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The making of Payday 2: from ’1.5′ project to heavyweight sequel – part two

Friday, 13 December 2013 08:10 GMT By Dave Cook

Payday 2 was a resounding success for Overkill Software, turning a profit before it even launched. VG247′s Dave Cook continues his chat with director David Goldfarb about the development process and plans for 2014.

Part one of my Payday 2 making of interview is through the link. In it, we discussed the game’s early concepts, the evolution of the stealth mechanic, what Goldfarb’s experience on Battlefield brought to the table and more.

As David Goldfarb told me in part one of our interview, Payday 2 is a complex beast once you start drilling down into the RPG progression system, unlocking new perks and toying around with its stealth, espionage and coercion mechanics. In many ways its myriad systems render it beyond comparison to other shooters out there, but one big name I’ve often seen linked to Overkill’s release is Valve’s Left 4 Dead. Does he feel this is a fitting ‘sell’?

”We all were hoping that the game would do well obviously, but it’s really nice to have such a strong response so early, so that you know you’re okay, and you can focus on whatever’s coming. I think there was a lot of – I wouldn’t say relief – but a ‘oh, that worked’ kind-of feeling, and so it makes it a lot easier to continue.”

“I mean it’s great that people compare it to Left 4 Dead,” Goldfarb replied. “I think there’s some pretty substantial differences, like the stealth and RPG stuff alone would put us in a whole other category, but there’s no doubt that the first game was definitely Left 4 Dead-inspired, and I think no one’s said anything else, as even the UI elements are kind of similar.

“It’s better to be influenced by them than any others, but I think the game is very much its own thing right now, and while we appreciate the comparisons I think at this point, they are only legitimate in so far as it’s a cooperative game where you sometimes fight waves if you desire. but the meta systems and the conceit – that it’s a heist game and co-op, you can stealth and there’s persistent RPG stuff and all those things – I think that’s very, very different. I think the comparison starts to fail at that point, at least with Payday 2.”

Payday 2′s RPG elements really do set it apart. In part one of this feature we discussed how they weren’t present at all when Goldfarb joined Starbreeze, and that the concept of adding in such a progression mechanic was met with serious doubt for the 35-40 strong team. The studio gave it a shot regardless and managed to make it all work, despite those initial fears and logistical problems. Goldfarb was instrumental to the RPG portion of the game, and helped ensure that no unlocked perks broke balance or felt redundant.

“Man, I went through so many iterations of those [skill] trees,” Goldfarb recalled. “I’m still doing it now, and that’s always a point of contention too like, ‘should we really be changing it?’ But it’s like, every RPG ever has updates – any good one anyway – and you have to continue to refine things you know aren’t working, but that’s a whole other subject. Anyway [laughs] I did a draft of all the skills, we got feedback, I did another draft, more feedback, another draft and then we started to implement stuff. We’d put it in, find it didn’t work then change it again. We then played a bunch and then changed it again. [Laughs] That’s pretty much how it worked.

“It takes so long for people to understand how [skills] are going to change their experience, and the fact they work one way and weapons mods work another way, now there’s armour and other things. There’s so much complexity in the way things might interact that QA wants to constantly throw me off a building, I think. It was difficult enough in the old game with complexity in the levels, but now you’ve got complexity in the skills [laughs], weapon mods and potentially even from items.

“It’s not really a good experience for someone who’s trying to test a game and find all the possible things that can go wrong. That’s the hard part, and you have to find the degenerate combinations as fast as you can, because otherwise people will play the game and go ‘this works! Everybody, this works!’ and then everybody does that thing, we nerf it, they get mad and then move on to the next thing.”

”There’s something about these underdog sequels I personally like. I felt we were going to do well because the team was really good, the focus was good, the support was good, and the game itself – it became pretty clear, pretty fast that it was going to be very good.”

