The release of Payday 2 will soon be upon us, and as Overkill’s latest is currently undergoing a rigorous beta testing phase Electronic Theatre thought now was the time to sit down with those responsible for the videogame and find out exactly how they went about making a modern heist simulator. David Goldfarb, director of Payday 2, was only too happy to oblige.
Having already passed the submission process for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC, Payday 2 is set to launch on 16th August 2013. Electronic Theatre will keep you updated with all the latest details on Payday 2 and other forthcoming titles from Overkill and 505 Games.
Electronic Theatre: Pay Day 2 is a much more comprehensive heist experience than the first videogame. Do you see this as a natural evolution or did you have these ideas to begin with in the first Payday?
David Goldfarb [DG]: I know that they had, the guys, you know, Overkill and the people that were making the game before I got there had definitely thought about a lot of the things that eventually we worked on for Payday 2. But I think, what wound up happening organically; when I got there we sort of decided collectively to move the game in a different direction. What we felt was a more complete heist experience as opposed to kind of doing, say, if we’re going to build just a bunch of formations. I think a lot of people maybe expected us to do that so I think I had become a lot more than even we had anticipated, in some sense, as we were going.
Electronic Theatre: Obviously the first videogame, I’m sure you wouldn’t argue, at times it feels like its just four people playing a first-person shooter that happens to be in this situation. Was it a conscious effort to make it feel more like a gang of professional criminals?
DG: Yeah, all though, unprofessional criminals… We collected all this feedback from forums and from internally and when I got there, they took all of it and that was one of the big things: how do we actually realise the heist fantasy? And not have it feel like I’m just shooting a bunch of guys endlessly? Because that was one of the, I would say, primary criticisms levelled at the game which was, you know, legitimate. It was still really fun but it wasn’t servicing the fantasy, so that was kind of when we attacked the problem. It was like ‘how do we actually do that?’, ‘what do we need to do?’, and then it became, ‘well we need to add skills’ and ‘we need to add stealth’ and ‘we need to add an economy’ and ‘we need to add a crime net’ and those things became the kind of like hubs or pillars of the game.
Electronic Theatre: So obviously, in the actual videogame itself, they’re all going to come together as a cohesive whole. How did you make sure someone can’t just sit there and go well I want to be this kind of character and just skill up constantly?
DG: Well how do you mean?
Electronic Theatre: All of these mechanics, when you’re in the videogame they all work together. They could have been quite a disparate series; you could have had one person who just sat there and went ‘well I’ll just put up my stealth skills and I’ll be the stealthy guy whilst you’re all shooting everybody.’
DG: Um, trial and error! It was the design of the skills and then design of the levels, and design of the enemies and the design of the mechanics. All of those things, it was always kind of like you were kind of… uh, how do you put it? It was like the ground is collapsing in front of you and you’re just, like, just putting something beneath your feet at every step. You’re like ‘no that’s not right’ so we got to put… you just have to keep going. You know we were working on the skills, and you’re like working on levels and you find out they don’t work together so you have to chance something with the skills or you have to change something with the levels, or change something with the mechanics and it just happens at a very rapid rate.
Electronic Theatre: So you hit a lot of dead ends?
DG: I think we found that some stuff worked, and some stuff didn’t work. And that we were always looking to find the optimal, you know, make sure everyone always can feel smart and has something to do, all the time, that’s the thing, feel useful.
Electronic Theatre: So was there ever any mechanic that you were working on that you decided just didn’t work that you were disappointed to see go?
DG: Yeah, dye packs. On like cash, so it like it goes, [gestures explosion in front of his face] ‘phhhhcccccttttttthhhhhhhhh!’ I think we’ll bring it pack but the thing with dye packs; we tried it and it was like and it made people feel, it was like a random, a dye pack could blow up in my face on a cash bundle and you couldn’t really do anything about it with the mechanic that we had so you could make it not happen by having a skill. But you still felt like, ‘so I have to take a skill to make sure that I’m going to not have a dye pack blow up in…’ it just felt like it wasn’t a positive skill, it was a negative skill so we wound up taking it out. But I think if we’d had more time we could’ve made it more of a mechanic and made it more fun but we, you know, at the time it was like ‘no we’re going to take it out’ because it wasn’t working the way we wanted.
