Deadhaus Sonata Q&A – Denis Dyack’s Quest to Bring Narrative to the Online Space Through Genvid’s Interactive Streaming and the Power of the Cloud
Deadhaus Sonata might not be a game you've read about before (unless you're a regular reader here, as we covered it twice last year), but it's certainly very ambitious.
That shouldn't be surprising, anyway, given that the man behind the concept is none other than Denis Dyack, the former Silicon Knights president and director of acclaimed games such as Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain, Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem, and Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes, as well as the less successful Too Human.
With Deadhaus Sonata, Dyack and his fellow developers at Apocalypse Studios are aiming to recapture the neglected Legacy of Kain fanbase in a free-to-play online action roleplaying game that is powered by Amazon's Lumberyard engine/AWS cloud technology and Genvid's intriguing interactive livestreaming SDK, which we previously reported on a while ago.
We've had a long chat with Dyack earlier this month to learn more about each of the defining technical and design elements of Deadhaus Sonata. Brace for a deep dive!
Hello, Denis. Can you introduce your vision to our readers?
Deadhaus Sonata is the spiritual successor to Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain. You play as the undead, such as vampires and revenants, against the living. Interestingly enough, with Deadhaus Sonata I'm going back to my roots. When I first created Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain, I looked at the medium itself and said 'What can we do to make Blood Omen a different kind of game?' Back in those days, the PlayStation one had launched with this incredible new technology called CD-ROM where we could actually use voice acting instead of text, and I wanted to make an RPG without text because I thought reading on the screen was less than ideal. For the first time with this new CD-ROM technology, we were actually able to put in large amounts of voice in Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain. Not only was it a game centered on an antihero as played a vampire, but the entire world hated you and wanted to kill you, you hated yourself. Since that time, video games have really moved on and we've gone from the medium of a single player sitting in front of a console to the multiplayer games where you see a lot of people playing titles like League of Legends. Some of the things that we're doing with Genvid are allowing us to reach out to this massive audience (more people watch League of Legends tournaments than they do with the Super Bowl). Imagine if we can put in a hook allowing people to play the game without even having it. Some of the things that we're doing now are allowing people to have agency into the game, taking them back to the early days of theater, allowing us to tell stories and narratives like never before.
With Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain, we were breaking some new ground doing an RPG without any text. Now what we're doing is we're introducing metagaming where people who don't even have your game can play it in some ways. We think this is completely undiscovered country and not only do we plan on bringing narrative to the free to play space, but we're also going to be doing cool things with the awesome tech of Genvid.
There's no shortage of cooperative online games, particularly RPGs, featuring strong narrative arcs. However, I find that it is often difficult to be able to appreciate the narrative when playing with other players, as some members of the party will want to skip the dialogues for instance. How do you plan to address that conundrum?
I totally agree. There's a lot of free to play games out there that have amazing stories. Those are the best stories that you never get to see because they're all text-based. I just think that that's a missed opportunity and it's not using the medium properly. Our goal with Deadhaus Sonata is to absolutely not have text to deliver the story. Text is a very limited medium, I think a medium that is best left to books. We'll be using a lot of voice for Deadhaus Sonata and a lot of, quite frankly, procedural generation AI to generate what I would say is a very aggressive approach to telling persistent online narrative where we can do things within the cloud that have never been done before. A lot of people think online games with a story are an oxymoron, from the standpoint of they just don't happen, and that is in my opinion because they're not cloud first. They're not really recognizing the potential of the cloud and they're telling their stories traditionally, as you would have done with a premier game, with a beginning and an end. Now with the online space, we're going to allow people to have a persistent world where they can make a difference and that allows us to change the story on the fly. Some of the things that we're doing with Genvid include allowing elections to change the government, the political makeup of the game affecting the story, but also allowing people to come in as a dungeon master or roleplaying as a store manager, essentially giving them tools that have never been seen before. However, it is super important not to use text, so we'll be using a lot of voice actors for Deadhaus Sonata and as mentioned above, the super exciting stuff is we'll literally be procedurally generating things where you'll be seeing cinematics and dialogues that are different every time for every user. We have a lot of things to announce in that space, too. Going back to Genvid, their interactive streaming tech allows for much more agency than ever possible previously and it really gives the audience a chance to not only watch a game but to actually participate in it.
These days, very few games resemble Eternal Darkness or Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain, those voices seem to be lost. One of the things we're trying to do with Deadhaus Sonata is bringing those voices back and I think that is something that will be well received by gamers. It's certainly something that I want to see, following the first rule when you're creating entertainment, which is that you never know if you're gonna please anybody. So if you make something that you want to play you're at least guaranteed to please that one person, yourself.
