Paradise Killer was maybe one of the most slept upon games of 2020. Profane, arcane, low-poly, and bizarre, the game wasn't just eccentric; its combination of open-world exploration and procedural investigation was one of the most justified and brilliant uses of either genre.
This past month, publisher Fellow Traveller and developer Kaizen Game Works announced Paradise Killer will now be making its way to PlayStation and Xbox, bringing with it a free update across all platforms that includes three new tracks by composer Barry “Epoch” Topping, new side quest rewards and collectibles, and a visual upgrade in the form of ray tracing for compatible devices. With its debut now upon us, we reached out to Kaizen Game Works creative director Oli Clarke Smith to hear more about what these changes mean for the base game, how the update looks and sounds, and--is that a teaser for a Paradise Killer sequel? Read on.
Game Developer: Paradise Killer is so beautiful; I can imagine its bright sunny setting benefits a lot from the addition of ray tracing. Can you tell me more about the decision to make such a substantial technical upgrade for the update? Were there any technical challenges associated with the upgrade? Any environments in the game that benefited from it the most?
Oli Clarke Smith: Thank you for saying so! I love the ray tracing in the update. The obvious thing you notice first is the reflections on the marble obelisks and floors. The reflections are crystal clear and really striking. The lighting is more subtle but once you notice it is hard to go back. The lighting colors are richer and more realistically react to the environment. I’m not big on realism in games, I prefer an otherworldly approach to game worlds, but in this case, the realistic lighting helps us achieve our ‘island outside of reality’ look. The light is hazier in the fog and it adds a glow to the world.
In terms of making the decision to make a technical upgrade, it was a no-brainer. We use Unreal and barely touched the under the hood parts of the engine so it meant that we could do an engine upgrade and start toggling features on and seeing what worked. The game is intentionally lo-fi and that means we didn’t tinker much with the engine. The path to upgrade was still a load of work but it was at least straightforward.
Before Paradise Killer shipped we had already secured funding for our next game. We went into PK assuming it would only sell a handful of units but we wanted to continue as a company so we rolled straight on to the next project. This meant we didn’t have enough bandwidth to do the ports due to other commitments so we brought on our new best friend [freelancer games porter] Harry Denholm to handle them. Our art director Rachel Noy had previously worked with him and sung his praises. He took on all the work, filling his house with dev kits and getting everything up and running. The best people to work with in games are people you can trust to take ownership of something and deliver. Thankfully Harry did just that. He got all the new features running then started playing with other things we could do. The secret best feature is that the DualSense light bar is synced to our day and night cycle and changes color as the game’s lighting changes. He also did a fantastic job on the haptics; clicking our torch on and off is extremely satisfying.
"I took the approach of 'if it’s good enough for the Dreamcast, it’s good enough for us' when I made most of the world in Paradise Killer."
The only technical challenges we had came down to how I had previously authored some content. The gold domes that litter the island picked up too much color from the sky when ray tracing was switched on. This was because of the way I had authored the material and textures. I took the approach of “if it’s good enough for the Dreamcast, it’s good enough for us” when I made most of the world in Paradise Killer. That causes problems in the new and exciting world of physically based rendering so some things had to be reauthored or changed.
I’m intrigued that the new update will have an additional line of collectibles; as I recall, those in the base game didn’t necessarily benefit the player or exist just to complete a Steam achievement, which is usually the case in other games.
What’s the team’s design philosophy surrounding collectibles and achievements? Are they just a means to encourage exploration in an open-world game (a prompting that Paradise Killer hardly seems to need)? Or are they an essential element of worldbuilding and narrative in Paradise Killer? Can you tell me anything about the new ones?
One of my favorite jobs on Paradise Killer was writing the collectibles text. You get the opportunity to write a small vignette that adds to the player’s comprehension of the world or deepen the mystery of the lore. I wanted to add some more just so I could write a few more.
As well as my desire to write some more text, we also wanted to include some to reward players exploring in places we hadn’t thought of in the original game. We did a live stream around the launch of the game and while we were doing it I found somewhere I hadn’t thought that the player could get to so we added one there and to some other places like that.
We view collectibles as critical to the experience of exploring and understanding a world so their quality is important to us. I don’t think we will ever just do meaningless collectibles that are just there to fill a total like the feathers in Assassin’s Creed. That’s just busy work and is obviously filling a gap in the game design. We’ll only do collectibles that add something to the world. They also play into our view of hands-off engagement between the player and the game. If the player wants to engage with the lore and setting, they’ll want to hunt them down. If they don’t, that’s fine by us and they can ignore them.
When we talk about collectibles in the update we use that term to cover a couple of things; the narrative collectibles that give some lore and the Starlight skins that you can use to customize the in-game menu. In the original version, we never gave you a proper reward for collecting all of the drinks. This time we’ve put my new favorite Starlight skin in as a reward for that. More new Starlight skins have been added as collectibles you can pick up in the world. In the original game, skins couldn’t be found as a pick-up but now some are and they’re in hard-to-reach platforming areas.
When you say there are “new mysterious beings” with the game’s new update, with such a colorful cast of characters, that could mean almost anyone. That said, will we meet any new gods this time around?
