After a successful debut on PlayStation 3 and PC in 2011, eyes are on Overkill’s forthcoming Payday sequel to see if it can deliver the goods. The original Payday: The Heist was an enjoyable yet flawed experience, and when given the opportunity to sit and discuss this with the development team it seems as though they are all too ready to acknowledge where the original went wrong, and how Payday 2 can improve upon these established foundations.
Taking the time to speak with Electronic Theatre were Simon Viklund, Sound Designer & Music Composer, Karl Andersson, Artist & UX Designer and the ever-silent Andreas Hall, Quality Assurance. All three team members were keen to demo the videogame to Electronic Theatre promoting its strengths and discussing honestly where they have had to patch up holes from the original experience. You can read Electronic Theatre’s preview of Payday 2 here, and the full transcript from the interview with Overkill follows below.
Electronic Theatre: Quite a lot has changed from the original Payday: The Heist. Have you been basing that on player feedback or is it purely the improvements you wanted to make as a team?
Simon Viklund [SV]: Some of the things, or a lot of these things I’d say, are things that we really wanted to do in the first game because we saw that potential. We wanted to have an economy in the game so that you could steal and earn money, and then spend that money in the game. But we didn’t have the time to make that and we figured, ‘at least we get a proof of concept of the first-person shooter part of it,’ and the hostage trading and some of the other stuff that we had in the first game. We were really happy with how that turned out so the next natural step would be to go on and add these things that we had ideas about.
A lot of the player feedback mirrors what we wanted to do with the first game as well, so it all goes hand-in-hand I’d say.
Electronic Theatre: So you say there’s an economy, does that mean there’s a greater structure to the campaign?
SV: There is no single-player campaign. What I mean by ‘economy’ is that instead of money just being a measure of how far you are through the game now you can actually do things with your money.
Electronic Theatre: But presumably there’s a difficulty curve? As you progress you can access harder missions and receive bigger payouts?
SV: Yeah exactly. In the beginning of the game – it’s one of the good things with the new interface I think – the game can throw suggested jobs at the player that it thinks the player can handle. The difficulty of the game adapts to what the player is capable of.
Karl Anderson [KA]: The contacts that you meet – we introduce more contacts as you progress through the game – and as you level-up you get a rating, so you get graded for more difficult missions. And each contact has a mini-story arch in themselves, with different star ratings for each of their missions. First time you meet Hector it might be a small job shifting some coke. Second time you meet him, maybe you’re level 20 instead of level 4, so you’re going to get something more complex; something he needs someone he can trust for. When you reach level 40, a guy comes along that does undercover work for the CIA, or whatever…
Electronic Theatre: So how does that work when another player – say a player that’s a much lower level – comes along and joins a player of a higher level?
SV: Yeah that’s up to you. If he or she wants to accept that…
KA: They can come in. They can always come in.
Electronic Theatre: Will there be some kind of balancing or is the difficulty set by the host?
SV: It’s the host.
KA: They get capped in terms of what they can get from the loot drops and the payouts. If you’re at level 20 you’re graded a ‘2 Star’ but if you’re at level 80 you can get eight star missions. If you’re a level 20 you can’t get a pay grade of 6; it’s still going to cap you to that 2.
Electronic Theatre: So you can go in with a friend of a much higher level, but you’ll just have less cash to keep at the end of the mission?
KA: Yeah. Cash you get, but the pay grade – the loot, the quality of rewards – that’s capped. So you will get money, but you won’t get any mods or glorious purple loot until you’re at that level.
Electronic Theatre: So how does the levelling system work? Is it purely XP based?
SV: Yeah it’s several aspects actually. As you play the game you’ll gaming experience points from level 1 to 100, and then every other level you get new weapons unlocked. And then you have the ability to buy those weapons – you don’t get them for free – you unlock them and then they become available to you on the black market and you can spend the money you earn in the game to buy any number of those weapons. And then you can modify them – it costs money to craft the weapons and change the modifications on it – so it my be an idea to buy two or three M4s, because you want one that is kitted for missions that you want to go in silent, you’ve got a silencer and a small stock so it can easily be hidden, and then you’ve got one where you’ve got larger ammo magazines so that it’s more suitable if you go for the Enforcer you’ll have an Enforcer version. Or that Ghost version. You can have any number of weapons.
