The Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden team conquers the challenges of video game romance

Keeping up with Don’t Nod can be a challenging task. The French studio has solidified its position with a diverse range of mid-budget games that place a strong focus on storytelling, from its sci-fi debut Remember Me to the popular teen drama Life Is Strange and its most recent release: Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden.

Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden serves as a follow-up to the studio’s cult-classic 2018 role-playing game Vampyr. It draws inspiration from its predecessor, which explored the journey of a physician dealing with his transformation into a vampire during the Spanish flu pandemic after The Great War. Similar to its predecessor, Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden utilizes the supernatural concept to weave character-driven morality plays, this time incorporating a game-wide romance.

In Banishers, players assume the roles of Red mac Raith and Antea Duarte — lovers and partners in their work. As the eponymous Banishers, they work as ghost hunters and exorcists. However, they face a personal crisis when Antea is killed in a haunting and must accompany Red in a non-corporeal form. Throughout the game, as players engage in solving hauntings as the mortal Red and the ghostly Antea, they are continually confronted with the choice of reviving Antea or banishing her to the afterlife.

Polygon spoke with Don’t Nod creative director Philippe Moreau and narrative lead Stéphane Beauverger regarding Banishers’ distinct approach to morality in video games, as well as its handling of romance and supernatural horror.

Polygon: Don’t Nod has developed a wide variety of games over the years — how would you define a Don’t Nod game?

Philippe Moreau: We enjoy exploring different avenues, but I believe our common ground lies in our desire to make players responsible and encourage them to contemplate the consequences of their actions. We engage our audience in the game, rather than providing mindless shooting with no mental engagement.

Dr. Jonathan Reid bears down to bite the neck of his victim in a screenshot of Vampyr.
Image: Don’t Nod/Focus Entertainment

Stéphane Beauverger: We also tend to pose questions rather than deliver answers.

Don’t Nod’s output has expanded as the company has evolved over the years. It now functions as both a studio [with two locations] and a publisher. Do you believe people are cognizant of this? Does it impact or shape their expectations?

Beauverger: It is somewhat concerning when people begin to regard us as a AAA game studio. No, no, no! We are still small! We are still dedicated to crafting AA games. We aim to be generous and passionate about our work, but we are by no means a AAA studio. Most of the time, we are juggling between three and seven projects, including games produced or distributed by Don’t Nod.

Banishers appears to fit into the [AA] category with its focus on a love story. Was the creation of a love story your initial impulse when commencing development?

Beauverger: The idea of a love story emerged once the decision was made to narrate a ghost tale. Having previously explored vampires, we looked for something fresh. Mummies? Not very captivating. Werewolves? Unappealing. Ghosts? Yes, ghosts are intriguing.

What defines a ghost? It encompasses emotion, regrets, melancholy, secrets — something left unspoken by the departed, seeking closure. Centering a love story around grief was particularly apt for the concept of ghosts.

And ghosts provide the foundation for the game’s morality, the choice of ritual to dispel them, and the attribution of blame for a haunting. How do you gauge the effectiveness of a choice and ensure it is compelling and challenging for the player?

Beauverger: Our objective is to ensure that the characters you encounter have compelling motivations and potential for disdain as well. Their motivations run deep. For the player’s sense of ease, we introduce a few genuine 100% despicable characters — allowing a free pass to eliminate them without much moral anguish. However, for other characters, we strive to ensure that players comprehend every facet of the story or dilemma. The choice is entirely theirs to make.

A ghost haunts a settler in Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden.
Image: Don’t Nod/Focus Entertainment via Polygon

Moreau: We usually conduct numerous playtest sessions to evaluate the choices that players make. If we find a balance among the various choices, it indicates that we have done an excellent job and need not make any changes. However, if there is a significant convergence, it may require us to adjust the characters or the storytelling. We might fine-tune the clues that players discover to ensure that they comprehend the motivations and can piece together the story to make an informed decision in the end.

Beauverger: Statistically, we are aware that the majority of players lean towards being the good guy. Approximately 75% to 80% of players prefer to play the role of the upstanding hero. Thus, we need to devise ways to entice them to be tempted by the darker side in some manner. For example, reviving Antea comes with the cost of having to eliminate numerous individuals.

Does it excite you when players take their time to make a decision?

Beauverger: Oh, you have no idea. Every time I watch a Twitch stream where a player hesitates, I think to myself, “Yes! We did it!”

How do you cultivate a deep emotional attachment to Antea and elicit a desire to resurrect her when it is such a morally weighty decision?

Moreau: Developing Antea was quite challenging. We invested significant effort in ensuring that she is not merely a sidekick or someone who is present to add levity or exhibit powers sporadically. Our golden rules were clear: Antea had to be a driving and positive force, and she had to feature prominently in the cinematics. Upon careful observation, one can discern her constant presence in the frame, even when she has nothing to say.

Red, a living bearded man, and Antea, a ghostly woman, hold hands and incline their heads together in Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden
Image: Don’t Nod/Focus Entertainment

From a gameplay perspective, we have ensured that players can utilize her abilities as much as Red’s. The introduction of the switch feature was not part of the original concept. We equipped her with numerous abilities to ensure that players engage with her, and strike a balance between the two characters, providing the impression of controlling a couple.

I admire how the central conflict in Banishers revolves around the couple’s moral obligations to each other, rather than the morality of decisions that impact the world in many other games. To me, it delves into the notion of love transforming you into something you didn’t realize you were, and I’m intrigued to know if this is a theme you intended to emphasize.

Moreau: Indeed, this was the driving force behind our decision to depict a love story, aiming to foster immersion and present complex choices. Love is personal, intimate, and we are confident that it will resonate with individuals in varying ways.

Beauverger: Another fundamental rule that guided us during the game’s creation was the idea that Red and Antea always function as a couple. You play both sides of the couple, and all the decisions are made by both characters, who never 100% agree on anything. This was crucial for us. It helps players understand that they’re involved in and controlling a love story and a couple, rather than being subjected to forced love from another character. Several journalists questioned why there aren’t many love stories in video games, and I believe it’s because of this. It’s not easy for players to be told, “You are in love with this woman or this man, and you have to act like this.” But when you say, “You’re a couple. You play both of them. This is a package!” it’s easier, I think.

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