Developer Interview: The inspiration behind A Plague Tale: Innocence

Asobo Studios will be releasing the much-anticipated A Plague Tale: Innocence, on May 14. APTI follows the story of Amicia, a teenage noble, as she attempts to survive plague-stricken France during the Hundred Years’ War. Making matters worse, she has to take care of her little brother Hugo, who is being pursued by the relentless Inquisition. 

APTI looks like an indie, puzzle-oriented The Last of Us, so we jumped at the chance to ask the good folks at Asobo a few questions.

GameCrate: A Plague Tale: Innocence looks like Asobo's most ambitious game to date. Why did you choose to make this game, and why now?

Asobo: The game was the logical follow-up to years of work on other games, that allowed us to perfect our engine (among other things). Those previous games we made, they helped us to grow as better technicians and as a better team! With this fully developed engine and added experience in terms of iteration, processes and teamwork, we were finally able to jump into this kind of creation.

GC: What games, films, or other pieces of art inspired A Plague Tale?

AS: A Plague Tale was inspired by various pieces of art. If we had to talk about only one game it would definitely be Ico. Art has been inspired by paint masters like Bruegel or Vermeer. As for movies, MacBeth was one of our main inspirations because of its peculiar graphic direction, especially how they use the mist to cut shots.

GC: Why did you choose to use young protagonists in this setting?

AS: We were naturally inclined to use young protagonists as we thought it would make them unprepared. Of course, the fact that they are nobles adds to this. Amicia and Hugo live protected by their parents, even though this life is not all perfect and still leaves room to dreams of the outside world... They are going to brutally discover what the outside world truly is and, from the point where they find themselves alone, they will have to grow up. It's this range of evolution, the nostalgia of their world about to collapse, and the contrast between them and the reality, that interested us.

Besides, it offered the challenge to write everything from the point of view of two children, which, for adults, is not as easy.

GC: How does using Amicia, a female protagonist, help you tell your story?

AS: With Amicia we just tried to write a character we could love. She's a bit of a tomboy, she doesn't really fit with what you'd expect from a noble girl at this time. What makes it more interesting is the fact that, while taking care of Hugo, Amicia will confront her own image compared to that of her mother, with whom she has a complicated relationship. It will help her grow up and understand the complexity of her family.

Charlotte, our young actress, brought a lot of sensitivity and strength to the character, which made the different layers of her personality stand out: Amicia can be hard with Hugo, but she can also be sweet and caring, and little by little, learn to be fierce with her enemies. She's not a warrior, but a young girl who'll have to adapt to the brutal reality of adulthood in these dark times.

GC: The game is set in a very dark period in French history; what is the emotional significance of this period to the team?

AS: Living and working in Bordeaux, we are surrounded by middle-age references everywhere, architecture in the city or whole villages nearby. We have that vibe anchored here. It is something that speaks to us and moves us.

GC: This game looks super dark. How dark does the story get? Will we see children devoured by plague rats? How will you balance the brutality of the story and historical period with your players' capacity for horror?

AS: It is dark, we’d be lying if we said it isn’t. You’ll see a lot of people devoured by plague rats, as those rodents do not distinguish between good nor evil. You’ll see people die: soldiers, civilians, children... That’s how ruthless the plague is. Nonetheless, the game will offer you some pauses to breathe. Hopefully these moments of contemplation will balance the rawness of others.

GC: Does the game have the option to play with French voices and English subtitles? If so, should gamers looking for the most immersive, realistic experience play it that way?

AS: Yes it does! We’re unsure if it’s better to play that way. Actually, if you want to immerse yourself in a story, you have to do it the way you know you’ll be able to live it. So really it depends of how you like to play and how you want to experience that story. We’re very happy with the voice actors we’ve worked with in every language so really it doesn’t matter what language you chose to play the game in.

GC: Can you tell me a bit about the gameplay? It seems like there's a strong emphasis on crafting, stealth, and puzzle solving. Does Amicia ever go head to head with an enemy?

AS: There is rich gameplay: you have stealth, you have puzzle-solving, and more. At this point, we don’t want to spoil anything, but keep in mind that you have to think twice before you do something or you might pay for it! Amicia may go head to head with an enemy, yes. That can happen (you’ve seen it in some trailers) but you’ll still have to be careful because you don’t want her to get hit by any kind of weapon.

GC: In your webseries, you mentioned that you use your own engine. What does this engine allow you to do that another engine would not? What advantages and disadvantages did you face?

AS: Using our own engine to develop A Plague Tale allows us to work with a lot more flexibility and freedom. We create the features we want the exact way we need it for the game and for the experience that we want to deliver to the player. The rats are the best example of this: they need a specific kind of development, without any constraint, in order to get the best quality.

A  Plague Tale: Innocence is scheduled for a May 14 release on PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4. Check back then for our review.