This past week, I sat down for a roundtable interview with Vincent Kummer, Deep Silver's Brand Manager, to chat about Dead Island as it reaches the end of its development.
The roundtable consisted of me and a few other reporters from different web sites. It turned out to be a rather interesting session as it helped augment the information I was given during the demo at E3 last month.
Speaking of E3 2011, the first question that Kummer was asked was about the feedback they received during E3. A lot of the feedback they received from the press was fairly positive. Deep Silver, Dead Island's publisher, and Techland, Dead Island's developer, were both happy to hear that the press enjoyed the melee combat. When the game was first shown several years ago, there were a lot of questions about how well the melee combat would work. Kummer said that during E3, people "got it" right away and were enjoying themselves. However, there was also a bit of negative feedback during E3. The main of which, Kummer said, was balance. They are doing a lot of balance tweaking now to make sure that the difficulty, leveling, and co-op all feel right when the game ships. In co-op, for example, one of the balance tweaks they are working on is how high level and low level characters interact. When a low level character jumps into a high level character's game, the low level character will get a warning. The warning will notify low level players that the story may be spoiled and they will not be able to take any high level weapons back into their game. Techland doesn't want you to ruin your experience and the sense of survival by having overpowered weapons at a low level. A lot of the details of this feature are still being worked out, but it is there mainly for situations where a level 5 player is joining a level 25 player's game.
Another topic that was heavily touched on in the roundtable was the gameís story, theme, and setting. Earlier this year, Deep Silver released an emotional CG trailer that set the internet ablaze. The trailer depicted a perfect family being destroyed on an idyllic island resort by a hoard of zombies. When asked if the game could ever match the trailer, Kummer made it clear that the trailer is representative of the main story's tone and the prevailing theme on the island itself. The four main characters in the game are the last hope for the people on Banoi island. Throughout the course of the game, you will often be tasked with emotionally charged quests. It could be something as happy as reuniting someone with their only surviving family members or as difficult and sad as being asked to kill an infected loved one to put them out of their misery. A lot of the emotion from the game comes not from you or your party members but the unfortunate people stuck on Banoi island. The island itself will also reflect a theme of beauty and perfection slowly being destroyed. Over the course of the main quest, a powerful storm slowly descends upon the island. The weather turns from clear blue skies to dark gray rain clouds and violent winds. This should prove to be a rather gloomy yet engaging experience.
The main story should take around 30 hours to complete, but you are free to explore the island as you want. Even though there is a story coming into the island, there are no time constraints on you, so you are free to explore, scavenge, and take on as many side quests as you want. This is an open world game with different beats and you are free to set your own pace. When you are exploring, taking quests, or crafting weapons the game takes on a slower pace, but when in combat and with your friends the game takes on a faster, action-oriented pace. Kummer said the action never really takes a backseat to the story, rather how and when you choose to engage the story is up to you. If you stay on the main path, the story and action will stay consistently fast-paced. Kummer was also asked how he felt about being compared to Borderlands by a lot of media outlets. Kummer admits that the comparisons to Borderlands and games like it are apt but only in terms of the action. He said the key difference is that Borderlands is not as story driven and doesnít have the emotional impact and slower beats of Dead Island.
While on the topic of action, someone asked an interesting question about the damage models on zombies. Zombies have damage zones in their heads, torso, and all four limbs. If you are using a sharp bladed weapon, you can sever any of these points. If you are using a blunt weapon, then those same points will instead become bludgeoned and broken. You also have to take into account the assassin class, Xian Mei, who can deal special damage to an enemy's back. There is a lot of strategy in where and what you attack an enemy with, which should keep the combat interesting over the course of the game. The game wonít, however, be easy. To get a lot of those rare and expensive weapons, you will have to save money, scavenge, and make a lot of difficult choices with how to use your limited funds. You will also have to make hard choices in how your character develops. When you first start the game, all four classes will largely be the same, but as you open up the tech tree, each class will become widely different, giving you a lot more perks and options in combat. The game will be a constant struggle for survival, but at least they are giving you plenty of tools to fight the zombie hoards.
The next question I asked was about the development of Dead Island. I wanted to know if Dead Island started out as an RPG or if it shaped into a zombie action RPG over the course of its development. Kummer said that the game was a zombie RPG from the beginning. In fact, the game had even more RPG mechanics when it was first conceived and the team had to drop some of these RPG elements over the course of development. One of the most interesting discarded elements was multiple storylines with different endings. There was also going to be a mode where some players were infected zombies and others were survivors, which would have been very interesting in an action RPG. In the end, they decided to focus on a few key elements, a strong narrative and co-op play. The multiple story lines and endings were removed to maintain consistency between co-op games. The team felt that if they focused on too much, they would have a lot of bullet points on the back of the box but a mediocre game inside the package. Kummer said about sixty percent of their original ideas are in the game, and the features that were removed and added over the course of development has made for a stronger narrative and co-op campaign.
Another interesting question was about the pre-order bonus DLC, Bloodbath Arena. The DLC is like a horde mode with leaderboards. It consists of four different arenas, new weapons, and endless waves of zombies to fight. The idea was to give players a place to take their high level characters and just engage in combat to show off what they can do. There are still some balance tweaks being made to the arena since the team is still trying to decide how much you can bring into the arena from your game and how much you can take out into your main game. For those who donít pre-order from Gamestop, the DLC will be available sometime after launch on Xbox Live and PSN.
Finally, we asked Kummer about the replayability of Dead Island. There will be a New Game+ super hard mode when you beat the game if you are looking for a little more punishment. Kummer also pointed out that when you beat the game, you may want to try out a new class and that the zombies are randomly generated according to the situation and zone you are in. This fact alone greatly increases the replayability of Dead Island both playing alone and with friends.
It was a really interesting roundtable talk, and I learned a lot more about the game's RPG roots and how the final product is shaping up. Dead Island should be on shelves in North America on September 6, 2011 and available in PAL territories on September 9, 2011. This game is nice change of pace for the RPG genre, much like Borderlands was. Keep an eye on RPGamer closer to the game's launch for our continuing coverage.