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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

Comments are now closed on this article.

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    Kojima Productions will unveil something about Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain this Wednesday. Metal Gear Solid fans should standby for a Phantom Pain-related announcement on Wednesday, March 4. According to developer Kojima Productions’ Twitter, there’s going to be an announcement at 2pm GMT on Wednesday. The developer posted the following image. The image […]

  • Reader survey: time to let us get to know you better!

    We’d really appreciate it if you could fill in this survey about the websites you read and the games you buy. It massively helps! You can fill out the survey right here and obviously all the information you supply is confidential. It helps us build a better picture of the people who read our site […]

  • Battlefield Hardline Premium: here’s everything you get for $50

    Battlefield Hardline’s Premium membership will give players access to 4 new features, early access to expansion packs and more. EA detailed the offer today – it costs $50 in total (£40 in the UK) and gives players a whole bundle of new gear and content. Check it all out in handy list form below: Masks […]

  • Hayter’s gonna hate: the voice of Solid Snake wouldn’t answer my Metal Gear question

    Voice actor and Hollywood writer David Hayter discusses the differences between movies and games. And politely declines my leading question. “It might be fun to do a crazy, over-the-top film version of Saint’s Row.” Yeah, that headline is a bit cheap but you’re reading the work of a man who once asked the maker of […]

  • Xbox One bundle gets £100 price cut in UK

    Microsoft has knocked up to £100 off Xbox One bundles in the UK. The Xbox One with Kinect Assassin’s Creed bundle is now £100 cheaper and comes with a free £20 voucher to be spent on the official Microsoft online store. Over on the Xbox online store there’s a £70 price cut on the white […]

  • Pokemon Shuffle downloaded 1m times, free stuff given out to celebrate

    Free-to-play 3DS title Pokemon Shuffle has been downloaded over 1 million times. As a reward for playing the match-3 puzzle game Nintendo has gifted players a Complexity -1 item for free. The item reduces the difficulty of a level, according to Eurogamer. By all accounts Pokemon Shuffle is a cynical game with poorly implemented microtransactions. […]

  • Trine 3: The Artifacts of Power sure is pretty

    FrozenByte Games has revealed Trine 3, due for release in 2015 And what better way to reveal a new side-scrolling adventure than with a very pretty trailer full of gameplay? The latest in a series that has already sold 7 million copies is earmarked for PC and “other” formats. Trine 2 released on PS3, PS3, […]

  • Dying Light takes UK number one

    A month since it was released on digital platforms, Dying Light’s physical release has topped the UK charts. Techland and Warner’s zombie survival game has proven to be one of the big hits of the year so far. It was released on digital formats a month ago but has only just been released on good-old […]

  • GTA 5: that’s some seriously accurate grenade throwing

    Think you can take down a jet plane with a grenade throw? This guy can. In fact, he can do it twice. This is in a variation on the player-created deathmatch “Stunters Versus Snipers” which seem to be all the rage in GTA Online at the moment. One team has a sniper rifle (and grenades) […]

  • Metal Gear Solid 5: Mother Base turns pink in the morning sun

    The Phantom Pain looks nice even when Kojima just takes a quick pic with his phone. Look at that beauty. We get nice reflection in pink at the first gray of dawn. pic.twitter.com/aERTBoZT9z — HIDEO_KOJIMA (@HIDEO_KOJIMA_EN) March 2, 2015 The game doesn’t have a release date yet, which makes us a bit nervous for it […]

  • Dying Light: Underpant Gnomes and 9 other secrets you missed

    Dying Light still has legs – maybe because it’s crammed full of secret things to discover. Ten of those have been highlighted by TerraMantis’ latest YouTube video, including reference to the Underpant Gnomes, guitar lessons, farting zombies and well, we don’t want to spoil it for you. Even if you think you’ve seen everything in […]

  • Resident Evil: Revelations 2 Raid Mode dance gestures are deadly

    Why blind ‘em with science when you could kill ‘em with dance moves? revelations raid When I say Resident Evil: Revelations 2‘s Raid Mode dance gestures are deadly, I’m not being figurative. If you finish the first chapter of Revelations 2 you can unlock Gina for use in Raid Mode. All characters can use gestures […]