Playing Payday 2 in its finished state today reveals Goldfarb’s RPG tree to be a real game-changer. Depending on your skill make-up, you may find that your robber performs quite differently in any given situation. Therein lies the beauty of a well-crafted set of perks designed to tangibly change the experience. Despite further doubt from the small studio, Overkill and its colleagues at Starbreeze inched the game closer to launch, and started accepting pre-purchases over Steam. It was at this point that something incredible started to happen.

The game was making money. A lot of it, until eventually Payday 2 became profitable before it had even launched on Valve’s marketplace. There was also the PS3 and Xbox 360 editions to consider, which were – at the time – still unreleased. The success – both critical and monetary – came as validation that the team’s ambitious plan to broaden the Payday template far beyond those initial designs had paid off. Overkill had a hit on its hands, and the response among the staff was simply one of security and happiness.

“Everyone was really happy,” Goldfarb recalled. “We all were hoping that the game would do well obviously, but it’s really nice to have such a strong response so early, so that you know you’re okay, and you can focus on whatever’s coming. I think there was a lot of – I wouldn’t say relief – but a ‘oh, that worked’ kind-of feeling, and so it makes it a lot easier to continue.

Pre-purchase is clearly a method of accepting early sales to narrow the profit gap, but did Goldfarb ever imagine that Payday 2 could break even like it did? He certainly had it in mind, but suggested that maybe not to the extent that it did. Internal discussions proved that the team as a whole felt confident where they once felt anxious. In this way – and many more – Overkill had grown as a unified outfit and Goldfarb added that the last time he had felt that way was when Battlefield: Bad Company 2 shipped.

“There’s something about these underdog sequels I personally like,” Goldfarb enthused. “I felt we were going to do well because the team was really good, the focus was good, the support was good, and the game itself – it became pretty clear, pretty fast that it was going to be very good.”Regardless, Payday 2′s launch was only the start of a longer project, one that has since become bolstered with free DLC and PC updates on a regular basis. There’s plenty more to come.

Goldfarb stressed however, that here are no plans to add competitive PvP into the mix. In fact, it was never even considered throughout the entire development process. Co-op was always the focus, and Overkill refrained from going down the “rabbit hole” of familiar features like solo campaigns and online deathmatch. “That would have fucked us, being a small team,” Goldfarb stressed.

”You can always make money and succeed if those two things are true, but the amount of money you make? Who knows. There’s Markus, ‘Notch’ out there and then there’s everybody else. It seems the world is much more open to this now than it ever has before, so it’s a good time to be an indie.”

“Being spread out like that in terms of focus … I think the fact that we able to just go, ‘nope, we’re making a cooperative game, and we’re making it as good as we can,’ was the probably the single best motivator, because there’s so many other things we want to throw in there anyway. It was a good point of focus and I think it allowed the studio to make sensible calls about most things. I don’t think that would have happened if we’d had fallen into the trap that it seems a lot of people do, which is, ‘oh we’ve got to add this!’ I’ve been on those teams.”

But having done all of this with a small team and without the interference of a large publisher, Goldfarb still understands why studios often side with the big names out there. He noted that the industry is getting more competitive and that part of that heated market is due to the rush of new talent on Steam and mobile. He offered the relatable situation of looking at Steam and being simply overwhelmed by the choice on offer.

Chances are you’ve faced a similar dilemma during one of Valve’s notorious sales. It’s a question of spending money for the consumer, but it’s a notable issue for some studios looking to earn a living. “It’s certainly possible for people to succeed in the indie space,” Goldfarb continued. “God knows, I mean most of the games I’ve enjoyed this year have been indies like Papers, Please, Gone Home, and I;m looking forward to my friend’s game The Novelist. I played Rogue Legacy and any number of other things I’ve tried, the majority of them have been indie.

