New developer, same publisher. When Dead Island 2 was announced at E3, it came with a trailer of a vastly different tone – one full of humour rather than the heartbreaking original trailer. I sat down with senior game designer Isaac Ashdown to talk about how the series will evolve under their wing.
One Hit Pixel: How did the property of Dead Island move from Techland to Yager?
Isaac Ashdown: At Yager, we were big fans of Dead Island. While we were working on Spec Ops: The Line, we played it a lot in our offices. It was a nice change of pace. When we found out we could pitch to do the sequel, we just jumped at the chance! The pitch was successful, so we got the project.
Spec Ops: The Line had a very serious undertone to it that garnered a lot of attention upon its release. With Dead Island 2, are we about to see a similar change in direction or will it undertake a more bonkers direction?
One of the things we’re doing at Yager with Dead Island is making it our own, but we’re not making it like Spec Ops. We’ve taken a lot of the core visuals and tone of the original where paradise meets hell and putting it in California to set it in a real place. We’ve been seeing what that means from a design perspective. I wouldn’t say we’re going completely bonkers, but certainly a light-hearted, over-the-top side.
That’s certainly something fans of Dead Rising would recognise. I noticed in the multiplayer demo build that the player is able to gather up items to upgrade weapons to have elemental properties. Can you touch a little more on what that will be like in the final game?
In the demo, it works a little differently to the real game, as you only need to complete a side quest to get a modified weapon. In the final game it will work like the first game, where you will need to find blueprints, weapons, and resources.
You will then be able to modify or craft a weapon or item based on what blueprints you have found, choosing what you want to create based on stats. We’ve tried to make it as flexible as possible, where any weapon can be modded and all kinds of recipes can be found. You can now do it on the fly, so you don’t have to find a workbench.
Would you say then that Dead Island 2 is more of the same but in a different setting?
We’re trying to do a real sequel, making what made the first game such a great experience and adding onto that: The melee combat and cooperative parts in particular. One of the things we’re doing is refreshing how cooperative works, so we’ve upped the player count to eight and made the transitions between single and multiplayer seamless.
For example, you can jump into a game, doing your own thing, when you hear some gunfire down the street. You arrive to find it was another player trying to fight a boss, so you help take it down. You can choose whether to tag along or go your own separate ways, it’s up to you. We’re trying to make coop a key feature of the game.
Character in the first game had unique abilities. Is this something that has been retained?
We’ve got four different characters that play slightly differently and unique specialities. You can play as a speeder character who is great with fast weapons and cool executions, a berserker character who is more into slower, heavier weapons to pack punch. They also have unique abilities, so the speedier character performs a cool execution where she runs up and stabs the enemy in the back, while the berserker has a super powered kick to send zombies flying. We do have a levelling system where you can assign skill points to customise characters how you want. When you see eight people online, some may have different variations on the same core character you are building.
There was a lot of enemy variety in the first Dead Island, so is there scope for new enemy types or skins?
Absolutely! In the demo you have regular zombies, some crawling and some that run faster. You also have special enemies too, such as the Thug hanging out in the electronics store and the Suicider at the gas station. We’ve reimagined them a little bit, mainly in the visual design. The Suicider for example looks like a gas station attendant. We also have new enemies as well that we haven’t revealed yet. Zombies should however look unique, wearing clothes fitting to the setting. So in the electronics store, some may be wearing the electronic store uniform.
What will fans of the original have to look forward to with Dead Island 2?
If you enjoy playing games with intense melee combat, but like to mix it up with guns and dual wielding, and you enjoy doing this with a group of friends or random people; then this is what we’ve been focusing on building on with the sequel. We’ve got this brand new setting to offer as well, offering more of the paradise meets hell mantra of the series.
Techland were originally going to make Dead Island 2, though a change of direction resulted in them signing with WB Games to create Dying Light. Aren’t you a little worried that this may steal some of the Dead Island thunder?
Personally, I think Dying Light looks like a really interesting game. I’m looking forward to playing it. They’re doing a lot of cool stuff. I think they’re taking it in a very different direction, especially when it comes to the tone. We’re trying to build on what made Dead Island so iconic, how you have this blood splattered, sun drenched place where you can have a fun experience being the hero. I think Dead Island 2 is going to be a great addition to the series. As for Techland, I certainly wish them all the best!
When is Dead Island 2 being launched?
Spring 2015 for PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4.
Have you been working on optimising the PC version for higher end rigs?
It’s still at an early stage, but we’re aiming to have an equally awesome experience on all platforms.
If you were to sum up Dead Island to try and sell Dead Island 2 to someone who had never heard of the series, would you say this is a good starting point or start with the first one?
The first one is great and if you want to play something right now, you can play the first game! Dead Island 2 builds up so much on what made the first one great. We’ve got four brand new characters, set in the same world though sometime after the events of Dead Island. You could totally jump straight into Dead Island 2.