Hello Neighbor 2 is bringing some big changes to the original’s stealthy formula, including a wider open-world sandbox, multiple creepy characters, and a neural network to make enemy characters more dangerous than ever.
IGN got the chance to sit down with TinyBuild’s CEO Alex Nichiporchik as well as the game’s Head of Franchise Mike Rafiienko, Assistant Producer Nadya Zhuk and Lead Designer Alex Kravchenko to dig a little deeper into what fans should expect from the game’s sequel.
Hello Neighbor 2 will look to greatly expand on a number of elements that contributed to the commercial success of its predecessor while also adding to the multimedia story that TinyBuild is trying to create for the franchise. In an exclusive hands-off look at the game, we took a closer look at the game’s new open-world sandbox setting, quirky characters, and intuitive AI.
Expanding the Neighborhood
As was noted in our first preview of the game, one of the biggest changes in Hello Neighbor 2 is its new open-world sandbox style. The game has made an impressive jump in scale when compared to its predecessor, and with a complete graphics overhaul, it looks stunning too.
“Raven Brooks is not a particularly big town,” Kravchenko says. “But it’s pretty dense with all of the other bright characters that are colorful and interesting. I would say it’s gorgeous and I think our artists did a great job.”
When Hello Neighbor 2 is released, players will be able to explore the town of Raven Brooks as they please. Stepping into the shoes of the game’s new protagonist, investigative journalist Quentin, the game’s sandbox-style will give fans the tools to dig deeper into the events taking place in the town, while ensuring that each player’s investigation feels personal to them.
With that newfound freedom, one particular feature that is likely to become helpful in Hello Neighbor 2 arrives in the form of a progress pinboard. As opposed to a system where players can track their current missions through objectives in a menu screen, Hello Neighbor 2’s pinboard reflects how your findings are more like clues than story beats.
The pinboard comes into effect when you happen across a clue in the game that may be useful toward the story’s investigation. At this point, an indicator flashes up on Quentin’s wristwatch to show that you have found something new and noteworthy before the evidence is then automatically added to a pinboard in your office as a picture of the thing that you’ve discovered.
That ability to more easily keep track of discoveries will likely come as a welcome addition in comparison to the first Hello Neighbor, which received criticism at launch over its tricky to negotiate puzzles.
While Hello Neighbor 2’s open-world sandbox setting is impressive, it would be far from complete without its cast of charismatic and creepy characters. “With Hello Neighbour 2, we tried to focus on creating multiple different characters, each of which is very unique in its own way and requires a special approach from the player,” explains Kravchenko.
“[The story includes] all of the characters and it’s interconnected. It’s not enough to just go to the neighbor’s house and figure out the whole story. You have to travel around the village and figure out what’s going on and how all of those characters are connected.”
During our conversation, the team spoke in detail about two of the characters that will feature in Hello Neighbor 2. Unlike the first game, where antagonist Mr. Peterson acted hostile toward the player throughout the game’s narrative, characters in Hello Neighbor 2 have a range of behaviors depending upon when and where you encounter them.
This is the case for Baker Gerda, who I met during the in-game bakery’s operating hours. When we first came across Gerda, she was tending to the cash register and watching over her stock of baked goods. “Here’s the baker,” says Kravchenko as he enters the store. “And, she’s friendly to us because this is a public zone so we can walk around and she won’t be aggressive to us. […] ”
“[A number of characters] have different daily routines depending on the part of the day. For example, during the night she might go upstairs to sleep on the bed or she can be doing something suspicious or fishy that she doesn’t want other people to know about. This is where our investigating [takes place] and we might encounter things about characters that they didn’t want us to know about.”
While a range of the NPC characters within Hello Neighbor 2 have their own daily routines that players can uncover to aid their investigation, the game will also allow you to manipulate its characters through your interactions with them. In doing so, players in Hello Neighbor 2 can, at times, trick and coerce the game’s NPCs into crafting items for them that provide the tools necessary to bypass other NPCs that may be causing them trouble.
