Dead Island Interview – Deep Silver's Vincent Kummer Does the Zombie With Us
Written Tuesday, May 03, 2011 By Richard WalkerView author's profile
Everyone loves zombie games. It's a bona fide fact. And if you're shaking your head in disagreement, resolute in your hatred of zombie games, then you're wrong. Deep down, you love zombie games, which is why you can't wait for Dead Island, Techland's foray into melee-based RPG survival horror, casting you in the role of a character at a tropical holiday resort besieged by swathes of the undead.
In the game, you'll choose from one of four characters and use whatever comes to hand to bludgeon your way through thousands of zombies of varying classes, sizes and types. Featuring customisable weapons and four-player drop-in/drop-out co-op, Dead Island appears to be rather ambitious, but will it be able to stand out in a market packed to the rafters with games featuring the slavering hordes of the walking dead?
We caught up with Deep Silver's Brand Manager, Vincent Kummer to get the lowdown on Dead Island, which has been a good few years in the making having been first announced almost four years ago, to find out how far the game has come since then and what developer Techland has done to ensure that you'll want to pick up a baseball bat and smash a zombie head like an overripe watermelon.
Dead Island was originally announced way back in 2007 and then everything went quiet until the release of the recent CG trailer, which generated a lot of fresh buzz for the game. What has happened in the years since that first announcement and the game's recent return?
It was pretty much just Techland working on the game for a few years now and then we came along and bought the property a couple of years ago. And so what Techland was doing is developing a lot of ideas they had for this title, so they were working on Dead Island with a bigger team for a time and then with a smaller team implementing a lot of those ideas. So, we came on board with them and said, “look, you have so many ideas here, there's enough for five or six games, so we should focus on something and move forward with that general idea that we have there.” We sat down and talked with them, went through ideas together, then helped push the product forward to the point where it is now. We used the trailer to kick off communication again and tell everyone that this is really happening and this is the idea we have behind it.
The weapon customisation you have in the game is very reminiscent of the combo weapons in Dead Rising 2. Was this something that you had before that game launched, or was it an idea that was added in response to that?
It was definitely also an idea Techland had before that, but I guess it took more of the form it's in now, because as always, there are different games out there that everyone plays and we get ideas from those games, and that's just how it works. Many of the unique ideas in Dead Island are comparable to ideas that have already been benchmarked, but I would say that the main difference when it comes to the customisation is that Dead Rising 2 actually focuses on that aspect of the game, taking a really big leap and using the combo weapons to bring down hordes of zombies in a funny way, whereas we use it as a gameplay element to bring more variety to the fighting and the game itself as a whole.
Will the weapon combinations be quite obvious, like nails going with a baseball bat to create a nail bat, or will there be some where you'll be rewarded for thinking outside the box a bit?
It's going to be all about collecting the blueprints and you won't be able to build the weapons without them. There's going to be both out of the box weapons and more obvious things like the baseball bat with the nails, which is going to do more damage. We really want to have a good variety in there, so we want to have those out of the box weapons and we want to have collectible weapons that you might have to earn by running through the jungle and doing a side quest to find that particular weapon. There's a good combination of weapons in the game.
I personally feel that zombies are a great video game antagonist that I hope will be around forever, but with so many zombie games around these days, some people seem to be feeling a certain degree of fatigue with the genre. Do you think Dead Island will be different enough to set itself apart from the other zombie games on the market?
I do think so. I also don't think there's actually a zombie fatigue happening, although there is a lot of zombie games of course, but there are so many different ways to play with that particular topic. Zombies are something that everyone is afraid of and something that everyone can somehow relate to, because in my opinion, zombies at their core are something that we all know, because they're basically a human being that's out of control and in berserker mode. We're all afraid of that stuff because we can relate to it and sometimes we can relate to the situations too, so I don't think that the topic itself is tiring or that it's in a fatigue right now. When it comes to the other zombie games out there, I think that there's more than enough space for all of the zombie games right now, because they all focus on different aspects. If you play Left 4 Dead it's all about the co-op, if you play Dead Rising 2 it's all about the customisation, and then we have this unique setting with the survival aspect that we're focusing on, combined with the open-world, so it's really a different game.
Are there any unique zombie classes then? Ones we might not have seen in other zombie games?
There are different zombies that you haven't seen in other zombie games, of course. Than again, when it comes to zombies, there is a reason why you use certain characters or enemies, because you want tactical varieties. You want ranged attack zombies, close-combat zombies and you want completely different ones that you can use tactically. At their core, there might be a couple of zombies that you'll be able to make comparisons to and see comparable aspects of them when it comes to other games, but of course we'll have our own unique touch in there that you'll only find in Dead Island.
In co-op, does the difficulty level scale up or the number of zombies increase to compensate, or are you simply playing through the single-player campaign with friends?