“There’s definitely ‘gamer’s dollars’ out there for those guys, but I think the bar is going to continue to get raised the same way it got raised in mobile, tablet and stuff. The only way to succeed in that space, financially, is to stay small and make good products, so I don’t think that’s going to change. You can always make money and succeed if those two things are true, but the amount of money you make? Who knows. There’s Markus, ‘Notch’ out there and then there’s everybody else. It seems the world is much more open to this now than it ever has before, so it’s a good time to be an indie.”

With that in mind, Payday 2 development will continue well into 2014 with new updates. It’s all additive and an attempt to further hone the game’s quality. Goldfarb admitted that he didn’t know if the game’s success was lightning in bottle, the result of perfect timing or purely the collective 20 years of experience at both Overkill and Starbreeze. Regardless, both teams are taking that bull by the horns and expanding the core appeal of Payday 2′s embedded co-op experience.

It’s a heist fantasy, so anything that facilitates that dream will be explored from this point. Unique selling points are hard to find and in many cases, go unpredictably viral. They often cannot be bought or manufactured in a focus group, so it makes sense for Overkill to focus on that special something Payday 2 can proudly call its own. Goldfarb confirmed to me that the, “Next six or so,” content drops are going to be great, so it’s clear that there’s a degree of long-term thinking at play here.

“We’re going to definitely support it in the long-term,” Goldfarb concluded. “We have more coming, so we’re just going to keep making stuff and hopefully people will keep coming to play it.” No matter what gets added, he warned that it has to be compelling, regular and valuable enough to warrant constant play. Staying small and not losing focus on what got Overkill to this place here today, is instrumental to the team’s ongoing output.

Payday 2 serves as proof that staying positive in the face of immeasurable odds and the dominance of big, well-funded sharks is a vital driver to attaining success in this industry as a solo, small or mid-tier studio. Skill, talent and a strong concept are also integral to enhancing your odds at market. If these ingredients are in place, anyone – even solo coders working unhealthy working hours at home – can move mountains.

As the industry rolls on and consumers grow more accepting to indie titles, the margin for success tips in favour of those who deserve it. Overkill is now a studio that has gone through the process and come out the other end stronger than ever before. This can only mean great things for whatever it works on next.

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1 Comments

  1. YoungZer0

    So glad they included all these new mechanics. Quite frankly this is what I expected PAYDAY one to be and when I found out it wasn’t that, I was hugely disappointed. The game is just so much more than you have the stealth-mechanics in place.

    PAYDAY 2 is one of the best Coop games I have every played. I still see no reason to buy one of the AAA Multiplayer FPS titles of this year.

    Also the soundtrack is fucking fantastic.

    Really enjoyed that interview. Great Job, Dave.

    #1 1 year ago

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    The Escapists, Mouldy Toof’s prison break game originally released as a timed console exclusive Xbox One, has a release date for PlayStation 4. For those unfamiliar with the title, which is also a PC release, it tasks players’ time management skills as they do a bit of digging and crafting, and other prison-type stuff as […]

  • Dead Island 2 delayed into 2016 to ensure series is “taken to the next level”

    Dead Island 2 has been delayed into 2016 by Yager in order to ensure the sequel “takes Dead Island to the next level.” According to a tweet from the developer, it set “big goal” for the game, and in order to deliver what fans expect, the team needs more time to reach development goals. “We […]

  • Project Cars: here’s a list of all available cars at launch

    Project Cars will contain many, many cars and if we are counting correctly, there will be 74 total at launch. The standard edition contains 65 total, and when factoring the free car as well as the Modified and Limited Edition cars packs, you can add an additional nine cars to the mix. Comb through the […]

  • Competitive matchmaking support is coming to Team Fortress 2

    Team Fortress 2 will soon feature support for competitive matchmaking, which Valve says is a “high priority” project for it at the moment. According to a report from TeamFortress.tv, which visited Valve headquarters recently, Valve is looking into the possibility of 6v6 or 9v9 matches 9v9, a possible quick play option and it is also […]

