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How Dying Light 2’s “Secret Weapon” Will Guide The Game’s Five-Year Plan

Before most of us were using the phrase “live-service games,” Dying Light was already showing us what it could mean. The open-world zombie game did alright with critics, but it found a passionate fanbase that stuck by it for years and years. Despite its original release date coming over seven years ago, the cult-favorite has received updates as recently as this year, even as its sequel, Dying Light 2, launched in February.

That commitment has always stuck out as atypical. Dying Light was largely a single-player game. There was no in-game currency, no weekly or daily grinds for fans. These staples of other live-service games of the modern-day are absent from Techland’s breakout hit. More often than not, it was sizeable updates and expansions, both free and paid, coming to the game. It even featured several crossovers which, like the game’s lengthy roadmap as a whole, now look ahead of their time in retrospect.

Recently, GameSpot caught up with Dying Light 2’s lead designer, Tymon Smektala, who has been at the forefront of the game’s post-launch roadmap. On Twitter, you’ll often find him polling the rabid-as-ever fanbase on things like New Game Plus expectations, combat tweaks, and other changes to a game Techland promises will get at least five years of support.

We wanted to know what it’s like to build on a successful series so directly with the fans, when to follow your convictions versus when to pivot, and whether the team has any plans to dramatically reimagine Dying Light 2 as we saw more than once with its predecessor. As usual, Smektala had a lot to share.

GameSpot: Dying Light 2 recently received its New Game Plus mode, which seemed to come together using a lot of public feedback from fans. What is it like developing content like that so directly with the players?

Tymon Smektala: It’s absolutely normal for us, basically a formalized part of our creation process. We understand that after we release the game it’s almost not ours anymore–we’re just “guardians of the temple,” whose work is to make sure that everyone inside is enjoying the game and how it develops. Direct, deep communication with our community is our secret weapon. Of course, it’s tough sometimes, also emotionally, as there are always different opinions and not everybody is liking everything, but it allows us to get honest, true feedback about our game, which in turn allows us to make it better for everyone.

Are there things that players have recommended that the team wasn’t considering previously but is now intending on bringing to the game. If so, can you give examples?

I’m not sure if there’s anything really prominent that we didn’t think of but definitely there are ideas we already had on the table, either designed or prototyped internally, that we didn’t think would be requested so quickly. One example of this is the new Agent Ranks–a chapter-based meta-game that we’ll be introducing before the summer holidays even though initially we wanted to do it a little bit later.

What surprised us is that people have basically binged our game. Those that got into it have been playing it passionately, which means they went through most of the stuff we had in quicker than we thought. Communicating with the community allows us to also identify smaller features or ideas which we didn’t consider that important, but we discovered that they excite bigger parts of the community than we anticipated.

Dying Light 2 Stay Human is said to receive five years of support. How much of the roadmap does the team have set in stone and how much is still to be decided? Is flexibility in this regard a good thing?

That’s a great question! We cross-check all of the opinions expressed online with data coming from the game itself, so we have a pretty clear picture of various needs and wants. That’s why we designed the first 12-28 months to purposefully experiment with new things, different types of content. So the first phase is just that–us trying different stuff: narrative and pure gameplay, single-player and co-op, etc.

We have a clear vision of where we want Dying Light 2 Stay Human to be in 2027, but after the initial phase, only the big steps are planned at this point. We want to fill the rest with the data and feedback that our community will surely give us.

Glider, weapon degradation, Dying Light 2 is basically Zelda with swearing.

How do you balance the cadence of further polishing the game with adding new content? How have the players responded to this balancing act so far?

This is tough, especially since our launch wasn’t as seamless as we had hoped for, mainly due to the amazing interest in the game. When you prepare the game for launch it’s being played, tested, and verified by a few hundred people. But when you release it–in our case–it’s being digested by three million people over the launch weekend, and all of the edge cases pop out.

At the same time, with such a successful game, gamers start demanding new things or just tweaks and updates. And you have a team that’s usually a little bit tired after the road leading to launch, it’s always a moment of releasing tension, going on holidays, etc. So it’s not a perfect setup, but thankfully we’ve put most (if not all) of the launch woes behind us, and we can focus on new stuff. When it comes to balancing what to do, you definitely go for the polish first, it’s unacceptable to let things that ruin the experience for some of your players stay in the game for longer, so this is your laser focus.

The original Dying Light’s post-launch support seemed to far exceed that of other games like it during its lifespan. How do you build on that for Dying Light 2?

In a way, we made it hard for ourselves by giving players such a luxurious support for the first game. For the second outing, it’s never as simple to just give the same, you are always expected to deliver more. Thankfully the plans for the first game were mostly formulated–especially in the initial phase–as we went along. This time around we have a plan that we can stick to and follow, of course allowing ourselves a degree of flexibility if a need arises.

Dying Light featured a lot of tie-ins with other properties, like Left 4 Dead and Rust. These days, crossovers are even more common in games. What kind of crossovers might the team want to do or have planned for Dying Light 2?

Unfortunately, I don’t have much to confirm at this point, since aside from great ideas and exchange of creativity between studios and devs it usually also involves a communication plan for both parties. I don’t want to spoil anything for our comms team.

Dying Light also featured the Hellraid DLC, which reimagined the game in a fantasy setting. Will Dying Light 2 feature any genre-bending content like this?

Hopefully so. But again it’s too early to talk specifics. The only thing I can say is that creativity is actually one of the strongest suits of Techland–so I hope we’ll manage to surprise you from time to time over those five years.

Are there features you’d like to implement that may be difficult on last-gen hardware? If so, might we see some features come to the current-gen and PC versions exclusively?

Nothing like that is planned at this point, but of course, we’ll look at how the market situation develops.

Dying Light’s major expansion, The Following, erased a lot of the game’s verticality in favor of open-world driving elements. The parkour is arguably the sequel’s strongest feature. How do you intend to refresh the game’s features with a major expansion in a way that will satisfy fans? What’s it like trying to reinvent your game in such a way that will feel rejuvenating but not alienating?

TS: It’s hard and we took a wild guess with The Following. Thankfully it paid off, which actually also gave us a lot of confidence to not be afraid of trying new things. But definitely the initial phase of post-launch support for Dying Light 2 Stay Human will focus on the elements that made the game successful. What we do instead is we put a different spin on those gameplay pillars, presenting them in a new context. We’ll see what the community has to say about this approach.

The story introduced many characters who would appear suited for future story expansions from a new point of view.

Are there things you wish you did differently in the lead-up to Dying Light 2’s launch that the post-launch roadmap now lets you focus on?

It kinda correlates with your previous question about not alienating the audience. We took some brave decisions in how the day/night cycle works for example, which changed the “atmosphere” of the game, and even though we see hard data that tell us we achieved what we wanted with those changes, affecting player behavior to spend more time in darkness, there’s a very vocal part of our community that would like us to bring back some of those old rules and settings. Internally we’re discussing if we can deliver on that request as a part of our post-launch.

Overall, how has the reaction been from the fans so far, both in terms of the launch and the first few months of patches since then?

It’s been amazing, I can’t praise our community enough. There’s no denying we have hit some rough patch here and there in the release window. Every developer would love to have a seamless launch, it’s the culmination of our work, an endpoint of a very wild adventure, so you want it to be perfect–our launch was good but definitely wasn’t perfect. But the community was very supportive and very understanding and this made us want to give the love back even more. Of course, we can’t just run around the globe dealing hugs and kisses, so we’ll focus on quality content pumped at a steady rate.

Dying Light 2 is available now on PC, Xbox Series X, PS5, Xbox One, PS4. A cloud-based version is coming to Switch in 2022.

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