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Dinga Bakaba - A Blade-less interview about loops, AI, rogues, and immersive sims at the BIG Conference

We caught up with Arkane Studios Lyon's game & studio director in Bilbao, this time in person, to talk all things game design and the company itself, including immersive sims as design philosophy, the demand for a Dishonored 3, or Microsoft's acquisition of Bethesda.

Audio transcription

"Alright, we're at the big conference in Bilbao and it's very nice to be here once again.
And it's especially nice today, we're here joined by Mr. Bakaba, so thank you so much for joining us.
Because we talked, I think it was two years ago, and it was remote, sadly."

"So now we get to meet you in person, thank you so much for being here.
Are you enjoying the event so far?
Yes, I am. Just arrived, but it's really nice.
I've been seeing it through a little window and reports on Twitter last time we talked."

"So it's nice to be actually here in person.
Back then we were talking about Deathloop mostly.
The game had been out for a while, so we were looking back at the development, at the design.
Game design mostly, of course."

"And you told me, you know, we wanted to do a game that can be hated by someone, some people can be loved by some other people, but will leave nobody indifferent.
I know we can't talk about the elephant in the room, but is that your motto going forward?
Is that something that you want to do with your games, to convey?
I think if you forbid yourself, you know, if you forbid the potentiality for hate, I think it's too limiting."

"Then you try to satisfy everyone, and everyone is like, yeah, it's okay, I guess.
But we still want to go for love.
Like we still want to do, like that's what Arkane does.
We want to surprise and delight all the time."

"So just convenience wouldn't work for this team.
Like that's not what we do.
And back then we also had, the pandemic was very recent still, so we talked a little bit about, you know, the sort of loop we lived in with the pandemic."

"And it was very convenient to have some games such as Deathloop, or we talked about Death Stranding, for example.
But how do you feel about that now, about the surge of loop-based games, roguelike games, there's a lot of even AAA games now introducing sort of loop-based or roguelike-based mode."

"How do you feel about that in terms of the genre itself?
Well, I would say that, in general, what those games do very well is make the players really enjoy the mechanic, you know.
So when it's a pure roguelite, then you will learn a set of mechanics and use them again and again."

"And if it's well made, there is also a story that progresses along with it.
But it's all about the challenge and succeeding, right?
I think it's really interesting what we're seeing with AAA games, like, you know, God of War just released its expansion."

"It is that some people will have already finished God of War twice.
New game, new game plus, maybe once more, you know.
And they have a really good grasp of the mechanics, but a lot of players will have finished it just once for the story, and by the end of the game, they're like, oh, this feels really good, but then the game ends."

"And I think the opportunity to play through those kind of loops again and again and be surprised and seeing some different things, interesting things, that allows you to go deeper with the mechanics and to touch a little bit of the mastery, you know."

"Like, the promise for me is like, okay, I finished God of War once, but I've seen those crazy combo videos on the internet.
So the promise is kind of, well, if you play this DLC, after a while, you will be that, and you will not be repeating the exact same thing over and over, because it changes, there is some randomness, some surprise to it."

"So yeah, I think it's interesting.
Are loops something that you would like to explore further in the future?
I don't know, like right on the top of my head, I think we...
Well, I think the way I see games is I want to explore something each time, and I don't know, maybe, who knows, but it's not something that is in my mind, that's something that I would like to try again."

"Like, I'm not saying anything, but even imagine if one day I wanted to make a sequel for Deathloop.
One day, who knows?
Maybe it's not a loop game, who knows?
You see, I like to..."

"Death, not loop.
Who knows?
But the point being, I like to see each game as its special thing, even when you're doing a sequel."

"Even when we did the sequel to Dishonored, with Dishonored 2, there is a lot that you can find in common between those two games, but there were some very special things we wanted to explore, to develop with it, so it's not just, let's take the same things and put them here and make some money with it."

"It was really, we have a story to tell, we have some themes to explore, we want to create this new location and explore more of the world and the settings."

"Yeah, I think it's all about the intention.
If tomorrow, Sébastien Mitton wakes up with a crazy idea that means that you have to live the same day over and over, why not?
But otherwise..."

"Two things, one about Deathloop still, and then one about Dishonored.
First thing is, we've said, roguelikes, loops were trendy, but if one keyword is trendy this year, that's AI, right?
And in Deathloop, we have 2bit, which sort of explains to you what's going on, and we've seen this with AI this year in the real world."

