Helldivers 2 is about being the 'evil guys in the galaxy,' says Johan Pilestedt: 'Would you be able to survive a galactic war without plot armor to protect you?'

helldivers 2
(Image credit: Arrowhead Game Studios)

The notion that we ought to read Helldivers 2's galactic war as a straightforward story about humanity's noble defense against alien bugs and robots is too oblivious to warrant serious debate—Super Earth has a Ministry of Truth!—but in the endless churn of social media discourse, the interpretation has been posed.

In a talk at game development conference Nordic Game in Sweden this week, Arrowhead Games chief creative officer Johan Pilestedt put the studio's intentions plainly. The "original hypothesis" for Helldivers 2, he said, was to cast players as the "evil guys in the galaxy," like stormtroopers, and to see how they fare as background extras who are meant to fly off balconies when the good guys charge in shooting.

(Image credit: Arrowhead)

"You know when they try to breach the cell block in Star Wars, and the first stormtrooper through the door, he of course gets shot in the chest by Han Solo," said Pilestedt. "And that's the question: Would you do better climbing into that room trying to capture the bad guys that are trying to take over your lovely Death Star?"

The full pitch for Helldivers 2, which Pilestedt included in a presentation slide, was: "The Helldivers is a co-op action shooter where players are put in the shoes of the 'evil side' grunts of pop culture. How would you fare as one of the 'extras' in your favorite '80s/'90s action movie? Would you be able to survive a galactic war without plot armor to protect you?"

An action game without plot armor is a great description: One of the first things I did in Helldivers 2 was get bodied by a teammate's accidental close fire, the kind of thing that is not supposed to happen to heroes. That idea became the basis for the Helldivers 2 vision that Arrowhead set about building.

"We wanted to do a realistic take on what it would be to be in one of those squads of stormtroopers," said Pilestedt, "or Starship Troopers' Mobile Infantry, or whatever pop culture grunts that you can imagine, in an unforgiving galactic resource war where players together complete operations against alien forces."

In the full talk, which you can watch on YouTube, Pilestedt talks generally about Arrowhead's game design philosophy, the development of Helldivers 2, and what he thinks made it a hit. Apparently, Arrowhead first predicted that Helldivers 2 would take three years to make, but ended up working on it for seven years, 11 months, and 26 days before release. Worth it.

Pilestedt was formerly CEO of Arrowhead, but recently announced that he's moving to a primarily creative leadership role. Former Paradox Interactive executive Shams Jorjani is taking over the CEO title.

Here's Pilestedt's full Nordic Game presentation:

Tyler Wilde
Executive Editor

Tyler grew up in Silicon Valley during the '80s and '90s, playing games like Zork and Arkanoid on early PCs. He was later captivated by Myst, SimCity, Civilization, Command & Conquer, all the shooters they call "boomer shooters" now, and PS1 classic Bushido Blade (that's right: he had Bleem!). Tyler joined PC Gamer in 2011, and today he's focused on the site's news coverage. His hobbies include amateur boxing and adding to his 1,200-plus hours in Rocket League.