As one of my most anticipated games for this year, A Plague Tale: Requiem is the sequel to what was ultimately a surprise hit for developer Asobo Studio and publisher Focus Entertainment, and which won many awards upon its release. Now with the sequel due out on 18 October 2022, and despite not having a lot of experience in the adventure game genre, Asobo and Focus are looking to build upon A Plague Tale: Innocence‘s carefully crafted foundation, and continue the story of Amicia and Hugo in a world that’s been expertly designed for current-gen consoles.
At Gamescom, I was lucky enough to speak to Kevin Choteau (Game Director) and Kevin Pinson (Lead Level Designer) about the opportunities that newer technology affords the game, and also got to ask the two senior developers as to what their thoughts were on the game being on Game Pass. Enjoy!
First off, I’ve got to say that A Plague Tale: Innocence… That first game was pretty outstanding, especially when you consider the fact that it was ultimately a game that came from a company that doesn’t necessarily have AAA resources. With that in mind, what were the main criticisms that the player-base had with the first game that you wanted to address with A Plague Tale: Requiem?
Kevin Choteau: I think we wanted to address everything – which was a crazy idea initially. So we rebooted everything. Every aspect of the gameplay, the level design, the game structure… everything. Because we wanted to fix or improve as much as possible, based on the player feedback. We read all the feedback because initially there was no sequel to Innocence. It wasn’t the plan. But when we saw the reception and player feedback, we said, “yes, we have something to do, and we want to tell something new”. And that was it. It allowed us to rethink everything. And I think Kevin Pinson is the best person to speak about it, because the main thing is that he had the most impact on it, was to open the game and make it less narrow. This gives the player much more opportunity to play the game the way they want, instead of forcing them to play the game the way we want them to play as game designers. So that was the biggest thing, I think, for the sequel… To open the game play.
The first game was so much more linear than what’s expected with Requiem – which is a lot more open world. But with that said, the good thing about linear games is that they’re very objective-focused and goal-orientated, where the player has to get from A to B. As a lead level designer, what challenges did you have to overcome in trying to implement a story… because the game is very narrative-focused, where the player still needs to go from checkpoint A to checkpoint B, and there still needs to be a certain amount of narrative progression, in an open world scenario where the player isn’t bogged down by exploring… “whatever”?
Kevin Pinson: So it’s not an open world. It’s still an action-adventure game. But in the first game, everything was linear – every situation, every encounter with enemies and rats, there was only one solution. And this is how we designed it at the time. But now, and even though we still have linear phases, we have much more open areas where you can approach the game the way you want. As a player, you are facing enemies and rats, but you can play however you want using whatever tools you have. So it’s not open world, it’s open areas, with enemies and rats.
Regarding the question on the narrative drive, we still have that, and it was a huge challenge for us in the more open areas to keep the player focused on the objective. But I think we managed it pretty well, because the more linear phases in Innocence were still a challenge, but we had some control over it. We have the drive in those linear sequences, so when you enter a more open area, you know where you have to go, and you know what you have to do. It’s a big challenge, but you still know where you’re going and what you need to do. And inside those areas, we make sure that you still have narrative context. You still have lines from the gods, and you still have lines from Amicia and Hugo. It’s like the linear phases allow you to enter open areas with the goal in mind, and inside them, we give you what you need to know.
You follow the journey of a brother and sister in the first and second game. Do you think that there might be any spinoff titles in the near future, where the game isn’t necessarily focused on Amicia and Hugo, but is instead focused on other characters in the same universe? Is that something that you might want to explore – maybe via DLC or something?
Kevin Choteau: [Laughs] I don’t know yet, to be totally transparent, because we are focusing on Requiem and trying to finish it the best way we can. But as creators, we are huge fans of the characters that we create. Of course, we love Amicia and Hugo… But we love the old characters and the new characters, and sometimes the team says that we should do a game about them, or have a story about them. I don’t know what we can expect from the future, and we’ll see what the reception of Requiem is, but maybe it will be a good idea. We’ll see…
What was the development period for the first game?
Kevin Choteau: The first game took almost four years.
And the second game?
