Payday 2 Interview with Simon Viklund: A Smoother Operation

Payday 2 is looking to take everything that people enjoyed about the original heist-themed shooter and polish it to a beautiful shine. The downloadable title, which is a sequel to 2011’s cooperative Payday: The Heist, has been receiving a great deal of buzz from the community thanks to the promise of much improved mechanics, and if you’ve been lucky enough to enter the beta, the title’s creative sound design is sure to stick out. The soundtrack is reason enough to rob a bank, so we reached out to lead sound designer and music composer on Overkill and Starbreeze, Simon Viklund, to talk Payday 2. Since Viklund is also a core member of the design team, he was also nice enough to answer a few gameplay-specific questions we had about the August release.

Josiah Renaudin: Coming out of the original Payday, what did your team at Overkill Software feel needed to be first addressed in a sequel? Is there a single feature that you knew either needed to be added or overhauled?

Simon Viklund: There was a lot that we wanted to do with the game – but there weren't as many things that we wanted to replace as there were things we wanted to expand upon. Payday was like a successful "proof of concept" which we now had the chance to bring to its full potential. The biggest overhaul was definitely the level-up and character progression system, which is now very deep and caters for each player having a unique set of skills and gear.

JR: The moments within the bank are what many people see as the climax of a heist, but do you have any plans to include set-up scenes that reveal instances before the robbery?

SV: We want Payday to remain accessible and fairly fast paced. Right now, the amount of planning we allow – dividing tasks, buying assets, and choosing gear in the load-out as well as casing the location of the heist once the game starts – feels just right.

JR: Can you talk a bit about the CrimeNet interface, as well as Payday 2’s venture into branching mission paths?

SV: CrimeNet is our new mission delivery system. Not only does it allow the role playing to start already in the game's menu (you can imagine you're the bank robber as you sit there and gets pitched ideas for potential scores) but it also carries an incredible potential for expansions and features such as "special" versions of common missions that are only available for a limited time. The excitement now starts already in the menu!

JR: The Heist wasn’t exactly known for its rich narrative, but the sequel looks to be a much bigger, more ambitious product. Has building a story been high on your list of priorities throughout development?

SV: We're were never looking to make anything even remotely close to a Call of Duty "roller coaster" experience – if CoD is a game with a narrative that would be considered "rich." You can have a "shoot this guy, great, oh no baddie coming from the left – take him out! great, you really saved our asses" type narrative in a game where the player's gear and route is set for every segment of the experience – but that's not the case with Payday. In Payday, players can start a heist with so many different combinations of gear and skills (and subsequently, so many different opportunities) so we can't possibly tell the player what to do.

That's part of what makes Payday such a fascinating experience. Still, we've kicked the narration up a notch from the first game, as we added multi-day jobs which take you from one location to another, to a third, to a fourth – all under one continuous story arch. What's interesting is that it's not just a story that unfolds, but you as a player get more involved and care for the outcome of each segment because it will change your conditions for the next segment.

JR: The original Payday saw a great deal of post-release support. What are you plans to keep the second game relevant throughout 2013 and beyond?

SV: We already have a year of DLC support set up for the game! I think there will be five DLC packages with new weapons, gear, heists, you name it. Even new music tracks!

JR: As something who’s been working in sound design for many years, what are the challenges of keeping the music fresh through repeated playthroughs of particular heists?

SV: If the game is captivating and the music is good enough, no one will really notice how repetitive the music truly is! I'm half joking, but I'd say it's actually true for the first Payday game. For Payday 2, the heists have a whole set of tracks that the game randomly choose from, so that you can play the same heist over and over again but always get a different musical flavor. Payday has just the right level of dynamic control over the music to make the experience exciting and adrenaline fueled – the rest I leave to the player's imagination.

If something happens in the game and the music seemed to match it perfectly – like there's a lull in the music at the same time as there's a lull in the firefight, and then just as the action in the game kicks in the music does too – then the player will think the music did that on purpose and think it was awesome. But if the music hadn't done that, it wouldn't really have made the experience any worse. So you can't focus all your ambition on making the music randomize within a given track or be totally dynamic and receptive to what's happening on screen – if you maintained that ambition you'd wouldn't be able to apply any composition skills, and it would drive you crazy.

JR: What was your goal for the voice acting in Payday 2? What was the first thing you told the voice actors as they entered the studio?

SV: The ambition is to kick up the ante with lots more characters and lots more random things that they can say. Payday one had 8,000 to 10,000 lines of dialogue. Payday 2 has over 20,000 lines. So just the logistics surrounding all that is crazy. What the actors needed to hear – and I told them already in an email before they were even hired to do the job – was that more or less all of them would be require to scream their lungs out in front of that mic!

JR: With the game launching just months before the start of a new generation, could we see Payday 2 make its way to the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One sometime in 2014? Is this something your team has even had time to discuss?

SV: I can't comment on that at the moment.

JR: Payday is a unique concept, but what other titles did you look to for inspiration when making the sequel?

SV: Oh, the influences come from all over the place. The CrimeNet mission delivery system is inspired by many strategy PC games from the ‘90s, such as UFO – Enemy Unknown. The skill system is inspired by Diablo 2. The difficulty of the game is inspired by Dark Souls

JR: What most excites you about the feature sets in both the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One?

SV: More memory. In truth, as a player, I'm not looking for new gimmicky ways to control my games – I just want tight, well designed gaming experiences. So the best thing that the hardware manufacturer can bring to the table is a machine that is easy for devs to develop software for, technical requirement protocols that are easy to adhere to, and a well-built controller for the player to hold. It's as simple as that.

JR: In just a few short weeks, Payday 2 will be available for purchase. But in the moments leading up to release, do you feel there are any features not included in the game that could make their way into a future project?

SV: [Laughs] We always have new ideas brewing in our minds. New heist scenarios, skills, features… Trust me; there is no shortage of assets to squeeze into Payday 2 DLC or the next game in the series!

You can expect to jump into Payday 2 on PS3, Xbox 360, and PC August 13.