  • Dragon Age: Inquisition mod enables male Blackwall romance, terrific joke

    “Male Inquisitors can now scale the wall,” says a clever Redditor. A new Dragon Age: Inquisition mod removes Blackwall’s romantic restrictions, allowing male Inquisitors to chat up the fuzzy-faced warrior. Blackwall doesn’t have any race preferences, so you’re good to go there. Dragon Age: Inquisition romance mods are pretty common by now, and to be […]

  • Destiny: it is possible to solo the Weekly Heroic

    Destiny players willing to faff about with their system clock can solo the Weekly Nightfall if they prefer. The Weekly Heroic is one of Destiny‘s toughest challenges. Responding to player feedback Bungie implemented matchmaking for the Weekly Heroic, but there are players who genuinely prefer to go it alone. There’s now no legitimate way to […]

  • Clayfighter remaster on the way, says Interplay

    A Clayfighter remake is inbound, apparently. Interplay has announced a Clayfighter remaster, combining the content of all past games into one package. Features include: Characters such as Bad Mr. Frosty, Blue Suede Goo, Earthworm Jim, Hoppy, Boogerman, Tiny – and more with over 20 characters total Over 20 familiar environments from the series to duke […]

  • The quickest way to climb in Dying Light

    Dying Light players! Are you sick of picking your way carefully up the sides of tall towers? Have I got a trick for you. The parkour system in Dying Light is okay, but climbing anywhere especially high can be a bit tedious. Enter Jesse Lester, who took a look at the tools available and worked […]

  • Bungie “always” looking at Exotic changes for Destiny updates

    Destiny developer Bungie won’t stop tinkering with Exotic weapons. In Destiny, Exotic weapons are supposed to be the best of the best – and to feel unique. Guns like Ice Breaker and Gjallahorn definitely hit the mark there (although less so when everyone has one), but unfortunately, there are a few that just don’t strike […]

  • Is Uncharted 4′s first trailer a tribute to Crash Bandicoot?

    Uncharted 4′s first proper trailer bears some remarkable similarities to the opening moments of a much earlier Naughty Dog game. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End has more in common with Crash Bandicoot than you might think. It’s Naughty Dog’s first game on a new console, yes – but if you compare Uncharted 4′s E3 2014 […]

  • Sonic console games will continue, says Iizuka

    Sonic Team leader Takashi Iizuka has said there are no plans to stop making Sonic games. Sonic hasn’t retired from the ranks just yet. “Please rest assured, I personally have no plans to stop making Sonic games for home consoles,” Iizuka told 4Gamer [Japanese]. The comment arose after the site asked if Sonic would become […]

  • Stealth Inc. 2 coming to PSN, apparently

    Stealth Inc. 2: A Game of Clones will soon be available on PlayStation platforms, if a trophy list is to be believed. Stealth Inc. 2 initially launched as a Wii U exclusive, disappointing fans of Curve Studios’ tough action game. We’ve heard nothing to contradict this, but Exophase, a generally reliable source, has dug up […]

  • Runescape developer has an “undisclosed MMO” in the works

    Runescape developer Jagex is working on something new. According to Jagex’s careers page, the developer has a new, unannounced game in the works. Its advertisement for a lead programmer makes explicit mention of an “undisclosed MMO”. The ad mentions the new title is in “the preliminary stages of redefining the cross platform MMORPG genre” and […]

  • Destiny PvP rewards system to be addressed

    Destiny developer Bungie has said it will change the way Crucible rewards work. Destiny players are always complaining about the perfidy of RNGesus, but there’s one area where it particularly hurts: the Crucible. PvP players often receive nothing at all for excellent performances, and sometimes Guardians receive the best drops merely for logging in as […]

  • Azure Striker Gunvolt 2 in the works for 3DS

    Azure Striker Gunvolt is getting a sequel. Azure Striker Gunvolt developer Inti Creates has confirmed that the sidescroller has been popular enough to warrant a second instalment. The sequel will also be released on 3DS, the team said on Facebook. Very little information is available at present, unfortunately. “As time goes on we will have […]

  • Life is Strange Episode 2 not delayed, says developer

    Life is Strange developer Dontnod Entertainment has said the second episode is on track for release this month. I guess it would know. Life is Strange Episode 2 has been expected on March 13, but late last week Square Enix told Destructoid it had been delayed. Dontnod has since denied this report, describing it as […]

