As someone who enjoyed the first Dying Light game, I was intrigued by the news of a sequel being in development. Promising to be bigger and better than the original, Dying Light 2 is shaping up to be a visual tour-de-force that will have plenty of gameplay enhancements over the original. At this year’s Gamescom, I was lucky enough to interview Tymon Smektala (Lead Game Designer of Dying Light 2) and got to ask him as to what sort of challenges these enhancements have posed, as well as how him and his team have risen to the challenge. Enjoy!
Tymon, I know you are the lead game designer. Have you been involved with the game since its very inception?
Yes, I joined the company 6 years ago when Techland was working on Dying Light. I wasn’t fortunate enough to be with Dying Light as a series from the start. But I joined quite early on, so yes, I know the game in and out. And Dying Light 2, this is basically a game which I have a lot of input on and a lot of influence over… working very closely with our Creative Director, the guy’s name is Adrian Ciszewski. So I want to say that name because he is a guy that not many people know of and he is actually quite good. He is responsible for the first Dying Light, for Dead Island as well, and for a couple of other Techland games. So yes, I’m involved from the start.
One of the big problems with the first Dying Light was the parkour movement… This is something that games like Brink and even Mirror’s Edge didn’t do properly. How has the movement been refined since the first game?
So basically we’ve had to write everything from scratch. All of the code that governs how you do parkour in Dying Light 2 is written from scratch. It’s because of two things, the first one is we have new technology. The game is built on a new engine which is called C Engine – this is an engine we have built for games like these, for open-world first-person games. But also because we have found a lot of limitations with the old approach to coding, to implementing the parkour moves. And we wanted to do so much more with this game. We wanted to increase the number of parkour moves, which we did. We have doubled the number of parkour moves. We also wanted to do more cool stuff, for example like dynamic elements to environments. Dynamic movable pieces of the world which you can grab on to climb, to use while you parkour. So we had to write everything from scratch using of course, the experience, the knowledge we got from the first game. The goal for Dying Light 2 when it comes to parkour is to add more “game” to it. In the first game, it was basically like a tool for your traversal, like a means for your traversal. Basically like a horse in a game like The Witcher, or a car in a game like Grand Theft Auto. We want parkour in Dying Light to be more game-focused. To challenge you more, to give space for the more experienced players to really show their expertise, to really show how good they are at parkour. So we have introduced a bigger number of parkour moves, but there’s a bigger number of different geometry in the city which you can use to go faster, to be more effective. It’s actually quite easy to enter the game. The entry-point is quite low. You can still traverse with great ease just by pressing one button. The parkour button for jump and for grabs. But there’s a lot of new moves which allow you to go faster and if you land those moves and understand how they work, you will really be a parkour specialist.
There’s obviously a limit in terms of how complicated you can make the controls without necessarily sacrificing the accessibility…
So this is something that we have struggled with since the first game. Even in the first game we were joking that we need another controller for everything we wanted to put in. We thought we had reached the limit of what we can put on the controller but somehow, we found new ways, new inputs for the player to be able to get access to a plethora of new moves. But yes, this is a game that is quite easy to get into. But to master it, you really have to put in your skills, you really have to be very nimble with your fingers. We combat that with us introducing the new parkour moves on a steady pace. So you start out with quite small subset of moves. Then when you learn them, we’ll give you the next one, then the next one, then the next on. So you’ll have time to learn each move that we will provide you with.
The game can be completed in about 15 hours?
Yes… 15 to 20 hours. It is very hard to measure in an open-world game. How long it actually takes to complete the game because of the things that happen between points A and points B of a quest, so basically it’s up to you how you play it. Also in a game like this, there are a lot of emergencies. Things just happen as you play the game and you have to react to them. But it is 15 to 20 hours for the main story, because the whole content I would say is more than 100 hours.
