Let it Die’s Hideyuki Shin on How a Free-to-Play Grasshopper Game Works

If there’s one game studio we love, it’s Grasshopper Manufacture. Not only did Hardcore Gamer have the privilege to host Suda51’s PAX Panel for his excellent The Silver Case this year, but we were also given the opportunity to head up to GungHo’s offices in El Segundo to play hours of the studio’s first free-to-play game, Let it Die, and speak with director Hideyuki Shin, creator of the highly-memorable Killer is Dead. Although “free-to-play” may also be a term that scares off gamers, Shin-san repeatedly assured us during our chat that it was nothing to worry about. Read the full interview to learn why and also what’s next for the game as well as its director.

[Hardcore Gamer] What was behind the decision to switch Lily Bergamo to Let it Die and does anything from that game carry over to this one? 

[Hideyuki Shin] In the earliest years prototyping Lily Bergamo, a lot of things had to be changed around, and because it changed so much, it eventually just became something completely different: Let it Die. People were surprised looking at a female protagonist with a strong story, going to this survival action kind of a game. But from the very beginning, before any of the titles were made, when Grasshopper joined the Gung Ho group, it was already decided that they were going to make an action free-to-play game. So if there’s any doubt of, you know you just made Let it Die and threw free-to-play in, none of that is how it was. After Lily Bergamo became Let it Die, we could focus more on the action-survival aspects, but the technical side wasn’t lost. Asset-wise, you might be seeing some of the same things in the game, like a crane or bulldozer, but Let it Die does take place in a post-apocalyptic Japan, Tokyo.

One of our favorite games of last generation was the highly-underrated Killer is Dead. Did you take any inspiration from Killer is Dead to bring over to this, because it would be great to see elements of that live on whether that be story or gameplay.

In general, when making a new game, you try to start off with something that’s very new, from a blank slate. I have a lot of great memories with Killer is Dead and I was adamant about specific points, especially the action elements of the game, but I guess you could say that some of that has probably influenced how things have come to be within Let it Die, especially in the sense of all the little details like how action should be performed or what to do in loading times. I think it’s especially continuously using Unreal engine and that, so a lot of what I learned from my experience on Killer is Dead is not purposely being reused, but has carried over to probably influence some aspects of the game.

We’ve noticed that from what we’ve played so far, the story reveals itself slowly. You’re dropped into this crazy world without much knowledge of what’s happening. Was that a purposeful decision to reveal the story slower and do you think it will change player’s perception of the game as they play more?

Compared to a typical retail game, this is a free-to-play game that’s meant to be played for a very long time, and there’s so much stuff to do. Killer is Dead is story driven and story elements are placed at a specific tempo to make sure it goes through because the game can be cleared within maybe 10-20 hours or so, so it’s very specific. This game is different as it is free-to-play and meant to be played a very long time and it’s a very different monster in itself. Sure, you’re going to play story elements, and we have placed story elements in the game at specific places to make sure that we keep players engaged. In comparison to Killer is Dead, it might feel a little slower, but we feel that we’ve put them in the right areas to keep people interested. There are also other things within the game you can see when you get to a boss fight with cutscenes, but other elements that players can find with Easter eggs keep them engaged and help them figure out what’s actually going on around them in the game as they slowly try to unravel the mystery. The creation’s different because of the type of game it is, in the sense of story-driven package versus free-to-play online with a lot of content. But don’t worry, there is story content, and a lot of mysteries to be unveiled in this game.

You mentioned that the game is meant to be played a long time — is there an end game ultimately and is this something you see people playing years from now?

The game is meant to be played for a long time, and of course, we’d be glad if people played it for a year or more because there’s a lot of stuff to do. There really isn’t an end, but there’s a specific point where the scenario you get to is kind of like an end where you kind of understand everything that’s going on and you figure out why you’re in the tower, who is Uncle Death and what’s really going on, and so the mysteries will be unveiled, but the game is still meant to be continuously played for a long time because of how it all ties into the PvP elements, so there’s a specific scenario, but it’s not really your typical, 10-20 hour kind of a game.

Is there a level cap?

So actually the level cap is based off the rank of your fighter, so everyone starts at rank one fighter — through progression you’re going to unlock higher rank fighters and they’ll all have their own level caps.

Explain the paid content in the game and how it affects the overall experience.

We’ve been careful to make sure the game isn’t pay-to-win, so there are three main points for monetization. One is continues, the next is crafting at the shop. The stronger versions are weapons and armor that last you a lot longer, so if you want to cut the time it takes to make them, you can monetize. So it’s for convenience. And then we also have the VP elevator — if you have a VP express pass, the membership allows you to not only ride the elevator for free, but it doesn’t take your kill coins or your currency that you get from killing enemies. From time to time you’ll get special decals that will boost the amount of experience points that are obtained in battle from killing enemies and also your death bag gets expanded so that you have more slots to carry around more resources for crafting, or just in general for more weapons and more mushrooms or health items and stuff. Most of the monetization is just to help the game run smoother and of course in regards to additional content in the future, there will be no purchasable content because everything is free.

Will we see Let it Die DLC or expansions?

So it’s pretty much complete, but because it is a live, persistent title, we do have plans to add more content, including things like weapons and equipment and maybe having events periodically, depending on maybe the seasons.

Once the game is released, do you plan to keep supporting — is it going to be your main project for a while, or is it something that can be maintained by other people in the company?

I’ll be on it the whole time to make sure the right things get put in and of course balancing it and everything, so if someone tells me I want you to make something else, I’m going to have to consider it, but we’ll see.

Hopefully Let it Die will be around forever, but if the game were to runs its course, would you like to move on to a similar roguelike or free-to-play game, or would you like to kind of delve back into more of a linear, Killer is Dead type experience?

It’s not like one is better than the other, they’re both good experiences. Killer is Dead is the scenario-driven hack-n-slash experience. They’re unique in their own ways, and both great experiences, but personally if I were, and not to say that I like one more than the other, but I were to make something else, it would be nice if I had the opportunity to make more of a scenario-driven game this time, less violent, where you’re not focusing on killing everyone with buckets of blood everywhere. I also like games that are moving, that really reach out to players and get that emotional reaction, so something along the lines of the scenario and emotionally driven, relatable kind of game that really raises something, rather than mass killing.

Let it Die does not yet have a release date, but will be released exclusively for PS4 before the year is out. For more on the game, be sure to read our hands-on preview.