©2023 ZeniMax Media Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Redfall brings Arkane Austin’s immersive sim DNA to a compelling, co-op open world

Mike Williams |
May 2, 2023
Since its founding, Arkane Studios has grown to become one of the most renowned and critically acclaimed developers in the video game industry. The studio has earned its beloved reputation by creating unique, hand-crafted games with immersive action. Arkane Austin's games—Dishonored, Dishonored 2, and Prey—have won hundreds of prestigious awards and accolades worldwide.
The island of Redfall has seen better days. The tiny town has been cut off from the rest of the world by a horde of vampires. The creatures, born of science, have used odd supernatural powers to block out the sun, making it a playground for their kind. The only salvation for the innocent civilians are a squad of vampire hunters wielding unique weapons and even more bizarre powers.

Redfall is an open-world, co-op, first-person shooter that shares the name of the fictional island it takes place on. Arkane Austin, the developer behind Dishonored and Prey, is crafting a new experience bringing together everything learned from their past hits. The studio leans on its impressive worldbuilding and excellent emergent gameplay, but explores those ideas in a vast open world environment. And players won’t be alone on their journey, as others can join them with their own customized spin on Redfall’s four Heroes. Redfall is coming to PC and Xbox Series X|S on May 2, 2023.

We interviewed several members of Arkane Austin about creating their own version of the iconic vampire, bringing the strengths of Dishonored and Prey to the open world, and how Unreal Engine helped the team build the tiny, besieged island of Redfall.
 

What inspired the team at Arkane Studios to create Redfall?

Aaron Carter, Lead Producer:
As a studio we’re known for our immersive sims, rich worldbuilding, emergent gameplay, and environmental storytelling. We wanted to take those elements and apply them to a new space. We’re big fans of cooperative shooters and open world experiences, so the idea of bringing the Arkane DNA to that type of game was very exciting. We also really like vampires and the idea of a small town being overrun by them. They’re something you can reinterpret and reinvent, but they don’t lose that core essence of what they are. Vampires are also a great allegory for the type of story we were trying to tell.

Arkane Studios has been known to focus on different elements for different games, from the stealth of Dishonored to the time-bending roguelike action of Deathloop. Did the studio have a particular focus for Redfall?

Carter:
If we boiled it down to one element like that, something that everyone is going to experience, it’s the open world. We haven’t made something at this scale before and I feel that will be a defining feature of this game above everything else. We embrace the idea of “Play Your Way,” and when you apply that to a game as expansive and open as Redfall, that idea takes on a whole new meaning. There’s so much in the world for players to explore, different ways to approach things, and environmental storytelling that makes the world feel alive. That kind of space allows for big stories to be told, like the campaign itself, but there are also so many little ones that you may or may not find depending on where you explore.
©2023 ZeniMax Media Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Can you tell us a bit about the setting for Redfall?

Ben Horne, Production Director:
Redfall is a fictional seaside town off the coast of Massachusetts. It was once a quaint tourist destination, with charming downtowns and bustling boardwalks along the coast. Today, the island is gripped by a menacing vampiric threat that has blocked out the sun, pushed back the tides, and warped the residents of Redfall to do their bidding.

How do the vampires in Redfall differ from those in other games or films?

Horne:
The vampires in Redfall are a result of a scientific longevity study gone horribly wrong… or very right, depending on who you ask. They are not religious—they don’t fear crosses or garlic—but like other recognizable vampires, they drink blood and hate the sun.

Redfall vampires are apex predators that possess otherworldly psychic abilities, like teleportation and levitation. Special variants are capable of even greater psychically-warped aggression, able to drain the blood of everyone in a wide area or traverse into the floor.

Can you talk about how you developed the different vampire enemies in the game?

Carter:
We developed an ecology that was closely linked to the narrative around how the vampires came into existence in Redfall. That gave us a hierarchy that provided a framework we could design around. We wanted them to have a predatory feel, so you’ll see elements of big carnivores woven into their design, from their claws to their facial structure. They see themselves as the most beautiful beings possible, so we also wanted to give them that innate sense of arrogance. They just got these powers and they’ve been unleashed on a population that they felt was beneath them before they were vampires.

The Vampire specials, which are above the standard Vampires you encounter most frequently, live an existence much closer to the Vampire Gods themselves. We wanted their abilities to reflect that, so you’ll see that there are thematic links between them.

We also wanted to have a sub-class of vampiric beings; definitely not human, but not quite a vampire either. These Familiars live only to serve a specific purpose like feeding other vampires or acting as a living surveillance system. To us, it seems like a wretched existence, but to them, they’re experiencing the same sort of elation of any vampire. They’re being taken advantage of and don’t even realize it.
©2023 ZeniMax Media Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Redfall is an open-world game, taking place on the remote island that shares the game's name. Why did the team move to an open-world experience for this game?