  • GTA 5 PC patch fixes garage, Job crashes – full notes here

    Rockstar has pushed out a 353 MB patch for GTA 5 on PC The patch fixes a number of annoying bugs related to vehicles and garages, some deathmatch issues and purchase errors. It should also fix various freezing and crashing bugs, as well as a little issue with Steam. Time will tell if the patch […]

  • Fire Emblem If will come in White Kingdom and Black Kingdom versions with amiibo support

    We’ve finally got some juicy details on the next Fire Emblem game, but the most interesting aspect is that there will be two versions of the game. According to Siliconera, who translated an interview between Intelligent Systems and 4Gamer, there will a White Kingdom and a Black Kingdom version that offer different aspects of the […]

  • Deception 4: The Nightmare Princess heads west with “Golden Toilet” pre-order bonus

    Deception 4: The Nightmare Princess will debut on western PlayStation 4 systems this summer, Koei Tecmo has announced. It is also coming to PS3 and Vita. The game was produced by Keisuke Kikuchi of Fatal Frame fame and takes up where Deception 4: Blood Ties left off allowing players to relive Laegrinna’s pursuit to free […]

  • Nintendo US eShop update: Puzzle & Dragons Super Mario demo, Paper Mario, more

    Nintendo has updated the North American end of the eShop with a demo of Puzzle & Dragons Super Mario Bros. Edition, Paper Mario on Virtual Console, and amiibo Tap. The full update is below. eShop update amiibo Tap – free – Wii U Star Wars Pinball DLC – Wii U Paper Mario – Wii U […]

  • Deus Ex: Mankind Divided PC port handed off to Nixxes

    The PC port of the new Deus Ex has been handed over to Netherlands based studio, Nixxes software. After the initial reveal trailer at the beginning of April, we’ve only had a few morsels in the way of additional news. The most intriguing tidbit to date has got to be the fact that you’ll be […]

  • First-ever PC Gaming Show to take place at E3 2015 in June

    PC gaming will finally have its very own E3 press conference this year, thanks to PC Gamer and AMD. The PC Gaming Show will take place on June 16 at the Belasco Theater in Los Angeles and it will be livestreamed on Twitch. PC Gamer said speakers at the presentation will include representatives from Blizzard, […]

  • Majora’s Mask light available now on Club Nintendo for 6000 stars

    Club Nintendo shuts up shop on September 30 and members are being encouraged to spend accumulated stars before then. And what better to spend them on, than this adorable Majora’s Mask light? If you’re a member based in Europe you can nab it for 6000 stars. If you’re in Australia or New Zealand, it’ll only […]

  • Unity support announced for HoloLens, will work with Windows universal apps

    Microsoft is partnering with game engine developers Unity in order to make HoloLens compatible with apps and games which use the cross-platform engine. The partnership was announced yesterday during its Build Developer Conference. Universal apps for Windows 10 systems will also be available on Xbox One later this year, suggesting possible HoloLens functionality with the […]

  • Splatoon Nintendo Direct airs Thursday, May 7

    A Nintendo Direct focused on Splatoon, the Wii U multiplayer title, on May 7. It will kick off at 7am PDT/10am EDT/3pm UK and it can be watched via the Nintendo Direct website. You can also have a look at the game through Nintendo’s Twitch channel. The last game-specific presentation took place last week and […]

  • GTA 5 PC: clean up the streets as a member of the San Andreas PD with this new mod

    Remember the awesome mods for GTA 4 and San Andreas that let you run amok online as a member of the po-po? Well, dust off your taser and load up your gun, because it’s coming to GTA 5. The new mod for GTA 5 is currently in alpha and can be downloaded at palmbeachgames.com. You […]

  • Indie shoot ‘em up Project Root comes to Xbox One, PS4 and PSVita

    Project Root is a self-proclaimed rejig of the shoot ‘em up genre that was released on PC last year, and it’s finally coming to consoles. Combining free-roaming elements with the usual business of shooting things, Project Root was released this week for Xbox One, PS4 and the PSVita.

