Dead Island Team Talk Zombies, Amazing Trailers and Layered Storylines

April 13, 2011 Written by Hollander Cooper

Dead Island took the gaming world by storm when it was re-revealed with a truly amazing trailer that showed an entirely new take on the zombie genre. To find out about the game, what they thought of people’s reaction to the trailer and if the zombie genre could become overcrowded, PlayStation LifeStyle chatted to Aubrey Norris, Manager of Marketing & PR, Deep Silver, Inc.

For a while the game has been flying under the radar; when was the decision made to create a cinematic trailer to bring it back into the public eye?

Well, we’ve actually been working on Dead Island for several years behind the scenes. πŸ™‚ We didn’t want to start talking about the project until it was really ready to be shared with the community, and we wanted to introduce the game with something that we felt portrays the game’s main features in a really compelling way. Namely, the emphasis on survival, melee combat, use of situationally-appropriate weapons, varied enemy types, and the message that in our zombie scenario, everyday normal people can be affected and no one is spared from having their lives ripped apart by the outbreak, no matter how innocent and vulnerable.

What elements of the game’s story and gameplay did you want to convey in the cinematic trailer?

The trailer’s story was created by us as an example of something that took place right as the outbreak on the island was happening. Royal Palms Resort is somewhere that anyone would want to go to have a relaxing holiday – celebrities, regular families, and everyone in between can be found there. So, we took a normal family unit as an example of a standard Royal Palms visitor and envisioned what they might experience during the outbreak. Dead Island‘s story is serious – focused on telling the tale of a group’s struggle for survival and for answers – so we chose a serious approach for our trailer. But, the trailer isn’t all artsy cinematics – there is a LOT in terms of game features reflected in it. When defending his family, the father grabs an axe from the fire equipment outside his door and the combat that ensues is bloody and brutal. This is a perfect example of Dead Island‘s combat system. You won’t be grabbing AK-47’s that are lying around for no logical reason. Everything you use to defend yourself will be things that you might normally find in that situation. And when you do use them, our damage system doesn’t hold anything back with regard to brutality and gruesome animations. Decapitations and dismemberment are common, and blood flies everywhere.
Another fun tidbit is that the environments in the trailer were all made based on actual in-game environments. The hotel that the attack takes place in is a place you will actually be able to go to, and it is one of the most prominent features of the island.

Did anyone expect the trailer to get as big as it did?

We knew that we had a really great trailer, and were super happy with how it turned out, but let’s face it – none of us ever anticipated in our wildest dreams the massive reaction that this trailer got. We’re eternally grateful that so many people connected with it and liked what they saw. πŸ™‚

A lot of celebrities posted on Facebook and Twitter about the trailer; which one in particular was the most surprising?

I’m going to be totally honest with you – the team in Germany and I were literally up all night watching the trailer reactions. Every time a new celebrity would tweet about it, we’d literally lose our shit over Skype to one another! It was one of the most exciting experiences I’ve ever had. My personal favorite was Ice T, because he’s the fucking MAN! (I love Ice T. You have no idea. #FLTG FTW!) Our cinematic director Anton, who was directly responsible for the trailer, was ecstatic when Kojima tweeted about it. He said he felt he had been “knighted”. πŸ™‚ But honestly, we were incredibly honored to have everyone tweeting about the video…it was an amazing experience.

Many are saying the trailer is one of the best in years, setting expectations for the game extremely high. How is the team dealing with this?

Well, I’d be lying if I said it didn’t put a ton of pressure on us, because surely it does. Being gamers ourselves we do want to deliver something really special to the fans. But, we feel that we’ve been working on this game for so long and have put so much thought into how to make the zombie game that everyone has been waiting for, we are confident that once the game is out it won’t be a disappointment. πŸ™‚

What’s the general premise of the story?