"So, you know, Deathloop was sort of foreseen some things and the loop we lived.
What can you tell us about AI and about that concept and about that character and about this whole AI thing going forward in games?
Well, if it was for 2bit, I think what's interesting with 2bit is..."

"But well, for 2bit, I think one of the explorations that is interesting is the fact that it is actually not an AI, it's a cyborg, because it has a little piece of the brain of Igor in it."

"So what was interesting is, what's still human in this character, even though it communicates in a very unnatural way, it is not like anyone else on the island, he's very..."

"In some way, he knows more than everyone, but at the same time, he cannot tell them, because there is not the recordings to do so.
Like actually, one of the..."

"There was an old video game, like an adventure game, that had a name that was very evocative, a cyberpunk game that's called I Have No Mouth But I Must Scream."

"And actually, I feel that 2bit kind of expresses that.
It expresses the...
Maybe there is something human there, but through the way the technology is designed, it cannot actually connect with others on this island."

"So the story of 2bit is a little bit like Colt's story, except that contrary to Colt, he doesn't have Juliana, who is the other person, because Colt remembers, right?
He's one of the few people on the island that remembers the loop."

"So any interaction he would have with anyone on the island will be voided after one day.
So he cannot build any relationship.
And the only relationship that has been built is with his enemy, with Juliana."

"But 2bit is in a weird place.
He's locked in a room, cannot move around.
There is something very tragic in this character.
But the whole thing about human beings putting something of themselves in machines, whether physical or metaphorically, and then that machine being, in the case of 2bit, more human than most."

"Well, it's a very sci-fi thing, what makes a human, what makes a machine.
And it's both a funny and sad character at the same time.
So that's why when we added the epilogue to Deathloop, we had to include him in the epilogue because he's such a special character."

"Alright, and you mentioned Dishonored.
I'm a huge fan of the first game.
And of course we could feel excitement about the potential announcement of a third entry."

"How do you feel about this?
How do you feel about the anticipation and the excitement that there is?
And how do you feel about the climate right now to perhaps introduce an immersive scene?
Because they are not as trendy as they were 10 years ago."

"So how do you feel about the whole Dishonored 3 thing?
Well, first of all, I think a few years ago, Sébastien and I said, we're kind of done with Dishonored."

"And I don't think people heard us, but...
You can repeat it now.
Well, it's the thing that we loved what we created, but we spent eight years."

"Eight years of our lives.
And a studio like Arkane, we like to create new things.
We like to challenge ourselves.
So, yeah."

"Sébastien and I, at least, you know, it wasn't even in question that after Deathloop we would not be doing Dishonored.
But, well, who knows?
It might have happened in another world, another timeline."

"But this is the timeline where we are really...
We really wanted to make something, you know, again, surprise and delight.
The same way people were like, what is this when they saw Deathloop?
The same way we hope they say, what is this when they play our new game?
So, I think it's..."

"But as for, you know, what you mentioned, which is...
Generate self, immersive sims.
I'd say there has never been as many immersive sims developed at the same time as now, thanks to the indie developers."

"Just today I learned with one of your colleagues about an immersive sim I have never heard of, that's called Fortune's Run.
Looks very intriguing on the Steam page."

"But there is so many, like, Control-Alt-Ego.
There is so many indie immersive sims right now.
Gloomwood.
I don't think it has ever happened in the industry that there is more than one or two immersive sims being made at the same time."

"So, I would dare to say that maybe this is a golden age for this genre because there is some big studios like us that are doing them."

"There is some indie studios that are doing them very differently, of course.
And what I've always thought about immersive sims is that they are not a genre."

"They are design philosophy that can apply to various genres.
If you take Dark Messiah of Might and Magic, it's a fighting game, action game."

"If you take Dishonored, it's more of a stealth game.
If you take Prey, more of a horror, survival, psychological horror in space.
And even beyond Arkane, if you take Raphael Colantonio, the founder of Arkane's latest game, Weird West, it is a top-down RPG with a twin-stick gameplay, in a sense."

"But they are immersive sims in the sense that they are using this design philosophy and applying it in a genre.
And that's what's special."

"I would say that maybe it's possible to make a racing immersive sim.
I have never thought about it myself, but maybe someone will, because Ultima 7 was an immersive sim."

"There was a lot of talk at the studio about Divinity Original Sin 2.
Zelda, even, some might argue.
Well, of course, it's a philosophical argument, but the whole thing is, I think this philosophy can apply to various genres."

"And right now, I don't think there has ever been as many games inspired by the immersive sims philosophy or directly derived from the immersive sims philosophy at the moment of time."

