Dontnod Interview: The Tragedy and Mythology that encapsulate their new RPG Vampyr
Last year Dontnod Entertainment received mass critical acclaim for their breakout hit adventure title Life Is Strange. With that game Dontnod perfected the modern adventure game formula with a very relatable human story, now they look to do something similar with their new RPG Vampyr. Vampires have taken on many incarnations over the years, from sparkling angst ridden teens in Stephenie Meyer's Twilight to ravenous beasts in Robert Rodriguez's From Dusk Till Dawn. With Vampyr, Dontnod want to bring us back to the romanticized beginnings of these mythological creatures. At E3 2016 we had the pleasure to speak to Dontnod's narrative director Stéphane Beauverger further on what it is they are doing to return to the roots of the vampire.
RPG Site: Vampyr has a very dark, somewhat frightening aesthetic to it. Are there any sort of horror elements to it?
Stéphane Beauverger: I wouldn't say horror. It's about a tragic figure - the vampire - which we wanted to bring back to its gothic and romantic roots. So it's dark, but it's not horror in the sense of the 'jumpscare' or anything like that. It's gothic.
RPG Site: In myth, vampires are often portrayed as elegant and beautiful, which seems to reflect in this game's combat where there seems to be a bit of grace to how the protagonist finishes its prey. Was preserving that romantic vision of the vampire a goal when designing the combat?
Stéphane Beauverger: You have that option, but actually you can specialize in different branches of combat. One specialization might be more animalistic and raw, while others may be more subtle where you emulate shadows and things like that. The vampire's figure is very complex, you can have a wide range of vision as to what a vampire is. From Twilight, to Nosferatu (Dracula), to brainless blood drinking creatures à la '30 Days Of Night. We want to go back to the roots of the vampire figure, to the gothic figure. For us it's half-human, half-elegant, half-seducing, half-complete beast; made mad by the thirst for blood.
That's why we have a "y" in the name in fact - because that's the option you will have as you play the game. The protagonist is torn between being a doctor and being a vampire, you save lives & you take lives, you believe in science but are also a supernatural creature. These dilemmas are who you are and you have to make up for it. One moment you could have a very polite conversation with someone, the next you're savage in a fight because some vampire hunters found you.
RPG Site: Where did the idea for this game come from, what inspired you?
Stéphane Beauverger: From the outset we wanted to make a game that made players face tough choices, and from that came the setting and the gameplay. 'Cause it was a setting that we believe plays to our strengths as a studio. As for references for vampires, Dracula of course, but also other gothic horror stories like Frankenstein. Anne Rice works such as 'Interview With A Vampire' is a favorite of mine as well that helped influence the game.
RPG Site: How does progression and leveling work in Vampyr?
Stéphane Beauverger: In Vampyr, you can build up your character with levels by fighting, taking part in combat, and doing quests. That's totally ok, I'm a huge fan of Skyrim and games of that ilk. However, you gain much more experience when you take a life - as in draining a citizen of their life force the way a vampire would. It is much more rewarding and risky than just fighting enemies as each time you take a life, there is weight to your decision. I think this is very new as you can level up easily just by feeding on people. It is part of the vampire nature and what the project is really about. There might be terrible consequences for taking a life, you must be careful with the decision.
RPG Site: Is stealth an element to the game at all?
Stéphane Beauverger: It is not really about stealth. You have a working cover as a human, as a doctor, and you came from the highest point in society. You already have a lot of influence over people. So you can use your cover to go about acting like a normal human, or you can use that cover to your benefit as a vampire. It is much more pretending that you are still human, not literally hiding like in a stealth game, you are just hiding your true nature.
RPG Site: One thing in the demo we really enjoyed was the mesmerize ability which allowed you to subdue a citizen and have them listen to your instructions. How deep does this ability go in terms how utilization?
Stéphane Beauverger: Mesmerize is probably the most important vampire ability in the game. Each time you want to take someone to feed on them, you have to match their mind resistance. So you have to increase your Mesmerize skill, as this is how you can get much more interesting prey into the shadows to feed on them. You can also use it to enter houses, as a vampire cannot enter someone's home without being formally invited. So you can mesmerize someone and get them to invite you into their house. You can also use this ability to interrogate someone and get them to reveal information to you. There are a wide variety of vampire abilities besides mesmerize however, including one that allows you to listen to conversations from a distance or behind a wall. The more information you get on your target, the more you will know who it is you are supposed to kill.
RPG Site: For our readers at RPG Site, do you have any sort of parting message you would like to give fans for the genre and what should they look forward to with Vampyr?
Stéphane Beauverger: Well it has been a very long time since there was a RPG with a vampire as the protagonist, so hopefully RPG fans enjoy it. We really wanted to give a vampire the opportunity to get back into games, cause there have been just too many zombies!
We would like to thank Stéphane and Dontnod Entertainment for giving us the opportunity to speak with them. Vampyr is shaping up to be something special and it is most certainly a passion project for the studio. Lets hope it all turns out when Vampyr releases next year!