Payday 2 interview with David Goldfarb: Heists, “collapsing buildings” and AAA shooters

With the first-person shooter genre crowded with military shooters and its ilk, 2011′s Payday: The Heist swooped in and surprised a lot of people with its focus on heists rather than kills, and how it prioritized co-op over competitive multiplayer, which is sadly getting more and more overlooked.

So, naturally, we were curious as to how its sequel, Payday 2, was shaping up. Fortunately for us, former Battlefield: Bad Company 2 and Battlefield 3 lead designer — and now Payday 2 game director — David Goldfarb agreed to do an interview with us.

Below are our burning questions on Payday 2, the changes we can expect from Payday 1, and in the latter part, what he thinks of the FPS phenomenon which he helped build.

Pixel Enemy: What’s changing in Payday 2? What can we expect to see that we haven’t before in comparison to the first one? Will it have a “Story” mode this time around?

David Goldfarb: I’d say there are too many changes to count. There are four huge changes but you need to start with the overall concept. Approaching this game the question was, how do we make this feel like the robbery fantasy everyone wants? Not L4D the heist. And so that led us down a few paths:

The first is Crime.net (basically a dynamic mission delivery system, with rare/more difficult jobs/your friends all visualized on a giant city district map.
The second is the inclusion (no small inclusion) of stealth. Stealth – and the ability to sneak, to pull off the perfect heist, is part of every robbery fantasy. It was one of those things we had to include to make the game feel whole.

To do this we had to create the third pillar – the skills system. Basically, these are four archetypes – ghost, technician, mastermind, enforcer – with 36 skills per archetype. Each of these archetypes promotes a different set of player abilities and gives them access to different deployables. Unlike most class-based games, you can mix and match as you level, so you can spread across all four of these skill trees or go deep into one. It allows you to really customize how you want to play.

The last one is the Payday system, which is basically our entire economy and loot drop system. When you complete a job successfully, you get a Payday, which is our way of giving the player a reward for the hard work of finishing a job. The payday can include masks, mask parts, patterns, colors, weapon modifications and cash – all things that add to player expression and were completely absent from the first game. Now a player can totally customize how he or she looks and it’s an expression of their in game achievement. Super cool.

PE: After the great response to the first game, was there anything you added to the sequel that was directly from fan feedback?

DG: We read all the fan feedback and even had a secret group of testers drawn from the most hardcore pool of our players. Many of our changes are influenced by that.

PE: Was Overkill surprised that the game did as well as it did since there are a ton of shooters out on the market already?

DG: I think we were excited that you didn’t have to be a shooter with a collapsing building to excite people. The world needs things that are different. Payday: the Heist was different and unique. And different in this market of sameness and risk aversion is always a stronger position from a sales and team investment perspective.

PE: Speaking to the subject matter of your game, what is your (studio’s) favorite “heist” movie of all time?

DG: I couldn’t say. I know “Heat” is high on that list.

PE: The jump into the retail space can be daunting, besides getting the game out into more people’s hands, what are some of the other benefits of releasing the game both digitally and at retail? Why do this now? Is this to reach a much wider audience?

DG: The game is so much bigger than it was last time we have no choice but to go retail. Plus, we want to put the game in as many people’s hands as we can and going retail allows us some latitude we would not otherwise have.

PE: Retailers have listed the game at $39.99. At that price fans have been hoping we will be getting more than six heists. Do you have a finite number for the finished game?

DG: The number is 17 heists (30 stages) with three difficulty levels. There are also escapes, six in total, which are dynamic.

PE: What is your plan of attack for DLC and post-launch support?

DG: We have a lot planned for amazing DLC content. People will be psyched.

PE: Will the hostage system remain intact? Will killing civilians be equally punished? Or, can players choose how to play the game (eg. Violently or Deus Ex-style stealth)

DG: The hostage system is intact with some tweaks. Killing civilians is expensive. And money is key now, and used for everything, even leveling skills, so you don’t want to kill dudes unnecessarily. Sometimes though … a brother’s gotta do what a brother’s gotta do.

PE: Any idea if there will be a special collector’s edition? I think Payday fans won’t object to getting that mask as a bonus.

DG: More on that soon. (At the time of the interview, it was not revealed just yet. You can see its contents on the right — Ed).

PE: Has the team considered mod support (if not for consoles, at least for PC)?

DG: We are still looking into Steam workshop support but not for release.

PE: Is Payday 2 being considered for next-gen platforms? Or more importantly, is Overkill “actively” developing anything for the PS4 or Xbox One?

DG: I cannot comment at this time.

PE: Has the team ever considered making Payday 2 into a third-person shooter/action game rather than a FPS, which a lot of people think is crowding the gaming landscape?

DG: As far as I am aware, no. This is first person, yes, however it is so unique in terms of the experience it offers that there are no other games like it in its space. It doesn’t make sense to move into third-person in that regard.

PE: What’s your take on the current FPS landscape? Will games like Battlefield and Call of Duty continue to thrive on to next-gen or will people be fed up with it at some point?

DG: I think the interesting stuff in FPS games right now is happening on the indie margins. All sorts of lower fidelity more interesting work. I’m personally burned out on the “shoot the man” games no matter how high the quality bar is. There needs to be another set or sets of interactions for it to engage me now.

And the higher the graphical bar creeps, the less compelling those “shoot the dude in the face” or “press X to saw leg” things become, for me at least. I think we are at a crossroads when it comes to systemic versus authored experiences, and I’m pretty much done (for now, anyway) with authored.

PE: You worked on AAA games like Killzone, Battlefield before, why jump into a relatively smaller studio/publisher and game? Is it for the challenge or did making AAA games take its toll?

DG: I wanted to work on big games to know what it was like. Some of it was ego, some of it was the excitement, some of it was knowing I could reach a lot of people. It certainly didn’t start that way with Bad Company 1 but the BF series became a real monster with BC2 and even more with 3.

To answer your question, did it take its toll making AAA games? Yes it did. As Kenny Rogers once said, “You gotta know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away and know when to run …” 🙂

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We’d like to thank 505 Games and David Goldfarb for taking the time out of their busy schedules for the interview. For more Payday 2 coverage, stay tuned next week where’ we’ll have a hands-on preview, as well as gameplay footage.