At E3 the developers of shocking cult shooter Spec Ops: The Line revealed that they were making a sequel to Techland's wildly successful zombie slaying shooter Dead Island. With Techland branching off into all new territory (a shooter with zombies, this time called Dying Light) Yager Development have stepped in to take Dead Island in an all new lighter direction.
At Gamescom Yager let the public get their hands on the game for the first time, revealing a small portion of the game's sunny California setting and letting players go nuts for ten minutes of undead slaying action.
Behind the scenes we spoke to Yager's Designer Director Jörg Friedrich and Senior Producer at publisher Deep Silver Carsten Linder in a surprisingly honest interview about making the series their own and what they thought Techland did wrong.
IB Times UK (IBT): You've revealed gameplay for the first time this week, what has the reaction been like?
Jörg Friedrich (JF): Overwhelmingly good so far. You don't know what to expect really, it's the first time, you're a bit scared like 'Oh my God, it's my baby, I'm putting it out in the open what will they say?' but yeah, people seem to really like it. They seem to like the new tone and the new way we are doing it.
IBT: You pitched Dead Island 2 to Deep Silver before the project became a reality, what was that pitch, and what do you think won them over?
JF: What the pitch had in common with the game you see now is that first it takes place in California, so when we looked at the first game we thought about what the outstanding parts were and it was this island setting, a place that you'd want to spend your vacation, that's one of the core things. Secondly there was multiplayer, which we want to bring to the next level with eight players instead of four. I don't know exactly what convinced them but those were the parts that were pretty strong.
IBT: How are Yager making the Dead Island series their own, what makes it a Yager game and not a Techland game?
JF: Well we're always trying to do things, erm, right [laughs] that sounds like marketing fluff but basically what it means is for example at the beginning thought, okay, we're good at narrative games, we're good at doing tragic stories, we were all watching The Walking Dead in the office and we all saw the cinematic trailer for the first game.
So we looked at the first game and compared it to the trailer and thought it was uneven, you know it feels very different to play than the trailer implies, so we wanted to get rid of that dissonance and do something which supports what players are actually feeling and doing. So we started with a tragic game then realised really quickly that it's not what the players do, unless you take away multiplayer or limit their options so much that the narrative kind of fits, it wouldn't work.
So we changed the narrative and changed the mood to something that fits what players are actually doing – embracing the fun with a colourful and bright perspective on the whole zombie apocalypse thing, so our heroes are there because they want to be, they're really good at killing zombies and they're good guys who want to support their fellow survivors.
I think what also makes it a Yaeger game is that the NPCs are in a similar position, so they are not typical of a zombie game, thinking everything is grim and horrible and are worried about surviving. No, they actually picked zombie infected California because they could do stuff that they normally couldn't do. That means it doesn't have the usual power fantasy, like 'You're the hero and there are the poor NPCs who you need to save', you work together instead and I think that's pretty unusual, which makes it a Yaeger game.
Carsten Linder (CL): Also we all got together and decided we'd have less bugs [laughs].
JF: Yes, fewer bugs!
IBT: Looking back at the Techland games, what areas did you find to improve upon? Obviously you've mentioned the tone...
JF: Yes as I said the tone, which before was just uneven. There was this weapon-crafting co-op with people having fun killing zombies, and then there was this dark storyline and kind of deathly moments that felt kind of forced. Then there were mechanics which we looked at, again putting the focus on multiplayer.
Something that always bothered us when we played as a team was that I kill zombies and then my machete breaks, so I have to break the fun we were having to find a work bench and fix my machete. We wanted to change that from something that sucks fun from the multiplayer to something that makes multiplayer useful, so now you can repair and craft your weapons on the spot, but because the game keeps running I have to ask my buddy to watch my back as I'm repairing or crafting. It means it makes sense to have other players around, and you want that.
CL: There were three pillars. The first was the tone which you've mentioned, but we also wanted to make the combat more accessible and to enhance the flow and feedback, and it plays really great right now.
The third thing is the seamless co-op. Dead Island 1 was played so much in co-op - even now if you buy it there are people playing – that we decided to take co-op to the next level and make it seamless. There are no classic modes any more - you start the game, you click on play, locate a server and find players around you. It's like a very small MMO, you can just go and start whatever you want to do, a quest, an event, do something for your own and then suddenly there's another player there and you can decide whether to team up or not. It's your choice.
Then there's the PvP which is the same way. You'll look in the sky and see a chopper pass over and then crash down, creating a PvP arena around the crash site. Everyone who goes there gets a warning: 'Hey, you're entering PvP, friendly fire is on'. The chopper has cool treasure, but only for one person.
JF: So basically the three of us fight together, then there's this treasure which only one can have, so I hit you on the head and say 'Screw that!' I was being a nice guy but now I want the treasure. So I grab but then you hit me on the head and take it back, then afterwards we play together again.
Dead Island 2 will be released in 2015.