So far, Arkane Studios' game playgrounds have been set in fantastical, odd futures or deteriorating steampunk cities. With Redfall, the team at Arkane Austin opted to take its immersive sim mechanics to something closer to a familiar but twisted reality. In an interview with Arkane Austin Art Director Karen Segars, IGN learned more about the inspirations for Redfall's scenic island town setting, design challenges and solutions for the co-op mechanics, and telling Redfall's story through its art.
Segars said their journey in designing Redfall began with a trip to New England that started in Bangor, Maine, and concluded a few days later in Boston, Massachusetts. It was October, making it the perfect time to collect close-ups of fall foliage and the general vibe of Redfall's Halloween setting. Redfall is not based on a particular location in New England but Segars said it's instead more of an amalgamation of locations including Camden, Bar Harbor, Old Orchard Beach, and Acadia National Park.
Segars said the district landmark locations were important considerations, not only aesthetically, but for Redfall's gameplay design. Redfall marks two major development milestones for Arkane: not only is it the studio's first major open-world game, but it's also its first optional co-op campaign.
"One of the challenges is helping the players know where they are. [We] wanted to have various points of interest around the map so that they can orient themselves from wherever they are." Segars said. "Also just setting up all of the level streaming and how everything streams around the player was a technical challenge we took on, right? Our tech team actually built our streaming system. We built our time of day system. Those were some of the core features we needed to make this game. I would say those were probably two of the biggest ones that we took on as far as what varied from previous games that we made. Prey did have time of day, but it was much more isolated on a space station [versus] people able to run across the town."
The day and night cycle impacts Redfall's gameplay. During the day, the vampire god The Black Sun looms over the town and speaks to any player who stares too long at the eclipse. At night, vampires are more active. Segars said another typical technique used to ground players is having a directional light. They sped up the sunrise and sunset timings to get the sun and moon in the sky faster to keep a key light in play.
Other major points for orienting the players include lighthouses — very New England, as Segars said — and major district landmarks, like the orchard in District 2. Redfall is played across two different maps. The first is home to the more dense town setting, while the second has farms and other aspects of rural life. One of Segars’ favorite elements of their design, though, are the three various churches. In IGN's two hands-on sessions with Redfall, we saw that it boasts a fair amount of storytelling through art and the environment — a hallmark of Arkane.
"There's a prominent [church] in District 2 that we may have shown a creepy belltower in one of our first gameplay trailers. The storytelling that happens in those is such a juxtaposition of what's supposed to be a calm and safe space. Some of the set dressing that we show, and at least in the church of District 1, it was supposed to be a safe haven," Segars said. "You could see survivors actually flocked to the church, but you know, it didn't go so well."
Accounting for Variation
Another important style choice for Redfall is its cutscenes. Rather than something fully animated, they take a storybook-like style that highlights particular moments with narration of the player character over it.
"[Creative Director Ricardo Bare] used a good word for them; they're a flash sideways," Segars explained. "It's kind of like a summary of what you just learned so that you can go out on your mission. A large priority of ours was [since] you can change your outfit in Redfall, we wanted that to be reflected in these scenes. I've played plenty of games where I've customized my character and then it's a cutscene and they're in their base outfit. So if your friends are there, you get to see them in what they're wearing. We opted for the still scenes to capture that essence.
"If you would think about cinematics, that's a huge animation undertaking. Doing it with the poses, you get to capture the emotion of that particular scene and just really double down on the pose and the facial expression and just create this kind of mood without having to get too busy with all these characters [being animated]. Since you can play with up to three friends, that means that there are four people on screen most of the time. All of that movement would be just a little bit distracting for telling the story. So the pose, the facial expression, and then the dialogue really gets to sell the mood of what we were trying to tell there."
Segars explained that if you're not joined by any or the maximum number of friends, the named NPCs will fill in the hero character spots. Even though you and your prospective team are the hero, the civilians are also part of the fight in taking back the island. Segars said even when you're alone, you're not alone.
Redfall is out on May 2 on PC and Xbox. For even more on Arkane's upcoming vampire hunting FPS, be sure to check out the IGN First hero features for Layla, Jacob, Devinder, and Remi, and see our exclusive preview of how Redfall plays in co-op. If you're more interested in how Redfall plays solo, we've got a preview for that too.
Miranda Sanchez is the executive editor of guides at IGN and a member of Podcast Unlocked. She's a big fan of stationery and fountain pens. You can sometimes find her on Twitter.