The asymmetric, 4v1 horror title Dead by Daylight had an incredibly impressive first week, selling more than 270,000 copies. In order to figure out the true appeal of this type of game, we discussed some of the finer points with lead designer Dave Richard while at E3 2016.
Somehow, Dead by Daylight has overcome the negative stigma that 4v1 type games have developed over the last few years with project failures such as Shadow Realms, and lackluster launches like that of Evolve. You would think that this would deter developers from further attempts at this formula, but Behaviour managed to get it right this time.
Discussing Dead by Daylight
The key seems to be a combination of continuously new scenarios through procedural generation and a low price point of $19.99. The latter, specifically, makes these games way more accessible to groups of friends that want to play together. Bringing five friends together for $100 is a lot more feasible than $300, especially for a game without a lot of progression and one that is meant for short bursts of fun.
The concept of Dead by Daylight is also fundamentally different from the aforementioned games. Evolve was supposed to be a type of boss fight simulator while Shadow Realms was attempting to bring the dungeon master experience to life. Dead by Daylight, however, is a recreation of a favorite childhood game with a sinister twist.
“The original inspiration for this is a hide and seek horror experience. The game that everybody played when they were kids,” said Richard. “Hide and seek is super thrilling but we wanted to recreate that thrilling sensation in a horror experience. That’s where the idea came from. We did different prototypes, different concepts, and polished the game until we were happy with it.”
The way that Dead by Daylight works is also fairly unique. We have four players taking on the role of survivors and the fifth is the serial killer. Unlike most games, only the killer can physically harm his victims. The other players in the game must use strategy to outsmart the killer, turn on the generators and escape before being caught.
This lack of ability to defend oneself creates a presence of fear that doesn’t usually exist in games today. Only a few recent horror titles, such as Outlast, have been able to convey this state of near helplessness. Putting a gun in the player’s hands makes them feel powerful, but a flashlight… well not so much.
“You can’t fight back directly, as in you cannot hurt the Killer, but there are some things in the level you can use to slow him down. The flashlight can blind the Killer, it’s a great tool when you need to save someone. When you play a game, usually you’re not scared because you know you can defend yourself. Gamers are skillful people, so if they have a weapon and can fight they will, and it gives them the courage they need to do anything. This unstoppable beast is generally scary because there’s nothing you can do against it,” Richard added.
The fact that the map is different each time also builds on this element of fear. If you know exactly what to do and where to go each match, it diminishes how scared players will become. However, the procedural elements of Dead by Daylight create entirely new scenarios each time and players can only guess where their objectives will be. Of course, there are specific map shells, and rules for each one, but there must be for an objective based game that relies on balance. I asked Richard to go into a little more detail regarding the challenges and processes for the game’s procedural generation:
“It was a specific challenge for us. We wanted to make sure we kept this procedural aspect of the game. It’s a competitive game where the balance is super important and it’s asymmetrical so the balance is even harder to get. The important thing to understand is that it’s not completely random. It is procedural, so there are some rules that are respected when the world is built. By testing, we found that specific layouts were better for the game. We found specific distances between objectives, how the world should be built to have this balance of the game. As we tested and prototyped more and more, we refined these rules.”
Experience the Fear
After discussing the inner workings of Dead by Daylight, I got to experience the game firsthand. I was slotted into the role as a survivor and honestly, I wouldn’t have had it any other way. The bright lights and crowd noise of E3 initially diminished the fear aspects of Dead by Daylight but that would quickly change. While sneaking around a dark, dreary forest, my character’s heart would race when anything out of the ordinary occurred. Footsteps, eerie sounds, or the rev of a distant chainsaw would nearly send me into panic.
Simply skulking around the map wasn’t the worst part though. The real stress comes from fixing the generators. In order to power the map’s exit, the survivors need to fix a number of randomly distributed generators. Players have to participate in quick-time events in order to successfully fix the generators, but one wrong move causes the machine to malfunction and send a very obvious signal to the Killer.
If multiple generators fail around the same time, you have to question whether the Killer will be coming for you or a friend off in the distance. This type of stressful decision making is what makes Dead by Daylight so great: Do I stay and continue to fix the generator or run away? Should I attempt to rescue another survive or make a break for the exit? Will the Killer find me or should I stay put?
These aren’t the types of questions most games make us ask ourselves. Usually, the most taxing question is whether I’m strong enough to kill this enemy or not, but Dead by Daylight requires both a strategic and moral thought process. Of course it’s still just a game but if you won’t try to save your friend in a fictional world, would you try to save them in the real world?
In the end, myself and two other survivors managed to successfully outwit the killer. We did lose one team member in the process, but by working together the last of us managed to keep the enemy occupied while the remaining generators were fixed and then we made a break for it. The excitement doesn’t end when the doors open either. You have to successfully make it all the way through them, which can be quite intense when the killer is literally just out of reach when it’s all over.
Feel free to leave a comment below regarding your experiences with Dead by Daylight and whether or not you feel like it brings some fear back into the world of online gaming!Related: Article, Behaviour Interactive, Dead By Daylight, E3 2016, Horror