Electronic Theatre: So the dye packs would have been random, much like how the ambushes are? How are you sure that when people are playing Payday 2 aren’t like ‘ah, here we go, another ambush.’ How do you make sure it’s fun every time it happens?
DG: Do you mean in the case of the escapes? I think the thing there is [that] lots of stuff that makes it fun: there’s the level design and there’s the… I think for us really randomisation is a big part of what keeps our game interesting. Because you can never be sure where anything is going to be so there’s all these elements that are changeable and different every time you play.
Electronic Theatre: So is the rule set rigid? In the example we played where we did really badly, were we always going to enter that escape mode or is there a chance we could have just got away?
DG: If you had stealthed – if you had properly stealthed it – and stolen the paintings and not killed anybody.
Electronic Theatre: Is it binary? Is it a case of ‘if we stealthed we don’t get the escape if we don’t stealth we do’?
DG: There’s a very good chance, you could still get f*cked but there’s a very good chance that it would not, and that said there’s a small chance that you could still get busted but you would tip the balance way in your favour if you were able to stealth. And in general we are not a binary place we are a place of percentages because that’s how everything works at Overkill in general and that’s always been how they did things – with the first game and how we did things in the second game – so it really is a… what’s the word? A game of inches. We never say it’s black or white.
Electronic Theatre: In the mission we played there was four parts to it, as you start with the first part, how many possible ends are there from that first mission?
DG: Three days you mean?
Electronic Theatre: Yes, the last day that you come to, how many possible variations is there?
DG: Well. It depends if you’re talking about inside the mission, I don’t even know how many because there’s so many variables inside the mission that could change, it’s, like, stupid. There’s probably forty different factors that could change, starting from your entry position to where the get a way car is to if it’s a get away car at all to, if it’s the case in the bank, the vault’s in a different spot, or it could be, like you saw, the vault has a gate, or the fact that like, I didn’t see the tear gas on the chopper land on the roof that time, which is lucky for you guys. But they could have. The cops all pull up in different spots, the stuff in the frigging vault could be random, even the loot itself. There’s different money placements in the level. There’s a different… I mean the cameras and the civilians and all the cast, all that stuff is random too so you can’t really go ‘oh we’re going to do it this way this time.’
Electronic Theatre: So you don’t select a mission that you’ve done several times from the map and go ‘I know where this is going to be’ every single time?
DG: It’s never going to work like that. Never.
Electronic Theatre: So is there a level system in the videogame? Do you progress, or is it just the skills?
DG: No there are levels, yeah. One hundred levels, level hundred is the max.
Electronic Theatre: And how does the level system work? Do you get experience when you complete missions?
DG: Yup. You get experience for finishing jobs and also for finishing the stages of jobs – the days – and then when you have enough you get a skill point. You can invest the skill point in a skill if you have sufficient money, because you also need money, and that all funnels into our economy.
Electronic Theatre: I noticed on one of the menu screens it had a, at the end of the mission in fact, it had cash deposited in off-shore account and then cash to spend. What’s the difference here?
DG: Yeah off-shore account is… like, ‘we made all this money but we can’t spend all this money because no robber would ever spend all the money that he earns.’ So we only let you spend a fraction of it and the reason is both for accuracy and also so that we can control our economy, because if we did it the other way then you would have all these wildly inflated values and the economy would spiral. And in fact that’s how when I was like ‘oh, this all work fine’ and then it didn’t. And I was like ‘oh yeah right of course’ so what you wind up doing is controlling the… you can control with much more reasonable pricing if you have the off-shore [account] and you can make sure people don’t have too much money at any given point in the level progression.
