr is an action RPG because it was the right vehicle to tell our story.
What sort of difficulties have you and the studio had in terms of migrating from say… an action title to say, a graphic adventure style game, to what is essentially an action RPG? How has the studio adapted to these game genre changes?
I guess the biggest jump was from Remember Me to Life Is Strange. And it went pretty well. But for Vampyr, we’re taking a lot of cues and experiences from what we did right and wrong with Remember Me, and really build on top of that. We have experience with combat, some RPG elements… we brought a lot of ingredients from Remember Me, so we aren’t really starting from scratch on this one. I think the biggest jump was from Remember Me to Life Is Strange.
Vampyr is an action RPG and has vampires in it. You talked about how the game is set in the early 20th Century after the First World War. Even though the game’s got vampires – which implies a fictional fantasy-based setting – what sort of research went into ensuring that the game world is still credible and “real”?
The view is to build it like a uchronia where you take that point in time… We built a database of historical references. We tried to extract everything we needed to get the feeling of London at the time. Like the architecture, the streets and topology, the social layers, and the kind of work people do… But we never tried to do a one-to-one replica of London. It was about giving the player the feeling that they’re in London. And then, as I said, it’s a uchronia. The story deviates from history from the point in time when the game is set.
The main vampire character has an aspect of humanity about him…
Definitely. That’s his main problem
So he’s almost like Blade – the Marvel character who is half vampire and half human…
He’s completely vampire, but because of the nature of vampires, there’s a duality within him. It’s really a struggle because he’s still evolving like a human. And you have to prey upon them. A vampire is completely different from a zombie because a zombie is a stupid creature. It’s just out there to eat and kill. A vampire is very much like a human, and has reflexive capabilities. He can think about what he’s doing. And it’s terrible for him because you know it’s terrible what he’s doing. Some vampires try to embrace their terrible, monstrous nature. Some never come to terms with it. And you decide what to do as the player, and where you’re going to take Jonathan as the main character.
When you were conceptualising and pitching the game to publishers, including Focus, who were you trying to attract as a player-base?
People who love the stories in Life Is Strange – the way the characters are in a tough situation, and players who want to know what happens next. As a fan of vampires, we have been disappointed with vampire movies of the last decade – like the Twilight franchise. We are going back to something more romantic and gothic, and players will have a new game to play and the universal love that they’ve been missing for a while. And then there are the action RPG fans who want the complete package of a full action RPG.
Apart from Vampyr, what other games does Dontnod have in the pipeline?[Laughs] I really can’t talk about it.
As a studio, Dontnod hasn’t done sequels. Is there any scope for Vampyr and its lore to be extended via DLC chapters?
Yes, definitely. It all depends on the public’s response. But we have not closed any doors. We’re definitely thinking about what we can do to expand the universe if the player finds the game interesting enough.
Remember Me had a coffee table art book. Life Is Strange also received a very limited edition vinyl soundtrack as well as a physical special edition of the game. What sort of physical goodies can fans expect for Vampyr? Will Vampyr be getting a physical release, and if so, will there be a special edition? Can fans expect a soundtrack and art book release in future?
Vampyr will definitely be getting a physical release – with a box and everything for consoles and PC. For Remember Me, the book was published with Dark Horse Comics, and we always planned for it to be published alongside the game. With Life Is Strange, it was because of the players’ response and the game’s success that we did the limited edition. I guess it will be the same with Vampyr, because we have produced a huge amount of concept art for the game. And seeing all the game players, we will probably do a special edition as well.
I guess it’s the same story for the soundtrack where its release is dependant on player reception?
It’s the same deal.
Thank you very much.