  • You can now bet on eSports online, starting with League of Legends

    If you’re getting bored with sticking a pony on the races, you can expand your gambling horizons at Unikrn where you can watch esports streams and get a little action on the side. The new platform was set up by Rahul Sood – previously the general manager of Microsoft Ventures. At the moment, customers are […]

  • Has Watch Dogs 2 been leaked?

    Ubisoft employee, Julien Risse, may have inadvertently confirmed Watch Dogs 2, thanks to his online CV over at LinkedIn. Videogamer.com spotted the slip up, in which Risse lists Watch Dogs, the DLC Bad Blood, and Watch Dogs 2 on his profile. Creative Director Jonathan Morin has already talked about his ideas for improvements for the […]

  • GTA 5′s Trevor makes his Jackass debut, complete with leopard-print knickers

    YouTuber Abstract Mode has shared his vision of what Trevor Philips’ life might have been like, had he not been completely batshit crazy. Watch Trevor get mauled, run over, and hit by a train, before taking a majestic swan-dive into someone else’s pool at the climax. Thanks, Kotaku.

  • Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 season pass will cost you £35

    Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 isn’t released until November 6, but you can already hand over your cash for the Season Pass. The Season Pass is available for pre-purchase on Steam for £34.99, and will cover four DLC packs – although the details we have on the content are limited to ‘exciting’ at this […]

  • GTA Online’s cheating assholes are no match for this player’s vengeance

    Think you’re smart for using invisibility and infinite ammo glitches? You need to be taught a lesson, sucker. You can have all the hacks you want but if your GTA Online game is weak, you’ll still get your ass handed to you. As this fool discovered when attempting to hassle another player. There’s a fair […]

  • PS4 sales help Sony’s games division swing to profit

    Sony’s PlayStation business has made an operating profit of 48.1 billion yen ($404m / £261.5m) in the past 12 months. That’s thanks to stellar sales of the PlayStation 4 and PS Plus, even as sales of the PS3 have stalled and the company wrote off costs for the PSTV and PS Vita. The profit puts […]

  • New patch for Dirt Rally gives co-driver’s attitude a tune-up

    Dirt Rally gets a new patch three days after release on Steam. On Monday, we reported that the newest Dirt game has popped up on Steam’s Early Access and is available to pick up for £24.99, as well as giving you an eyeful of tasty screenshots. The patch – released yesterday – fixes some issues […]

  • New The Witcher 3 screenshots show combat, exploration and general carousing

    New screenshots released on the official facebook page for The Witcher 3 show Geralt annihilating a winged beast, out and about in the world exploring, and living the life of Reily amidst a bustling feast. We were already treated to some glorious screenshots a few days ago, but these new ones are in-game and give […]

  • Destiny: 14 things you might have missed during House of Wolves intel drops

    Destiny: House of Wolves does a great deal more than just slap some new content on the existing game structure. House of Wolves changes Destiny in a lot of interesting and very welcome ways. Bungie showed off many of these changes in its livestream, and let both me and Arekkz come and have a look […]

  • Scratch that cyberpunk itch with Technobabylon on May 21 – new trailer

    Technobabylon more like Wrecked-yo-babbling with my smooth flow about how good Wadjet Eye games are. I don’t know y’all, it’s clock off time and everything feels like a reach. Wadjet Eye makes pretty good adventure games – award winning, in fact. The latest project to spring forth from the benevolent, sheltering hand of the label […]

  • Skullgirls 2nd Encore brings exclusive new features to PS4, Vita in northern summer

    Skullgirls, the little indie fighter that could, is getting another crack at it. Skullgirls 2nd Encore is the second re-release of the one-time troubled 2D versus fighter from lab Zero Games. Having survived the shut down of its developer and collapse of its publishing contrast, Skullgirls re-emerged as Skullgirls: Encore, adding in a ton of […]

