Interview: Talking Subject 2923, the final Remnant: From The Ashes DLC

Remnant: From the Ashes is either a game you sort of remember hearing about, or one you’ve likely sunk dozens of hours into. It’s a bit like Dark Souls, but with guns, and the world it’s set within is more of a universe that’s linked up by strange warp gates and a threat called the Root.

The main game was good, the first DLC added in a survival mode and spattering of new content, and now, we come to the final piece of DLC for Remnant, Subject 2923. Set mostly on an icy-cold world with giant rat-like warriors to fight against, you’ll see what happens after the main game and how The Dreamers are connected to the Root. We sat down with John Pearl, the Design Director at Gunfire Games, to chat about this upcoming DLC, and a bit about Remnant in general.


TSA: What inspired the icy setting and the enemies in the Subject 2932 DLC?

John: Early on, when we were originally working on Remnant, one of our concept artists just threw out a bunch of ideas, drawing all kinds of different worlds that you could possibly visit in Remnant. One of them we didn’t do in the base game was just a single concept of a humanoid giant walking down a street and there was a bunch of human-sized rats hiding from this giant. It was just this really cool image that we didn’t do anything with originally, but as we started looking forward to DLC, we were like “That was a really cool idea we never fleshed out.” So we kind of doubled down that original concept.

From there did a bit of concepts to refine that as an idea. In one of the trailers that we’ve released so far, we’ve shown one of those giants – they’re called Vargal – and that was kind of where we started, from a single vision of a concept. Then, snow worlds are always really cool to do anyway, there’s just something really cool about snow in video games, so it was a great fit for a DLC.

TSA: Is there a reason why it wasn’t included in the base game, given that it was one of the early ideas?

John: It was just a matter of the kind of story we were trying to tell. It didn’t really fit into the narrative constraints we had planned out, because really the core game was really about tracing Ford’s footsteps, and we had lots of ideas for the lore to take you from the city to Rhom, to the Swamp of Corsus (which was also optional for the storyline), and then eventually to Yaesha, where you eventually found Ford and took on the Nightmare. It just didn’t really fit into the structure we wanted to do, and again, it was just a single concept. It seemed cool, but we just put it to one side and focussed on the core world that we ended up shipping for Remnant.

TSA: Will there be more to this DLC than there was to the Swamps of Corsus DLC? There was kind of a mixed reaction to that expansion…

John: Yeah, definitely. We saw that mixed reaction and it’s definitely a lot more.

The thing with Swamps of Corsus was it was supposed to add the new game mode Survival, which people have really liked a lot, but I don’t think we were super clear with our messaging what the swamp part of it was.

I mentioned before, in the core game, the Swamps of Corsus are optional, so it’s not a full-fledged zone, or biome as we call them. The city, Rhom, Yaesha; those are all full-fledged biomes, whereas Corsus was meant to be this side area that was completely missable. If you went to the Undying King and Rhom and decide to fight them, you would completely miss the Swamps as a location. So we had this interesting story element where if you listen to what he wanted, did what he wanted, you’d go to this different world of Corsus.

The problem with making this a partial zone came when we added Adventure mode for free, which we did within the first week or so after we shipped. Adventure mode takes all the content from a zone and re-rolls it without a story, but there were certain elements that had to be there to make that functional and Corsus just didn’t have that. So we wanted to go back to Corsus and add that content, and we did that in the DLC so you could roll that in Adventure mode. I think people were expecting a bigger content drop, but it was meant to be a way to flesh out that zone.

Subject 2932 is different. It’s a new zone… actually it’s like two and a half zones. There’s a rural area that leads up to something called Ward Prime, which is the original Ward and people will be familiar with that from the base game. It’s kind of like Ward 13, but much bigger and, from a story standpoint, that’s where all the Dreamer stuff started and where they started experimenting with the World Stones. A core component of the DLC is that people will get to see that stuff.

Then there’s an entirely new biome that’s on par with the size of base game biomes like Rhom and Yaesha. It’s Reisum, which is the frozen world that we’ve shown.

TSA: Thinking of the co-op side of the game, will players who own the DLC be able to host players that don’t own the DLC in the new campaign?

John: No, you have to own the DLC to be able to play the DLC.

TSA: How do you balance all of the new weapons and Aspect abilities when adding in new ones to the story? And how do you keep them on a similar level to the ones in the base game?

John: We do a lot of playtesting internally and do stat comparisons when the guys are setting them up. We’ll be looking at things like the DPS output, the cooldown on this mod, or what the stats actually do on the armour. We’ve got a lot of spreadsheets we do comparisons on to see what’s balanced out, and then it’s a lot of playtesting!

It’s really just you got to get the stuff in there, take your best guess when you’re putting stuff in, and then try it out and balance accordingly.

TSA: How long roughly will the DLC be?

John: I think it’s roughly 3-4 hours, is what we’re looking at. (We’ve since been told that it’ll be around 4-6 hours according to the studio in general).