Kevin Choteau: Three and a half years.
Kevin Pinson: Yeah, kind of roughly the same.
Kevin Choteau: The first game took longer because the first year had quite a small team – like five or six people. Just the first year… And then after that, it was 40 people.
Okay, so you scaled up to 40 people?
Kevin Choteau: Yeah.
Kevin Pinson: For Innocence.
Kevin Choteau: Yeah, but it was really an incubation team. They thought about the game for a year… What we’re going to explore in terms of finding the rats, finding the characters, finding the universe. So it was a small team. But after that, we had three years of development. For the second one, we had three and a half years, and we were 70 people.
Kevin Pinson: 70, yeah…
The first game came out on the previous-gen PS4 and the Xbox One consoles, and was also re-released on current-gen consoles. But what benefits and problems has the advancement in technology and new generation of consoles had on the development of Requiem?
Kevin Choteau: So the first thing that I think of is the rats. We ramped up from 5,000 to 300,000 rats on screen. So that was a huge improvement, thanks to the performance of the new-gen. Also, graphically and everything in terms of lighting, because the gameplay is based around light… Often, the lighting is the most expensive thing in a game engine. So thanks to the new platforms, we’re able to have a much more wider area, with a huge amount of light to play with the rats and everything. So it was a huge advancement in many aspects. Any drawbacks? No.
Kevin Pinson: Not really, no [laughs].
Kevin Choteau: No. We were super excited by the new DualSense controller with its haptic feedback, because it gives the player a good sense of immersion with the adaptive trigger, and it’s also something that we’ve done for the PS5 version of Innocence. And we were quite happy to have it on Requiem too. So no drawbacks, just good things.
When the first game came out, it piggybacked off the success of The Last… I’m not going to talk about “that” game, even though I am. But I know that in terms of comparisons, it was a big risk for the team, and it was also a big risk for the publisher as well. But at what point did the development team and publisher think that it had something, and that maybe there was scope for a franchise? What sort of discussions took place for Innocence to go from a standalone title, to now where we’re also getting a sequel – where the sequel justifies the story and also has the two sibling characters coming back in a meaningful way?
Kevin Choteau: I think it was the opposite of what you said.
Well, that tells you everything you need to know…
Kevin Choteau: No, basically we had an idea for a story and it made a franchise. When we started to think about what we are going to tell if we do a sequel, it was basically an idea between us. When we found out that there was a good story to tell, we said, “okay, we’re going to go for a second one”. If we haven’t found a good story, I think we would have said, “okay, let’s stop with A Plague Tale and do something else”, because it’s very narrative driven, and without a good story, it wasn’t a good idea to continue it. But there’s still a lot of things to explore in this universe, so we’ll see.
Any plans for DLC such as extended chapters?
Kevin Choteau: No… There’s nothing planned [laughs]. Maybe when the game is released, we’ll do DLC or something, but at this point the game is there by itself. And when you buy it, you have the whole experience and nothing less.
In an ideal world, and assuming that the game sells sufficient numbers, will we see a sequel to A Plague Tale: Requiem? Have you already started thinking about plot points for another game – without necessarily thinking, “well, we’ll see what happens with the sales and whatever”? Will we see a continuation of the brother and the sister’s story?
Kevin Pinson: For us, like Kevin said, right now Requiem is about finishing it and delivering to the public, and then we’ll see. With Innocence, we did everything we wanted to do with the game. We had a good story and Focus Home Interactive was behind us. And for Requiem, it’s the same. We did everything that we wanted to do. Let’s see what the public reception is. We do everything we want, and that’s it, we will see [laughs].
That’s actually an interesting question because you said that you do everything that you want, and that’s ultimately how you get the artistic vision, without the compromise. But this is going to go back to Innocence in a way… Given that the team is now 70, and given that the team for Requiem was 40 at its peak, what sort of publisher pressure did you encounter in terms of, “we need to make the game more like “this” rather than like “this””?
Kevin Choteau: None at all.
Kevin Choteau: No. That’s the good thing with Focus, they are not pushing us in any direction. They just ask, “what do you want to do next, guys? How many guys do you want? What will be the budget?” And that’s it. They push us even further, and sometime we have doubts and say, “maybe we are going too far into this or into that”. But they say, “no, it’s your vision”.