  • Danganronpa series generates “impressive” sales for Vita exclusive

    Danganronpa is selling quite nicely, thank you, says NIS America. Danganronpa is a series of murder mystery visual novel puzzlers in a similar vein to games like 999. Two of these have been released for Vita in the west – Trigger Happy Havoc and Goodbye Despair. Speaking to MCV, NIS America CEO and president Takuro […]

  • I have no idea what is going on in J-Stars Victory VS+ but I kind of like it

    In this J-Stars Victory VS+ trailer, we see – uhh. Well. We certainly see some things. Look y’all, I was a massive weaboo in high school, but that was back in the dark ages when we had to take out Manga Entertainment VHS tapes from dingy little specialist rental joints that were literally underground, and […]

  • Please just watch this terrific trailer for Toren

    Toren is the kind of game I dream about when I drift off to sleep at night. This indie puzzle adventure strikes a spark in my little soul in the same way as Ico and Tequila Works’ Rime do. Mysterious, almost ethereal fantasy setting – check. Chance to actually walk around in that setting – […]

  • Play classic MS-DOS games on your own tweets

    In today’s episode of “what will they think of next”, someone’s figured out how to post playable versions of classic games in tweets. For some time now, Twitter has allowed you to embed various forms of media in tweets, most noticeably YouTube videos, simply by pasting a URL into the compose field. Turns out this […]

  • VR: Unreal Engine to add HTC Vive support

    The biggest digital PC game distributor and the most popular game development engine have both backed VR. It’s going to happen. An upcoming Unreal Engine 4 update will expand the development suite’s support to the HTC Vive, Valve’s VR headset. In this glorious new future where work on one of the most important engines in […]

  • WWE 2K15 PC supports modding

    WWE 2K15 may be the series’ PC debut, but it’s already getting into the spirit of the platform. WWE 2K15 does indeed support mods on PC, 2K’s Marcus Stephenson has confirmed. @ElementGamesTV you can. Now buy. — Marcus Stephenson (@stephensonmc) April 28, 2015 As Destructoid points out, this opens the door to all sorts of […]

  • Overkill’s The Walking Dead coming to PC, PS4 and Xbox One in 2016

    Overkill’s The Walking Dead is one step closer to your grasping little paws. Overkill’s The Walking Dead will be published by 505 Games, Overkill parent Starbreeze has announced. 505 also published Payday 2, Overkill’s previous title, so the two companies have established a working relationship. In a press release, the publisher said the co-op title […]

  • Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 pre-orders net Advanced Warfare DLC

    Buy Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 for later, enjoy bonus Advanced Warfare content now. Blacks Ops 3 is being supported by a rather cunning pre-order incentive even more likely to get you to lay your cash down sooner than you might otherwise. Gamespot reports a Black Ops 3 pre-order will receive a couple of […]

  • Steam Game Ban system lets developers determine who to block

    Steam users can now be blocked from individual games by their developers. Steam has always supported multiplayer bans for disruptive users, but a newly-implemented system allows developers to ban users from individual games using their own anti-cheat systems. Game Bans are enforced by Valve, but are enacted at the developer’s request and discretion. This change […]

  • Far Cry 4 devs matching Red Cross donations up to $100K to aid Nepal earthquake victims

    Far Cry 4 developer Ubisoft Montreal will match any pledges made to The Red Cross up to $100,000 to aid Nepal after the 7.8 earthquake struck the area in and around Kathmandu in Nepal. According to Ubisoft: “Having spent the last few years working on Far Cry 4, a game heavily inspired by Nepal and […]

  • Tales of Zestiria retail listing notes September release date, PS4 version

    Tales of Zestiria is coming west in northern autumn, and while it’s confirmed as a PlayStation 3 release, a Dutch retailer has it listed as coming to PS4 as well. Of course, listing it for PS4 could also be a typo, not that I would personally know about that sort of thing, really. However, according […]