Hell is Us represents a big step forward for Montreal studio Rogue Factor and creative director Jonathan Jacques-Belletête. This is the developer’s first original IP after releasing Mordheim: City of the Damned and Necromunda: Underhive Wars, stepping out of the massive Warhammer license to create what the team can call its own. Jacques-Belletête left Eidos Montréal after less than 12 years at the company, where he successfully worked as art director for Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Mankind Divided, and just completed Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. Team’s art direction design. Now taking a bigger role in developing Hell is Us, he’s shaping the vision for this dark new adventure.
I recently spoke with Jacques-Belletête about the new project, an action/role-playing game with realistic conflict that sets the stage for a disaster with supernatural consequences. We discussed the dark theme of the narrative, the protagonist and his connection to the world, and how the team hopes to allow players to explore the experience without the game giving you all the answers.
find home again
find home again
Hell’s protagonist is Us, who has yet to be officially named by Rogue Factor, born in the unnamed country at the center of the story. The country, surrounded by mountains, has been largely isolated from the rest of the world for nearly 2,000 years, Jacques-Belletête said. When the United Nations was established after World War II, it was officially marked as a hermit state. Fast forward to the 1990s, where Hell is Us takes place, and the country is ruled by the “iron fist” of a dictator.
The 1990s were chosen because several countries around the world, such as Kosovo, Bosnia and Rwanda, were in turbulent times, where peoples faced armed conflict, wars of independence and genocide. “The theme of the game is that human violence and savagery is basically a perpetual cycle, driven primarily by human emotion and human passion,” Jacques-Bellet said. “Like, the cause of our worst atrocities and worst suffering, right? It’s all based on human passion and human emotion.”
According to Jacques-Belletête, this is a theme that the team does not take lightly. But while war and its horrific consequences are at the heart of Hell is Us’ overall tapestry, it’s more fundamental to the fight against supernatural beings who are the game’s main aggressors.
Jacques-Belletête tells an underappreciated story of other regions and countries facing similar difficulties. The topic of discussion briefly turned to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the conflict and suffering it caused the entire country and beyond at the time of writing.
“What’s happening in Ukraine right now is happening every day, in many other places. That’s the reality of it. That’s how sad it is. This absolute madness and terror, this violence. These are the things we do with each other. ,”He said. “We don’t realize that this is a reality for most of the population on Earth. We are sheltered here. We don’t know what that means. […] The horror library is very long. “
The protagonist won’t take sides in the game’s ongoing civil war, and you won’t solve the crisis. “One thing is for sure, the game is not about saving the country from civil war,” Jacques-Belletête said. “There’s no such thing as, you know, a guy who walks into a civil war situation and ends up like, ‘I saved it. I’ve stopped myself. It doesn’t make any sense.'”
The boy grew up on the move, filtered through the Canadian foster family system as a child, but never settled in a place or home that felt like home. He found the structure that was missing in a stable family life after joining the military. During his enlistment, he was sent on various peacekeeping missions around the world, often looking for a way to return to a hermit state.
During his years away from home, he made numerous attempts to find a way back, in vain attempts to meet the parents who sent him away, to settle his soul hungry for answers. Answer questions such as who his parents were, why they abandoned him, and why they smuggled him out of the country. The Civil War created an opportunity, a small crack in the indestructible shell of the country. He saw an opportunity to find his parents and ask them all the questions that had burned in his heart for so long.
Knowing that a large number of peacekeepers have been sent to neighboring countries due to the conflict, the man manages to join the mission, not to help but to sneak back to the secret land where he was born. “So, he was not part of the unit that was allowed in,” Jacques-Bellet said. “However, the man had this plan. His plan was to go AWOL on a moonless night and sneak across the border.”
Find adventure in forbidden places
Find adventure in forbidden places
After changing into more adventurous outfits, the man stepped into his home country for the first time in decades. This is where our hell begins. The protagonist doesn’t know where to look for his parents or anyone who might know their identities. Little did he know that a supernatural being had taken hold and would be the real enemy.
Jacques-Belletête wanted to give up what he called “silver plating”. He doesn’t want Hell is Us to explicitly provide where to go, who to talk to, or what to see. “We put the onus back on the players, not only figuring out what they need to do, but figuring out how to do it, how to find it,” he said.
