Helldivers 2 only became a live-service game halfway through development, but 'feels like what live service was born to do'

A Helldiver walks between fireworks.
(Image credit: Sony)

Russ Nickel, former lead writer of Helldivers 2, was recently interviewed by Inverse, where he explained that developers Arrowhead didn't decide it was going to be a service game until well after beginning work on it. Its popularity sure suggests it was the right call to make. "This feels like what live service was born to do", Nickel said. "For a while, Arrowhead didn't know if the sequel was going to be a live-service title. But as we talked about it more, it was clear that this would make for such a cool live service experience, one where the story can change constantly so it really does feel alive."

"When I joined," he went on to say, "there was already a game that was fun to play. And then the back half of development was adding in the narrative and figuring out exactly what that playable prototype would become."

A big part of the reactivity is down to Arrowhead's official Game Master Joel, who serves the same role on Helldivers 2 as a DM does in a game of D&D—only with millions of players instead of, like, five or six at the outside. 

Nickel is a dungeon master himself, and says that experienced helped him as a game writer. In videogames, just like in D&D, you learn that no plan survives contact with the enemy. "You build the sandbox with plans," Nickel said, "but you have to be able to let go of those plans. I love how collaborative it is. It's so crazy to me that right now there's a dungeon master who is playing a game with 10 million people, and they're all collaborating on a story."

While Nickels was lead writer on Helldivers 2 during development, he's no longer attached to the project, with his co-writer Stephen Flowers taking on the role. The two are still in touch, however, and go way back. "We were roommates and did improv together for a long time", Nickels said. "So we have that 'yes, and' background. In games, I think there's a lot of improv, being fast on your feet, being able to see what someone else does and 'yes, and' it and go forward from there."

The most recent development in the ongoing saga of Helldivers 2 is a major order that will let players unlock Anti-Tank Mines if it's completed. All they have to do is defeat two billion automatons.

Jody Macgregor
Weekend/AU Editor

Jody's first computer was a Commodore 64, so he remembers having to use a code wheel to play Pool of Radiance. A former music journalist who interviewed everyone from Giorgio Moroder to Trent Reznor, Jody also co-hosted Australia's first radio show about videogames, Zed Games. He's written for Rock Paper Shotgun, The Big Issue, GamesRadar, Zam, Glixel, Five Out of Ten Magazine, and Playboy.com, whose cheques with the bunny logo made for fun conversations at the bank. Jody's first article for PC Gamer was about the audio of Alien Isolation, published in 2015, and since then he's written about why Silent Hill belongs on PC, why Recettear: An Item Shop's Tale is the best fantasy shopkeeper tycoon game, and how weird Lost Ark can get. Jody edited PC Gamer Indie from 2017 to 2018, and he eventually lived up to his promise to play every Warhammer videogame.