Jeremy Catlin, Lead Campaign Designer:
The idea of bringing Arkane’s values to an open-world game was very exciting for the team. We pride ourselves on player choice in environments, where any situation can be examined for options that impact gameplay. Bringing that ideal to a larger setting challenged us as a studio. We began with clear goals of how to approach an open-world game while still maintaining our “say yes to the player” mantra. We focused on systems that created variety in enemy encounters, loot, and hazards, so each trek is different while preserving the hand-crafted experience our fans expect—just on a larger scale than ever before.

Can you explain your approach to designing this new open world?

Catlin:
In designing Redfall, we wanted to answer the question, “What would it look like to infuse Arkane’s DNA into a much larger playable space?” It was important to us to create an immersive world with a richness of environmental storytelling, to maintain the discoverability and deep sense of place our fans love. The scope of this world just gave us more room to dig into the balance between curation and randomness in our process. We had more chances to make systems where the world could tell its own stories in unexpected ways.

Arkane has always valued saying “yes” to the player as part of our design philosophy. We’ve built an open world, but it’s still based on a framework of systemic and environmental opportunities for players to explore and play the way they choose. Saying “yes” to the player is still at the heart of every choice we make—in Redfall, we just have more room to say it.
©2023 ZeniMax Media Inc. All Rights Reserved.
In Redfall, players are hunting vampires, which standard guns don’t work on. Could you elaborate on how you created unique vampire-hunting weapons for the game?

Carter:
Standard weapons don't kill them, but they do damage them. They're still a really important part of your arsenal in a lot of situations.

For the vampire-hunting weapons, we tried to think about things that the survivors could put together from found components. How could they weaponize UV light to make up for the fact that the sun is blocked off? Wouldn't it be cool if they could shoot found items like pool cues and steel rods like stakes? What would that look like? When you're looking at both the UV Beam and the Stake Launcher, you can see a mish-mash of parts welded or bolted together to form the weapons that answer those questions.

Is there any particular weapon you'd love to highlight?

Carter:
I'd like to highlight the UV Beam (no pun intended). It’s a unique weapon to Redfall that is highly specialized, but also has a lot of utility. Some of that might not be readily apparent to players, but you have to remember that this is a game about vampires and you're holding a weapon that shoots a beam of their number one weakness.
©2023 ZeniMax Media Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Instead of one hero, Redfall features four playable characters. Can you talk about the process of designing each character so that they feel visually and mechanically unique?

Carter:
Individual narratives are foundational for each of our heroes. It grounds them in the world of Redfall and gives them a sense of authenticity that carries over to the team. It's not uncommon to speak with someone in the studio and encounter strong feelings about what Layla would wear or Jacob would do.

So when we're designing the look of the characters, it's almost how sculptors describe chipping away the stone to find the statue that was always there. We're pushing and pulling elements to find the character and have that sense of recognition when we lock in their design and really see them looking back at us. Their look and their outfits tell parts of their story. That also extends out to other outfits you unlock in the game. We're always trying to convey a little more of their narrative, or a little more of the story of Redfall itself through what you're seeing.

That narrative foundation also applies to their abilities. We tried to give them abilities that aligned with who they are. For example, Remi has an ability called Mobilize, which heals herself and other players, it's an external expression of her being a leader who supports and uplifts her team. She can use her drone Bribon as a distraction, because narratively that's why she built it: to help cover her in a hot zone while she saves people. As we followed that path in development, the uniqueness of each hero's playstyle came as a natural result.

Each character also has distinctive abilities, like Layla Ellison's telekinetic powers or Remi de la Rosa's robot companion. How does the team handle balancing these varied abilities, while still making them all interesting and meaningful?

Carter:
There's an awful lot that goes into these abilities. The short answer is that we were lucky enough to have amazing systems designers work with us over the course of development. They took all the narrative notes and molded that into a set of abilities we're proud of, with a skill tree system that allows for a lot of creative player choice.

For the longer answer, all the heroes are completely viable on their own, so a core focus is for each character to have a unique play style that also influences how they interact with the world. If we take Devinder, he's got a lot of gadgets that never worked before the Redfall incident, but something about the world he's in is causing these devices to finally work as he intended them to. Then we start to build his abilities around that concept. His Translocate Device allows him to teleport to locations quickly. That can open some alternative paths when you're playing as him.