TSA: And as with the base game, with there be reasons to play through it multiple times with different bosses, different items and things like that?

John: Yes, definitely! Just like any of the other zones in the game, there are some quests that will spawn, sometimes they won’t, and there’s different ways to kill the world bosses to get alternate weapons.

This will be rolled now into Adventure mode, so you can replay Reisum with Adventure mode just like the other zones. If you have purchased the Swamps of Corsus DLC, you have access to Survival mode, and these levels will roll into that as well. It introduces different ways to play the Reisum content as well.

TSA: How was the reaction to Survival mode specifically?

John: It seemed really positive. I think at first people didn’t really understand it when we were talking about it, and I think people kind of got it when we started doing streams about it. Kind of like the base game, people didn’t really understand the random generation until they started a new campaign or went into Adventure mode. It’s one of those cases where you have to see someone playing it or try it yourself, but it seems that once people got it, they really enjoyed it.

We got a lot of people on message board and social media saying “Hey, this is my best run, check out my stats!” and sharing screenshots of their final run scores. That was really fun to see. We also watch a lot fo them when people are streaming on Twitch and cheer them on to see if they can get further than the people they’re competing against. We did this team event where a lot of different streamers were in teams of three to see who could get the furthest and the highest score. That was a lot of fun to watch!

TSA: Have you ever discovered something was unbalanced base on a stream?

John: Constantly! [laughs] Obviously the first thing people think is, “Oh, this is overpowered, I should reduce it.” But instead of doing that, we try to find why it’s overpowered and try to bring other items that are similar up to that level if we can. Sometimes that’s just not possible, but that’s our first approach, not to make something that’s good bad, but to make something that’s not as good better.

Sometimes there’s something that’s actually a bug causing it to do way too much damage, but if something’s just really good, we look at what’s around it.

TSA: That’s a really interesting ethos when compared to something like Destiny, where the second something’s broken, it gets nerfed.

John: Yeah, and I mean sometimes that has to happen, but that’s our last resort. We try to find ways to keep the stuff that’s cool, but bring other stuff up, so it’s not like that’s the only build. That’s not fun, we want to find other ways to make things just as viable.

TSA: Would you ever consider putting a PvP mode into Remnant?

John: It’s something we’ve talked about, but the challenge with that, I think, is that the game was built for PvE. All the abilities and everything is meant to kill the things in the world and kill them faster and faster. When you do that against another person, I don’t think it’s as much fun – it’s like, one shot and dead. So it’s just something as a studio we haven’t been super keen on exploring because I think we really want the game to be focussed on a co-op experience.

I’m not saying it’s impossible or that we’d never do it, but if we look at what the game is, we could kind of strip everyone down to run around in their underwear with the base guns, but that’s not fun either. We like to dedicate our resources to cool boss fights and new weapons. We’re a pretty small studio for the size of the game, so that would distract from a lot of the PvE content that we want to feel balanced and fun with friends.

TSA: How did you come up with the alt kills and Ultimate drops? How early on was that conceived?

John: It was pretty early. One of the core conceits of Remnant was that we really wanted to make a game that had those water-cooler moments, where people share their experiences but then find their experiences were slightly different. A lot of story-based linear games are like “Oh, I got that cutscene.” “Yeah, I did too.” – It’s the same experience. We wanted to create something that, while it did have a linear narrative, the moment to moment stuff could be very different.

There’s the Mad Merchant who has a Root mask, and he’s lost his mind because there’s a Root tree that could spawn or couldn’t spawn in a level talking to him and controlling him. If you kill that tree and go back to him, he’s doing a lot better. He’s not ranting or yelling about a Root tree that’s talking to him.

There’s a lot of ways you could encounter that; you could just find the guy and it’s “Oh, he’s rambling about stuff, that’s weird.” And if you try to take his mask, and then you have to fight him, or you just buy stuff from him, but he’s still kind of crazy. But if that tree happens to spawns in the world and go destroy that, then you can have a very different conversation with him.

There’s a lot of little things like that and variants that we wanted to create throughout the game to make sure people have these moments, either in person or on message boards, where it’s like, “Well, how did you get that?” And there’s this community coming together discussing how to get things, if things happened to you, what you think this means?

We really like when that happens in games and that’s one of the big things for the boss alt kills. We wanted every world boss to have that, so we could have these moments that people have to figure out that it’s not always the same way to defeat a boss.

This might be a spoiler, but if you play the correct tune in Yaesha, you don’t have to fight the Wolf, you can go talk to him in a cave and get an alternate weapon form that instead of having to fight him. There’s just lots of things like that where we wanted the alt kills to feel unique and have people explore the game to figure things out and it not just be “shoot the guy in the butt.”

That’s there sometimes, but it’s a case of wanting to have different ways and different ideas to take on these bosses.

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Jason can often be found writing guides or reviewing games that are meant to be hard. Other than that he occasionally roams around a gym and also spends a lot of time squidging his daughter's face.