Deathgarden: Bloodharvest is a game that’s constantly doing a perilous dance. The core gameplay loop is simple and effective: Five Scavengers are placed in a murder arena with one deadly Hunter. The issue is that the game needs to keep players coming back, lest it die on the vine.
That’s a very real possibility that developer Behaviour Interactive has faced before. The original launch of the game, when it was just known as Deathgarden, in 2018 failed, but the developer recently relaunched it with a darker set of visuals and a more lethal set of gameplay systems.
Behaviour Interactive is forced to navigate a tough situation — supporting a relaunch, overhauling systems that aren’t working out, like the instant execution mechanic, and adding new content. Despite the task in front of Behaviour, design director Matt Jackson seems confident. There’s a lot to look forward in the game’s future, including a chaotic and deadly 2v10 game mode, map updates, and a new kind of Hunter in the works.
[Note: This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.]
Polygon: I was hoping we could talk about Deathgarden as a game as a service and discuss the balance changes Behaviour have been making. Recently, the team introduced to change for players to be recycled, instead of executed. What do you think about the reception of that so far? Was it an effective change?
Jackson: The reception has been very positive. I think it was an effective change for the problem of playing with your friends and having a person get knocked out of the game in the first little while. That was very frustrating and avoided a lot of the fun we wanted to have with groups playing together. So that was one of the problems we wanted to solve because our game is — well, it’s fun by yourself — but it’s a lot more fun when you play with people. We wanted to make that change to solve that problem primarily.
I think on the first patch after we introduced recycle, we didn’t go far enough in balancing out the Hunter’s experience. So in the following patch, we made it so instead of four executions for a Hunter dominance, we made it three, which we felt like balanced out the fact that Scavengers essentially have an extra life.
You also put Dash out, who is a brand new Scavenger with a speed boost. What do you think about Dash and the player response right now?
Well, it’s been very positive. I think honestly some of the abilities we gave Dash may have been slightly overtuned. Last week we reduced how long his speed boost lasts, because it was lasting a long time and allowing people to go from one chase to another. Because they were so fast, they could find a new blue crate for a power core or a health crate if they had been damaged, and that wasn’t how we wanted it. We don’t want [Dash] to overtake all the other Scavengers and overtake the conversation online with how powerful he is.
The Inquisitor [Hunter] is another powerful presence on the field due to the change to hacking crates and collecting energy. What are the design team’s thoughts on the Inquisitor right now?
The Inquisitor is definitely to be considered the most, or one of the most, powerful hunters. We’re going to make some changes to the environment. Our plan, right now, is to reduce the number of health crates in a level by a significant margin. This has a lot of effects in the game. It means Inquisitor doesn’t have unlimited stamina, essentially, because the Inquisitor would travel around using stamina and hacking health crates, which gained stamina again, and it was creating a situation often where you could get unlimited stamina.
It was also reducing the value of healing bolts for Sawbones, and other characters with healing bolts. So that wasn’t great in situations with Dash, as well. He was able to get chased by a Hunter, get damaged, and throughout the chase pick up health packs, which made the Hunter frustrated because after taking him nearly down he was suddenly at full health again.
It also put a bit of strain on our [map’s procedural] generation. The way we placed objects in the map was a little strained and caused a bit more trouble when there were so many health crates. So reducing that by a significant number should help all those little details.
In terms of other changes for the Inquisitor, we’re investigating some other changes, but they’re more early on. I don’t necessarily want to talk about them. We might go back on them.
Does the team have plans for new Hunters?
100 percent. We’re working on another one right now. I can’t say when it’s going to be released, but definitely new Hunters — and new Scavengers after that.
Speaking about new Hunters, a lot of people have mentioned that Hunters are very aim reliant. If you’re good at aiming, you’re great as a Hunter. If you’re not good, you’re going to have troubles. I’m wondering if you have a future Hunter that might reduce that reliance on aim, or if you’ll be experimenting with different weapon types and approaches to applying damage?
We definitely are. We’ve heard that feedback, we take it to heart, and we think it’s a very salient point to talk about. We’re exploring different ways of aiming and exploring different weapons styles. Hopefully, we’ll soften some of that reliance on aiming and make it more fun for people who aren’t as blessed with great aim.
