Recently I had the opportunity to sit down for a chat with Behaviour Interactive creative director and key Dead by Daylight dev Dave Richard. Six years in, Dead by Daylight’s sprawling and twisted history offers a lot of interesting topics to unpack, starting with big recent changes like the emblem system and the addition of Pinhead as a playable Killer, and going all the way back to the game’s inception and the strange ways players interacted with it at the start.
Victoria: How long have you had your sights on Pinhead for Dead by Daylight? Did you have to go through many iterations of his power? What were some of the challenges and surprises you went through when adapting him to the game?
Richard: With Pinhead being a horror icon he had been on our list for the longest time. A lot of us on the team are fans of the Hellraiser franchise and wanted to see this character added. Of course his power is quite unique and required a little bit more tech than usual. In terms of the idea and how we wanted the fantasy of the character to happe, we liked the torture and the chains, we identified that quite early in the process. We also really wanted to go all in and use the puzzle box. It was important for it to be part of his power.
In our design process, we go through a prototype phase and quickly iterate and try a lot of different ideas with any new power. We identified what we wanted to do quite early. The challenges were more technical. Using a lot of chains, and being able to spawn and control these chains anywhere in the level and on multiple characters was the bulk of the challenge.
Pinhead’s perk, Scourge Hook: Gift of Pain puts a rewarding twist on Killers hooking Survivors. Can we expect more Scourge Hook perks in the future?
Scourge Hook is something that we will see more of in the future. Just like when we first introduced Hex perks with the Hag, Scourge Hook is a type of perk we want to create a new gameplay space with, so we can explore playing around the hooks more with these types of perks.
Why did you decide that Survivors cannot see Scourge Hooks?
This balance decision is based on the feedback we got back from the public test build, and on our internal playtesting. As players interact with this perk more and it becomes part of the normal Dead by Daylight skill set, we will see if we need to change anything.
Was hook sabotage a concern when creating the Scourge Hook perk?
With the new setup of sabotage, it is less of a problem than it was in the early days when sabotage was permanent and quite easy to do. I don’t think it is as much of a problem today. It is important that perks stay relevant, of course.
Something else we saw on the public test build is that Killer and Survivor ranks looked completely different. Why did you decide to change the ranking system if it will no longer be used to determine matchmaking? Will ranking up still be based on emblems?
Yes, the emblem system is still being kept for the grading system. We decided to change the visuals, mainly on the ranks which are now grades, to try and separate both systems so it is clear we are starting a new age in matchmaking. Ranks are now a thing of the past, they are not part of matchmaking anymore. However, we wanted to keep the rank system in Dead by Daylight because it is a great way to see your progress within a role.
Will the number of pips you need still increase the higher grade you are?
Yes, the grading system is still very similar to what it was.
Releasing so many characters and perks each year makes it exponentially more difficult to get exactly what you want. The team is looking into lowering this grind and giving players access to the perks they want much faster and in more of a permanent way.
Are there any plans to increase the amount of Bloodpoints players can earn in a trial. With 179 perks and 52 characters, it can be difficult for new players to get the perks they want. What are the plans to address the ever-increasing grind?
I’ll need to provide a little bit of history for anyone who has not been following since the beginning. You are right in identifying the problem. We’ve built a progression system that is quite addicting and made a lot of sense back in the day when Dead by Daylight had fewer characters. It was designed to scale, but not to the level it is at today. During the years we changed the progression a bit, and lowered the amount of Bloodpoints it takes to go through levels, to prestige, and unlock content.
However, the fact we are releasing so many characters and perks each year makes it exponentially more difficult to get exactly what you want. The team is looking into lowering this grind and giving players access to the perks they want much faster and in more of a permanent way, so the grind pretty much disappears and we can focus on the fun of adding new characters and new content, and you can play with your favorite characters.
This is naturally a very complex system and has ramifications for every part of the game. It is quite a big task for the team, and we are still in the early days of it.
So it’s not something that is easy to fix?
No, it is not easy, because of the various different systems that use the Bloodpoints and the economy system. We want to make sure that those who play with the current system still feel that the time they put into the game is relevant, and it remains relevant once we implement the change. However we do agree that this is a problem, and we want to change it.
