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Deathloop

Back in the Deathloop with Dinga Bakaba: spicy cuisine and loopy times

A post-mortem look at one of 2021's finest designs: a lost interview about a game that miraculously released in difficult times.

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The following is a post-mortem piece for two reasons. Firstly, as the term is commonly used, as we're taking a look back at a game that was released in September 2021, and not at something that just arrived or will release in the future. Secondly, and more literally, as our Fun & Serious interview with director Dinga Bakaba actually died for technical reasons. But we believe that Deathloop, one of last year's very best games, still holds a ton of life and fun to it, and that it's always interesting to hear Arkane Lyon's president talk about concept, design, and execution. So here we are again, back in the loop.

"No!" Bakaba laughs when asked if they were expecting Deathloop to be that well received. "We basically made a game that was a risky game in terms of design. What we were expecting, and what we were actually designing for, which is why we're very happy, is, 'some people will love it, some people will hate it, no one will be indifferent'. I think that worked, but we didn't expect at all that so many people would love it. That's the surprise and why we're very, very proud. Before the game was out I said in an interview I think, which made our PR and marketing folks laugh was, 'we're not making fast food, we're making cuisine'".

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"And what I mean by that", the French designer continues with the appetising references, "is that everyone loves something that is easy and familiar, but I like super-spicy food, I love pimento and pepper and all those things, and I know that when I cook something like that, some people might not like it, but I'm still trying to do it well for people who like spicy food. That's what I meant, there's a flavour to it, there's an identity, and we were trying to make it as strong, coherent, and confident as possible knowing that some people might not like it".

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This was all the more complicated when the pandemic meant delays and additional difficulties. "Every game that came out this year is a miracle", Bakaba underlines. "Raph Colantonio, the founder of Arkane, said that making a video game is a series of miracles", he recalls. But they kept on pursuing something else:

"(...) we tried to make something charming, we tried to make something fun and challenging in a way, not challenging with the gameplay because the game is not a statement about difficulty at all, but challenging in terms of understanding what it is and having a natural, real involvement of the player in the experience, and even conceptualising what the experience is. So we're really glad that people loved that little game we played with them".

"It's always the case when you're developing something, especially something challenging, where in the middle of it nothing works", Bakaba recalls as a rule that could be applied to many other projects. "You had the idea, it's too late to back away from the idea (like, [now] 'there's no time loop!'). You can't go back because you already committed, but it's not good enough, so there's a lot of effort to do to bring it where you wanted it to be. That point is terrifying, and for this game it was very scary".

Speaking of scary and weird stuff, we wanted to bring up the topic of the so many loop games releasing during and after the harsher pandemic and lockdown, including Returnal, Twelve Minutes, or Deathloop, all delivering a somewhat ironic experience.

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"Yeah we were joking about it everyday. Sometimes it was funny, sometimes it was a little sad to joke about it. Actually, when things started piling up, the weird situation with the masks, we had everyone wearing a mask [in the game], and suddenly everyone on the streets is wearing a mask. There's a number of things like that, like 'what happened'. But I wonder, definitely, I think the pandemic left something in every creative brain that this is our equivalent of the Berlin Wall falling or the Moon landing. This is, maybe, one of the most important things we're going to see in our lifetime. for some of us. And of course I think it will influence creativity in different ways. For people who had a hard time, it's like when you're making art, sometimes you're trying to go through your traumas by exploring various things, so I expect that. I don't know if it will take the form of loop games... "

Death Stranding, more so than loopers, as a foresight of the pandemic

"Actually, my most crazy... this is 'what we went through-almost game', was Death Stranding. That was even further away from the pandemic, but that game, where everyone is locked inside -more than lockdown- there's something weird out there. And some people need to be courageous enough to go out. The isolation, building the bridges, thinking about all those things. That game for me is the ultimate [game of the pandemic] and it was made before. Hideo Kojima definitely is a genius".

One thing we wanted Bakaba to talk about before the loop reset was telling stories in first person and within time loops: was narrative or gameplay more difficult? Which one is he most proud about?

"That's a very tough question", the director reflects. "It's hard, because both were extremely hard, to be fair. I would still say that it's probably the narrative. Because various tools that you can usually use in a game where time is linear are not available anymore, and one of the problems of the time loop games in general is that you're going to go through the same story bits when you replay, and the next time it doesn't have the same impact. So making a story where you still progress even when the world is resetting, that limits a lot of your use of cutscenes, for instance. That limits the possibility of a character popping in midway saying 'hey, this is what's happening and blah blah'. That's not possible, I mean we have a few tricks as you've seen if you've played the game. We introduce some concepts, but that's the thing: finding those concepts".

Later in the interview we talked about things such as Colt Vahn and Julianna Blake (as they don't reset with every loop), playing as the latter, polish, and a couple other topics but, alas, unfortunately, and due to technical reasons, the recording stopped abruptly at this point and the final portion was deemed unrecoverable. For that, we apologise and thank Mr. Bakaba for his availability and answers.

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