Kevin Pinson: Listen to your hearts.
Kevin Choteau: “Yeah, go ahead. We are backing you. We are there for you, and we are going to push your vision anywhere”. It was quite risky for them to sign Innocence. As you said, there are huge teams that are doing that kind of game, and we are not the same team. We don’t have the same budget, the same everything, and still they were saying, “go ahead, go ahead, we are with you. We trust you. You haven’t done any adult games ever, but we trust you. You can do it”. We are having discussions about the future, because the game will be released soon. And the first question they ask is, “what do you want to do next? Do you want to do A Plague Tale? Do you want to do anything else? Do you want to go with… I don’t know, a racing game?” They trust us, and we trust each other. So yeah, Focus is great for that. They’re helping us achieve our vision and don’t push us in any unwanted direction.
This is an unfair question, and I ask this with the utmost respect… I’m not trying to dig for hits, because I think you kind of understand that I’m coming at this from the perspective of a fan. And also because every question that I’ve asked before was not geared towards generating hits for my website. But this is kind of a “hate-orientated” question, in a nice way, if that makes sense. So the first question is: The Last of Us: Remake comes out in September, and Requiem is coming out in October. They’re not the same game, but they’re similar in a lot of ways, and comparisons have been made. Do you think that sales of Requiem might diminish because people might be The Last of Us-ed out, if that makes sense? Do you ever think that the timing is too close with say, another “competitor” – that obviously has a far bigger budget and is a lot more established? So that’s the first question. But my second question is, and this is the unfair question: Do you think with Requiem being on Game Pass on Day One, do you think that will hurt the game’s ability to recoup its development budget?
Kevin Choteau: Regarding any games around our launch date, I think for us, we draw inspiration from those kinds of studios. The fact that you’re asking the question is a huge thing for us, because it means that we are competing with those games, and we’re happy about that. And also with Innocence, it has its own success, so we have a lot of people that are willing to continue the universe with us, and follow us into the second game, so we’re not stressed about it. It’s a fair game, everybody has their launch dates, and we will see. But yeah, we’re happy to be competing with those games [laughs].
Kevin Pinson: Yeah. It’s like you are comparing a low-tier football team with a high-tier team [laughs]. So we are not in the same league, but the fact that people are putting us face to face is still a huge achievement for the team.
It’s because if they were both £15 games, then I’ll just buy both of them. But the problem is that because games are so expensive now, it’s one of those things where it’s a bit like Pro Evolution Soccer and FIFA. You can only really spend money on one – especially with the cost of living going up. That’s why I asked as to whether the small time difference between the games releasing might result in a detriment?
Kevin Choteau: There’s God of War in November.
It’s just a bad time of year, isn’t it?
Kevin Choteau: Yeah, it’s the end of the year. All games are releasing at this time of the year, because of Christmas and everything. We’ll see. Again, we were quite inspired by The Last of Us, and as I’ve already said in a previous interview for Innocence, The Last of Us has allowed us to…
Kevon Pinson: Has allowed us to make these kind of games.
Kevin Choteau: Exactly. It’s funny… It’s funny for the team to have them in front of us at the same period because we are basically inspired by them and we love them. So as a player, I’m quite happy, because I will have The Last of Us in September and God of War in November.
Kevin Pinson: Yeah [laughs].
Kevin Choteau: It’s cool. For Game Pass, because you asked about it, I think as a studio, and not as a producer, our goal is to give the game to a maximum number of players and have everyone experience the game as much as possible. We don’t really care about the money. It’s not our problem, I would say. It’s more of a problem for the head of studio, and of course it has an impact on the projections for the next game, so we need to pay attention to that. But our primary goal is to give the game to the maximum number of players, and Game Pass allows that. We know that a huge number of players will just try the game, and maybe they won’t buy it, because they are not interested in this kind of game. And maybe they will try it and see something that they like, and also discover something new. So it’s good for us as developers, because the maximum number of players will play the game, and it’s what we want.
Thank you so much.