Dead Island‘s story is a very unique one, in that at the beginning of the game, the entire scenario isn’t laid out to you with a simplistic protagonist/antagonist setup. You don’t know what has caused the zombie outbreak. There are people communicating with you that you don’t know who they are or what their motives are. You don’t know your character’s entire background or why you are immune to the zombie outbreak. All of these pieces of the puzzle are things that are revealed as the game story progresses over the 20-30 hour span of the game. So, this can make it somewhat challenging for us when talking about the game. People will say “Is this game story driven?” and we will say that yes, it does. But then, when they say “OK, well why do you think it is?” or want more information, we simply can’t give too much due to the layered nature of the storyline. It’s important for us to not spoil all of the questions that are laid out in the beginning of the story, so we are limited in terms of what we can reveal about it.

Why the tropical setting?

One of the most important facets of Dead Island is the juxtaposition of the gorgeous island setting with the gruesome events happening on the island. Combining something beautiful, like a posh tropical resort, with something horrific like zombies being dismembered is an interesting departure from the standard dark hallway, survival horror approach to making a zombie game, and we like that it makes our game stand out a bit more from similar titles.

How will the RPG element work into the game?

Well, for starters, you don’t just have one mission you are sent on in the game. Of course, there is the main quest/storyline that you are following that eventually allows you access to different parts of the island, but there’s also a ton of side quests and people to help. And, every time you help someone, kill a zombie, complete a quest, etc. you get XP, which will allow you to level up upon meeting XP thresholds. When you level, you get several points to dedicate between different skill trees so that you can customize your character and his or her abilities to your chosen playstyle. Combine this with a massive island to explore, thousands of weapons that can also be upgraded and customized and an
entire black market economy on the island, and we think Dead Island is the perfect amalgam of RPG and zombie action.

Many games in the past have struggled with first-person melee combat; what makes Dead Island’s better?

The most important thing with first-person melee combat is that it must be engaging. Swinging your weapon back and forth statically and mowing through enemies the same way each time can get really old really quick. So with Dead Island we implemented multiple unlockable active skills that can be used to provide options in terms of what kinds of attacks can be used. For example, one of Sam B.’s active skills is called “Fury”, where he unleashes a flurry of powerful blows with his fists upon enemies after building up enough to use this skill. So if you’re playing as Sam B, you won’t just be just picking up a plank, swinging it over and over and over. You’ll be doing that, and going into Fury mode, and curb stomping their heads, and more active skills that we haven’t revealed yet. πŸ™‚ On top of the active skill system, the combat mechanics are actually set up with the shooter audience in mind. Dead Island isn’t a button masher – you don’t just sit there mashing the X button hoping that it does some cool damage. With Dead Island, you actually aim your blows like you would a shooter. Is there a zombie coming at you with a machete in his hand? Then you can aim your weapon at his arm and cut it off, reducing the amount of damage he could potentially do to you. Just want to go straight for the headshot? You can aim your blows directly at the head and bash it straight in. Don’t want to get too close? Any weapon in the game is throwable, allowing you to keep a safe distance between yourself and your opponent.

Some have said that the market is getting over-saturated with zombie games. Do you think this is true?

I think zombies are a popular topic to be sure, but they’re popular for a reason. If there was true zombie fatigue, people wouldn’t be buying them anymore and we wouldn’t have had the response that we’ve had to Dead Island. Case in point: one of the top TV series in the US right now is The Walking Dead. If people were really tired of zombies, would that be true? I don’t think so.

What has the team done to make Dead Island different?

The biggest things that jump out at me about Dead Island are that the game approaches a zombie game in a serious way (or at least as serious as you can possibly be with something like zombies). I’ve played lots of other zombie games that are incredibly campy- that feel very much like zombie grinders. Not that there’s anything wrong with that – those types of games are definitely fun to be sure, but for us to approach the concept of a zombie outbreak as a serious scenario calling for the struggle to survive in a realistic story-based setting, this is something that is unique to Dead Island.

It’s hard to measure success in the gaming industry. What do you consider to be success for a game like Dead Island?

The two most important things are that the fans are happy with the end game we’ve produced, and that subsequently the game sells well. I’d say that goes for any game…and we are putting everything we’ve got into making sure that the final game will be exactly what the community has been waiting for. πŸ™‚