Dontnod’s Vampyr Lets You Decide What Kind of Bloodsucker You Want To Be
I had the extraordinary pleasure of interviewing Stephane Beauverger, Narrative Director at Dontnod about the upcoming game, Vampyr. From the studio that brought you Life is Strange, Stephane Beauverger explains the creation process for each game, and some interesting insights into Vampyr and the role players will have in shaping their fictional world of London 1918.
Your first game, Remember Me, was set in Paris, your home city, your second game was set in America. Why did you choose to set your third game in London?
Each time we decide to make a story about a new subject, we start by creating the universe. With Remember Me we wanted to create a game set in the future, in one hundred years. We asked ourselves where would it be? We knew Paris, and it was interesting to ask what would become of this city.
For Life is Strange this was different. We said let’s have a teen movie, a sad variation of the teen movie, so it had to be in the US. What are the cool places in the US today, we asked ourselves. Oregon, where the hipster movement has very strong roots, so let’s focus on that.
For the Vampyr project, what we set out to do was make a game about vampires. What is interesting about vampires? What is interesting for us is that is it a clever monster who knows what he is. He is trying to hide his nature, he is a creature of deception. We wanted the player to feel all twisted and torn about the nature of the vampire they play, so we asked ourselves what is the opposite of a vampire. A doctor. He used to save lives but now he’ll have to take them.
Where would it be interesting to put this character? We wanted to set it during an epidemic, where everyone is dying and a doctor could do the most good. 1918 London. This is what we want to create as a world, as a story, now we can begin to build on the mechanics. We can decide how the player will interact with the game world.
Each time we make a game we start with a core team, the game director, the art director, and the narrative director and these three people build the game together. They build it the art, the game design and the story line together. The three sections must match perfectly and then we will have something interesting.
Is London in Vampyr built historically accurate or more fictional?
We went to London, we went to the East End, we went to the City, we went to Temple Church, we visited a lot of the city. The problem is that the city is huge and it has been rebuilt a lot since the beginning of the twentieth century. So we had to go back to documentaries and history books about Whitechapel, the docks and the Isle of Dog. A lot has changed since 1918 so we had to go back to historical material to find out how the buildings looked, how people dressed, what people looked like and what they ate there. Stuff like that.
So it’s based on historical facts.
And then you threw in vampires.
Of course, vampires are historical facts too, they exist, I promise you they exist.
With the vampires themselves, did you create your own lore for them?
Yes, absolutely. We had to decide exactly what kind of vampire we wanted to put in the game. Can they be seen in mirrors? Can they be destroyed by the sun? Does garlic repel them? Can they enter a church? All the classical notions of a vampire. So once we had established all these questions we got a very precise aspect of the kind of vampires we wanted the player to be. So we’ve said that this is the creature you’re going to play. We wanted the players to ask how could such a creature exist, where could it possibly have come from? So we created a whole original lore that gave the players context.
We created different species of vampires and created a lore where everything is linked to the blood. Even the central character asks “Why did someone make me a vampire? When the city is facing the worst epidemic ever and I am a blood specialist. Someone has a plan here, and I have to find out what it is.”
So there is a larger conspiracy going on in the background as well.
As a vampire the player will have the choice to drink innocent blood in the game, but how will that affect the story and the city?
There are no nameless civilians in the game. They all have their own stories and interests and friends and enemies. Each time to decide to kill one of them you’ll have to see the consequences for the rest of the city. There will be an impact on the local scale.
When you decide to kill some gang member in the East End, it will not change the fate of the city of London, but it will change the people that knew him. Each time you kill a civilian you will see some consequences on the local scale.
And then the main storyline will regularly ask you to make a major kill choice. This will make you decide what to do with a very important NPC. They might be community pillars or people who are very famous in a specific district of the city. When you decide what to do with them, kill them, spare them or make them a vampire, it will have a huge impact.
Is there any morality or karma meter in the game, or is it up to the player to decide whether they did right or wrong?
This is actually a very interesting question, at one point we had a system where you could get good or bad karma. But when we looked at it, it looks like when you kill someone you can have better karma. That seemed very strange, you can’t get good karma for being a murderer. We also realized that because of the game mechanic, you could not give the same karma points to everybody. We had tried to link that to the blood quality, and we realized that the poor and the sick had small karma. It was less punishing for you to kill them as if there was a different price on human life, dependent on social level. We decided to change that: one death, one damnation point.
We decided that you can only go down to hell, you just decide the speed. So we thought about putting in a karma system but we decided against it. If you take a life, any life, you pay the price.
With every death having a big or small ripple on the city, every player will have a different looking city by the end of Vampyr?
If you kill too many people too soon, you can reach what we call the ‘critical health status’ for the district. That means even if you left some citizens alive, the district will crumble because there are not enough people left alive. You will lose the entire district. You can go back if you want but there will just be monsters and guards and vampires. No one else is alive anymore.
At the end of the game, if you decide to kill lots of people you can have the city burning down with no one left alive. It’s not ‘the evil ending’ it, just how you decided to play the game. You can go back and play it again and try not to kill anyone if you want.
Life is Strange let you rewind and change your mind during the important decisions of the game, will Vampyr let you do that as well?
It’s the exact opposite. Each time you kill someone there is a saving point and you can’t go back. Like the game State of Decay, when someone dies that is it, there is no going back.
With different species of vampires, do you also have different factions?
Of course. You will meet at least two different factions of vampires in Vampyr. There is a lesser species of vampire, unwanted children of the vampire as it were. They hide in the sewers. Other vampires tend to kill them on sight because they are less clever. Vampires tend to destroy them. Actually, some of them are much cleverer than you think but they are still hiding.
You will meet another vampire faction, very posh, very aristocratic and members of the high society. They secretly rule London, and even parts of the British Empire actually. They are defenders of the crown, though. They are really servants of the crown and really conservative, they don’t want any female members. They are assholes. They are immortal assholes.
The player will be asked to join them for a time. You don’t have too, but if you do so you will be invited to do something you don’t totally agree with. But you don’t have to play their game, you don’t have to follow their agendas. You have complete freedom.
On the same subject, you will also have to fight different bosses. One of them is the leader of the vampire hunters. But to defeat him in a fight doesn’t mean that he is dead. After the fight, you can decide to kill him, let him go or make him a vampire. That would be a terrible punishment for him.
Is it possible to use the stealth mechanics in the game to avoid the boss fights?
No, you cannot avoid the boss fight.
But you have three different skill sets. You can be a shadow vampire that tries to hide and uses his powers to manipulate his victims. You can be an instinct vampire, he has claws and is very aggressive. And then you have the blood vampire who can control his enemies to make the blood boil for example, or impale enemies on blood stakes.
You can buy the skills you like and develop them if you want too. So by the end of the game not only will each player’s city be different but their characters, too.
So you’ve got the vampire hunters and vampires. Can you play them against each other?
You will frequently see vampires and vampire hunters fighting on the streets. And you can choose to join in or leave them to it.
Is Vampyr an open world game?
Yes, it is a semi-open world game. This means you can go freely everywhere in the city except for a few locations that are locked for storyline reasons. But it is not a huge world like Skyrim or GTA so we call it a semi-open world. But once you enter London you can go almost everywhere very early on in the game.
Will there be side quests?
Yes, many citizens will give you side quests for you to perform. That is another price to pay if you kill too many citizens. If a district falls you won’t get any merchants or side quests left.
And if you kill too many civilians will you get an evil ending?
There is no good ending or bad ending. The game will not punish you and say you had the bad ending, there is simply a logical end that reflects the actions you made during the game. It is not a morality judgment based on your actions.
Thank you for your time.