Developers rarely admit they’re trying to break their own games. But that’s exactly what Behaviour Digital Inc want to do with the latest chapter of Dead by Daylight [official site], the team-based horror game where four survivors try to escape from a player-controlled killer straight out of an ‘80s horror film.
“We want to make sure that when this [new] killer goes out, people will scream, they’ll say it’s absolutely OP, it’s unplayable,” game director Mathieu Cote says. “And then the rest of the people will say, no no no, it’s completely nerfed and you can’t play it because it’s shit. Whenever we make a new killer, we try to break the game.”
It’s certainly a bold stance. The new chapter includes a new killer – a doctor specialising in experimental interrogation methods – a new map, and a new survivor, all of which combine to produce something that is different to the core game in so many ways. So why do the developers think it will prove a winner among fans after it drops in the next few
weeks [Days. –Correction Ed]? I spoke to Cote to find out.
Hide and seek
For those of you that haven’t played Dead by Daylight, the four survivors are tasked with repairing generators dotted around procedurally generated maps. These generators power a door that, when opened, allows them to escape and beat the level. Sounds simple enough – and it would be, if it weren’t for the killers. They’re grotesque, powerful player-controlled characters that can slash you down if they can find you, and then hang you on a meat hook to sacrifice you to The Entity, an all-powerful evil force. Nasty stuff.
Up until now, the maps have all been fairly open outdoor areas where survivors can hide behind tree stumps and upturned pallets, using their third-person viewpoint to their advantage (the killer plays in first-person). But this new chapter, called Spark of Madness, is different. The new map is all indoors: a crumbling research facility. It’s a maddening maze of corridors littered with hospital beds and rooms that all look the same. When combined with the game’s procedural generation, it’s designed to give players a constant sense of unease, Cote says.
“It’s the classic idea of a nightmare where you say ‘I had this dream where I was at my high school but it was slightly different this time. The door that used to lead to the lockers now goes downstairs to a basement’. So you can recognise the place and yet you can’t really find your bearings.” Attackers will be poking around the corridors and rooms to find the generators, stalked by the new killer, who was designed to excel in this space.
He has two modes, Cote explains. The first is ‘punishment’, where “he has his weapon [a giant metal rod] and he can whack you over the head and kill you”, with similar stats to Trapper, another popular killer. But the one that sets him apart is his ‘treatment’ mode. In this state he constantly generates an area-of-effect “field of shock therapy” that increases the ‘madness’ of any player caught in it.
“When the survivors accumulate enough madness they start screaming randomly, giving away their position” he says. At higher tiers of madness, survivors will start to experience the normal cues that the killer is nearby even if they’re on the other side of the map. “Or skill checks will appear in random places instead of the centre of the screen. There are lots of effects to make you doubt reality. You won’t be able to trust the information you have at your disposal,” Cote says. “It’s a killer that’s fun to play, it’s enjoying the fact that you’re screwing with the survivors.”
Survivors fight back
To make the doctor even more powerful, he has a front-facing attack that delivers a “surge of madness”. All in all it’s a pretty mean set of skills, especially in the confined spaces in the treatment centre. Which is why the team have added a new feature to the map – pockets of shadow where a player can hide in the open and hope the killer just walks on by. “You’ll see a place where a light has burned out, and you can just go in the corner and crouch and hope you’re not visible, that you look like another garbage can.”
Yet another first in this chapter is the inspiration the team used for the game. While the previous killers and maps come straight out of Western ‘80s horror (including Michael Myers, star of the Halloween slasher film series), the team looked to Asia this time – specifically, China. “We’ve stayed very close to what we know. [But] we’ve got Chinese people on the team, and a third of the player base is in China,” he says.
That extends to the new survivor – Feng Min, an e-sports professional for a team called Laser Bears. Her backstory seems a little at odds with the serious horror the game aims for, but Cote insists it’s not a change of direction. “Its a bit of a smirk. There’s humour in our games but it’s always under the third layer. At the face value, we are always taking this very seriously, we want it to be a horror game so it’s important we keep that sense of intensity.” That means there’s nothing tongue-in-cheek about her perks: Technician, which means she makes less noise when repairing generators and has a chance to reverse a failed skill check; Alert, which reveals the killer’s location when they try to reverse repairs on a generator; and Lithe, which gives her a quick speed boost during chases when she vaults over objects.
The roll out of the new chapter will mark the climax of a busy period for the team. They can only release it when they’ve finalised a huge update, 1.5, currently in public beta testing. At its heart, the patch tries to address one of the community’s main complaints about the game – that playing as a killer is no fun. As survivors have mastered the mechanics, they’ve turned avoiding the killer into an art form, taking advantage of the superior speed and, in Cote’s words, “humiliating” the killer. “It’s like they’re playing basketball against the Harlem globetrotters”, he says.
Among other things, the patch adds Bloodlust, a feature that increases the killer’s speed the longer they chase a specific survivor for. It’s already got pushback from the community – a quick look through the game’s subreddit will reveal a lot of opposition. Cote says he and the team are listening and prepared to make changes, but he tends to take the criticism with a pinch of salt, an approach he intends to take with the new chapter after it comes out.
“We’re passionate here, so when you read on Reddit the day after a patch that the killer is shit and nobody wants to use it, you sort of have to take a few deeps breaths and say: ‘let’s give it a week’. We still have 300 to 400,000 unique players monthly, and so getting 10 posts on the steam forums or getting a few people screaming on Reddit is not necessarily representative of how people play.”
There will inevitably be some of that with the new chapter. But, Cote hopes, after a week or two playing with and against the doctor, players will realise that the game isn’t broken after all. Or, at least, it will be nothing that a trip to the doctor’s can’t fix.