Asobo Studio’s A Plague Tale: Innocence is morbid modern fairytale in the making. Set during the Black Plague, it centers on sister and brother Amicia and Hugo as they evade the Inquisition, the plague, and other treacherous trials. Taking as much inspiration from Thief: The Dark Project as it does Hansel and Gretel, Asobo’s work may be one of the quietest sleeper hits announced at this year’s E3.
Interviewer Elijah Beahm reached out to the development team to hear more about this beak medieval stealth game.
Elijah Beahm: To start, wha inspired A Plague Tale: Innocence?Asobo Studios: We first imagined A Plague Tale while looking at ancient engravings inspired by Hansel and Gretel, The Piper of Hamlin, Tom Thumb, etc. Many of these popular dark stories have their roots in historical events, and the Great Black Plague of 1348 immediately came to mind. The engravings we saw were bleak and striking, portraying children facing some of mankind’s deepest fears. This is where our idea of letting players see the world through the eyes of children came from: what happens when a child’s innocence is challenged with desperate situations? How can a child cope with it? Where would they find the strength to carry on where so many adults have already given up?
Likewise, the images often depict this era’s atmosphere through buildings, through colors as they fade away with time, through the half-light used by maestros to paint life at candlelight or next to a hearth. The idea of playing with contrast, light and darkness, became a centerpiece of our story right away. This aspect of everyday life in the Middle Ages seemed obvious to us, and developing a game of lights and shadows helped us put the puzzle pieces together and give meaning to our characters’ actions.
The historical density of these times is also the perfect opportunity to enrich our creation while maintaining a degree of freedom in interpreting it, allowing the fable dimension to thrive. We live in France – it’s close to our historical past and what we can see in the villages surrounding our city of Bordeaux. It’s very inspiring. The plague, the dark times of the Inquisition, the Hundred Years’ War, alchemy, the mystery of life, and the chemistry between them – everything is there to create a compelling universe. We’ve worked to capture the unique essence of the human condition and give a dream-like, but authentic, vision of the Middle Ages.
EB: Your game balances action, adventure, stealth, and there are even some hints of survival elements. How do you balance it all? What brings it all together?AS: One of the basics of A Plague Tale is the light and shadow gameplay. This is how we manage to blend action, adventure, stealth, and even a little survival and crafting. It’s a key thread linking most of the actions of the characters.The combination of gameplay will also depend on the situation and evolve as the children move forward. The context and skills they learn drives the way they approach the world. The children will need to be more stealthy at the beginning of the tale because they are weaker. They will have to solve more puzzles while managing rats, even more at night. When some unexpected events arrive to spice up the story, the gameplay becomes more action-oriented.
EB: What drew you to a story about siblings? Will we be able to control both Amicia and Hugo, or just Amicia? If the latter, will Hugo still be useful in gameplay?
A: From a purely creative standpoint, the first seal of the story is definitely the special bond between the two siblings. We want to play with the contrast between their strong emotional relationship, and the brutality of medieval times. This is the starting point of the tale we want to tell: the friction between the innocence of young orphans lost in a grim, cruel world.
From a gameplay perspective, it’s an interesting thing too. Players will feel the weakness of two children who are alone and forced to survive on their own. We want the player to experience the deep love and tenderness between Amicia and Hugo, their closeness, affection and mutual support – but also the adversity. You play as Amicia, but your little brother Hugo will help you in your journey. He is not a burden, and we’ve avoided including anything resembling ‘escort missions’. The cooperation between the two characters is a key driver and also a challenge.
Hugo is young, innocent, and still discovering the world – you will need to keep an eye on him. However, he is also smart, savvy and agile. He’ll be able to help Amicia if the player is clever enough too. That’s what we want to offer: a true, deep bound between two orphans who are everything to each other, who have to fight against all odds together. This helps to fuse the gameplay with this emotional relationship.
EB: We see in the teaser trailer that Amicia and Hugo are on the run from the Inquisition. Could you elaborate on how they end up in the Inquisition’s ire?A: At the beginning of the game, the Kingdom of France is in the grips of the deadliest epidemic ever in the European History. Soon, the Black Plague is followed by an invasion of dreadful, unexplained waves of rats. In this context, fear and mistrust are settling in among the population. One day, Hugo and Amicia’s family is slaughtered by one of the inquisition factions. We don’t know why, we don’t know what happened exactly, but the children are now being hunted. They have to flee, embarking on a tragic journey which will unveil why they are being pursued by both the inquisition and huge swarms of rats. They will eventually discover they have an important role in a much bigger story…EB: Light and fire are key components in your E3 teaser trailer. Will players have to balance warding off the rats with staying out of sight?
A: The rats are both a danger and a tool for the kids – one of the creatures’ primary weaknesses is their aversion to fire and light. Amicia and Hugo will learn how to use the lights and range of fire sources to repel the rats and stay alive. However, light can bring unwanted attention from another foe: the Inquisition. You will be able to use the rats to your advantage against the Inquisition forces. When in darkness, other humans are just as much prey to the horde as you are. On top of that, we are adding environmental effects that affect gameplay – rain, wind, night, day. These add variety and can really increase the challenge. Amicia can craft a set of dedicated tools and improve her sling to face the growing threats and turn situations to her advantage. For now, we can’t elaborate too much on this, but we’ll have more information in the future.
EB: Despite the subtitle of Innocence, we see Amicia swiftly kill a guard by knocking out his light so that rats devour him. Will non-lethal approaches be an option? Will there be any sort of moral consequence to killing enemies?
At the very start of our tale, Amicia is as immature as you’d expect from a young child. She’s carefree, a bit of a rebel, and never really been confronted with adult choices. The story tells her initiatory journey: she will grow to understand that she will not be able to avoid cruel choices to save her brother. She will have to face horrible situations, where she will sometimes have to be involved personally. As she makes crucial decisions, she will become more mature and independent, and be forced to explore a darker side of herself. Amicia will experience situations where she will be directly confronted with other humans trying to kill her and Hugo. Players will have the power to choose the easy way and kill, or perhaps try to preserve a little of her innocence and find other ways to move forward. The levels usually propose both options.
EB: Will there be any fantastical elements in A Plague Tale: Innocence, or will it be grounded in realism?
We definitely want to stay grounded. It’s certainly not a fantasy world with witches, and dwarfs and magic powers. The 13th century was packed with events of major significance. We did not have to create anything more memorable… it’s like our orphans are trapped in a historical nightmare.
They will somehow fantasize their world. The player will possibly see the distortion of reality through their eyes, but the universe we have depicted is deeply rooted in historical reality.
EB: How open-ended will the levels be?
A Plague Tale: Innocence is a linear narrative adventure game. We want to focus on telling a great story. However, we do have a multi-path approach, and we try to keep options as open as possible. However, players will be able to choose how to approach each challenge they face. For example, leaving a dangerous road to go through a wheat field lets you be more stealthy.
EB: What part of A Plague Tale: Innocence are you most excited for players to experience, that you can talk about right now?
We are so excited to deliver a game directly from the team at Asobo. It’s really our baby, so developing the whole game is an exciting experience in itself. Our team’s intention is to tell a emotional journey, as powerful as it is intimate. We want to let players experience emotions that video games seldom convey, while challenging ourselves with the realization of such a fascinating tale.
Personally, I really enjoy working on the surprises linked to the hordes of rats and the feeling that they convey. All the events and references to children’s tales that we have hidden on the road to keep it fresh. I look forward to seeing everyone discover them!
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