How does Genvid's technology differ from the Twitch integrations we've already seen in some games?
I think what you're looking at with previous Twitch integrations was some pretty basic stuff. What we're talking about with Genvid is fully integrated interfaces, complete overlays in the UI where you're not just typing in chat, you're literally there. You have an interface with your mouse where you're doing these things and playing. It's much more than just the typical integrations that you have seen before. Furthermore, just to be clear, this isn't just for Twitch, it's for any streaming platform. It could be Facebook, it could be YouTube, and it will be supporting all the new streaming platforms that are just being announced or have yet to be announced, so the potential here is quite wide. The idea with metagaming is basically that no technology is required. When you look at VR and AR, they have very huge gates put in front of users before they can actually play something, such as buying the headsets in the first place, whereas here if you can watch a stream you can interact. I think that really offers something new that people haven't seen before, so it's very different from the usual Twitch interactions. This is definitely much more advanced and is ubiquitous across all streaming platforms. We're going to have a dedicated team focusing on how to best exploit the Genvid interactive streaming technology.
Are you planning to release Deadhaus Sonata simultaneously on PC and consoles? Will there be cross-play?
Right now we're leading the development of Deadhaus Sonata on PC. Being independent we haven't made announcements yet, but it is quite possible that we can launch simultaneously across all the platforms. That is to be decided right now but definitely possible and we will be on all platforms for sure. It's not just going to be a PC title.
Also, Deadhaus Sonata will be platform agnostic as far as playing with other people. Another key thing is, and we have a lot of people asking this especially from the Legacy of Kain community, no one will be forced to play multiplayer, you will have a full experience playing solo. However, if you do want to play co-op with your friends, they will be able to join you.
What happens when some friends join your game? Does the difficulty scale up, are there new mechanics?
The idea is to have the least limiting and the most fair and ethical process. We will certainly limit power leveling and all those kinds of things, of course, but also allow people to play together as much as possible in the most seamless and integrated way. So if someone's been playing the game for a couple of years and they want to bring on a new player, that experience has to be enjoyable and fair to the entire community across the board.
On your website, you've also mentioned 'semi-persistent worlds' available in Deadhaus Sonata. Can you expand on this feature?
We are going to have a persistent world where everything that you do makes a difference. As an example, say I'm a vampire. I go into a town and I decide that I'm going to make several vampire thralls. Other people, when they revisit the town, they'll see those thralls there, so you can leave a lasting impression. Even for our Alphas and Betas, we're having what we call Ages. As we first release Deadhaus Sonata on early access, the first players will already start to affect the world, they'll be able to found cities, create epic weapons and relics that will last other Ages, all with this idea of what can we do to enhance the narrative in a way that befits this medium. This is why we're focusing so much on interactive streaming, it's a completely undiscovered country for narrative. We can start introducing narrative areas where you can change the story, where you can roleplay in real time, all of these kinds of things will leave lasting impressions for gamers that will have an effect on the persistent universe, so they will indeed be able to change the world by playing it. That's super exciting stuff, things that you couldn't do in the traditional single player space back when I was making Eternal Darkness and games like that.
You previously described Deadhaus Sonata as 'Diablo meets Bloodborne'. But you've mentioned the importance of the political system, which makes me think the game won't be solely about combat, right?
That's correct. In some sense, I used those two to describe what the gameplay is like. But if you want to look at the overall game, it's more like a combination of The Witcher and Diablo, which are much closer to where we want to go with the story and rich presence of the world as you're playing Deadhaus Sonata. Years from now, when new people are coming in, they won't just find new loot and more grinding. There will be more stories, more adventures, more ways to just explore the details of this deeply crafted world rooted in the gothic setting. And as we introduce new houses, new mythologies will come in as well. We're going to be very focused on narrative and our goal is to change the way people perceive these types of games and the level of which you can interact and tell stories. That to us is the most exciting thing. We are very early in, this game is massive. But I think hopefully just by showing you these examples, you can see the potential of where we're going.
I know the game is going to be single player and co-op focused at first, but what are your plans for PvP?
Yes, we're doing PvP for sure at some point. The idea is, we will watch the game, make sure it's playing really well for Single player and coop. Once we feel the game is good, we'll add PvP.
Do you have any ideas already of how that will look like? Will PvP feature feuds between different houses for the control of in-game settlements, for stance?
Lots of ideas for that, none of which are announced. There will be simple arena combat, of course, that's easy to do. But it would be objective based and territorial based PvP that makes sense within the persistent world of Deadhaus Sonata.
