Developer Spotlight: Dontnod Entertainment

The palindromic Dontnod Entertainment, based in Paris, France and founded in 2008, holds an intriguing place in the crowd of game developers. Best known for Capcom’s Remember Me, a title that adamantly featured a strong female lead, Dontnod Entertainment has turned to more indie-minded development with the episodic Life Is Strange and a vampiric RPG set in World War I named Vampyr. This is one studio that doesn’t shy away from going against the grain.

 


Remember This?

Dontnod Entertainment’s beginnings is essentially a start-up dream with a small team of experienced developers coming together to create artful video games. Founder and CEO Oskar Guilbert is the former Head of Developer Relations at Criterion Software, the developer for the stand-out Burnout racing series. Art Director Aleksi Briclot has a plethora of credits, with everything from Ubisoft’s Splinter Cell: Double Agent and HAZE, to Magic: The Gathering cards and Marvel: War of Heroes. The lead writer, Alain Damasio, has earned plenty of accolades and literary prizes for his novels. Rounding the leads at Dontnod Entertainment are Production Manager Hervé Bonin and Creative Director Jean-Maxime Moris, who we had the pleasure of meeting earlier this week.

From its founding, it would take four long years before Dontnod Entertainment would announce its first title, Remember Me, by way of Capcom. Originally dubbed as “Rain” according to a Sony trademark filing and “Adrift” at Gamescom 2011, before Sony cancelled the console exclusive and Capcom took over the project, Remember Me attempted to show that a female lead, a memory hunter named Nilin, could carry a triple-A action-adventure title.

Released in the first week of June as the studio’s debut title, Remember Me performed to fair reviews around the 70 mark. While the story was praised for its strong protagonist as well as its Remix segments, though the world felt restrictive, the camera had issues, and the story didn’t follow through with its themes, perhaps due to the fact that the initial draft was rewritten pretty much completely. What started as Adrift, a game about global warming and coasting around a city on jetskis, turned into a quasi-Orwellian story about recovering memories in 2084 neo-Paris. I’m not sure how you salvage that story without changing everything about it.

Strange How Things Work Out

Remember Me could be seen as a blip on the radar for Dontnod Entertainment in terms of creating a new intellectual property and household name for Capcom, but if the developer’s newest venture in the form of Life Is Strange is any indication, it has certainly learned from its mistakes. Courageously published by Square Enix, Life Is Strange doesn’t have any heavy action combat, and doesn’t spread itself thin by making worlds that are full of assets. Instead, it doubles down on character-focused writing and the time-rewinding mechanic. More than that, it has the potential to bring more legitimacy to the episodic format, normally reserved for Telltale’s catalog of games.

Having seen and played the game at a recent review event, which Blake Peterson also attended and wrote an article based on his experience, I believe that Dontnod knows what kinds of developer it wants to be: an indie studio that makes indie adventure games with indie music and indie aesthetics. Now, I don’t want to completely spoil my review of the game (which you should totally read by the way), so let’s just say that I deeply anticipate how Life Is Strange will resolve its time-reversing storyline and manage the story’s multiple decision points.

Dracula Rebirth

Last but not least, Dontnod Entertainment isn’t resting on its laurels. Not only are there four more episodes in Life Is Strange, but they’re partnering with Focus Home Interactive in creating a vampiric RPG set in World War I. According to Game Watcher, Vampyr will ostensibly star a doctor who becomes infected with the Spanish flu and already has plenty of promotional assets that feature top hats and horse-drawn carriages. In other words, I imagine that it would be similar to the British-American series Dracula that was unceremoniously staked by NBC after just one season. Perhaps all that pent-up disappointment will carry over to a video game.

Whatever the case may be with Vampyr and the remaining episodes of Life Is Strange, Dontnod Entertainment is one indie studio that deserves attention this year. Self-described as a company that “develops video games for HD platforms based on original concepts and innovative technology,” it’s slowly but surely living up to that promise.