Dead Island captured a lot of attention with a heart-rending trailer that showed in reverse the death of a little girl and her family during an outbreak on the island resort of Banoi. It’s an unsettling 90 seconds of video that makes promises on which the game may not be able to deliver.
That family and their sad voyage from happy vacationers to terrified victims of the undead isn’t going to be in the game, said Blazej Krakowiak, international brand manager for developer Techland.
The trailer was meant to be an emotional vignette, an example of what happened all over the island the day the dead rose.
“It shows no one is safe,” Krakowiak said. “Some people made it out, but some didn’t and the family dies. That may be difficult to accept.”
Putting a face on the outbreak, showing a very personal example of the human toll is clever way to inject emotion into the game. It will be hard, for those who saw the trailer and later play the game, to not remember that little girl and the look of abject terror and loss on her mother’s face, as we play through Dead Island. So the trailer, despite showing something that doesn’t ever appear in the game, can serve as a sort of emotional anchor.
He tells me that there will be emotional elements to the game, but that at its heart that’s not what Dead Island is meant to be.
“It is a zombie action slasher,” he said. “This is a game where you will be killing zombies up close.”
Putting a face on the outbreak, showing a very personal example of the human toll is clever way to inject emotion into the game.
The game is meant to explore a sense of loss, of beauty corrupted. That’s why the outbreak takes place on what Krakowaik calls an island paradise, but, he says, it’s really a game about killing zombies.
“We’re not trying to be wacky and make fun of zombies,” he said. “That’s why we have first-person and melee fighting.”
The fighting mechanic, and some of the other interesting design decisions, are backed up with hundreds of side missions that allow the game developer to show the different ways that people might react in a zombie apocalypse.
There will be those who will ask for help, looking out for others, those who will only care about themselves, and black marketeers.
Listening to Krakowaik explain it, it sounds like some of the finer details of Dead Island’s story are still in flux. That’s not surprising. When I saw the game in 2007 it was a very different sort of experience. At the time, Techland told me it was a game about a family separated on a tropical island resort during a plane crash. That the game would have been about a father trying to reunite with his wife and daughter on an island infested with zombies.
That game was a singleplayer experience.
“At that time it was in pre-production,” he said. “You could almost say we developed several Dead Island games and then looked at which worked best, which was worth keeping.”
When the team made the decision to include online cooperative play (there is no offline coop), the title begin to become what it is today.
“This is the combination of the ideas that worked best,” he said.
But Krakowaik said that players didn’t seem to notice the curl of split undead flesh, severed muscle and tendons and hacked bone.
“It was mind-blowing, but no one noticed it and it was costing us performance,” he said.
The team ended up removing it, though zombies can still have arms broken, limbs cut off, and those crippled zombies will still be coming for you until they’re dead.
“The game is still gory,” he said.
One important feature Techland kept from the original title is the notion of having a completely open world to explore. The only limitations of where you can go are those that a person would typically face on an island. You have the ocean, running rivers and jungle to deal with, and perhaps conquer.
“We wanted this to be a sandbox experience,” Krakowaik said. “When you start at the hut on the beach you can walk straight to the hotel. There are bungalows. There is a light house. There is a marina. There are lifeguard houses, a gas station, all accessible.”
While you can move anywhere at any time, you may not want to. The further you wander from the territory of the main story and side missions, the more dangerous the zombies you encounter get.
Players didn’t seem to notice the curl of split undead flesh, severed muscle and tendons and hacked bone.
Because the game has some heavy role-playing elements, and your character can improve skills and become a more proficient zombie killer, the difficult of the three sorts of zombies you’ll run into will also scale.
So if you were to wander back to that hut where the game opens as a high-level character, zombies would be a bit harder to deal with, Krakowaik said.
While there are only three basic types of zombies, he said that there will be quite a few “interesting” combinations you’ll discover as you play through the game.
In the last fifty years of mythology, zombies tend to fall in two categories, I told Krakowaik: Those born of science and those born of religion. Which will Dead Island’s be?
“We want to be mysterious about it,” he said. “It’s an important part of the story. There will be competing stories about how the outbreak happened. There will even be circumstantial evidence supporting different theories, and you will have to investigate all of them to figure it out.”
Is the point of the game to get off the island, or to discover the cause of the outbreak then, I asked him.
Neither and both, it seems.
“There will be things you’ll want to do on the island,” he said. “But is it worth getting off the island? Maybe it’s better to stay. Maybe there is nothing to go back to.”
Dead Island is slated to hit the PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 sometime this year.