Dead Island is shaping up to be the ultimate zombie game. It has an atmosphere of dread, an intriguing story that promises to pull at our emotions, and gameplay mechanics that let your imagination run wild. As the game’s September release draws near, there are still some aspects we’d like to know more about. Thankfully, TSA was given an opportunity to participate in a round table interview session with Deep Silver’s Vincent Kummer so that we could pick at his brain for a bit.
Note: Due to the nature of the interview, it was a bit difficult for me to fully transcribe since I couldn’t record it word for word. Everything below is taken from my notes and organized in a way that makes sense.
The Story and the Debut Trailer
During my time with the multiplayer component of Dead Island, I couldn’t help but notice that the game felt nothing like the debut trailer. When asked if the trailer was successful in setting the tone for the game, Vincent stated that it does just that. In the trailer we see the perfect family destroyed by the zombie outbreak and the toll it takes on them. You’re pretty much the last hope and you’ll meet and help those same people who are trying to find their broken families.
Those zombies used to be game developers...
The setting helps accomplish this as well. The resort was this picture perfect situation that completely changes in an instant. Paradise is destroyed and you’ll see everything around you torn apart piece by piece. You’ll feel like you can’t escape.
And in the blink of an eye, it gets even worse.
During the round table it was revealed that the game originally had multiple storylines. In the final version there will be just one story with a fixed ending. You can’t change the outcome. The reason why is because it wouldn’t make sense when playing the multiplayer mode since it’s drop in/drop out; you can’t just have someone joining your game if their story is going in a different direction than yours.
However, just because there is a fixed ending that doesn’t mean that Dead Island is linear. You can explore the island as much as you want and do different quests without progressing through the narrative. How you approach the game is up to you since it’s an open world game.
When I asked if the game actually ends once you finish the story, the answer was yes. However, you can jump back into any chapter you want and revisit any area. Your character’s level will drop back down to what it was at that point in the game. There’s also replay value in the form of starting over with a new character or by playing through the unlockable hard mode.
Feedback and Balance
When asked about how feedback from the press has influenced the game, Vincent said that there were a lot of skeptics when it was first shown. The feedback from the multiplayer demo was very positive though. It was really important to see how people played and to see if the melee actually works. They’ve also taken into consideration balancing concerns when players have a large level gap and the developers are currently in the process of addressing that.
Dead Island starts off at the resort. If you returned to that spot after leveling up a bit you will feel more powerful. The enemies do not level up with you but will instead become more difficult as you progress through the game. When playing co-op, having a high level partner will most likely ruin your experience. You won’t even be able to carry back items if the gap is too wide since that wouldn’t be fair. When asked if there was a specific level gap where you’d be able to carry items over, Vincent mentioned that it’s more of a dynamic thing but couldn’t confirm exactly how it’s going to work yet.
The game’s difficulty scales depending on how many people are in your game. The zombies themselves have levels attached to them as well. In some cases, it might be that you’ll be fighting a few level 3 zombies versus fighting a bunch of level 6 zombies at once. Some will even have weapons.
In the multiplayer demo everyone was already leveled up and we had infinite ammo. Vincent stated that the real experience is quite different. It will be survival of the fittest. It’s going to be difficult to get money so that you can pump up your weapons to get “the good stuff.” You will need to explore and fight hard for everything you earn. It’s also going to be tough choosing what you want to do since your resources are so limited. Do you want to repair your current weapon or upgrade? It’s going to get expensive so there’s going to be a challenge in choosing what’s important.
Crafting is also important to the overall game. There will be a feeling of progression with your character by finding new materials, new weapons, and combing items to form new weapons. You will start off with basic items and it will only improve from there. For instance, you can add explosives to it.
Character Classes and Gameplay Mechanics
When you first start the game you won’t notice a difference between the character classes since you won’t have unique skills yet. Once you start leveling up is when you’ll notice how each character class develops. From additional damage and having more speed to being able to throw weapons at your enemies. The unique skills will make it so that each class evolves in interesting ways.
Vincent also answered an interesting question regarding damage modeling for zombies and the logistics of melee combat. Basically, there are numerous hit zones on an enemy. For instance, there are two zones on the arm or leg. It’s going to be different if you attack a zombie’s leg rather than its hip. The type of weapon also matters. Blunt weapons will just break the body part while sharp blades will just slice it off completely. There’s also different animations for those weapons. If you shoot a zombie in the face it’s going to react differently than clubbing it over the head with a baseball bat.
Other survivors will try to fight back. Most will fail.
When asked whether or not the game shaped into a zombie RPG as it developed, Vincent says that the game was always going to be an RPG but they wanted to focus on different elements as well. Since it was announced in 2007, the game has changed in many ways and they dropped many mechanics.
Dead Island is said to be about 65% of the original idea they had for it. In regards to being compared to Left 4 Dead, Dead Rising, and Borderlands, they feel that some of the mechanics are similar but their focus is different since those games aren’t story driven.
Elements that were dropped include a full fledged RPG with different storylines and having a bunch of different gameplay mechanics. The developers didn’t want to have a bunch of mediocre mechanics so they focused their attention more specifically. The story was changed so that co-op actually makes sense. At one point they wanted to have a competitive multiplayer mode where it was survivors versus zombies.
Bloodbath Arena DLC and the Possibilities of a Demo
By pre-ordering Dead Island from GameStop, you’ll receive the Bloodbath Arena DLC. It will eventually be available to purchase on PSN and XBL. Bloodbath is basically a horde mode where you fight wave after wave of zombies either by yourself or cooperatively. In comparison to the story mode, Bloodbath Arena is meant to be more competitive in nature since you’re trying to get a high score.
There are four different arenas to play through and each one is filled with various traps. You’ll also receive The Ripper weapon, which is a combination of a bat and a buzz saw. It’s not yet clear if everything you do in Bloodbath will carry on to the full game due to balancing issues. It might just take the fun out of the game so that’s something they are still testing. Vincent did confirm that The Ripper will carry over though.
A demo wasn’t outright confirmed but it was stated that you shouldn’t expect one before the game launches. If there was going to be a demo it most likely would be released either on the day the game comes out or sometime after.
Dead Island is scheduled to hit store shelves on September 6th in North America and on September 9th in Europe.