This is a bigger topic, but something I’ve noticed with Deathgarden is that it feels like there are two goals for players. One is to escape the Deathgarden, and one is to get as much experience as possible. So you’ll have Scavengers turning in blood and getting experience, but others will hide in bushes so they focus on escaping. I’m wondering what the team thinks about that motivation conflict, and whether you see it as a development priority.
Fair. So, coming off of the original Deathgarden from August of last year, a lot of the major feedback we got that the game was fun in a group [of friends] but left something to be desired when you were in a group of random people, let’s say five randoms, or you and your friend with three randoms. It was too heavily reliant on coordinated team play. One of the changes we wanted to make is that we didn’t want to remove team play, but we wanted team play to be kind of an optional fun part of the game rather than a requirement. So a lot of effort went into making sure the individual’s performance and the things they do — or choose not to do — affect them more than the team.
So for me, it’s all about experience. I’ll go earning as much as I can because I want to progress my character, I want to buy new items, I want to get better and survive longer the next time I’m in there. There is an element, like you said, of escaping and it does give you some experience... but if you ignore that, you could potentially get a lot more by focusing on the objectives that give you experience.
At the same time, there are people who just, because of the fantasy, they want to escape because they feel like it’s more valuable. So we’ve given players a lot more freedom since that early release, with the lessening of team play. I see the point you’re trying to make, and what we tried to do was give people the option to do what they want.
Which sometimes means standing in grass. We’ve tried to reduce that a little bit with the Hunter dominance going from four executions to three — that’ll have a knock-on effect, where even if two people are hiding in the grass, and the exits will still open and the Hunter will be able to complete that. We’re looking at other ways to soften this out. But ultimately, it’s a question of player choice, which we really like, and we really want to support the ability for players to play they want ... within limits. Obviously within the limits of our fantasy and the rules we came up with.
So I don’t know if there’s an easy answer to this with freedom, but we are trying to incentivize getting out of the grass. Another thing to think about is we intentionally wanted this for onboarding. We intentionally didn’t force people to do things, especially coming off last year and the way we made the game last year. So one of the side effects of that is people taking a little too long to get into the loop of collecting blood and getting experience and things of that nature. And maybe its a question of incentivizing that loop a little bit more and getting some players to go out of their comfort zone.
You mention onboarding — are there plans for a tutorial experience, or ways for players to practice without actually being in a game?
It’s definitely something we’d like to do. We have to think of the right method and a way we can deliver that experience. We have tried with tutorial tips to explain some of the core concepts of the game. But I think like you mentioned, I think what it comes down to is a way to test our abilities. We’re very early on in this, but it’s our intention to allow people to learn as much as they can before getting into the normal game situation so they feel more comfortable and they can learn the rules more. But we’re early on that one.
Something that’s interesting is that Behaviour already has a successful game as a service in Dead by Daylight. So you have somewhat of a blueprint after relaunching Deathgarden, but how do you deal with these early access issues while also maintaining a work/life balance, which is something Behaviour has spoken about before?
We’re working very hard every day to address the concerns of the community. We made the game, but it’s the fans who are now making the game essentially. The ones like you and everyone else who’s still playing the game and giving us feedback — I mean, it’s your game, and we’re here to guide your vision. What’s fun for the game and what do most people want? That’s what we’re going to try to accomplish.
But Behaviour is a great place to work in that, you mentioned the work/life balance, and we try very hard with that. We come to work and work hard for eight hours a day. If, in some cases, we need to delay a patch by a day or two or three because something’s not ready? Well, that’s what we do, because we really believe in the team and we believe if we give people the opportunity and time to think and execute on those thoughts without being pressured to do it, we’re not going to burn out the team and we’ll get a much better result in the weeks, months, and years to come. So, with one of the patches, we delayed that by two days because of circumstances, and we’re not afraid to do that in future.
So, there are fans who are a little worried because, well, the game’s already been relaunched. They’re wondering, is this something Behaviour is in for with the long haul, or is it an experiment that the team is willing to walk away from if it isn’t successful after a time? What are the team’s thoughts on that dialogue in the community?
We’re definitely committed to making the best game that we can now. Like I mentioned before, we’re not making the game, the fans are making the game. They’re putting their effort, time, and money into the game ... or not. And if they continue to support us, they continue to log in every day and write on the forums and show their interest, then the game will definitely continue. We need to have a group of people who want to see Deathgarden grow and improve the balance, add new maps and characters, improve the lore, add new lore, that kind of stuff. If we see people wanting that, we are definitely going to continue on and make Deathgarden be all it can be.