Escape Dead Island interview with Anthony Cardahi

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Escape Dead Island is coming soon and Sean managed to grab some words at EGX with Anthony Cardahi, a creative producer at Deep Silver, and talk about the game.

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Escape Dead Island. Very very different. It’s a very different choice of game for the Dead Island franchise. How did you come about that process?

So it’s a mixture of several elements that blended in together. One of them was that part of us wanted to deliver a game experience that was kind of related to those early trailers that had such a nice reception from audiences. And the other side that was just a desire to give a bit more background information as to what the Dead Island universe was about. That really convey the idea that there was a bigger picture that we aren’t just putting out zombie games without a link between them. Dead Island has its lore and we wanted to find a format that would be appropriate for delivering this information. It came also from some personal taste in terms of games and movies that just all blended in and gave birth to what Escape is now.

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Did cel shading feel like the natural choice?

Yeah, on several sides it was a logical art style to go for. Just going with a more narrative and story driven kind of game, that we wanted to be able to marry to the player in an impactful way, we knew we wanted those comic cutscenes that are useful to the story. So it made sense for the game itself to be in a comic style approach so you get a more wholesome feel to it and more expressiveness. Later on we realised that it was a lucky pick because it allows us to differentiate from the main Dead Island franchise, give no confusion to the players and make it look and feel like a spin off of the main series.

I suppose it also helps with the implied psychosis that your main protagonist has during the game?

Definitely. The madness that Cliff will be gonig through as he progresses through the story just begged for a visual style that would allow us to bend reality and all the crazy things that we have in the game. It helps to convey all the various faucets of this and make it much more visual and direct in to the players face.

Following the preview, the game reminded me a lot of the Keanu Reeves movie A Scanner Darkly which was a Phillip K Dick story, which was partially animated. Where did you guys draw your inspirations from?

Everyone who’s worked on the project from Deep Silver and Fat Shark. Being a Swedish developer means they have a very fine artistic side to them, so lots of different influences came from everyone. We had some strong influences from Groundhog Day, Memento and Lost. Inspirations more for tonal idea and atmosphereic impressions we wanted to make during the game. And these mixed up with the fact that we all really enjoy comics and are very knowledgeable about them. So it’s cool that we can mix these things with the key ingredients of what makes up a Dead Island game. Even after 10 seconds, you still know it’s a Dead Island game, which is really unique. So blending all this togehter gave us this result, which I don’t think anyone could have seen at the conception stage. It’s a nice process to watch unfold.

It is very different, so how do you think the fans of the franchise will receive this expansion of the artistic nature of the game compared to the previous entries to it?

I’m guessing it will depend on what type of player the fan is and what drew him/her in to the Dead Island games first. For those who have any kind of curiosity about what our world is and what the events transpiring there are, they will probably be intrigued with us giving information that relates to bothe the past games and the upcoming ones and create a kind of bridge. Also I’m guessing a lot of people might just come due to sheer curiosity with the fact its a different take but it still has the the whole “paradise turning really bloody” vibe that the main series has. So the art style might make people more curious and we have those key elements like the emphasis on melee combat, survival approach, the zombies. If you like Dead Island as you play the immune superhero, you might like the new approach to be on the other side as a regular guy and be a lot more careful and defensive.

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Where did Cliff come from because he’s a beautifully flawed character?

Yeah it was really fun trying to reach the point where we had our protagonist. We didn’t want him to be a cliche of heroic guy shows up saves the world kind of thing. Working on him and the way to bring about the regular dude venerability of the character ended up inspiring him. He’s a flawed guy, you’ve probably seen him in a lot of college comedies, or you might know someone like that like “you know he’s a cool guy but sometimes he acts like a douche.” Which is referred to quite a number of times in the game. This kind of dual dimension and his prescence there I think also helps to explain all what he’s going to go through. He’s showing up on this island wanting to be the new Vice, [thinking] “I’m going to film this documentary that’ll prove to the world what’s happening here, I’ve got to unveil the truth.” He’s really enthusiastic but ultimately disconeccted from reality, never achieving anything in his life, in his fathers shadow and wanting to prove himself. Daddy issues to some extent which is a driver, but also a component of what Cliff’s going to be going through during his adventure, or misadventure.

So why haven’t you gone to next gen with this game?

Well the majority of our audience is on the past generation consoles, plus Dead Island 2 being the flagship title for next generation, we thought we’d stick to that. But we’re keeping our fingers crossed and hope it does well.

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Escape Dead Island will be available on 21st November for PC, Xbox 360 and PS3. You can see our preview from GamesCom here!

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Dead Island 2 Interview with Isaac Ashdown

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Sean has been at EGX all this week. Here’s one of the many interviews he got, talking to Isaac Ashdown who’s a Gameplay Programmer at Yager for Dead Island 2!

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It must be really exciting to work on seeing how the well the community received the Dead Island games along with some of the critics.

Yeah, it’s certainly a great opportunity for myself, I was a big fan, and for Yager as well. It’s a really great game to be able to take to the next step by making the sequel.