  • First SteamVR game reveal is Job Simulator

    Job Simulator is the first game to be announced specifically for SteamVR, Valve’s virtual reality tech. Shoot Many Robots and Aaaaa! For the Awesome! developer Owlchemy Labs is the first team to put its hand up and say it’s worked with SteamVR. In a blog post, the studio unveiled Job Simulator, which will be playable […]

  • HTC, Valve partner for Vive VR headset

    The first SteamVR announce is a headset a manufactured by HTC, the Taiwanese mobile company revealed over the weekend. Valve told us last week it planned to unveil virtual reality hardware at GDC, calling it “SteamVR” at the time. Now HTC has pre-empted Valve by revealing Vive, a headset developed thanks to a collaboration between […]

  • Watch the Evolve Chappie Challenge tomorrow on Twitch

    Sony Pictures Entertainment, 2K and Turtle Rock Studios have announced a tournament being hosted by ESL, which will see Evolve players take on newest movie robot, Chappie. The ESL has teamed up with Twitch for the live 4 on 1 competitive event, and you can watch as it all unfolds tomorrow, March 1 at 3pm […]

  • If you’re attending PAX East, stop and have a look at Necropolis

    We haven’t heard much on Harebrained Schemes’ latest since it was announced in November, but today, the team has seen fit to release some interesting gifs of its a new project, Necropolis. Necropolis is a third-person action rogue-like with procedurally generated which can be “re-rolled mid-playthrough” and is headed to Linux, Mac and PC sometime […]

  • Dragon’s Dogma Online really is lovely, as these screenshots prove

    More Dragon’s Dogma Online screenshots have been released, and this batch is just as lovely as the last gallery we posted. Since this game will likely never leave Japan, the images are a bit of a salt rub for fans of the IP, but hopefully another entry in the series will be released at some […]

  • Action-RPG Death’s Gambit has a classic-Castlevania feel to it

    How would you like to become an agent of Death and rid the world of immortals? Then Death’s Gambit may just be the game for you. Announced by LA-based studio White Rabbit, the action-RPG with platforming elements tasks players with fighting gigantic enemies on an alien, medieval planet. Players will also encounter formidable beasts, knights, […]

  • Modder adds offline co-op into Resident Evil: Revelations 2

    PC users lamenting the lack of local, offline co-op in Resident Evil: Revelations 2 will be pleased to know a modder has remedied the omission. The mod, created by FluffyQuack, adds offline co-op mode to Episode 1 but the only caveat is players will need to use gamepads instead of mouse and keyboard (via Gamespot). […]

  • Number of Steam accounts with Dota 2 installed hits over 42 million

    Dota 2 has seen its installation rate jump 85% year-over-year, resulting in the MOBA now having close to 43 million installations worldwide. The figures were published via a report from video game research and consulting firm EEDAR, which studied Steam accounts daily to better understand the service’s player behavior and title performance. According to statistics […]

  • Nintendo issuing Eon Ticket codes for Pokemon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire

    Nintendo is handing out an Eon Ticket to Pokemon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire owners which will allow them to visit the Southern Island. Once a player arrives, depending on which version of the game they own, Pokemon Latios and Latias are able to be caught. The Eon Ticket was originally issued via StreetPass, but […]

  • Here’s a couple The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt screenshots to brighten your day

    Two images for The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt have surfaced on the game’s Facebook page. Grabbed by Gamekyo, the images show Gerlat and Vesemir chatting with a fellow, and the other shows Geralt riding up to some ruins where some people have been hanged. CD Projekt Red will make an appearance at PAX East next […]

  • Hyrule Warriors Boss Pack DLC contains unlockable character – potential spoilers

    While you already know the next DLC for Hyrule Warriors will allow you to play as the gigantic beast Ganon, there’s a rather humorous unlockable character contained in it as well. Potential spoilers follow below. When the DLC arrived in Japan February 26, YouTuber moccos-tan IsedelicaAs posted a video of the unlockable character, which is […]

  • Star Trek Online players gather on Vulcan to pay respects to Leonard Nimoy

    Star Trek Online players paid tribute to Leonard Nimoy yesterday by gathering around a fountain on Vulcan, the home planet of Spock in the Star Trek series. According to a post by barnacle999 on reddit, when he logged into the MMO “there were around 20 full instances and several partial,” culminating in around 1000 players […]