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Payday 2 developer set out to make a 'Dark Souls heist game'

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Payday 2 – a Dark Souls heist game

Overkill Software's sequel to its 2011 downloadable co-operative heist game, Payday: The Heist, features more role-playing elements and draws inspiration from Dark Souls, according to creative director David Goldfarb.

Speaking to Polygon, Goldfarb said that when he joined Overkill, the studio had already started working on Payday 2 with a plan to create more levels and expand the game very carefully. "It was a very sensible plan," Goldfarb, who had previously worked at DICE on titles like Battlefield: Bad Company 2 and Mirror's Edge, said. "But I didn't want to do that."

Goldfarb told Polygon that he was lucky enough to convince the development team that they should do something else, "which was kind of make that Dark Souls heist game" — a game with RPG elements so every player could have a somewhat personalized experience, and a game where players aren't afraid to fail because failure is almost guaranteed in many of the missions.


"The exciting thing about heist games is the potential for failure," Goldfarb said. "When we started working on this we asked, how do we achieve that fantasy of robbing a bank in a perfect way without killing everybody? How do we make it feel like failure is OK and rewarding, like in Dark Souls? Having watched the development of this game, I think people have the most fun when they're failing, which is weird and transgressive for a game. In most games, you want to succeed, but for us, failing in interesting ways is the fun part.

"The exciting thing about heist games is the potential for failure."

"If you play, you're probably going to fail, but you're also probably going to think, 'Oh, maybe if I'd done this instead, or if I'd done something else.' I think a lot of games have conditioned people to feel bad about failing. Well, robbing a bank is hard! So the achievement and thrill of pulling it off is what we were shooting for."

In a recent hands-on session with the game, we got to experience what Goldfarb meant by failure being rewarding. In an early mission — one of the easiest in the game — we banded together with three other robbers to rob a jewelry store. What was meant to be a simple snatch and run job ended in a full-blown shoot-out with wounded civilians, tear gas, team members in police custody and a completely failed mission. At the end of the first mission, Goldfarb pointed out that Payday 2 takes a leaf from Dark Souls' book by not holding the player's hand. It is up to the player to experience failure and use that experience to inform them of what they should do next.

In our second attempt at robbing the same jewelry store, we now knew to not open fire on civilians. Our aim was to "stealth" it. The four robbers would walk to the store's entrance, put on our masks, raise our weapons and begin the robbery. As one robber ran in and began smashing jewelry cases, another did a search for security guards and another stood in the main room controlling the crowd. Things seemed to be going well ... until the police arrived on scene, everyone panicked, and another reckless shootout ensued.

We got away with the jewelry this time, successfully completing the mission by a hair's breadth. It was a slight improvement on our first attempt but, admittedly, it was still a hot mess.

Goldfarb told Polygon that pulling off "the perfect job" — one that doesn't end in a shoot-out, where the robbers are never even spotted by authorities — is "super, super, super hard." Which isn't meant to discourage players from trying. Rather, it teaches players to embrace failure and to try again.

"You can have a situation like, if you've ever played EverQuest or Dark Souls, you can go into an area and you'd be completely fucked — you'd feel like you're completely out of your depth — but it would be a cool feeling. It would be like, 'I shouldn't have gone there, but I can go there, just to see what it's like.' I like the forbidden thing that happens in Dark Souls where that can happen."

We encountered many of such areas on the game's map, with some areas being dotted with missions that were rated as "pro-jobs" — jobs so difficult that there was no chance we would come out alive. But these areas weren't blocked off, nor were the missions inaccessible. We could take on any challenge we wanted. We knew that we were going to fail them, at least on the first few tries. And we were OK with that.

After watching us fumble through a simple jewelry store robbery, we asked Goldfarb to tell us about the most sophisticated in-game heist he's seen.

"It was a bank job," he said. "It was 25 minutes of people who had never played the game stealthing the entire bank. It was like watching an actual robbery.

"One guy talked a cop into surrendering and went around and knocked out the cameras. Another guy covered the security room and killed the alarm. One guy rushed to the front of the room to control the civilians, and another was guarding the exits. And they pulled it off. It took them 25 minutes, but they did it."