Behaviour Digital puts players first in the Deathgarden: BLOODHARVEST reboot
Set in an unforgiving dystopian future, Deathgarden: BLOODHARVEST puts players in the role of either a ruthless hunter or a desperate scavenger while incorporating asymmetric gameplay. Every scavenger strives to enter the Enclave, a safe haven in a world where only a select few live in comfort while the rest of humanity suffers in the slums. The only way into the Enclave, however, is through the Hunter in a deadly game of cat and mouse.
Chatting with Behaviour Digital Design Director Matt Jackson and Lead Developer Yohann Martel, we learn what’s changed since Deathgarden’s launch one year ago, how Unreal Engine has got them to where they are now, and how the game is going to keep changing as the team moves ever closer to their 1.0 launch. Thanks for chatting with us. Can you tell us a little bit about Behaviour Interactive and some of the games you're most proud of?
Design Director Matt Jackson: Montreal-based Behaviour Interactive was founded in 1992 and is now one of North America’s largest independent game developers with close to 550 employees and over 70 million games sold on every platform. To date, the company’s mobile games have reached over 200 million players worldwide. In 2019, its most successful IP, the award-winning Dead by Daylight, celebrated 12 million players. Every game we have worked on throughout these years allowed us to learn and gain experience, whether working with clients or developing our own IPs. Picking a favorite game is like picking a favorite child - it’s impossible!
What was the catalyst behind creating Deathgarden? Were there any specific inspirations?
Jackson: Coming off the success of Dead by Daylight, we felt that the asymmetric genre had been somewhat underserved in the industry. There have been a few titles over the past decade or so that have tried their hand at it, but there hasn’t been a groundswell of new games in the genre. We know players are hungry for new multiplayer experiences and felt that with our learned-knowledge creating asymmetric games, we were in a unique position to deliver one of these new experiences. Obviously, we also really love the genre and wanted to expand it in a meaningful way with Deathgarden.
The seed of the idea for our game was a simple question, “What if we took the concepts of Dead by Daylight and expanded them into a fast-paced FPS/third-person experience?” It’s a challenging, yet rewarding, design problem to solve so that’s kept us very engaged.
Deathgarden is an asymmetric title pitting five runners against an unstoppable hunter. In contrast to many other asymmetric games, the hunter cannot be brought down, which really changes the gameplay. How and when did this twist on the game design come around?
Jackson: Our first internal iteration of the game, we had a type of Hunter “death” but they would respawn after a short time. What we found, however, was that this design promoted two unwanted side effects. First, these deaths made players who were struggling with the Hunter role have an even harder time against the Scavengers, which often promoted "trolling" of the Hunter character.
The second effect, and arguably more salient point, is that it damaged the Hunter fantasy of being a badass killer who is “in charge” of the Garden. We also wanted Scavengers to “feel the fear” of knowing that they have literally no power against the Hunter and embrace the unique and powerful emotions that come from that dynamic.
The first arena in Deathgarden is centered in beautiful British Columbia, Canada across the daytime, a foggy-day setting, and night-time. How did Unreal Engine 4 help you most when creating such a lush environment?
Lead Developer Yohann Martel: It helped us in a few ways. The automatic LOD generation certainly helped for the performance. We also developed a tool in Blueprints to create an impostor billboard for some assets directly in Unreal, which gave us even better performance and view distance. Using the profiling tools and different buffer visualization also helped quickly identifying bottlenecks.
Another thing that helped us achieve interesting results was the way hardware instancing was exposed through the hierarchical instanced static meshes. Without the level of control of hardware instancing, having dense and detailed procedurally generated environments running at 60 FPS would have been nearly impossible.
The lore behind Deathgarden is quite deep giving an interesting backdrop to its world. Many games in this genre fail to capitalize on any sort of narrative. How important is it to you to incorporate your lore into the gameplay experience, and how do you pull it off?
Jackson: I think it’s very important. Providing a strong context for the player experience sets the tone when you start to play, as well as provides continuing reasons to come back to the game. We worked hard at not only writing strong lore, but also visual elements that set this tone. For example, every time you log into Deathgarden, the “Locker Room” area for each role (Hunter/Scavenger) tells a story. The Scavengers inhabit a worn-out, dark, foreboding location. It reflects their lot in life: ever repeating this Garden contest to prove their worth and potentially enter the “Enclaves.” In contrast, the Hunter “Locker Room” is a much brighter, welcoming place that reminds players of the power and privilege that comes with being a Hunter.
If the team had to pick their favorite tool in Unreal Engine 4, what would it be and why?
Martel: I asked the team and we came up with the following:
- Material Editor - When the team asks for a new feature in the master material and it takes us just a few minutes to achieve, they are always impressed and satisfied with the result.
- The skeleton sharing and retargeting system is good because it removes a lot of the hassle of creating a specific animation for each skeleton.
- The Graph Editor that is at the heart of many core features of Unreal (Blueprint scripts, materials, animations, particles, UI, etc.) offers a large amount of control and flexibility. It’s also very accessible. Everybody on the project, whether they’re a game designer, an animator, or a 3D artist, would make use of it. During the development of Deathgarden, we saw the arrival of new features like Niagara that made this system even more powerful.
The arenas in Deathgarden are procedurally generated, which I would imagine is usually a lengthy if not complicated feature to implement. Was there anything specific in Unreal Engine 4 that made this process easier for you?
Martel: We were able to do a procedurally generated map prototype in just a few days by using Blueprints. It really helped define what kind of system we would need to code once we were ready to implement the real system in C++.
Also, almost everything in our game is instantiated, which means we cannot bake many elements and we needed a way to optimize the game. Unreal has a great way of helping artists by creating the LODs for the assets automatically. That saved us an incredible amount of time compared to making them all by hand.
Deathgarden launched into Early Access August 14th of last year. How much has feedback from your community influenced your path at this point?
Jackson: It has influenced our path 100 percent. Games are a product and an experience meant to be “touched,” interacted with, and invested into by players. Deathgarden is meant to be malleable and improve over time with the help and passion of our fans. We are not here to dictate changes, we are here to guide our vision into a desired package that players will enjoy and want to come back to. Without players, there are no games. We value the feedback we receive very highly and hope it continues as much as it has.
What changes has the game seen since the initial launch into Early Access?
Jackson: Upon the initial Early Access release, we received a lot of positive feedback regarding certain elements of the game, as well as improvements to other areas of the game. While the movement, controls and fast-paced gameplay were highly praised, our game modes left something to be desired - there was too much reliance on strict team play for many. It made the game somewhat impenetrable to new players.
We also lacked a meaningful progression system for players to keep investing time into. We took this feedback to heart, worked hard on removing restrictions by softening team play, and added a robust progression system. Revisiting the game also allowed us to invest in other areas that we wanted to explore, namely lore, fantasy, and characters. We continue to make improvements to the game, both major and minor, and hope that players will continue to take this journey with us.
Considering the sheer number of games under Behaviour Digital's belt, what advice would you give to a developer learning UE4 for the first time?
Martel: Here are the major pieces of advice I would give a developer learning Unreal Engine 4:
- Start learning the C++ API to the same level as Blueprints, because while each of these has its limitations, when you mix them together, it becomes a wonderful and flexible system for the whole team.
- Also, when working with Blueprints or Materials, try to be as generic as possible and keep it simple. Make reusable functions, it will keep your graphs clean and save you time in the long run.
Where are all the places people can go to learn about Deathgarden?
We are present on many platforms and always happy to chat with our players!