Payday 2 Interview With David Goldfarb: Reinventing The Heist

Payday 2

Overkill broke new ground when it released Payday: The Heist in late 2011. The game combined the cooperative teamplay of Left 4 Dead with a variety of heist scenarios that saw players robbing banks and making a break for it by gunning down law enforcement, in situations not unlike those portrayed in movies like Heat.

The studio, now under Starbreeze, is back this year with a sequel titled Payday 2. I got a chance to sit down with the game director David Goldfarb to talk about the game.

Players in the first game had masks they could choose from. Are there any plans to expand the game's vanity options? It'd be fun to rob a bank dressed up as a group of American presidents.

David Goldfarb: The short answer: yes, completely. It’s part of a complete overhaul. One of the biggest new elements in Payday 2 is the whole “Payday” system. This rose out of a desire to create value and an economy. After all, people rob banks to get money. If we have a game where the things you are doing have no value or interest for players, we aren’t doing the best we can for our game or our theme.

So masks are one part of this.. they are part of a reward system like you’d experience in any RPG, with rare and epic drops and the ability to craft them to give players a real method of self-expression as well as you know, having an awesome looking mask. There are something like 2 million potential variants right now. and that doesn’t even cover the other parts of the Payday 2 drop  system, like clothing, voice mods, and weapon modification…

The first game gave players a huge system of perks and weapons to play with and unlock. How do you plan on expanding it in the sequel?

David Goldfarb: We’ve really taken this to the next level in Payday 2.  We do a number of different things, but basically, players have a weapon progression they go through as they level (up to 100), which unlocks a bare-bones weapon platform. And like masks, when a player completes a Job, he gets a Payday, which may or may not drop modifications for the various platforms, scopes, reticles, stocks, foregrips, suppressors, nozzles, you name it.  So for instance, our M4 platform has over 200000 potential variations. And we have over twenty weapons.

As far as the perks go, I’ll tackle that in the next interview question.

The Mastermind is DeNiro in Heat or even the Joker in The Dark Knight, the Enforcer is Vinnie Jones in Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, and so on.

Are there any plans to create actual classes beyond the originals (Assault, Support, and Sharpshooter), as to allow for players to specialize in certain types of characters?

David Goldfarb: One of the biggest feedbacks I had personally when I came onto the project was that I felt like we needed to really build out the things players could do, systemically, to feel smart, and that meant a lot of soul-searching. Part of this, a huge part, really, was creating a skill system — four professions in this case — to allow people to feel like they can build the character they really wanted to build to do the things they really wanted to do.  

So again, we are borrowing from RPG conventions. We have four professions: Mastermind, Technician, Enforcer, and Ghost, and each one is a kind of crime archetype. The Mastermind is DeNiro in Heat or even the Joker in The Dark Knight, the Enforcer is Vinnie Jones in Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, and so on. And each profession has skills and gadgets that correspond to the sorts of things you associate with those archetypes, in addition to the normal passive stuff you would expect. You can mix and match professions, meaning you don’t have to choose one, but going higher in the tiers gets more and more expensive, and so going all the way in one profession will prevent you from doing that in any other profession. So you can specialize in Ghost, but you won’t be able to get that high-end Mastermind skill you desperately want.

We have, in all honesty, focused on making the choices clear… and difficult. I definitely believe in creating angst with this system. Should I choose this skill? Or that one? If you give people everything, you give people nothing. So that’s been a direction thing — make choice painful, and make it matter.

Do you have plans to cater to players favoring more non-violent approaches? Is it even possible to pull an Oceans 11 instead of a Reservoir Dogs?

David Goldfarb: It is not only possible, it was a design goal. The fantasy of a heist for a lot of people, including myself, is pulling off the perfect job, without bloodshed. Not a hard-coded thing, but a “let’s run this the right way and see if we can do it”. Giving people the option to do it without killing a soul. And honestly, this is a hard thing even if you didn’t have the type of expectation we have from the first game, because stealth is so, so difficult. But for us it was really important. So yes. You can. Of course if you are tasked to do a hit, someone needs to die, or at least disappear.

The fantasy of a heist for a lot of people, including myself, is pulling off the perfect job, without bloodshed.

Most heist movies don't start and end in banks—and many of them feature high-speed chases and roadside battles. What are the chances of having missions based on heist films like Ronin, The Italian Job, and Heat?

We are super conscious of film and tv tropes and love to make scenarios based on them. That’s about all I can say without getting into trouble, but uh, we like Breaking Bad a lot…

Regarding mission variations, what's the possibility of seeing missions based in different time periods, like the 1920s? After all, some of the best heist movies like Public Enemies and The Untouchables are set way back in the day. 

Anything is possible, although for release we are targeting one time period.  What we have done instead is create a broad and incredibly deep range of dynamic missions, called Crime.Net. The game is far, far bigger than even we had anticipated.

Beyond cameras in the original, are there plans to implement different security systems to offer some variation to the challenges? The trip-laser scene in Entrapment comes to mind.

Yes. Metal detectors, lasers, civilians that call the cops on you if you don’t keep them on the fuckin' ground, remote cameras, motion detectors…

When you started a new game in Payday, you simply spawned into the map—more or less—with very little introduction. Is there any chance that the new game will have more cinematic entrances and exits?

We definitely are treating the entire game flow a bit differently. We want there to be a flow to the experience and throwing the player into the map and abruptly ending it isn’t what we want.  The goal is to have something that frames what you are doing in a cool way and sets the context for what you are about to do. Then we turn you loose.

We have rebuilt the entire AI from the ground up to accommodate what is essentially a robbery simulation.

A lot of the time in Payday, you could just waltz into a bank manager's office and the game wouldn't really react to your actions. How do you plan on making the game seem like a more realistic representation of a heist?

The new stealth systems have definitely made us look much, much harder at these sorts of things, because for stealth to work stuff needs to make a minimum amount of sense. You can’t have some indifferent guy in the backroom not freaking out when you roll in with an m16 and body armor. So we have rebuilt the entire AI from the ground up to accommodate what is essentially a robbery simulation. People definitely behave a lot differently, and part of your responsibility in that first part of the heist is definitely crowd control. Unless you choose to go guns blazing. But that’ll mean the cops deal with you in a whole other way.

And finally, can you tell us when we'll be able to get our hands on the game?

David was unable to comment on my questions about whether players would have the ability to create their own maps or modify their gameplay experiences with a ‘mutation’ system—features that no doubt remain under wraps, which the developers are unwilling, or unable to promise.

We’ll be keeping a close eye on Payday 2 as development progresses towards the game’s release. It'll be out on the PC, XBLA and PSN. 505 is publishing.