Do you feel, because this is a different development team to the first Dead Island games, you need to do something slightly different, or get a good enough spin on it yourself to establish yourself in the franchise? 

We certainly aren’t letting ourselves be held back by anything in particular, taking it in the direction we want to make our own, and the next gen consoles give us a lot of opportunities to pull out the stops. We’ve got the seamless 8 player connectable co-op where you drop in and drop out of. We hope that will help bring the game to a more emergent level of gameplay.

I’ve played the build of the game, so lets talk about killing things!

Ok!

There’s a lot of death and we had a lot of competitions between the people who played for the highest death count. How much fun is it to programme that complete melee of destruction of zombies and that humorous tone of everything else about it? 

It’s a lot of fun. I’ve worked pretty extensively on the melee systems and the weapon systems in general. So our goals there are really take it in a direction that maintains the visceral nature of the first game, because melee combat was a lot of fun. We’ve expanded on it in a lot of ways, for a number of reasons. Because we’ve got an 8 player co-op, the number of zombies you’re fighting at any one time is a lot more than before. If you’re with a group of your buddies we’ve tried to keep the combat fun even with the amount so it’s been a lot of fun to do.

I got from playing the preview that there’s a very devil may care attitude about the story and everything in the game. There’s the bit with the Peter Fonda “we want to get loaded” speech on the radio. Obviously that’s very different to the original game so how do you see this fun element keeping people in and keeping the co-op going?

The story tone is a little different to the first game. It’s set in California and you’re one of the heroes that’s decided to stay in the state, even though its kind of been compounded by the government. And there’s also all the other guys there who are there for the same reasons but aren’t necessarily new like you are. But they’ve seen it as a new opportunity to build a life for themselves in a way that it wasn’t possible before in modern day life. So that kind of set up is what we’re going for with the whole combat tone as well. So you’re there to have a good time, basically, and embrace the lighter side of the apocalypse.

So the first game has given a lot of stylistic and artistic impressions to the franchise, but what are Yager’s inspirations for their take on the franchise?

It’s certainly a lot of fun to make such a colourful game. Taking this kind of paradise gone to hell and putting in a real world location like California, it’s a place I’ve been to a few times and have family there, so it’s fun to see a place I’m familiar with that’s been turned in to this zombie playground and still is recogniseable as a real place.

You’ve taken quite a lot of inspiration from the real life California and Los Angeles and how that city operates.

As Europeans, it’s not a place that we can really have a kind of claim to, it’s something that’s such an iconic location in popular culture and Hollywood has done a good job of presenting itself to the outside world. So it’s good as an outsider to be able to run with it, like a fantasy California. Like if the world of Hollywood was presented in this fantasy way, populated by these people who may be anarchistic or want to party, but not taking themselves too serious because… It’s LA.

We’ll see this in Spring 2015, so how’s the development all going?

The demo here we shipped for GamesCom a few months ago has come a long way. We’ve started playtests with the whole world with seamless 8 player. It’s fun to get in to the office, jump in the game and have other people also jump on your server. You’ll be playing and doing your own thing and then your buddy in the next room will jump in and you’ll team up, so it’s been great.

So the next gen tech much have really helped coming along when it did to give you more possibilities and scope?

For sure, the consoles themselves are much more powerful so you can do this open world and we’re using Microsoft’s cloud compute to run our servers so we can do a lot more than the traditional infrastructure of having a bunch of servers in a room somewhere in the world. Being able to spool up servers as you need them, being able to connect people with their friends, all that stuff makes the seamless 8 player co-op possible.

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Dead Island 2 will be released on PS4, Xbox One and PC in Spring 2015. You can check out Sean’s preview from GamesCom here!

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Dead Island 2 – Preview

The first Dead Island was a very good game, despite what the game was compared to the marketing. You’ll be pleased to know that this time around Yager who are making Dead Island 2 know that maybe the message was a bit off.

But the internet spoke and videos of comedic deaths and hilariously overpowered DIY weapons were cleaving their way into our decapitating hands. That’s exactly what we’re getting with Dead Island 2.

Firstly, the promises: Open world with three distinct large areas. California will become alive from the Hollywood sign all the way to the Santa Monica pier. We got to play a small section of that area known as the LA suburbs. San Francisco will also be joining the open world zombie California party and the third will remain a secret for now but there is a lot of California.

dead island 2 preview 1It also promises a seamless 8 person multiplayer and developers like to describe this as the “worlds smallest MMO.” We got to play with the four-player version which does indeed work very seamlessly even though the game is in pre-alpha state. The idea is, although it isn’t ready yet, that you can co-op with anyone on your server… If you want to that is. You can compete with each other (whether that means PvP or not was unclear) or you can just choose to co-exist.

Graphically it looks wonderful with some excellent lighting and frantic blurs as you move quickly, something that the new generation of 60fps consoles eat up for breakfast. It is a tiny bit glitchy at the moment in places but the feeling is there, the feeling that you got playing Dead Island 1 of crazy modified weapon carnage.