A rework to keys that connects them to Moris was mentioned in the anniversary live stream. What are the challenges with balancing this key item? Will we see this change soon, or is it still far off?
I can’t talk about when this change will happen yet. We are still in the prototyping and discovery phases right now. It is quite challenging to find the right recipe to make Moris and keys part of the normal flow of a match. We want to make sure the Mori and key are not so much of a surprise. But it is more of something a player or players work towards, and it is understood in a normal match that this sort of event can happen. So the victory is not stolen from you.
When introducing keys to Dead by Daylight, what surprised you most about how Survivors used them?
Here’s an interesting story. The hatch and keys were actually integrated into Dead by Daylight very late in development, just before we went into beta six years ago. The goal was to make sure there was an alternative way to win if too many generators remained and there was only one Survivor left. Since that time we have seen a lot of cool, clutch scenarios in which the lone Survivor escapes.
As a Survivor, getting to save yourself before the Killer gets you can feel so good. This is something we want to preserve, that feeling on the Survivor side. It’s the same thing with the Mori, we want to preserve the feeling of power you can have as a Killer. But both can feel terrible when you are on the other side, and that’s what we need to be careful with.
One thing players could do back in the day is bring a key and see the hatch very early in the game, unlike now when the hatch appears much later in the match. So it was there right at the beginning, and you could get all four Survivors coordinated to escape through the hatch at the same time. It was always quite a surprise when that happened. It was funny, but of course, it was not at all balanced for the Killer.
Are there any plans to address the botting and friendly Killers that just want to farm Bloodpoints? It can be frustrating for Survivors to wait 15 minutes for a game, only to get a farming Killer.
This is something that can be reported through the report system. If you are in a match against a farming Killer with no sportsmanship, you can report that individual and explain the situation. This helps us figure out what solutions we can put in the game on the design side for the future.
What are the challenges in developing the skill-based matchmaking system? Will players have any indication of where they are in the SBMM system?
Building an MMR system is always a huge endeavor. It is very complex and unique to the game you are building. Dead by Daylight is asymmetrical, and free form: players can do multiple things, follow different goals. This adds a lot of complexity to the goals and skill expression of each individual player. That is what we are rating, and you can see it in the emblem system: every aspect of the game is rated.
If you are more of an altruistic Survivor but you sacrifice yourself to save Survivors, is that considered a win? How many hooks exactly can be considered a win? How many sacrifices for the Killer? We consider what actions should be considered a win, and how we can find the right recipe to understand what skill means for the Killer and the Survivor – and then compare one against the other.
So there was a lot of effort put into analyzing the game, our data, and understanding how we can rate players.That is what you see today, or rather what you don’t see, as it is under the hood. But that is what is used. As we use it more and more. As we analyze and understand more data, we find what we can tweak to make the system more accurate.
Will players see how they are rated in the matchmaking system? For now that is not part of the plan. It is something we want to keep hidden, it is not information we want to give away. This might change in the future, though. We might add some sort of clue or hint to your rating. I don’t know.
Something else we saw in the anniversary livestream was Boon Totems. Can we expect to see these soon?
Absolutely, that is something we are excited about, much like the Scourge Hook. The Boon is a new type of way to play with Totems for the Survivor, and a new type of perk.
Hex perks have always been for the Killer only, so now people are wondering how this will change things. Can Killers interact with Boon Totems, or is this mechanic for Survivors only?
Our goal is to take existing elements in the match and make them even richer so there are more gameplay possibilities around them.
We want to make sure Moris are part of the normal gameplay loop in a match, that you can expect them, and when they happen they are really fun.
We are also going to add counterplay for the Survivors, so they are able to do something to prevent a Mori kill.
With Moris being changed as well, did you want to change them so they would not be as surprising to encounter? Or were Moris simply under- or over-performing and needed a change?
