Itís surprising to think that Dead Island Riptide will be hitting store shelves in just under five monthsí time. Largely because itís only been around a year since the release of the original - the trailer for which promised the zombie equivalent of Phantom of the Opera, when in reality what we got was as dramatic as Bad Boys II. There was even a rap song and everything.
It was fun though, for what it was worth, and this sequel looks set to continue that trend. And thatís just fine with me. The same bunch of survivors from the first game feature in Riptide
- with the addition of Fist of the North Star
-inspired punchman John Morgan - and your mission is still to escape a tropical island teeming with zombies. But as the name suggests, things get a little bit moist.
Thereís a new dynamic weather system included, which can add tension and atmosphere whilst also buggering up your peripheral vision if youíre unlucky enough to get caught in fog. Water features heavily in Riptide
, with floods to consider and riverbanks to cross in your undead-bashing journey.
A demonstration of the game showed off a new kind of mission, which saw the survivors working together to protect the ruins of a building from being overrun by zombies as you wait for a means of escape.
I managed to sit down with creative producer Sebastian Reichert after the presentation to learn more about the direction of Riptide
, and the impact on development that has come from releasing a sequel so soon after its predecessor.
SPOnG: Were you guys surprised at the success of Dead Island? Riptide is being developed quite quickly, given that the first game was only released last year.
We were convinced that the first Dead Island
would be a successful game - mostly because the people that had been working on it for three or four years were still having fun with it! Thatís usually a good sign.
But we werenít prepared for the tremendous explosion in popularity we faced. When the first trailer came out, we thought, Ďyeah, this will be successful,í but the attention didnít stop. I was recently asked how the Game of the Year version is doing... still insanely well. Weíve sold over four million units by now. Itís truly a new IP.
SPOnG: Does that make for an extra challenge or add pressure to live up to the last game, the fact that youíre moving quite quickly on this?
Yes, definitely. The pressureís certainly there. We have a lot of fans out there who tell us, ďI want a new game! Give me a new game!Ē So that leads to the men with the money saying to us, ďMake a new game! Make a new game!Ē [Laughs] So ok, we have to make a new game, but we have to make sure itís fucking awesome, that thereís enough new content and that it feels sufficient to the player.
Thatís a lot of pressure, because you want to make a great big game but make it substantial. We ask ourselves questions like, can we work with the same setting again. And we can, because we have enough ideas to make it interesting. For example, the water - water is so dominant in this game, it makes it very unique.
SPOnG: The trailer for the first Dead Island game brought with it the impression that it was going to be a very emotional, dramatic game. Obviously, this didnít end up being the case. Do you feel that itís better to focus on marketing Riptide solely as a straightforward action game, without the emotional ties?
Well... there werenít any really big emotional ties in the first game. When we made that trailer, the first thing we thought was, ĎIím confused - this video makes me sad. Thatís not really related to... do we want the players to be sad after watching a trailer for our game?í Yeah [was the answer], so we tried it [laughs].
One important thing for us was to release additional gameplay trailers after this initial teaser. We wanted to big hype of the first trailer and then show off what the game was really like. Because, that dramatic scene was all about capturing this horrible mood, this feeling of dread that a zombie apocalypse would give you. And that you have to do things that you donít want to do [to survive]. That trailer accomplished that perfectly.
But the rest [of the game] is a completely different story. I mean, the only connection to that trailer is that the father and mother are lying dead on the floor, in the room that you wake up in. Thatís it.
SPOnG: Do you think that, in a way, people focused too much on the first trailer because of that? That it influenced them too much on what the game was about?
Maybe in the ratings, there was a hit because of that. But overall, people seemed to be really happy with the game. Of course, we had some complaints about the game not having the same themes as the trailer. But... with the sales we have and the continuation of those sales... weíre pretty sure that we did the right thing.
SPOnG: You said earlier that Riptide adds element of defence that wasnít in the previous game. Do you feel that was one of the things that was missing from the original Dead Island? Something that players were asking for?
The concept of structure defence was something from general zombie fiction that we think people missed when playing the first game. We tried to pick up a lot of stereotypes from zombie fiction - such as, improving your baseball bat by putting nails in it.
We run off of classics like Night of the Living Dead
, and one of the big things in that is the idea of zombie defence. How do you barricade this house to make it safe against the undead? Thatís something we wanted to add to the experience.
SPOnG: Do you also take inspiration from TV shows like The Walking Dead?
Yep. There are definitely some things we take away from The Walking Dead
. The atmosphere in that is very interesting, for example. The thing I like about that show is that the conflict is really between humans, and zombies simply provide the background. We took a little bit of inspiration from that, but not too much because the game is very much about hacking and slashing zombies. There was something about the mood the TV show presented that we liked.
SPOnG: You mentioned in the presentation that one of the big things you noticed about player feedback from Dead Island was that players werenít being very resourceful with their items. In what ways have you improved the interface in Riptide so that people are more aware of using items?
Well in the defence missions, for example, youíll find boxes where the other survivors have put stuff in that you can use. Weíre also going to be a bit more liberal in what you can find. If a player only has three molotov cocktails, itís hard for them to want to use them. But, if a player has 20, theyíre going to want to play with them.
We also have the mini-map tweaked so there are little arrows telling you where targets are - whether they are up or down, things like that. The weapons in the inventory are also graded, so the game can tell you when a weapon you really love has outlived its usefulness. In general, itís a lot of small tweaks, because the overall game works. But the tweaks are nonetheless important, because they make the experience much smoother.
SPOnG: Youíre adding a more dynamic weather system. Is it simply for mood, or do you have plans to use it in gameplay? Like mudslides and things like that?
Initially, it was meant only for mood, but over time we have evolved it so it is much more drastic now. It does affect gameplay in the sense that you may end up in a terrible storm that restricts your vision. You canít see where enemies are coming from. Is it a tree or is it a zombie? It becomes very interesting.
SPOnG: What do you think of the Wii U, and what Ubisoft is doing with the platform with ZombiU? Do you think it would be a good system to take Dead Island to?
I have to admit, I haven't played ZombiU
yet! I'd rather talk about the game after I've had a go on it. But I love the Wii U, it's an awesome console. It's just that, personally, I don't happen to have the spark of an idea that makes me want to use the console.
I'm looking forward to playing the Wii U games, because I think a lot of developers have already shown some really goos uses for the GamePad. But we still need to think of a unique way to use it ourselves before we can make Dead Island
work on it.
SPOnG: Tell us a little bit about the new character, John Morgan. Heís inspired by Fist of the North Star, right?
Yeah... you might remember, when we released Dead Island
on Steam, the first version still had the debug options in it. So some fans had the idea of tweaking around with the values and creating new versions. One, which became a big hit on internet video, was called Fist of the Dead Star
[laughs]. They put the French title song of the anime series Fist of the North Star
from the 1980s and let the character run around and punch zombies.
The character had something like 2 million damage points to a punch, so when they hit a zombie it flew away very far, their heads exploding instantaneously. I was so amazed that we thought, ĎWell, if the fans like it so much, and we do too, why shouldnít we do it?í Of course, we donít go completely bonkers. It still all fits into the game. But John Morgan is very much inspired by 80s martial arts action.
SPOnG: Thank you very much for your time.