Electronic Theatre: So when money goes in the off-shore account, do you get access to that later on?
DG: Well what you get is your, what do you call it? In your safe house it actually shows all the money that you’ve earned so that’s kind of our nod to how much money you got, so actually it’s like a real time stack of money.
Electronic Theatre: Like a banana pile.
DG: Yeah, like a banana pile.
Electronic Theatre: I bet everyone says that.
DG: Just like that.
Electronic Theatre: In the videogame there are several different types of enemies. We’ve seen the police, the swats and the riot police. Can you name a few others?
DG: There’s the tank – the guys in almost bomb suits – looking guys are the heaviest type of enemy and take many, many, many, many hits to take down! There’s the taser making a return from the first game, they incapacitate you, then there’s the cloaker or the spook, which is like a super fast enemy that like come up on you and is more of a stealthy enemy; you really have to be careful because he can take down like an entire squad very, very quickly. There are the F.B.I. S.W.A.T. and the heavy F.B.I. S.W.A.T., which are kind of like the highest end of the normal enemy types. You didn’t see any of those because you weren’t playing where those are. There’s additional difficulties that spike your experience and pay-off, and when you play on those difficulties you start to see the composition of enemies really changes.
Electronic Theatre: Obviously the first Payday was PlayStation 3 exclusive and PC release when that came out and this one is coming to multiple formats from day one. What was the thinking behind that?
DG: I think the thinking was the game was too big to release digitally on Xbox, on [Xbox LIVE Arcade]. And then the thinking really is it’s just a much bigger game.
Electronic Theatre: So as far as we were told as journalists we believed it was PlayStation Network, Xbox LIVE Arcade and PC digital for quite a while and then they announced the retail release.
DG: I think what happened was we just got to a point where we looked at the game and were like this game was supposed to be three gigs and it’s now fifteen and it was very clear that we were making a huge game, and when we acknowledged we were making a huge game we had to had to make, we figured it was best to go retail.
Electronic Theatre: So did your working practises change at that point when you said right its retail now?
Electronic Theatre: It was always the same plan.
DG: We were making that game; it didn’t change the fact, like putting a label on it didn’t change the fact that that was the game we were making.
Electronic Theatre: So obviously you’re working with 505 Games on this. Have they been supporting that move to retail?
DG: Yeah, I think we had no other, we couldn’t have made the game we wanted, I think, and gotten to people, as many people any other way. So yeah.
Electronic Theatre: We’re very close to launch now, was there anything in there that didn’t make it into this build, other than the dye packs of course?
DG: Yeah, there are tons and tons of fixes. The guys in the office were working so hard and this is [gestures to preview version] is like from July 8th. I think there’s like twenty seven hundred fixes, from July 8th, so stuff that’s not in there, a lot of it is just like little things; clean ups like no crashes. There are some new fixes, I think from ‘day zero’ there’ll be a lot more fixes, but I can’t tell you what they are because I don’t know what the day zero patch is going to look like yet.
Electronic Theatre: One last question I’m sure you’ve been asked a thousand times already, downloadable content [DLC]…
DG: Oh yes.
Electronic Theatre: Do you have anything lined-up?
DG: Oh yes. We have a year of DLC planned.
Electronic Theatre: Will they be incremental updates or will we see gradual maps and new skills?
DG: Yes, I can’t say, we will definitely have new jobs, I think we will have more masks and like content for the pay system. We’ll see about skills, I know there’s some I would like to add. It just a question of… we don’t just want to… we have to see what it’s like when the game is actually live and go ‘alright so these ones suck, remove these ones and then…’
Electronic Theatre: If you are planning on removing skills and adding new skills in it could be a different experience six months down the line?
DG: Yeah, I fully expect that the game will be so much better even from now, you know. In three months, we’ll have just so much information to know how people are playing and what it’s missing and all the stuff so yeah I think it’s going to be really great for us because the structure of the game really allows us to add content of any kind and have it just slot right in, so it’s pretty awesome.