"So, yeah, I think it's exciting.
And even us at Arkane, after Dishonored, Deathloop, Prey, etc., people take us seriously when we say we're making an immersive sim."

"They take us seriously.
They're not like, oh, this niche thing.
People know that those can be successful, can have an appeal."

"It's not, I think, and that will be weird because of the fact that our studio is named Arkane, but it is not an Arkane, like secretive alchemy thing anymore."

"It is something that you can read some papers about how immersive sims are made.
You can watch our conferences.
You can actually come to us and ask us, hey, and we will, you know, Dana, Nightingale, myself, like a lot of us would be actually happy to talk with fellow developers to tell us all our secrets because we like this kind of games."

"We like seeing this influence in other kinds of games.
And, you know, we are confident in what we do, so we are pretty happy that others are doing it.
That's very interesting and closing one."

"We've been talking about game design, which is your sort of main thing and the whole definition of immersive sims.
We also talked about with Harvey Smith back in the day."

"But now I want to ask you something that I asked him as well, which is about the studio.
You being head of the studio for some years now and also the acquisition and how you guys feel inside the new environment and the whole thing."

"How is it changing the way you work, if at all?
What can you tell me about studio thing?
So the first thing is, yeah, two years that I'm studio director, that's super weird still for me in a way, but actually I had good advices."

"Because going in, it was terrifying.
When Todd Vaughn approached me and said, hey, do you want to run the studio?
I think it would be a good idea, etc."

"I was like, wait a minute.
What does that mean?
And he said something very interesting.
He said, the game is the studio and the studio is the game."

"Because the studio exists to make the game and it's the game that determines the existence of the studio.
And you organize to make this kind of game."

"So because you are the one spearheading the game, you know best how the studio should organize in order to make that same game."

"That's why we want creatives as studio heads rather than just managers.
And I was like, but that makes sense."

"I can see that.
And then of course I look at other studios I admire.
You know, Todd Howard in Bethesda.
You know, at the time, Shinji Mikami was head of Tango."

"Harvey in Austin.
Raf was the head of Arkane when he was here.
So actually I was like, wait a minute.
My models are not only directors."

"They are also running a studio that doesn't...
Hideo Kojima.
You see what I mean?
A lot of great creators that no one would say are not great designers, great artists, great creators."

"Are also running their teams.
So when I saw all that, I was like, yeah, well, maybe this is possible.
Maybe there is a way for me."

"And I've been working hard and doing some coaching and working with my leadership team, hiring some people to do the things that I suck badly at so I don't have to do something that I don't know how to do."

"And that's been a good experience.
I think the studio is very...
Again, the studio is a game.
So we are very focused on making the game."

"We've been doing that since I'm in charge.
It's like, how do we make the best environment possible for great things to happen between people?
You see what I mean?
And then that makes you question your processes."

"Does this process exist because we have never done otherwise?
Or does it exist because it's the best way to do things?
If it exists because that's the only thing we know, is it efficient?
Is it what makes people happy?
How can we find the right balance between the great flexibility that allows for genius ideas to emerge and at the same time be square enough that we deliver on quality and that no one has to crunch and people don't lose their job or go into burnout and shit."

"So it's an adventure.
So as I said, I have great inspirations.
I had this discussion with Todd Vaughn, etc.
And also I saw a great conference from Jesse Schell who wrote Art of Game Design."

"So he made a conference about...
I don't remember the name of the conference, so I will butcher it, but it's on YouTube.
It's a conference about him going from being a designer to running a studio."

"And that conference was enlightening because I will spoil the entire conference because he made a lot of very interesting points.
And then it ends by, well, you know what?
You're designing your studio just like you're designing your game."

"There is a lot of overlap.
There is a lot of that logic that still makes sense.
And I was like, okay.
That was a good talk."

"Very well said.
But at the same time, I see the truth of this.
Because as a game designer, you're making systems."

"You're watching for inefficiencies.
You're trying to predict flows.
And you're trying, especially as an immersive systems designer, you're trying to make things that should not work together actually work together."

"So, yeah.
I do see a coherence.
And again, I have great help with my team so that I'm not locked in an office doing office stuff."

"And I can still do the creative and, well, do what I love to do.
I'm learning to love organizing a studio, etc.
Leadership, sure."

"But I still...
I'm here for making great games, man.
That's why I'm here.
That sounds fantastic.
We're really looking forward to seeing the fruit coming out of those years and what you guys are doing now."

"So, thank you so much for your time.
And all the luck with new projects.
Will do.
Thank you very much."

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