There’s nothing like a good plague to get the heads rolling, the town writhing, and the vermin excited is there? That’s the backdrop behind the twisted tale of horror and purity that is Focus Home Interactive and Asobo Studio’s upcoming game, A Plague Tale: Innocence. Something nasty has overtaken France and the powers that be are desperate to snuff out the problem and its source. Amid the chaos, two children hide in the shadows of the outbreak, relying on each other and doing whatever it takes to survive.
An aptly named combination of twisted fear and youthful whimsy, A Plague Tale challenges players to guide these children through a world of monsters, both human and rodent. GameWatcher was on site to see an in-depth look at Plague Tale during E3 and Asobo Studio Creative Director David Dedeine was happy to qualm our fears and answers some questions following the disturbing demo. Dedeine was certain not to give us all the answers, but he shared in the game’s setting, the bond of the sister and brother, and the duality of threats between avoiding rats and unkind people in the world of Plague Tale.
GameWatcher: So at the topline of A Plague Tale: Innocence, we’ve got these two children in this disease-ridden city. Who are they and what can you tell me about what is going on here?
David Dedeine: At the beginning of Plague Tale, the boy, Hugo, and the girl, Amicia, seem like normal kids that came from a normal family. As the disease overtakes the city, they lose everything they know and love. So they’re off on their own and they just have to survive by themselves and through their bond as sister and brother. The city is set in France during the Middle Ages. It’s hard to tell too much more without giving some of the story away, but Amicia and Hugo may find out that they’re more than simple children in the plot of this story.
GameWatcher: From what we’ve seen so far, there are two very distinct threats at work in Plague Tale. Obviously, the most present and obvious danger are the rats that carry the disease and amass in huge numbers. And then there’s a human threat as well. That said, why are there so many rodents and why do they want to kill everything so badly? What kind of disease is this that’s gotten into them?
Dedeine: It’s a big question for sure and it’s a mystery that you’ll have to unravel in the game. It’s far too early for me to say, but what I can tell you is that many things are connected. The story of the kids, the situation with the rats, and even the role of that aforementioned human threat, which is the Inquisition, are all connected heavily. Although they don’t look like it and things may not be apparent at first, these kids have a big role to play in what’s going on with the rats and the Inquisition.
GameWatcher: The threat of the human Inquisition and the rats isn’t just a basic dual threat as well, is it? From what we saw, there is also a duality of mechanics at work with these threats. How do all of these things come together in Plague Tale to challenge players and the children?
Dedeine: So on one end, the Inquisitions aren’t just humans, but a special organization that has adapted themselves to the threat of the plague and the rats. They know their way around the problem and have special equipment and lights to deal with and resist the rats, but they’re still human. When that equipment is taken away, they can be attacked and killed by the rats just like anyone else. On the other side, there are the rats. They are animals and despite the fact that we push them to the limit in this game, there’s nothing supernatural about them. There is alchemy in this world and it serves as some of the reason the rats are acting like a murderous, frantic mob, but they are still small and frail. In the end, the core is about Amicia and Hugo figuring out how to use rats against the Inquisition and the Inquisition against rats to progress.
GameWatcher: So there are some active puzzles to solve in exactly how to pit these two enemies against one another and keep them away from the children?
Dedeine: Absolutely, and there’s another layer to it too. When you have light, you are protected from rats, but it makes it easy to be spotted by the Inquisition who will give chase. When you don’t have light, it might be easier to hide from the Inquisition, but you’re much more visible and less protected against the threat of the rats. Weather plays a role too. How do you keep firelight going when there’s rain? What happens if wind begins to blow? There might be a way to interact with the rats as more than just a threat too. The two threats are the core, but there’s a lot of little twists we’re playing with to build up the challenge of the game and how Hugo and Amicia will survive.
GameWatcher: These children aren’t necessarily defenseless either. They each have a niche where Amicia is the more strongly built of the two while Hugo is smaller and more nimble. What goes into the connection and availability of actions between Amicia and Hugo?
Dedeine: A big part of Plague Tale is a connection between Amicia and Hugo. Their bond is super important, so obviously they will strive to be together. That said, sometimes, that obviously won’t work out and they’ll get separated. Other important characters will enter the formula as well. I would say there is a section of the game that works like puzzles and other sections that are more like action or stealth sequences. In most situations, there will be things that Hugo can do that make him super helpful. We wanted to avoid giving the player baggage that can make for a pain in the butt. In the context of the situation, Amicia is definitely protecting Hugo and looking after him, but it’s not an escort game. It will be more about managing the situation, utilizing Hugo when you need to, remaining close when you need to, and putting some distance between he and Amicia when the situation calls for it.
GameWatcher: It’s safe to say then that players will be in control of Amicia for most of the adventure, but we’ve also seen contextual situations where Hugo can lend a hand. Is there any sort of co-op mechanic?
Dedeine: No, not for this one. Plague Tale is a single-player game. The gameplay is not about switching between Amicia and Hugo so much as it is about being Amicia and her bond with Hugo. There’s ways for Amicia to give simple contextual orders to Hugo, who will act depending on the situation. That said, if he sees the guards or the rats, he will react and be frightened. It will be up to Amicia to manage him and keep him calm and safe.
GameWatcher: And there’s plenty to be freaked out about here too. There are a lot of rats. How much of a challenge was it to fit that much action into a swarm and make it work around the player actions and decisions?
Dedeine: It was definitely a hard thing to do in some situations because we wanted to push the swarm as far as we could, but what you and others have seen isn’t even the full magnitude of what we’ve done with the rats. We’ve aimed much higher and further in some situations. One of the challenges has been in pushing the limits in visual threat, but also keeping a level of animation that made it look like there is organic movement and life to them. They’re still animals. We want them to look and behave as if each of them was a filthy little individual creature. On top of that, there’s the gameplay to consider and that’s the biggest concern of all of them at the end of the day. You have to play with and against those rats. We have so much to consider about what the rats do, at what distance they’ll see you or attack you, how the light repels them, and so forth. Even when they’re held at bay by light, we want them to instill a visceral feeling that they want to attack you while they’re on the outskirts of your light. That animation and behavior combined with keeping the framerate consistent makes the development of the rats very complex.
GameWatcher: And on the Inquisition side of things, you’ve mentioned that these people are trained to deal with a growing threat in the plague and rats. One imagines that their tools will get more complex as well to pose a greater threat to the rats, as well as Hugo and Amicia.
Dedeine: Yes, the Inquisition knows much more about the rats and how to manage them than the kids do. Even if they are against Hugo and Amicia, you’ll learn a lot by observing them and the way they use their tools. It may come in handy when you find such tech and tools on your own and can take advantage of what you’ve seen and learned. As the story unfolds, that balance between the Inquisition and the disease may shift, but that will be up to players to find out about themselves.
A Plague Tale: Innocence certainly won’t be an adventure for the faint of heart. Two children who only seek to live together in peace stand in a precarious place between a deadly disease, massive legions of vicious rats, and the frightening organization that intends to cure the sick world no matter what. Amicia and Hugo certainly have an unsettling journey ahead of them, but the mystery that promises to unravel with each step they take makes Plague Tale a macabre adventure worth keeping an eye on. Just try not to be spooked by any creaks or squeaks around you when you play.
To stay up on the latest news and updates for A Plague Tale: Innocence, be sure to follow the game’s official pages on Twitter and Facebook.