He compared this loosening of guidance to a series of findings in The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. The story begins when an old man tells Link that his missing son used to play his flute in the forest. Tracing fragments of the story all over the world, you can find the stump where the boy played for the animals and see his spirit play for the gathered wild animals. Later, after getting the flute, you can play it to summon a little bird that takes Link to different points on the map as a clever version of the game’s fast travel. Nothing will tell you to do this specifically, but talking to that man, listening to and learning from his son’s story, and piecing these elements together can connect some simple dots into a revealing moment.
To give players a sense of exploration and discovery, Rogue Factor relies on a balance of environment design combined with available information gleaned from characters in the world or otherwise. Jacques-Belletête sees it as a way to once again support the importance of art and level design, which, in his view, lacks meaning in an age of mechanics that guide players exactly where they want to go.
“You start to realize that the work of level designers and artists, although the environment can be beautiful, they really have no purpose other than to be beautiful,” says Jacques-Belletête.
Even characters that offer quests in other games often feel hollow to him, but Rogue Factor is working hard to make them worth listening to in Hell is Us.
He hopes to take this route to success after a similar design concept has become popular in games like Elden Ring. “People are coming back to the ‘wait a minute’ idea. If the world speaks to me properly, I don’t need all these artificial superpowers that RPGs have,” he said.
Taking on the surreal mystical horrors found in Hell is Us requires the protagonist to use weapons that are in many ways different from that era. The monsters that roam the land are both mysterious and important to the story, although Jacques-Bellet doesn’t reveal much about them beyond a brief description of the creatures he calls “entities.” He describes them stylistically as “almost like paintings” and the way they move is chaotic. Some are hulking monsters that appear to be made of ooze, and the substance that covers their bodies alternates between red and black in a spiral. These entities roam the land in what appears to be an umbilical cord, connected to another pale humanoid, with empty spaces where parts of their faces and abdomens should be.
Modern weapons such as guns or other artillery do not affect these creatures, forcing players to rely on special melee weapons, definitely ancient weapons like swords and axes, to deal any damage. These objects of war emit a ghostly glow of unknown origin, but their haunting resonance is likely one reason why it can harm entities. This means that most of the combat in Hell is Us is close and personal. How and why these weapons are effective will be revealed in due course, but just because most modern weapons don’t kill entities, that doesn’t mean some form of technology doesn’t have a place in the fight against this supernatural threat.
Although Hell is Us takes place in the 1990s, Rogue Factor is infusing some highly advanced technology, including a drone that assists the protagonist. Jacques-Belletête compares it to the technology in games like Metal Gear Solid 3, which is set in the 1960s but whose director Hideo Kojima opted to use a variety of smaller games that were more advanced than at the time. tools and weapons. Jacques-Belletête sees drones in the same way. While it may feel ahead of its time, he clarified that the drones in Hell is Us don’t look or behave like the quadcopter designs that are popular today. The player’s first encounter with a drone is when it’s spotted on an enemy, which raises more questions about the world. Who these people were and where the technology originated are just some of the mysteries surrounding these machines.
Drones help balance the odds of a mysterious entity. Because enemies are often paired with chaotic monsters and pale humanoids, having a drone friend by your side makes things a little more fair. “Your drone can do all sorts of things to distract half of the entity, while you take care of the other half,” Jacques-Belletête said. He also told me that drones can be upgraded with new moves that will further assist in combat.
To travel in the Hermit State, the player will sometimes commandeer an armored personnel carrier. This APC acts as a hub, home, and usually a mobile campsite that can take the player character to different regions. Hell is Us doesn’t have a traditional open world, and many of the places you can travel have to know beforehand. Whether it’s information gleaned from maps or through conversations with locals, the seeds of knowledge must be sown before exploring new areas. It’s all about the player’s interaction with the world and the choice to explore further in a particular direction.
These areas will vary, some being more compact, while others are open land. Characters explore new territories for a reason, because you yourself learn a lot from people, places, or objects. Whether it’s a specific person to meet, a landmark to look for, or a side story to discover, every new part of the country you go to is designed to take you there in some way, which in turn points you to more faces and location to continue traveling as you wish.
Hell is Us is still a long way from release, and Jacques-Belletête isn’t ready to estimate when it’ll be playable. He said it could take a few years for the game to get into our hands. After speaking with him, though, I’m willing to endure the wait to see how this ambitious title comes together, when I can finally explore the many dark mysteries of this harrowing and unforgiving land.
This article originally appeared in Issue 345 of Game Informer.