Dead Island 2 is finally becoming a flesh and blood video game. After rolling through multiple developers and publishers for the past 9 years, it releases next month. The veteran Dambuster Studios has picked up the game’s husk and breathed life back into it whilst retaining the spirit of the franchise.
PlayStation Universe recently had a chat with Dead Island 2 Creative Director, James Worrall, about the development of the game, the grisly F.L.E.S.H. degradation system, cultural influences, and rising to the challenge of a ‘poison chalice.’
Dead Island 2 Interview With Creative Director James Worrall – Crafting A Zombie-Slaying Fantasy
This is your first new game in seven years. How has it been working on a big project like this?
James: It’s genuinely been a very rewarding experience. We know fans have been eagerly waiting for Dead Island 2 and we made it our mission to deliver. I feel we have something really special here thanks to the freedom we had in creating the Dead Island game we always wanted, with zombie combat elevated to an entirely new level.
We created our cutting-edge F.L.E.S.H. engine to deliver the goriest and thrilling zombie experience ever seen in a video game. It takes combat to an unprecedented level of detail that reacts to where you strike, how hard you strike, and with what weapon. Paired with a dynamic environment, a hellishly beautiful setting, Skill Deck system, and abilities, we think fans are in for a real treat.
The reception has been amazing so far, too, from both the online community and journalists who were able to get stuck into the game at Gamescom. It really bolstered our morale and we can’t wait for fans to get Dead Island 2 in their hands.
Long-gestating games with multiple delays and background issues tend to be viewed as something of a poison chalice. I know Dead Island 2 ended up being reworked almost entirely, but was there any hesitation in tackling it? Given the obstacles Dambuster itself has faced over the years, it almost feels like the right kind of game for the right studio.
No hesitation, we wanted to rise to the challenge! I think it was the perfect match for us. We had the freedom to flex our creative muscles whilst sticking to what made the franchise so great to begin with.
There are, of course, similarities to previous work carried out under the Dead Island 2 name, such as the setting and premise. However, reworking the game gave us the opportunity to create the zombie-slaying fantasy we’d always dreamed of, and we hope fans appreciate our vision when they enter Hell-A.
In the time between the original Dead Island and your sequel, we’ve seen plenty of the undead/infected on our screens in many forms. Would you say it’s difficult to truly create a novel twist on them at this point, so it’s more about making the most of what’s already been established?
Whilst there’s certainly been an array of zombie-themed media since the original Dead Island, we sought to innovate and expand on the genre by giving players a fresh perspective – A unique blend of brutal action and our over-the-top pulp tone puts zombie slaying at the bloody heart of the experience.
Also, our F.L.E.S.H. system has allowed us to design one of the most ludicrously gory and fun zombie experiences ever seen in a video game. You’ll be able to exploit soft-body physics like never before for a truly visceral rollercoaster ride!
Even in the preview build, the zombie degradation (F.L.E.S.H.) system in Dead island 2 is genuinely impressive. How difficult was it to implement? Was research on the matter mostly anatomical or were there a few media influences you wanted to draw from? There’s a sense of horrific spectacle to it at times that brings to mind the FX work of Savini or Nicotero.
Our tech and character art departments rolled up their sleeves and got stuck in – many of them are b-movie horror fans. It wasn’t long before they were up to their elbows in digital gore, happy as ghouls at a morgue 😉
Los Angeles as a setting for a zombie game definitely feels like one way to shake things up. What would you say makes ‘Hell-A’ such a good backdrop for a zombie apocalypse?
LA is home to that unique eccentricity and quirkiness that defines it, and it’s for that very reason the team thought it would be a fantastic way to entertain you while you’re hitting and dodging zombies. Besides, there are so many zombie games that are raw and gritty. We want people to think, “It’s official; zombies are fun again!”
Despite carnage and gore being at the forefront, I was impressed by the level of caution needed. You always have to be mindful of your surroundings or end up punished in Dead Island 2. You’ve captured something quintessential to a zombie apocalypse. How difficult has it been to find that balance of power and vulnerability?
In terms of balance, I feel like we’ve done a solid job. Given the arsenal of weaponry, abilities, and environmental exploits, there are instances where you’ll feel like an unstoppable zombie-slaying king. But those instances of adrenaline are counter-balanced with moments when you might be a little too keen. We’ve created a dynamic range of environments and zombies, so each moment will challenge you to adapt and get over the skill curve. But remember, no matter how tough the fight, always use your curveball abilities to get the upper hand. The moments when you feel unbeatable are awesome, but those are balanced with moments when your estimations have been somewhat optimistic. And no matter how tough the fight, there’s a skill curve that will pull you through it, if you can just get into the zone and hang on!
Guns feel good to use in Dead Island 2. Did the studio’s long history with shooters make that easier to implement into such a melee-heavy series?
On one hand, the technical side was something we had loads of experience with, the challenge was to balance that with a melee biased game. I think the game designers have achieved that. After a short while, it becomes instinctive to a good slayer; When to sheath that cremator machete and draw your impact revolver; When to empty an entire 9mm clip from your electrocutor SMG, then reach for your liquidating claw hammer, etc.
Lastly, what are your favorite kinds of zombies? I’m personally a fan of the ones in Lucio Fulci’s Zombie Flesh Eaters, City of the Living Dead, and The Beyond. There’s something truly wretched, rotten, and inhuman about them.
There are so many types that spring to mind, but I’d say it’s actually one of our very own zombies; the Burster! It’s absolutely ghastly, tragic, and hilarious. Each encounter is nail-biting, but it’s so satisfying when you lead one into a swarm of zombies and blow it up.
Dead Island 2 is scheduled for release on PS4, PS5, PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S. You can read our hands-on preview here.