Dead Island 2 has taken quite some time to come out, but it’s finally almost here. It’s surprising in more than a few ways, and ComingSoon Senior Gaming Editor Michael Leri recently talked to Design Director Adam Duckett about some of its more surprising features including its more restrained world design, the gory F.L.E.S.H. System, the absence of the first game’s analog combat, and more.
Dead Island 2 has gone through enough teams and years in development to make it seem destined to underwhelm. It’s…
Michael Leri: Dead Island 2 is set in modestly-sized interconnected hubs instead of a huge and more traditional open world. Can you speak to why the team went for that approach?
Adam Duckett: It was a decision we made quite early on. We wanted to focus on quality over quantity, both in the content that we can add in, the quality of the environment, the visual quality, and also to make sure that we were putting a lot of focus into the core of the game, which is our brutal zombie combat. We really wanted to make sure that the environments were great playgrounds and great sandboxes for players to engage with zombies up close and personal.
It’s refreshing for a developer to not try and make an endless, 120-hour game.
I have two kids. [laughs]
With this setting full of superficiality, it would be easy to assume that the characters would be grating. How do you write it to make sure the game is funny, satirical, not annoying, and still has heart?
It’s a good question. And I want to make sure I do that answer justice because I’m not a writer. The guys have looked at it through the lens of Hollywood. So it’s not a straightforward take on Los Angeles. It’s done through that kind of Hollywood lens so they can really lean into the the different kind of caricatures from from L.A.
Dead Island 2 has a lot of options during combat. Can you speak to the process of building all of that out, presumably in hopes that players won’t get bored?
Again, it was a really early decision that we made that we didn’t want the worlds to be static. We wanted to have them physicalized and we wanted to give players opportunities in any given combat scenario. Again, it’s quality over quantity and having more refined play spaces allowed us to do more within those play spaces. We were looking at different fluid types, so we have a lot of methods of getting different fluids into the scene, be it through pipes, Curveballs, or through the environment. And then we wanted the different elemental opportunities again through Curveballs, weapons, the environment, or skill cards to combine together to give people plenty of opportunity to engage.
One of the early design meetings, I remember sitting there and going, “Killing zombies in interesting and innovative ways. Let’s go. How can we do this?” The key was getting everyday items or everyday things like water and fuel into the sandbox and just really looking at it from different angles — player, environment, weapons, zombies — and how do we combine that together. In any given scenario, there will be multiple ways to overcome the zombie challenge. And I think for players on second and third playthroughs will discover something that they didn’t notice in the first time they visited the environment. And I love that and being able to interact with things all the time.
Can you speak to the F.L.E.S.H. System and where it started, where it ended up, and what you think it brings to the game?
We started looking at zombies in a lot of zombie movies and a lot of zombie games when we started Dead Island 2. And we really wanted to write a zombie game for zombie fans. And when you look through them, particularly the film references out there, they do a lot of gory stuff and we had to find the right tone as well, so it’s not too uncomfortable, which I think we’ve done with our pulp approach to it. We wanted to push it as far as we could and do things that we hadn’t seen before in games. And so it wasn’t just about, “Well, how many chunks could you break the arm into? Two? Three?” It was that it should reflect where you are hitting it. You want that instant feedback, that feel, that connection, so then when you do sever the arm, it reflects [the damage] anywhere up there. So that’s really how it started.
And after a whole bunch of tech investigations later, we started working on the gameplay angle from it as well. And we wanted the gore to reflect the damage that the player had done to the zombie. We really wanted to give players that immediate feedback. So if you were, for example, to turn the HUD completely off and just keep hammering away at the zombie, you’d see the damage and understand how much damage you were doing.
If the arm started looking like it was getting weaker [it was probably about to get cut off], particularly the Crushers zombies where if you take that arm off, they’re not going to be able to perform the overhead smash. We looked at the Runners’ legs and if you take those off, they can’t run at you anymore. And like any great idea, it starts with great references from pop culture and you just think, “Well, why can’t we do this? And what would that mean to players?” I look back now with fond memories of those early design meetings and how it all came together for sure.
Dead Island had an inventive analog combat system. It’s not here in Dead Island 2, so can you speak to why it isn’t in this sequel?
There’s no real choice. I guess, it’s a feature we haven’t put in. I tend not to like to talk about stuff that we haven’t put in yet, so let’s just leave that one.