Afterwords: Dead Island
It's been several months since Dead Island bloodied game consoles with harrowing first-person survival. Since then, developer Techland has been busy updating the game and crafting the upcoming DLC, which follows the tale of newcomer Ryder White. While the makers of the genre-blending undead thrill ride are still hard at work, Sebastian Reichert, producer at Deep Silver, took the time to answer some of our post-mortem questions about the implementation of melee combat, the trailer's reception, and standing out from the hordes of other zombie games.
The game was first pitched in 2007, and changed a lot after Deep Silver picked it up. Can you tell me more about what the original concept was like and how it changed when Deep Silver came into the picture?
Initially the game was planned as a single-player shooter with linear level design. Playing as an infected player you search for a cure before you go berserk yourself. After we saw the potential of the game, including the interesting and fresh island setting in juxtaposition to the zombie theme, we wanted more. We wanted to have this fear transferred into a more understandable framework. A focus was set on the terror and fear of an apocalyptic scenario and we brought the seamless multiplayer into the game. With that everything came together. The focus on close-quarters combat became a logical consequence to display the desperation of the survivors, the world has been changed to a more open system to support the multiplayer experience and finally we added the RPG elements and weapon modification. This was an essential part of the gameplay; how the characters improve/adapt to survive.
What is one thing that was scrapped from the original concept that you miss the most? What do you think was the most important thing to scrap?
We managed to save everything from the original concept that was important to us. Though I don’t “miss” any features we removed, I would have liked to have this internal battle between staying alive and becoming a monster in the game. But on the other hand it would have hurt our game when the players enjoyed being a devilish creature more than staying a human. The Rage system suits the terror of survival much better though.
I'm told you’re a zombie fanatic. Where does your love for all things zombies come from? What had the biggest impact on the concept of the game?
When I grew up zombie movies always had something special about them. As I live in Germany, most of them were cut or prohibited, so it was always an adventure to find the ultimate uncut version of the movies. When I finally got my hands on Dawn of the Dead in an uncut version I was forever lost to that topic.
I’m listening right now to the music of Goblin (Dawn of the Dead OST). The atmosphere, the desperation, the characters… just an amazing piece of art (the film and the music). I know from the team that they also love this film and most of them are like me hooked to the Walking Dead comics.
What was it like for the team when the dramatic CG trailer dropped? Did the positive reaction and gamers’ perception of the game cause you to alter any core themes in the game to fit with what the trailer conveyed?
The whole team was really happy about the CGI trailer’s success. From the beginning, the purpose of the trailer was to show how desperate the situation in the world of Dead Island is. It was not necessary to change something in the game because the trailer was part of the communication concept.
How important was developing the main storyline? The story seems to take a back seat to leveling up and killing things for most of the game.
The story was extremely important as a hook. To work on a project like this without a clear vision is impossible. So the story was very important for the development even if we were aware that it will be pushed slightly into the background in the end.
The final boss battle has received some negative criticism. Were there ever any other climaxes in place? What was it like creating a final boss battle for a game that didn’t focus on those types of fights?
It was hard to setup a unique boss fight in a world where we cannot know the exact setup of the players in advance. In the end we knew we would have fewer problems with an easier encounter than a harder one.
I heard the original concept didn’t have melee combat. What made you change your minds about melee to the extent that guns only really play a big role in the later chapters?
The whole concept to simulate the fight for survival in a believable setting was always bringing up the question: Where do we get the ammunition from? A holiday island is not the best place for raw amounts of bullets. Additionally we wanted to make the fight more intense, and being right next to an enemy is definitely a whole new experience compared to shooting them from 10 meters away. When we did the redesign it became obvious that it was the right way to go.
What was it like developing a zombie game amid the sea of games with the undead? Did you ever lose hope that it would be buried by games with a similar premise?
At first it was a big concern. How do we set this game up to be not just another zombie game? But with this unique clash of the resort island and the ultimate terror we felt really good about the setting. When we added the RPG elements, the weapon modification and the close combat focus it was clear that the game has become a really new and fresh experience.
Tell me about what it was like for the team in the weeks leading up to release, anticipating how the reviews would pan out, and finally what it was like when the game became a hit and couldn’t stay on shelves.
After all the positive feedback that we had received through the press before the release, hopes were high of course. Then the reviews came, and the feedback was so unbelievably mixed. We heard basically everything about our game, from top to flop. When we heard how well Dead Island sold, we celebrated instantly.
What has supporting the game post-launch been like for the team?
This post-launch time is as hard as the master phase (which is always the hardest time in development). With the unique multiplayer in Dead Island a lot of additional tasks came up to assure the servers could manage the enormous requests.
I know it must be hard to think about while you’re still supporting the current game, but have you given thought to a sequel?
Yes, we have.