It was important that we didn’t touch the main cast in this update. We haven’t added or changed anything to do with the main story since everything is so intrinsically linked in the crime. If we added a new Syndicate member we would have to do a LOT to explain why they aren’t a suspect and update a lot of dialogue with other characters to reflect that. There is one Syndicate character in the game already who isn’t a suspect and we had to do a lot of lore and dialogue to explain this.
So these new mysterious beings are side characters that don’t impact the events of the crime but are tied into the lore of the world. One of them wants to know more about the island and will reward you for things that you find. Others are dreadful [REDACTED] that are the key to finding the new music tracks that we have added. I like writing these side characters because they can be a bit more playful and cryptic.
To answer the specific question about gods, no, you will not meet any new gods, unfortunately. Gods are so significant to the world of PK that introducing a new one would be huge and we’d want to do it right. We have some Paradise universe games that we would like to make in the future and in those you will definitely meet new gods. You’ll probably attack and dethrone the hell out of them as well.
Tell me about these new side quest rewards--if I remember correctly, all the side quests in Paradise Killer were (if you wanted the “true” ending) necessary to the game’s full completion. Are these new rewards functional or just symbolic? Are there new side quests at all, or just rewards? Does the playthrough have enough new material to justify a new playthrough for returning players? And--this is my love for Lydia and Sam Day Break talking--have additional or new endings been considered?
We don’t really think of PK as having a proper side quest structure but there are things you can do that directly relate to the main story. The new side quest rewards in the update fill in some gaps in these activities that were missing in the original version. For example, the game encourages you to collect all the drinks but you didn’t get a decent reward for doing it. Now you get a great new Starlight skin which we hope is a good reward. Similarly, there was never a good reward for getting the lore collectibles so one of the new mysterious beings gives some rewards related to this.
Side quests seemed like the best way of describing these is a concise tweet/trailer way. We designed PK to be pretty apathetic of the player; if they want to engage and explore, awesome. If they don’t, awesome. So we didn’t want to implement quest givers and side quest chains. It takes away from some of the surprise and discovery when exploring and didn’t fit with the playstyle we thought was important. The new mysterious being that I previously mentioned has the closest thing to a side quest in the game but it rewards player engagement rather than actively trying to force it like side quests in other games.
In terms of justifying another playthrough, I think that depends on how much the player engaged with everything the first time around. All the new stuff is compatible with existing save games so you’re not forced to start again to see it. We know that some people didn’t find some very crucial evidence when they first played so they may want another run through to experience new stuff and see what they didn’t see.
We also know that someone played through the game without realizing you could unlock new movement options at the footbaths. That’s really cool and validates our design of being hands-off but that could be a very good reason to have another run-through along with the new stuff. Also, I still occasionally play Paradise Killer just to vibe. The real world is a waking nightmare and we wanted to make something that would allow people to escape that. It seems to have worked and I would recommend that anyone who wants to vibe out again do another run-through. Especially because the three brand new music tracks are killer and you’ll want to spend some time with them.
In terms of new endings, nothing has been added because we wanted to preserve what we’ve done in the original version. We didn’t want players to feel that their version of events wasn’t canon or less important because something has been added on another branch. However, I do want to point out that the secret Lydia and Sam ending was put in at the last minute to justify another Paradise game we eventually want to make. So if you like that pair of assassins and we get enough money to fund that project, you’ll be in for a treat.
I assume these new songs mirror the sound of the ones in the original release, very '80s syn-pop. How much input did the development team have in influencing the sound of Paradise Killer? What was it about this specific sound that you felt contributed to Paradise Killer's vibes? And are there any plans to bring the new album to Steam or is it Bandcamp exclusive?
We wanted to add some new music along with the update since it is so important to the vibe of Paradise Killer. These new tracks are all new compositions by the original composer Barry “Epoch” Topping and they directly follow the themes of the original release. Barry composes very luxurious-sounding music and these tracks are no exception.
When we started working with Barry we already knew the kind of stuff he produced and knew it would be a good fit. We gave him only the slightest brief and just let him go. What is important is that his approach was to build an album, not a score. Some games are about their very linear set of narrative beats and they have their music composed to match this linear flow. We knew that PK would be extremely non-linear and we had to make a soundtrack that would work in any situation. That’s not an easy thing to do obviously but the outlandish style of the game and our desire to go as far away as possible from seriousness and grit allowed the soundtrack more chance to work whatever the player was doing. [Grand Theft Auto] works best when you are robbing a bank with Britney Spears playing. The freeform nature of the action game allows great moments to naturally happen with the music and we wanted the same. By creating the soundtrack as an album, Barry could explore the musical themes and focus on the music rather than tying it to specific moments.
I’m glad to say that yes, the new album is coming to Steam and other PC game platforms, not just Bandcamp. Steam has been surprisingly good for album sales which I didn’t expect. The new album features these three new tracks and a load of remixes of existing PK music. Some tracks have become vocal tracks sung by the amazing Fiona Lynch. We’ve made a lot of new friends after the release of PK and have been blessed to be able to work with MeeBee and Okumura. I am a huge No More Heroes fan and their work on NMH3 is simply wonderful. MeeBee has remixed one of our songs and Okumura provided the vocals for it.