Director Kevin Choteau details how small French developer, Asobo Studio, evolved itself and its masterpiece title for its sequel.
Asobo Studio once made its name from its knack for developing Disney Pixar game adaptations. Three years ago, this small French development team evolved and rose to greater heights with its hit release, A Plague Tale: Innocence.
After gaining a passionate community of fans with this cinematic action-adventure experience, Asobo Studio is venturing out to evolve its breakout series with a sequel. A Plague Tale: Requiem aims to overcome and surpass the limitations of the original. The key behind this evolution is the push toward being able to play Requiem the way you choose.
In anticipation of the sequel’s PS5 release on October 18, we spoke with its director, Kevin Choteau, about the direction of the title, its development, new gameplay philosophies, and a lot more.
PlayStation Blog: What did you and the rest of Asobo want to accomplish with this sequel to the original Plague Tale?
Kevin Choteau: Everything, honestly. The first thing that comes to mind is our work on the first game. We had no experience at all in this genre of game. We’re not known for these kinds of cinematic experiences. So we started with the action-adventure on Innocence and did so as noobs, not knowing what we were doing.
When we started Requiem, the idea was to take everything we failed with or did wrong in the first one and try to tackle them. We’ve read all the feedback from the players and critics and tried to do something about it. So the first and biggest thing is the gameplay. Innocence was quite narrow, with only one way to approach a situation, and we wanted to address that. We’ve created much wider open areas where you can play as you want. It was the key by the law of the level design. Now you can play Plague Tale any way you choose.
How do you ensure that the player still has a streamlined journey where they can recognize objectives, assets, and everything else while keeping their options open?
There are two things for me regarding that. The first one is the point of view. When you arrive in a situation, you often arrive above the situation or with a clear point of view so you can understand how they are shaped and where you can go. What tasks you can choose, if you want to go this way or this way, or go through a behind this cart, etc.
The second thing is the systemic approach of the gameplay. We set up some rules, and those rules are always true. So when you learn that, you can use it in any situation. For example, as in the first game, if you see a metallic object, you can use it to distract enemies. In Requiem, there’s also a greenish tar that you can use against enemies. Those things and opportunities attract the player and say, “You can use that, so if you go this direction, you have this at your disposition to play with.” It makes this wider approach functional.
What has working on current-gen technology done to enhance the gameplay experience of Plague Tale: Requiem?
We push everything further graphically, of course. But the rats have been pushed to extreme boundaries. We had around 5,000 rats on PS4, and now we have 300,000 on PS5. It’s incredible because it’s a new tool that allows us to do this huge rat tsunami that now destroys cities. We couldn’t do that with the previous tech. So we can push it even further now and have these super detailed graphics with a lot of NPC and rats swarming the cities.
The rats are also evolving, having become smarter and more agile than before. How have you upgraded their presence as an enemy?
The rats are more able to avoid obstacles to reach you and are more agile and aggressive. When you’re around the fire trying to stay away from them, they’re turning around, trying to find the best way to get to you and kill you. They’re also able to climb up and on fabrics, so you’re not safe in high places anymore. It’s both useful against enemies and dangerous for you as well. We focused on making them more present in the world and less blocked by the environment, so they’re super impressive threats and always have you on edge.
Amicia is a character that stirred many people’s hearts due to how real she and her trauma feel. How did you approach growing and deconstructing her character, especially with her growing love/hate relationship with killing and combat?
The game is all about that. In Innocence, Amicia has picked up being a warrior to survive. But you will discover in Requiem that it will impact her. [Killing to survive takes an emotional toll], and it will have a big effect on her mindset and evolution of what she may become and her relationship with others. The big question is, “Does the end justify the means?” Okay, so you want to become a warrior? You want to do anything to protect your family, but is it working? Is it fair? Is it something that you should do?
Amicia’s adolescent age largely affects how she reacts and handles the situations around her. How does this shape what players experience with her in Plague Tale versus other games with more mature protagonists?
She’s not a warrior, and she’s not a young lady anymore. She’s in between the two. So she’s not super efficient at combat. She’s vulnerable, can’t use a sword, and can die easily. Amicia is really in between those two worlds, and what we love about her is that her age can lead her in any direction. Depending on the situation, she can sometimes be very mature or childish. We play around with that and how it defines her as a character.
Hugo is also growing despite only a 6-month time difference between the two games. How did you go about changing how his powers are used to show a deeper understanding between him and his growing abilities?
For Hugo, the idea or inspiration is children who experience a difficult thing in their life and are forced to grow up very fast. Sometimes they are more mature and aware of the world than we are as adults because of what trauma they have lived. We wanted to emphasize that with Hugo.
He has a better understanding of what happened to him and can start to feel the rats inside of him. But again, power is not that free for him. He can kill easily, much more efficiently than his sister, and has a dangerous unlimited power. So for Hugo, it’s about keeping the balance. He has this power, but he and Amicia don’t want to use it. It’s an awful and ugly ability that can also hurt him. But sometimes it’s beneficial to them. They’re both learning to play with fire, which sometimes leads to dangerous outcomes.
Requiem feels like a culmination of shared trauma, not only between Amicia, Hugo, and their circumstances, but the world’s trauma of the plague, rats, and human-inflicted abuse. What made you want to go in this direction with the story? How does this theme reflect on the characters and emotions within the world of Plague Tale?
The story for the game is really about our characters. We don’t have a big villain like the first one. The world is itself, and as Amicia, you go try to live in this world that doesn’t fit her and Hugo’s past or future. They’re struggling to find their place in a place that always rejects them, so they’re always outcasts. It’s a considerable burden, constantly weighing on them.
The player sees more of the world in Requiem than ever before. How did you go about researching the 1300s architecture, clothing, and belief systems (Alchemy, etc.) to make it authentic on such a larger scale?
The game started in Southeast France, so it’s not that far from us. We have a part of the team that comes from this region, which made it easy for them to bring memories into the game and build upon that. But we also worked with a historian, who helped us shape the authenticity of the world and find settings, environments, architectural details, and even small anecdotes to build up a believable Middle-Age France.
What did you learn personally working on this sequel?
I haven’t thought about that because it’s not over for me yet. But this game is really personal. We’ve brought a lot of ourselves into the game. Good and bad things. Things that are stressful, some happy memories, and we put that together to build up this game. For me, it was like therapy because it’s good sometimes to share with people things that are hard for you, like past trauma. You can build upon that, and it’s something that I’ve learned that we see in our stories. You must always try to take the best away from any situation.
Without wanting to stray into spoilers, with Requiem’s release, do you consider this the book closed or just another chapter completed in A Plague Tale’s world?
I think, for now, it’s the end. But the door is never closed, and we’ll see the player reception. We want to see their reaction before deciding anything. They are driving our production, and if they don’t like what we’ve done, we need to do something else.
How do you and the studio plan to mark the game’s release?
I think we’ll throw a big party with the team. Monday night, when the embargo lifts, we’ll all be waiting in our big room at Asobo, just waiting for the reviews and feedback. We are super excited and exhausted, but if we have a good reception, I can’t wait to celebrate that with the team.
Any closing thoughts on your journey with Plague Tale: Requiem?
I’m proud of my small 70-person team because they push everything even further every time. I’m happy and proud of what they have achieved these past three years. And I wish the best for the player. I hope we won’t disappoint them and give them the sequel they wanted and deserve.