The difficulty goes up, so all in all this is a question of balancing and we're not quite there yet, because what you've seen so far is pre-beta. But pretty much what is happening is, if you play single-player, it's going to be you and three bots. So it'll essentially be just you. and when the other players drop in, the number of zombies that you're going to have to fight will rise along with the levels, as there's a levelling system for the zombies themselves. It could be that you have a normal zombie in single-player that is way weaker than the same zombie will be with four players.
Is the levelling up persistent between playthroughs, so if say you join a friend with maxed out stats and a high level and you're just starting out, will that be taken into account?
That is something that we're actually looking into, because there are some benchmarks out there that have done a great job when it comes to that balancing. If for example, you play Borderlands, the way they did it was really, really good because you could play it really well at whatever level. We're still in the balancing process so we're looking at different possibilities to try and make it so we have a situation where everyone can have fun, even if they're way too overpowered compared to a co-op player who is weaker. The other thing is also we don't want people to do that too often, because what happens if you have a story-driven game like ours and you have a level four character who is 10 percent into the story, then a level 25 character is going to be in the end portion of the story, although we haven't fixed the level cap yet. It might be that the guy at level 4 will have things seriously spoiled for him at one point without having played through it, so we're going to give a warning to players joining each other that will warn you if your percentage of the storyline isn't fitting with the other players, so are you really sure you want to continue and join someone else's game in progress?
Today we saw a whole bunch of locations like the lifeguard tower, the beach, the hotel and so on, and you said that there'll be jungles and so on, but what other environments will we see in the game? Will there be any surprise locations at all?
Well, surprise locations will remain surprise locations! But it's going to be what you'd expect from an island like that, so you're going to go through the jungle and the city; stuff like that. There's also going to be story-driven elements in the game that you might not be expecting on an island, so you'll have different situations with a different feel to them and they'll reveal themselves when you play the game.
Is there an actual real-world setting that Dead Island's location is based upon?
Actually, no there isn't. Techland has been visiting some tropical islands though to get a better view of how the environment should work, looking at a bunch of different islands, but there's not one particular island that it's based upon. It is a fictional island surrounding Papua New Guinea, so it's situated around there, so it has people from there and the whole culture around that.
We remember seeing a screenshot of a zombie in the streets in a strait jacket and a mask...
He's not 10 metres tall by the way! (laughs)
Yeah, I realise that now, but I was one of the people who fell for the perspective trick and though he looked 15 feet tall! What's his story exactly?
He's one of our unique zombies and there's going to be different tactics you'll have to use to fight that guy. You'll understand more about him later on in the process, but we wanted to show that you won't just be fighting the standard George Romero zombie or the normal 28 Days Later zombie like you've seen in the game so far. You're going to see the kinds of zombie that require you to change your tactics and you'll have to fight in a different way with different weapons against them.
Dead Island's melee combat reminds me of Condemned somewhat. Has that been looked upon as an influence during development?
Of course. The things is that when it comes to melee combat – and we've had a lot of feedback showing that melee combat can be really complicated – is that there aren't that many first-person games that deal purely with melee combat out there, so Condemned, we looked at that and other games that use melee combat. All of those are of course influences, but what we really want to do is bring real variety to the melee combat, so it's going to be the normal fighting, but then because of the levelling up, you'll acquire new skills on top of that. There are different influences, but again, we wanted something unique with our gameplay.
As you level up then, will your character improve in all of the key areas? Will they be quicker on their feet, will they be faster at attacking, will they have stronger, swifter kicks and things like that?
We really want every character to play differently, so we have the four different character classes and they each have aspects that set them apart. One is about speed, one is about pure force, one is an all-rounder and so forth. We want them to feel different in the direction you take them, in terms of their speed, force and all that. So, of course they'll each have skills that adapt to that situation.
We've been shown Sam B who is the Tank class in the game. Can you tell us a little bit about the other classes in the game?
There are four different characters that represent four different classes and all of them are on the island for varying reasons. When you start the game, you're going to find out a bit more about their background story and all of them will be relying on their own unique skill sets, so they'll all play completely differently. If you play in multiplayer, you'll want to use tactics that fit, so if one plays as a Tank, you'll preferably want the other to play as an Assassin, for example. We'll be revealing more about the characters and their back stories in the run up to release, so you can choose the character who fits your personality the most. We really want to have the feeling of different gameplay for each different character in the game and when you pick your character, that is your character that you'll stick with throughout the story. If you want to play it with a different character, you'll have to start the game again.
What if you're a Tank and you're playing with a friend who is also a Tank? Will they have to switch characters?
No, you'll be able to play with two Tanks. For realism purposes, it's weird to have two Sam Bs running around, but if you're both 15 hours into the game with Sam B, you don't want to swap characters and start over.
Dead Island is pencilled in for a summer 2011 launch.