Exclusive: How Asobo Studios Designed A Plague Tale: Innocence

A Plague Tale: Innocence is a newly-released, narrative-driven single-player title with a singularly enrapturing setting; the game tells the story of a brother and sister fighting to survive in France amidst the horrors of the Black Death and the Hundred Years’ War, as they also evade capture by the Inquisition. In a game overrun by endless hordes of rats, which are perhaps its most eye-catching (if horrifying) feature, Asobo Studios tells a very human story about childhood innocence and its loss.

We recently had the chance to interview the development team at Asobo Studios about A Plague Tale: Innocence. The game is currently available on PS4, Xbox One, and PC. Check out the game’s launch trailer, below!

Our Interview with the Team at Asobo Studios

Where did you draw the inspiration for the setting of A Plague Tale? Furthermore, how historical is the game? Did the studio devote a lot of effort to historical research and accuracy, or is it a fictionalised setting more inspired by the history?

“The very first inspiration came from the old folktales our relatives used to tell us when we were children. Exploring what makes a dark and meaningful tale was a challenge as well as a thrill to us. We wanted to feature kids because it is something that is very emotional for everyone including our team. The 14th century is the crossroads to a lot of important events that shaped modern European culture and it is also a period we do not know much about. We had here the main ingredients to create a powerful drama: The Inquisition, The Black Death decimating half the population of Europe, the beliefs toward death at that time, The 100-year War between the Valois and the Plantagenets, etc.

“Since our own Region (South West of France) still bears the scars of this time, we still have many clues and remains of this period just next to the studio. Cathedrals, small villages, castles in Bordeaux, St Emilion, Carcassonne, Sarlat – We hope everyone will feel like discovering this awesome heritage after playing our game. But we did not want to create a historical reconstruction. We wanted the game to be grounded by authenticity, but we also wanted to take the freedom to expose our own fictional events.

A Plague Tale Innocence Interview Church

“We also found a lot of inspiration in many movies (Black Death, McBeth, the name of the rose…) or Ghibli studio’s anime, featuring powerful coming-of-age journeys of young kids and very rich, intense stories. Paintings were also key in the art direction (Chiaroscuro painters, Bekzinski work). The music superbly composed by Olivier Derivière and performed with medieval instruments plays a great part in the immersion, too.”

How long would you expect a full playthrough of A Plague Tale to take gamers, from start to finish?

“There are 17 chapters and we estimate the adventure to last from 12 to 15 hours.”

What would you say are the core themes of the narrative? What sort of emotions are you seeking to evoke in players with your story and visual design?

“The story is built around a group of kids struggling to survive alone. It is their story in the broader history, like all ancient folktales are rooted in real historical facts. The main themes revolve around family, the challenges of moving into adulthood, and what (young) people can do in critical situations to save the one they love. Perhaps it is also a reflection on violence and war. The main themes of the tale are universal, and we hope everyone can find a meaning and moral in it.”

A Plague Tale Innocence Interview Rats

What design or development challenges did you have in creating the rat swarms which so dominate gameplay?

“The biggest technical challenge was definitely having up to 5000 rats on-screen. They had to be believable when reacting to lights and shadows, they had to move as a fluid horde, and most of all, we had to have good performance on every platform. Our proprietary engine enabled us to quickly prototype a lot of things, check what we could do and what we couldn’t, how we could adapt, and prove if something was not only a good idea on paper but also worked in-engine.”

The decision to cast the protagonists as children results in combat being a very limited option; was this a conscious decision to emphasise other areas of gameplay?

“It is because our protagonists were children (by choice) that we could not choose the direct brutal confrontation. We then had to find other alternatives to advance through the level – Observe, plan, and move. That said, the sling is not a soft weapon. Have you seen what a sling can do? It is very brutal and efficient despite the fact that in people’s mind it is weak or a kid’s weapon.”

A Plague Tale Innocence Interview Sling

With the name ‘A Plague Tale: Innocence,’ is the subtitle ‘Innocence’ an indication that this game could be the first part of a continuing story or franchise?

“In the construction of the name it is a way to balance the word ‘Plague’ and all the horror it conveys, with the innocence of the kids. The rats also show this contrast; that’s all. The word ‘innocence’ is something we were very attached to, because it was the main theme of the game basically.”

What inspired you to have a ‘companion character’ in A Plague Tale, in the form of the player character’s younger brother?

“From a story perspective, the Ghibli movies were undoubtedly an inspiration. Having a younger counterpart is something we wanted to use to show that there are many wonders out there, and that we should never forget to see the world through the eyes of the child we used to be. From the gameplay perspective, pure gems like Ico inspired us in terms of the immersion and the relationships between the characters.”

A Plague Tale Innocence Interview Companion

If you’re able to say, what plans do you have for the future? i.e. do you have plans for DLC, plans to work on a sequel, plans to work on another game?

“We have many ideas, many stories to tell, and many worlds we could explore, but now is the time for everyone in the team to take a well-deserved vacation!”

What has it been like to see the reactions of gamers and new fans as they experience A Plague Tale for the first time?

“We want to thank everyone who played the game and decided to support it, and all those sending us feedback. It is very emotional for everyone to read the emails, tweets and messages we receive from all over the world, watch people stream our game, get the viewers’ reactions and see when they are moved or thrilled by something. We have worked so hard for more than 3 years: it is the best reward a dev team can get.”