Choice, Consequence and Vampires Power the Next Game From 'Life Is Strange' Studio

Choice, Consequence and Vampires Power the Next Game From 'Life Is Strange' Studio

Powers form a crucial part of your arsenal as you make your way through the foggy streets of London Focus Interactive / Dontnod

'Vampyr' is the ambitious third title from the team that got its start with 2013's 'Remember Me'

'Vampyr' is the ambitious third title from the team that got its start with 2013's 'Remember Me'

Over the course of just two games – Remember Me and Life is Strange – French developer Dontnod Entertainment has established itself as a force to be reckoned with in the field of story-driven games. With Vampyr, due towards the end of this year, the team plans to take its love for player choice and consequence to a whole other level and deliver something Gothic horror fans have been waiting on for a while – a vampire game that sucks for all the right reasons.

Dontnod's first outing, Remember Me – a futuristic Matrix-esque action-adventure – had a rough ride with critics in 2013, but it looked the part and had a singular creative vision that marked the studio out as one to watch. That game's "memory mixing" mechanic – where you could enter the memories of characters and change them from within – gave protagonist Nilin the tools to engineer her situations, tuning them to her advantage. You could also steal memories to obtain information and avoid hazards, which was a fun spin on the core mechanic.

Two years later the episodic teen adventure Life is Strange continued to focus on consequence as a theme but added a much greater emphasis on player choice – and found an audience, thanks to its small town setting and clever branching narrative that allowed gifted teen Max to rewind time and change the course of events. While the core of the game was pretty linear, the backdrop to the unfolding narrative could change dramatically based on Max's choices – including her relationships with others and in some cases whether or not people lived or died. Which is where Vampyr comes in.

Vampyr is more ambitious – a non-linear role-playing game set in the London of 1918 – in Dontnod's words, a "disorganized, ghostly city" ravaged by Spanish flu. Taking on the role of Dr Jonathan Reid, a renowned surgeon who's recently developed a fatal aversion to both sunlight and garlic, it's up to the player to look into the origin of vampirism and attempt to discover a cure. It takes player choice and consequence and runs with it out into the current trend of an open world that can be explored freely, this time with a straight main narrative with a variety of side content that can be tackled in any order – and in a variety of different ways.

The key to Vampyr's exploration of choice and consequence is the presence of 60 characters across the game world that the team refers to as "citizens." These are named NPCs who have their own identity, background and, perhaps most importantly, connections to others. "Tom is a bartender," explains Dontnod CEO Oskar Guilbert, giving an example of just two of the citizens in the game and their connections. "And Sabrina is his waitress. They know lots of secrets about their clients at the bar, and they both have their own secrets to hide, too – for example, Tom is teaching Sabrina how to use a gun. If you choose to feed on Tom and kill him, Sabrina will inherit the bar. But if you feed on Sabrina, Tom will lose his cool and start to reveal information on his clients. And if you kill them both, the bar will end up closing, making life harder for the people in the area."

Guilbert describes the citizens as functioning as "doors to content" in that they each have their own narratives to follow – and while killing one citizen will naturally preclude you from exploring their own personal content, it may well open up new possibilities elsewhere thanks to the connections they have with one another. Taking out a rival might endear you to some characters, for example, while Tom and Sabrina will enable you to get some information you may not have otherwise obtained.

Consequences lay at the heart of Life is Strange, too. For example, over the course of its five episodes, Max frequently came into contact with a classmate who was suffering bullying at the hands of her peers. Using her time manipulation ability, it was possible for Max to thwart each and every one of these attempts before they happened, and the payoff for this was that in the final episode, the character eventually found a way to help out Max in return.The game handled these choices well but there was still a sense that the "right" thing for Max to do as a character was… well, "the right thing." In other words, her depiction as a character in the non-interactive scenes meant that the most appropriate response to difficult situations felt like it should be to pick the option that caused the least obvious harm to the people around her, particularly the people she cared about. This fact was emphasised by a novel addition to the game – a statistics screen that followed each episode, showing how the entire player community had chosen at the various branch points: in all cases, a significant majority of players would pick the more obviously "nice" option, because it just seemed like that's "what Max would do."

Vampyr makes an attempt to subvert this aspect of Life is Strange. "We want there to be a sense of inevitability to the game," explains Guilbert. "A sense that you'll inevitably have to kill at least some of these civilians to gain power." In other words, you can be Bruce Banner for a while, but at some point you're going to have to go full Hulk and embrace your inner monster.

Dontnod push you towards such moments with smart mechanics: feeding on and killing one of the "civilian" characters will reward the player with considerably more experience points than the regular enemies they'll come into contact with. So, the fastest way to progress in power is to chomp your way through the entire population of London, but this won't endear you to anyone who manages to still be standing after your feeding frenzy – and it will also have an impact on your remaining shreds of humanity. As Guilbert puts it, the team wanted to reflect the fact that he's "torn between his desire to help people as a surgeon, and his need for blood. The ecosystem of the London in the game will reflect the kind of vampire that he is."

One way in which the game will nudge players in the direction of gaining power quickly is through the presence of tough "boss" enemies and other difficult challenges. The natural response to a roadblock like this in an RPG is to find a way of getting stronger through crafting, finding equipment or levelling up – but since the fastest way to gain power in Vampyr is to murder someone, you'll have to weigh up your desire for progression against the possible consequences of your actions, some of which may not be immediately obvious. Again, consequences. "Take too many lives in a district and it will collapse," explains Guilbert. "It will have an impact on the city as a whole, and your actions will also affect things like the spread of the Spanish flu."

Despite all this "inevitability" however, the squeamish (not to mention skilled) player will be able to complete the game without killing any of the 60 citizens – in fact, one of the four endings is based on you doing just that. It won't be an easy path to follow; you'll have to take full advantage of the game's other systems to come out on top. In particular, you'll need to master the game's relatively slow-paced (but still real-time) combat system, making good use of weapons, abilities and stealth to avoid large confrontations and pick off your targets as quietly and efficiently as possible.

You'll also need to take care to follow the unwritten "rules" of being a vampire – similar to White Wolf's concept of "the Masquerade" in its popular World of Darkness tabletop setting – and focus on the game's more investigative aspects, making use of your vampiric powers and skills of observation to build up dossiers on the citizens. This information can then be used to your advantage.

"People who play Vampyr will write their own stories," says Guilbert.