With Jacob, he's an expert sniper with a history in spec ops, but he also has a mysterious raven linked to him and a vampiric eye. We looked at how you differentiate him with abilities that speak to that background in a game where everyone can use a sniper rifle. So, his powers emphasize reconnaissance (the raven), stealth (his cloak), and he's got his Heartstopper ability to push his sniping over the edge. That’s a completely different play style than Devinder from the get-go.

Since we're starting from very unique places, a lot of our focus is on making sure they stay unique as players level up and upgrade their abilities in the skill tree. We're looking at how those very different play styles can come together, how they can benefit another player. There are combat examples like Jacob using the Raven to reveal and mark enemies, which allows Devinder to use his Translocate ability to teleport directly to them. But hero abilities also evolve over time through our skill trees, so we wanted to create options that allowed you to invest more heavily in teamwork. For example, you can upgrade Jacob's cloak to hide the whole team or do the same with Translocate and allow anyone to teleport through it.
©2023 ZeniMax Media Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Arkane Studios has created strong, story-driven games. How has the team approached telling Redfall's story across each of the four characters?

Abigail Tyson, Narrative Designer:
Each of the four main characters is on Redfall for a different reason, with entirely different backgrounds, personalities, hopes, plans for their lives, and motivations for throwing themselves into the situation on the island. When you choose to play as one of the Heroes, you're choosing a lens through which you'll connect with the game.

While the overall story itself will stay the same from playthrough to playthrough, your experience will be shaped differently by your chosen Hero—and not only due to the different play styles. How a character reacts to an emerging event in the game is wholly unique to them, so you may come across the same feeding vampire tableau when you play as Jacob or Remi, but you'll notice that they respond differently to what's in front of them. And when you play co-op, the Heroes will talk to each other and build up trust, and form unique bonds with one another. As the story unfolds, each Hero also has their own reactions to uncovered information, changes in the environment, and new discoveries that advance the plot.

Your experience in Redfall is colored and shaped by the Hero you choose to play, because they are each their own person inside and out.

How does the team approach enemy balance in Redfall, given that a player could be tackling a fight alone or in a group?

Horne:
Redfall can be played completely single player, or co-op with up to four players. The more players in your squad, the more challenging enemies become: more health, more damage, and with a greater chance to spawn with Elite traits and drop greater loot.

Squads are encouraged to stick together, and benefit from a Trust buff when other players are nearby. Trust increases resistance to enemy damage at first, with more benefits unlocked over time as the squad continues to take down enemies, complete objectives, and take back Redfall.
©2023 ZeniMax Media Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Can you talk about the potential opportunities that exist for player exploration and storytelling in Redfall's environment?

Horne:
Redfall is packed with environmental storytelling. Observant players will have the opportunity to explore the world to better understand what happened not only across the island, but in each neighborhood. Every home they check, every convenience store they loot, and every basement they investigate has something to offer beyond the standard open-world experience.

There are also dramatic storylines, with far-reaching consequences players will uncover across the campaign.

In co-op sessions, heroes will banter with each other, revealing their backstories and what brought them to the island. As the squad’s Trust buff increases, their banter becomes deeper, and more personal.

The more players lean into Redfall’s narrative, the more they will get out of it.

Players can take back parts of the island from the vampires and their cultists. How does the world react to players freeing neighborhoods from vampire control?

Horne:
Players who liberate a neighborhood from vampiric Underbosses will attract civilians to the Safehouse located in that area. Once secure, these Safehouses are a safe place for citizens of Redfall to take shelter. They also provide critical resources to the player and can even provide upgraded weaponry.
©2023 ZeniMax Media Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Why was Unreal Engine the right choice for Redfall?

Stevan Hird, Director of Technology:
A primary motivation behind selecting Unreal Engine for our game development was its capacity to immediately allow our content team to begin prototyping while our engineering team began constructing the systems essential for driving the game.

Were there any Unreal Engine tools that were helpful in developing the world of Redfall?

Hird:
We have utilized components of the Gameplay Ability System to simplify the development of the multiplayer aspect of player abilities, and we heavily depend on Gameplay Tags throughout our game code.

The Editor and Debug Visualizers have proven to be invaluable, and we have further enhanced these tools with numerous customizations. Additionally, we have used the Reference Viewer extensively to understand and resolve undesired dependencies between assets. The Insights profiling tool has also been instrumental in analyzing and addressing performance concerns, while simultaneously providing us with the capacity to scrutinize our network traffic more effectively.

Thank you for your time! Where can people learn more about Redfall?

Carter:
People can learn more about Redfall by checking out our official site. We have a bunch of content that highlights different aspects of the game and they can follow along with some of the cool things our community team is doing!

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