There’s obviously the narrative sandbox element where you choose your own adventure…
Yes, you can say that. What’s important is that it’s not only the story that has different branches and where you reach different endings, it’s also how you shape the story around you. What we did is we looked at all of our gameplay elements and all of our interactive elements that you can have in the city… So it’s like, “20% of those elements are something we want every player to experience” so everyone will see that. But the rest of them are connected to your choices. Will you have potions that boost your strength, will you have zip-lines in your game, will you have specific types of enemies in your game? Everything depends on the choices you make as you play the game. So by playing the game, by making choices, by making decisions, by making sacrifices, you shape the world around you. You shape the sandbox space of the game.
But obviously, this leads to more variables which need to be tested. So what sort of problems have you encountered in terms of getting all of the chinks ironed out? Because on paper, it sounds extremely ambitious, but then with limitations in terms of what is conceivable and how much time and resources you have… With the game having an immense sense of scale, to the extent that it’s 8 times bigger than the first Dying Light… With so many variables at play, and with these compounded by the fact that Dying Light 2 is open-world and you have diverging storylines… What sort of nightmares have you had in terms of playtesting and resolving bugs?
Well everything is a nightmare with this game, if you really want to look at it from this perspective. But on the other hand, this is just a challenge you have to overcome. This is something you want to do as a game developer to prove to the world that you can actually achieve a vision as ambitious as Dying Light 2. And the good thing is that we enjoyed a really huge success with the first game. We have reached more than 70 million players, so these really are amazing, astonishing numbers. So this gave us confidence, but also resources to actually increase the size of our team. I think we have doubled the number of people that have worked on the second game in comparison to the first one. We were also able to double the Q&A team and… I think we’ll manage. There’s this huge hope within the company to deliver what we promised. This is what we want to do, this is something I think we want Dying Light to be. To be this benchmark by which all of our subsequent Techland games will be judged by, so please keep your fingers-crossed. This is challenging. This is hard work. This gives all of us nightmares but we are on the last stretch so let’s hope it will work.
The thing about a lead game designer, from a narrative perspective… the thing about single-player games which don’t have diverging storylines, you can just focus on one type of narrative. What challenges did you encounter in having these diverging storylines which branch off at various points, whilst ensuring that they remain interesting?
Two things… One, is that very early on we decided that there’s something we want to say with the game. We want to have some kind of meaning that the game conveys. And that if you have that meaning, basically you have your North Star which you can always point yourself to, no matter how much you branch your stories. This is one thing. The meaning for our game is that people think of themselves to survive, but they will never survive if they will think only of themselves. And the other thing that helped us is experience and knowledge and willingness to share all of that with Chris Avallone. We were fortunate enough to work with him since the inception of the game, since the start of the game. He is a guy that worked on at least a couple of really classical non-linear games and he knows how to do it. He has all of this raw talent and he was kind enough to share his experience with the rest of our team. Chris Avallone did Fallout, he did Knights Of The Old Republic, Alpha Protocol… so all of these games which people talk about. All of these non-linear titles, and he is responsible for all of them.
Techland was once a publisher but is now no longer publishing. How did you manage the transition from being a publisher to being back as a non-publisher, and what sort of impact does that have on the game’s development?
I think it did not have any impact on the game’s development. This was basically like a separate team, a business team created for publishing duties. We still do publish Dying Light 2. This is our IP and we want to publish it ourselves. But this was an experiment on our side, like it worked in some ways, but it didn’t work in other ways. I think there is the idea that maybe we need to go back to it but maybe with a different set of titles… time will tell. But for now, this is our baby, and we’ll focus on this. This is something we want to squeeze out in Spring 2020 on PC, PS4, XBox One. Again, please keep your fingers crossed because this really is a huge thing and we need all the support we can get.
This is a “yes” or “no” question… any future DLC?
Yes, of course. Dying Light 1 was supported for 4 years after its release, and the plan for Dying Light 2 is exactly the same. We want this game to be supported after its release. We know that a lot of fans will be waiting for DLCs, updates, extra stuff they can get their hands on. And we promise to deliver them just that.
Thank you so much!