“To solve any small quest, you have to plan forward,” Kravchenko explains. “For example, to go into the mayor’s house maybe you should first stop by the bakery to get some dog treats. Then, [you can use these to] distract the dog and then go inside. Or maybe, if you want to befriend the police officer you might give him some doughnuts so he’ll be less aggressive to you and he’ll allow you to do your own investigation. There are all kinds of possibilities and we’ve tried to interconnect all the characters and things that they do.”
During our first preview of the game, we briefly touched on this by explaining that certain objects in the game will create temporary status effects that will hinder the game’s AI for a brief period of time. However, in our most recent chat, Kravchenko delved into this idea further, explaining that items in the game will have different effects on characters depending on who you use them on. For some characters, a cherry pie to the face might cause them to take a shower and distract them for a brief period of time, while for others, the same trick might be rendered useless as the character will proceed to wipe away the muck and continue to pursue you.
As well as showing off the town baker, the team were also keen to share more on the game’s resident taxidermist, Mr. Otto. “Mr. Otto lives on the outside of the village and he doesn’t like intruders,” says Kravchenko. Among the different areas of the town shown off during our gameplay preview, Mr. Otto’s house certainly felt like one of the more sinister. Upon discovering the character, he stood in his garden, with a loaded rifle at the ready.
“One of the things that we’ve really focused on is that you’ll have to understand what this character is, what’s different about them, and what approach you’ll have to use with the character,” Kravchenko continues. “For example, since [Mr. Otto] is very dangerous and shoots at you, you might have to be very stealthy with him. […] Whereas other characters might require you to distract them with sound, or scare them to death. So [overall], there are a lot of things that you can work with.”
The Neighborhood Watch
But just because you have more means of fighting AI characters, that doesn’t mean they won’t fight back. In order for enemy characters to pose a constant threat to players, Hello Neighbor 2 features self-learning AI, which will players’ actions from across the whole community to develop and learn how to surprise them.
“Each player knows that they affect the AI in some way,” explains Kravchenko, “and, [for] any play style that you choose, the AI will accommodate for [this] over time so you’ll feel like you are part of something bigger than just your play session and investigation. It feels very personal because you’ve conducted your investigation your own way, but at the same time you can affect the whole community, so we are really striving for that with the AI’s machine learning.”
With an AI that is set to grow and learn, I was keen to find out more about any longer-term goals that the developers had for the neural network that it’s building. The team explained that one of its overarching goals is to be able to teach the AI to make improvisations.
In this way, the AI would use its knowledge of the community to make predictions of what the player’s next moves might be during moments where both the player and character are attempting to outsmart one another. This would create a set of enemies within Hello Neighbor 2 that not only feel more human, but that also create challenging and unique environments for the franchise’s community to overcome.
The issue, says Kravchenko, is ensuring that you get the balance right in terms of the game’s difficulty. “One of the biggest challenges design-wise is to not just make a Terminator that is better than you all the time and is too optimized, because that wouldn’t be fun anymore,” he says. “So the AI should be a worthy opponent to you and accommodate to your playstyle and how skillful you are.”
With a number of different AI characters set to launch with the game, it will certainly be interesting to see how each of Hello Neighbor 2’s different characters respond to their environments, especially as they learn more about player behavior. While the team did briefly discuss their plans to grow the game post-launch by adding new characters into the mix at a later date, they weren’t able to share any further details on that at this time.
During the end of our time together, CEO Alex Nichiporchik summarised his thoughts on the upcoming game, highlighting how far the team has come since the release of the franchise’s original title. “I’m really amazed that the original had seven people plus me working on it,” concludes Nichiporchik. “Right now we have a hundred really talented people working in very different time zones. With the pandemic and everything that’s happened we found our product here that a lot of people are really excited for and it’s really exciting to talk about [it].”
As announced at The Game Awards last night, Hello Neighbor 2 will be available to pre-order from April 7, 2022. While a release date for the game proper is still to be announced, anyone who does pre-order Hello Neighbor 2 will gain access to the title’s beta.
For more on Hello Neighbor 2, make sure to check out our first preview of the game.
Jared Moore is a freelance writer for IGN. You can follow him on Twitter.