In this article, we wanted to give you some tips and tricks about making the best DLC you possibly can.
We tried to showcase practical examples from our accliamed DLC/expansion for Dying Light, called Dying Light: The Following, so that we don’t only explain the theory but share our experiences as well. Hopefully, there will be a lot you can take away from this and it will enable you to create the best DLCs out there.
Designing such DLCs is always a huge challenge from a level design point and there is no single, universal recipe for a good DLC. You can take the easy path with "more of the same", but we wanted to do something extra – we wanted to keep all of what players liked in Dying Light, but also do something more at the same time.
Looking for an idea for an expansion, we considered a lot of scenarios. We finally chose the vehicle as an element around which this addition could be built on. I think one of the most important elements of good design is to find something that will expand the gameplay, not destroy the current scope of the game.
"The dirt buggies fit right in, providing both rewarding survivor strategy and moment-to-moment excitement."
The Following evolves Dying Light's formula by adding substantial new mechanics that compliment or even reframe familiar gameplay elements. The dirt buggies fit right in and provide both rewarding survivor strategy and moment to moment excitement.
Another important element that contributed strongly to the level design of Dying Light: The Following was listening to the players – the game is at its best, when the player does not feel controlled. We’ve kept this in mind, and using a reputation system, changed the model of the game to be even more open than Dying Light was. I believe that this way, we’ve provided an element that every non–linear game is trying to achieve – a sandbox, in which everyone can have fun in their own way.
DLCs are often seen by gamers as quick cash-ins and that’s because quite often they’re nothing more than just additional content which reuses base game locations, enemies and gameplay mechanics. That can be OK - if a game is successful there are a lot of fans who just want “some more.” But if you really want to create a great expansion you need to be courageous and add something special. In our case it was the buggy.
On the surface it might seem like a counterintuitive addition - Dying Light was all about parkour.
"We had to change nearly all of our game systems to make them work with the buggy -- starting with AI and ending with network code."
But we decided to add driving, which had the potential to completely kill our gameplay pillar. For us though, Dying Light was a game about being mobile, about overcoming obstacles - with style and speed - to go wherever the player wanted to go. Therefore it made sense to introduce something that takes that mobility to a new level - and present players with a new set of obstacles so they could overcome them.
Of course doing this is never easy. We had to change nearly all of our game systems to make them work with the buggy - starting with AI and ending with network code - but it also forced us to design a lot of new things.
At first we wanted to just “give” players the buggy, but then we realized that this will feel underdeveloped and will not be on par with the rest of our game systems. So we added upgrades and crafting to the core driving mechanic. This introduced a new way to customize the vehicle, created new types of challenges, and overhauled the UI. It was a lot of work, but I have a feeling that being ambitious and courageous (and maybe a little bit crazy) really paid off.
Making a DLC often just boils down to a small piece of content that fits in the broader game. However, we decided to change a number of things on the technical side that will give you not only a new skin or item to play with, but to change and enhance the game completely.
"We felt that adding the huge terrain and changing the overall feel of the new map would extend and enrich the experience."
While we knew that our fans love parkour, we felt that adding the huge terrain and changing the overall feel of the new map would extend and enrich the experience. This switch from urban to rural setting allowed us to focus on a number of things so while focusing on the DLC, we were able to implement a lot of graphical and other enhancements, making the game look more beautiful. A lot of zombies wandering around on the fields; improved trees and plants; new types of landscape like plains, mountains and beaches are only but a few things we included in the DLC.
The buggy is the best way to get around in The Following. We had to modify enemy AI and behavior and make sure that they interact with the buggy appropriately. While the new story and missions extend the player experience, we had to make sure that the new cutscenes, character animations are spot on as the NPCs have a very different state of mind from those in Harran.
Something to remember: redefining your tech and including new systems can be very risky, so only do it, if you have enough time and resources to do a stellar job.
The great thing about creating a storyline for an expansion is that it's possible to take a lot of liberties with the narrative. You can take the story into places the main game would've never allowed you to – you can explore themes and ideas that wouldn't be possible within the context of the "normal" experience.
"At first, we thought that creating a Fast & Furious slash Death Proof slash Mad Max type of story would work really well--after all, it's a game about driving over zombies. But we went back to the drawing board and asked ourselves a question: Is this what fans actually want?"
Another positive thing, one of the most obvious and (at the same time) important things, is that after the core game is released, you get a chance to understand your audience--at least the hardcore fans who will stay with you for a long time. You can try to make educated guesses as to what they really want, what they expect, what they find "fun" in your game and you can build upon that. Sometimes you will guess wrong, but with enough research, you will be able to give them what they want.
Since The Following is an expansion built around the gameplay concept of adding a vehicle to a game fueled by parkour, one of the greatest challenges for us, the narrative department, was to decide on how much screen time should the Buggy actually get. Naturally, we thought that creating a Fast & Furious slash Death Proof slash Mad Max type of story would work really well, since – well – it's a game about driving over zombies…
But we went back to the drawing board and asked ourselves a question: is this what fans of Dying Light actually want? We figured out that no, our players aren't interested in a story about a car. They want a story about Kyle Crane.
So, since we were working on an expansion, we decided to, well, expand the story. To experiment a bit and take Dying Light into places it wouldn't normally go. We wrote a much darker storyline with Kyle Crane again at the center, and it seems, ultimately, that it resonated really well with our fans.
With Dying Light: The Following, we wanted to create something that enhances player experience and adds to the world of Dying Light. Listening to fan feedback was essential. Players wanted the option for more progression, so we introduced the Legend system. This allowed for a new way of leveling up and added great value to the end-game content. For those who felt that the game was too easy, introduced the new Nightmare mode difficulty. More weapons like the SMG and the crossbow as well as new skins were long-wanted additions too.
Some of our fans thought we could do better with the contents of the Season Pass, so when working on The Following, we decided to include it in as part of it to add value. Clear communications to your fans can go a long way.
"Admit to your mistakes, if you made any, as that reinforces trust and goodwill towards your product."
When we realized that the DLC became so huge and costly, we announced what The Following is going to be about and that the Season Pass will increase in price. This gave players time to purchase it for the lower price for a while. This led to some very positive feedback, and our friends from Bethesda followed our example. We felt this was a way of the industry valuing and understanding the value of extra hard work.
The key to having a great DLC is to exhaust all types of content that you can possibly provide either in one huge DLC or give some content away for free. The #DrinkForDLC campaign was one of these initiatives. We also kept our docket codes going strong to provide some cool weapons to our fans.
Finally, there was a mistake to learn from. We announced the DLC seven months before it got released. In terms of promotion and communications, that’s a long time.
There were a lot of people who got upset because of this and this led to us doing an apology video. Admit to your mistakes, if you made any, as that reinforces trust and goodwill towards your product.
In short, focusing on community and morphing their ideas into yours will always allow you to create a great piece of content.