Disco Elysium: The Final Cut. We can't wait to play it. You can't wait to play it. The console port of one of 2019's best PC titles will finally hit PlayStation 5 and PlayStation 4 next month, bringing with it an isometric RPG masterclass that allows you to take on pretty much any personality imaginable. After achieving an impressive Metacritic rating of 91, the PS5 and PS4 versions will come packaged with extra quests and complete voice work for every character. It'll also run at a 4K resolution at 60 frames-per-second. To learn how developer ZA/UM achieved this, we caught up with writer Justin Keenan to discuss the PS5 port, silly deaths, and politics.
Push Square: For those who missed the announcement, could you introduce Disco Elysium? What sort of game is it and how will it play?
Justin Keenan: Sure. Disco Elysium is a murder mystery detective RPG with a unique setting and skill system. It’s partly an homage to our favorite classic isometric RPGs — Planescape: Torment, Fallout, Icewind Dale, and so on — but also a totally new take on the genre.
Without giving too much away, there’s a half-naked and rapidly decaying body hanging from a tree behind the hostel where you’ve been staying. Whose body is it? And who put it there? You’re a detective who’s supposed to answer those questions, but unfortunately you’ve managed to annihilate all memory of your own identity and past for reasons it’s best to let every player discover (or not) on their own.
As a player, you’ll explore the city, search for clues, and interview suspects, of course (you are a detective after all), but you can also spend many, many hours doing just about anything you want: Sing karaoke, go on dates, play board games, get in fights, take up hobbies and side-cases — it’s really up to you. I’m having a hard time thinking of similar console games because, frankly, I’m not sure there is anything else like it on consoles.
Following the initial PC release in late 2019, how has the porting process to consoles gone? Did you encounter any unexpected challenges? Has Sony aided in getting Disco Elysium running on PS5 and PS4 at all?
Overall, it’s been pretty smooth. Fortunately, a game like Disco is relatively easy to bring to consoles because the controls and mechanics aren’t anything too elaborate. The main challenge we faced was a bit more fundamental: How do you keep console players engaged while reading hundreds of thousands of words’ worth of text on their TV screens? That was one of the major drivers behind our decision to add full voice over for the Final Cut.
Has the Coronavirus pandemic had much of an impact on development of the ports?
Less than you might’ve expected. The team working on the Final Cut is spread across the UK, Estonia, Poland, Portugal, and the US, so we have lots of experience with remote work from a purely logistical standpoint. When it comes to getting the whole game VO’d, though, it’s been an enormous challenge. We actually have three VO directors working full-time with dozens of actors to get all one-million-plus words fully voiced. They’ve done a tremendous job, and we’re all looking forward to the final release.
How will the controls map to a controller? Did this present a challenge during development or was it a fairly smooth process?
There’s always some challenge in bringing a keyboard-and-mouse control scheme to a controller, but fortunately Disco is pretty minimalist by control standards. There’s no fancy combat or acrobatic stuff. The main thing is that we wanted the console experience to feel as natural and immersive as possible, hence the herculean efforts to get the game fully voiced. The art team has also added tons of nice new details to the world itself — new animations, new or improved character portraits, new sound and lighting effects. It’s just now starting to come together and it’s been amazing to watch.
When the game does come to PS5 and PS4 in March, it'll also come packaged with extra content. What can fans who have already played the game expect from those new quests and location? Are they designed to expand on the world or will they directly influence the main story?
We’ve added a few new things for players to discover here and there, but the heart of the new material are these political vision quests. These are four mutually exclusive quests, one keyed to each of the game’s four major ideological alignments. These quests (or some version of them) have actually been planned for a long time, but unfortunately they didn’t make it into the original release, so the Final Cut has been a great chance to revisit some ideas that have been on our minds for a while and really do them right.
By design, these quests won’t have a major bearing on the game’s main storyline. Really, these quests are meant to give players the chance to bring some of the story’s ideological themes to a satisfying conclusion and explore what’s really going on behind the political posturing that the protagonist sometimes likes to engage in.
I should also say that each of these quests is unique — they’re as different from one another as they are from any of the other quests in Disco Elysium. Some introduce you to new characters, some come with new items, others permanently change your UI or some other piece of the world. I really don’t want to say anything more about them than that.
As ZA/UM's debut game, did you expect Disco Elysium to receive the critical acclaim it did on PC? Do you now feel an added pressure to deliver with this console port?
From the moment I saw an early demo of the protagonist waking up in the Whirling-in-Rags, I knew this game was something desperately special. It was the first time since playing the original Fallout as a kid that I thought: This is the kind of game I want to make. I think everyone on the development team feels similarly. But we’ve still been overwhelmed by the response, from critics and fans alike. We sold a million copies! Games like this aren’t supposed to sell a million copies.
So no, I wouldn’t say there’s pressure, just immense excitement and gratitude. We really can’t wait for console players to finally experience everything we’ve got in store for them.
Now that the port is almost done, what's next for ZA/UM? Would you be interested in developing a sequel or moving onto something completely new?
I’ve been told that I can’t say too much about future projects at the moment, but rest assured we are all still employed and working.
Disco Elysium is a game steeped in politics that is re-releasing during a climate of political uncertainty, with Brexit and the appointment of Joe Biden as US president being just two examples. Would you say the game accurately reflects the world in its current state, with the ability to play as a completely terrible person, an angel, or anywhere in between?
Before 2020, I used to tell people that I thought of Disco as a psychic or surreal reflection of our political reality rather than a strictly realist one. And I still think that’s mostly true. But — and this may count as a minor spoiler — there’s this moment in the game where you’re talking to a very smart person about the recent history of the world, and if you want you can ask about the causes of what we call the Antecentennial Revolution (a failed global revolution that’s the defining event of the game’s backstory). And then you’ll discover that one of the causes of this global conflagration was a novel pandemic that the world’s inept and sclerotic regimes proved completely ill-equipped to handle.
In the game’s timeline, this pandemic leads to the collapse of governments, a series of revolutionary uprisings, an eruption of anger, hope, and misery on a massive scale. When I first encountered the moment in early 2018, I thought it was a nice, strange detail — a little improbable, a little haunting — but who knows how it will look two or three or ten years from now?
What's the dumbest way you've died in Disco Elysium?
Aren’t all deaths equally dumb, in the end? That said, the one that really sticks with me is the time I had a heart attack while trying to lift a barbell in an abandoned building because I desperately wanted to impress my partner. Something about that one hits a little too close to home.
Disco Elysium: The Final Cut releases on PS5 and PS4 in March 2021, with ports to other consoles set to follow in the summer months. We would like to thank Justin Keenan for taking the time to answer our questions and Sophie Carter for making the interview possible. Are you ready to put your detective hat on and solve the crime of Disco Elysium? Let us know in the comments below.