There are four classes in the game. Hunter, Speeder, Berserker and Bishop. Bishop looks like Terry Crews with priests garb reigning down violent divinity. We only got to play with the Hunter and the Speeder. Each have their own traits in movement and their own weapon set. We started with the Speeder and got a kick ass machete that we very quickly electrified by robbing the electrical store of batteries and kicking in a few Thugs. We also got a 6-shooter pistol with an added flame kick after draining a gas pump after dodging oncoming suiciders. For the other class, the Hunter, we went in reverse getting an electrified shotgun and a flaming sledgehammer. The latter was slightly unwieldy but was certainly fun to kick ass with. The electrified machete was my favourite, allowing us to execute people with terrific style.

dead island 2 preview 2The game itself hasn’t actually changed too much in its modus operandum. You traverse the open world, guided to objectives whilst scrounging supplies, upgrading your tools and surviving your zombie dodging butt off. After upgrading our tools, we went to defend the fortifications of the ‘Movie Bar’ after they decided to kick out some loud zombie attracting jams including a Peter Fonda quote of “We wanna get wasted…etc” over a radio or PA system. Maybe a ‘Worlds End’ homage or just an homage to California, who knows? At this point, the game being in pre alpha showed a little but was very impressive despite this. If you’re worried about this scrimping on the graphics, it isn’t. The visuals never lose any resolution and the only thing that scares you is the oncoming onslaught hidden by motion blur.

What you can get from this, given it was just a play of the game engine, is that the comedy element is there. The same fun crazy weapon upgrading, limb hacking, zombie zapping weapons that cause much fun, entertainment and cool visuals. The focus on this direction is apparent and it works very well given the slightly larger than life nature of its California setting. There doesn’t appear to be any kind of emotional game attachment or a large effort to build big sprawling narrative relationships. Just kick the hell out of things, stay alive and explore the mad world of Zombie California.

We’re currently looking at a Spring 2015 release and, this is why it isn’t scrimping on the graphics, it will be next gen and PC only. PS4 and Xbox One users won’t have to compete with the engine and resolution having to compatible with past games so hopefully it will keep its looks for the zombie apocalypse.


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Escape Dead Island – Preview

Compared to the next generation offering of Dead Island 2, the current generation offering of Escape Dead Island is completely different.

Dead Island is now seen as a franchise and developers Fatshark have created a very enjoyable single player experience. The story is that you are Cliff. A son of a wealthy media mogul who’s a bit of a socialite douchebag and wanted to make his impact on the world having been in daddy’s shadow for too long. You hear of the first infection from Dead Island and make the gargantuan stupid move that only rich-searching for relevance-brats can make: You get a boat and go to the island with a few friends to make a difference.

escape dead island preview 1Except it doesn’t go to plan, you crash on another island in the archipelago and so you begin your slow descent into the fictional world of zombie bashing insanity. Insanity is actually very key here as the game is incredibly surreal. The descent in to madness is both a physical journey and a mental one here in Escape Dead Island. Stretching the boundaries of what your character is perceiving and leaving you to question his sanity and the reality of the world around him.

The big aid in achieving this element is the comic book art styling of the game. You might know it as cel shaded or as Borderlands style (if you’re that young). But it creates a world of 60s comic book action campness with splat’s, kapow’s and bokko’s coming from every hit. Well everything except the bokko… That was from the Young Ones, but you get the picture. It blends it well with a more modern visual styling of the world and the characters. You may think The Walking Dead both in comic book and Telltale Games feeling but I would go a step further, given the insanity aspect of it and say that it reminded me of the Keanu Reeves movie of the Philip K. Dick book “A Scanner Darkly.”

The game itself plays third person as a big semi open world arena of stealth attack and world manipulation. In fact the whole effort to keep it simple aids the game environment a lot. There’s no HUD, no inventory and simple controls. The weapons you have change and upgrade as you find things throughout the world in the staggered narrative order you’re supposed to. Narrative, especially compared to Dead Island 2 is the key thing here. It is an adventure game, not an RPG. You do get to visit places in the world you’ve already explored so that you can get things that you need or collectables.

escape dead island preview 2The world environment is a wonderful, almost semi cartoonish place. It blends the more realistic elements of some things like the big cargo ship containers and the beach huts of the island, with the more surreal action that unfurls around it. The idea of the franchise of ‘Paradise Meets Hell’ is in full effect both visually and in the narrative.

The decision to go with the previous generation may seem a bit stuck in the past but actually makes good sense as most Dead Island fans will still be on the previous generation of consoles or at least own them. This will be out towards the end of this year for the Xbox 360, PS3 and PC. It may come to next gen in future but for right now it is sticking with the old. The game does have some replay value despite being very linear and single player with a new game plus mode but there are no difficulty settings.

The atmospheric approach to this game as a spin off of the main franchise storyline is interesting and it’s certainly worth a play, especially if that is your kind of thing. The focus on hyper-reality and narrative background in the canon of the Dead Island story will make itself clear in the full game. But it isn’t going to scare you. In fact this is much more of a survival thriller and more psychological than horror. With a hint of mystery thrown in to the mix. When the game arrives later this year, hopefully we’ll understand a lot more. Or will we?


 

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