Electronic Theatre: So presumably the videogame works in the sense that you build a character…
SV: Exactly. Skills goes into that as well, with you spending points – and that’s the most interesting thing I think, because no matter how much you play the game you’re not going to be able to max out. Once you reach level 100 you’ll have one hundred skill points to spend…
KA: No you can get some more; depending on what choices you make and how you do things you’re actually awarded skill points for…
SV: Yeah there’s some challenges and stuff. But anyway, you can’t get all the skills. You can in theory get all the loot drops, if you played the game for one thousand hours maybe, you’ll have all of the things that you can get in the game. If we don’t patch in new stuff, of course!
Electronic Theatre: Would you be able to make additional characters? Say if you had a character you were playing and your friend got the videogame two weeks later and began creating the same character, could you then create a second character so you had a mix of skills?
KA: But you can still re-spec!
Electronic Theatre: Doing a re-spec will cost money…
KA: Yeah in-game.
SV: Yeah not micro-transactions!
Electronic Theatre: …have you determined how expensive that will be?
SV: Just enough to make it a little bit of angst. Like, you want the choice to matter. Like, if you want to invest skill points into this thing, but then you want to take those skill points back and put them somewhere else it’s going to cost… it has to be enough…
Electronic Theatre: …for it to matter?
SV: Yeah. For it to feel like you’re not throwing around skill points anywhere.
Electronic Theatre: Obviously that would prevent you from doing a re-spec for a specific mission and then changing again after completion.
SV: Exactly. That’s the point.
Electronic Theatre: So this skill system is fairly new, as you didn’t really feel the impact of progression in the first game, was that a measured effort? Was this improvement something that you set out to do or did it come as a happy accident?
SV: We looked at the first game and we were all in agreement that this needed some improvement. We all agreed that this could be so much better, so we just sat down and decided how we wanted it: we wanted skills, and that should be separate. Because in the first game skills and weapons were all pooled together. And now…
KA: Everything was streamlined, you know. We thought ‘great so now you don’t have to worry about it.’ But not only needn’t you worry about it, you didn’t actually…
SV: Our idea for the first game was that you don’t need to care about it; it still adds points and once you’ve played for thirty hours you’re going to be maxed-out and have everything. So for those who care you can job between different trees and add skill points where you want them, but for those who didn’t care they didn’t really need to. But in this game we take that back. We decided that we want the player to actively make the choice. To go into the skills menu and spend the points, because that makes the player more aware of what they have, so in the game they’ll be like, ‘I just spent money doing this, getting this skill, so maybe I can use this now.
KA: There’s some awesome stuff at the top of the tree. If you go hard there’s some fantastic stuff that really enhances the gameplay in spectacular ways. It’s an incentive for specialising, and if you play with friends you’ll want to specialise in a specific class so that you compliment each other.
Electronic Theatre: So you have the skill trees, the weapons and modifications, and then you also have the mask customisation. Will you be spending money on this also?
SV: It comes through loot drops, like weapon modifications. The difference is that masks are only aesthetical. So you get different masks in loot drops and they can be rare or they can be common, and then you can get shapes of mask that can be combined with paint jobs to create your own masks.
KA: Some of the rarer masks or paint jobs you’ll have to work quite hard to get.
SV: That’s always an incentive to take on tougher jobs, because if you get to the end the chance of rare loot is way higher.
KA: Also mean people won’t quit midway through the mission. That’s one of the reasons why we went for the different phases in contracts, because if people drop out after the first phase they won’t get any reward.
Electronic Theatre: Now obviously when it comes to online multiplayer titles such as this – with skills trees, customised and random items etc. – the bullet point for status in modern times is always Borderlands. How would you feel about such a comparison?
SV: I haven’t played Borderlands.
KA: We’ve been busy!
SV: We’ve been busy developing Payday 2!
KA: There’s an inordinate amount of stuff – I can’t tell you how much stuff we have, but it’s a huge number – and what happens with the mods is that you can build any weapon into a… you can tweak them to your play style completely. You can’t do paint jobs – you’re still in character – but if you want to have a long range shotgun with a scope, a suppressor and a laser sight, that’s your choice.