I know you're using Amazon's Lumberyard engine for Deadhaus Sonata. What was your experience with it so far?
We're really excited about it and I guess it's very consistent with our approach. It is very much a hybrid of what you have with the versatility of Unity and, say, the sheer visual prowess of Unreal or CryEngine. It's very cloud savvy, as COVID hit us we were lucky enough within a week to transfer our entire build process to AWS. We're actually working faster and more efficiently now in the cloud than we did when we had everything on a local server in our office. Amazon from that perspective is an unbeatable partner between AWS, Game Services, and Lumberyard. It's a perfect combination for the future and we could not be happier, I know for a fact that with the support we're gonna get for being cloud first there's just not a better engine out there, nor a better company that is equipped for this new reality that we face with COVID and game development.
This work from home situation could continue until there's a vaccine. So we're extremely happy about the partnership with Amazon, we're seeing great gains. The engine's amazing, and at the same time, it also does all the things that we need within the cloud space. If you're a developer out there and you're looking at a new engine for a new project, I'd recommend it, particularly under the circumstances that the world faces now.
That makes sense. Since you mentioned the importance of developing cloud first, are you planning to release Deadhaus Sonata on Google Stadia as well?
We'll go on all platforms for sure, there's no reason why we wouldn't want to launch on Stadia.
You'll launch on Steam Early Access first though, right?
Yeah, we are already on Steam. As a matter of fact, you can wish list Deadhaus Sonata on Steam right now. We're getting ready to roll out in the near future some founder's packs so people can get on board and support us on Steam as well. We're definitely committed to Steam, we love the platform.
Is the debut still far away?
A version 1.0 where we have the full game out there, that's a while off yet, but we're gonna try to get some early builds of Deadhaus Sonata out to gamers as soon as possible.
On the console side, will Deadhaus Sonata launch on current-gen or next-gen only?
We certainly can run on those consoles as well, depending on the timing and frankly what the community wants. If they want us to be there, we can certainly do that. Or if they want us to be on next-gen or both, we can do all of that. I was just saying we would probably be able to make it a launch title of the next generation of consoles. That would be my guess right now.
What do you think about the technical advancements of PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X? Many developers are praising the SSD in particular as a major upgrade for game development.
I think the technology is really cool. However, just to be clear, we tend to focus on things that aren't necessarily platform driven. If you look at cloud first, what that means is the hardware is less important, how you deliver your stuff is more important. I think next-gen is going to be awesome, it's going to allow us to do some fantastic technology. Once you're playing on that particular console, I think the technological leaps are truly impressive for sure. However, focusing on the cloud and allowing people to play cross-platform, allowing the game to be free to play, making sure we maintain ethical models and that we can tell stories in a persistent universe for Deadhaus Sonata, that's all stuff that is beyond the specific console itself, and more up towards the technologies that we're looking at. The same, of course, with the interactive streaming tech powered by Genvid, which works on all consoles now. That's where we think the future is. There's no gateway to what we're doing here. Anyone who can stream can also interact. And I think that's a huge future, we don't know what it means to be able to play a game that you don't even have just by connecting to a stream. These are all new things that we're going to start to be able to explore, I think they're as exciting as all the new graphics and all the technologies coming out are, in fact, I think these are much more provocative opportunities that gamers should be very excited about.
Is there anything else you'd like to add?
We have three main pillars with Deadhaus Sonata. The first is narrative driven, the second one is interactive streaming, and the third is having community driven content. The more feedback we get from gamers, the better off the game is going to be. If gamers out there want to tell us what they like and what they don't like, we're here to listen to that and try to improve the best we can. The more feedback we get the better, so please join us and check us out.
One last question. Before founding Apocalypse Studios, you tried to crowdfund a spiritual sequel to Eternal Darkness called Shadow of the Eternals. However, that was eventually put on hold. For all Eternal Darkness fans out there, are you planning to revive that project at some point?
That is the exact plan, to go back to it. After we get Deadhaus Sonata underway, we'll come back to it, start another team and get things rolling. But yeah, that's a definite goal, always near and dear to our hearts. I think the overall goal of Apocalypse is to change the way people perceive games, bring narrative back with games thematically akin to Eternal Darkness and Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain.
I think that there is an appetite for narrative driven games. Even though 90% of all global gaming revenue is now multiplayer free to play, it doesn't mean that we can't do narrative driven games, so that's going to be our goal. Those who are interested and want to support this idea, please come on by and join our Discord. Help us out any way you can, all support is greatly appreciated.
Thank you for your time.