The latest tweak to the Mori system did not make them that powerful or that annoying in our opinion. We have also seen through surveys that players think so as well. They are not as toxic as they were a year ago, or two years ago. So balance is not our only goal with this system. We want to make sure Moris are part of the normal gameplay loop in a match, that you can expect them, and when they happen they are really fun.
Another goal is to potentially see them more often and in cooler ways. Moris are really fun when they happen, so we want to make sure they are highlighted not only through the use of an offering. We are also going to add counterplay for the Survivors, so they are able to do something to prevent a Mori kill. So if a Mori happens it will be like feeding Myers. If you see him stalking, you know what will happen.
A lot of Killers complain about generators being done too fast. According to what you see, are generators in a good place?
It really depends. The way we see these issues is that they cannot be perceived as a generality. It depends on the MMR, and on specific builds used by players. Sometimes it is very specific to a group of players. So we need to dig into that specific data to see if some tweaks would make it fairer for that particular group.
As you have added perks to help Killers control generators, have you seen any change in how fast generators are done, or how many Survivors escape?
Those perks are of course useful, and the only thing that we need to ensure is that they don’t become something Killers absolutely need to equip. This is especially true within these specific groups that feel rushed and feel that they really need those specific perks always. That is not something we want. We want perks to be a choice, something players can use but are don’t feel required to.
What is a successful Killer game for Dead by Daylight? A lot of people compare kills versus hooks. What do you balance around when working on Killer balance?
My personal answer is that I feel that a good Killer game is when you are having fun. It’s kind of a generic answer, but everybody has their own definition of victory. When I play Killer, I like to spook the Survivors. If they freak out once in a while, and if I can see their reaction and see that they are freaking out, I am having fun. And it does not really matter if they all escape or not.
Data-wise, or balance-wise, we often go with a 60% efficiency – or power – for the Killer. This means they should get two sacrifices or a little more in hook value during the match. This is the kind of general rule we use. We also saw through a survey that our players follow a similar thought process. You can have just one sacrifice and it can be considered a win as long as the experience was fun.
What I’d say to players is this: push yourself as much as you want. Have a good time, and don’t be toxic with yourself. I personally like to have at least one sacrifice, and I think that I need to give at least one sacrifice to the Entity to win. That for me is a victory, and the rest is all fun.
There are things in Dead by Daylight that are considered toxic which are more challenging to have rules for. Things like T-bagging are in a grey zone.
What is it like dealing with toxic players in Dead by Daylight? How do you work to change the game so players are not so toxic to each other?
There are different efforts to combat toxicity, and different measures already in place: things like making sure the chat is safer, making sure you can report players that are being very toxic. Of course, we want to make sure that our community is safe. However, there are things in Dead by Daylight that are considered toxic which are more challenging to have rules for. Things like T-bagging are in a grey zone.
I am very proud of the effort we made through the years for the community outside of the game. I think our community is where people need to feel safe and have fun. We have an amazing team that is focused on that, to moderate and make sure the community is thriving, making fan content, having fun together, and meming the game rather than fighting each other based on the roles they play.
Our community is the lifeblood of the project. I consider them – the Entity of the community – as our colleagues. It is as much their game, every single player, as it is ours to create. So it’s teamwork between the community and the dev team.
When you started on Dead by Daylight, did you think it would get this big?
Well, I like to think positive of course. I did believe in the project. We come from a very indie space, meaning very small. We were about 30 individuals back in the day. We really believed in the idea, and we were positive. But of course, we couldn’t expect it to be such a big success, and so fast, and to last so long. I am happily surprised.
It is amazing to see all the licensed Killers that have joined the game over the years and see players reacting and speculating on future characters.
Absolutely. There is this snowball effect: the more of these characters we add, the more great chapters we release. The more fantasy we add to the game, the more other characters want to be part of the Dead by Daylight family.
When can we expect the Hellraiser chapter to reach the live Dead by Daylight servers?
It is official: it will release next Tuesday.
Did you personally playtest Pinhead?
Of course, though not on the public test build. I have not played him against the community yet, and I’m probably going to get my ass kicked.[This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.]
I’d like to sincerely thank Dave Richard for taking the time to chat with me. Stick with us for more Dead by Daylight content!