CEO of Sandswept Studios Geoff Keene was kind enough to take time out from making the zombie infested world of The Dead Linger, to chat with us about some of their design choices and the future of the game.
Critical Indie Gamer – Interview 06/04/2013
Interview with Geoff Keene (CEO / Design Director), Sandswept Studios
Why was a first-person perspective chosen and what advantages does it have over third-person for a zombie survival game?
I’ve always imagined The Dead Linger as a first person zombie survival simulation. In other words; how would the zombie apocalypse really happen? Well, it certainly wouldn’t be in third person! We’re trying to keep the game immersive, so we’re keeping it first person for right now. We may add a third person option later, but we haven’t put much thought into it yet.
Zombie survival games are in vogue among the gaming community and developers. What features set TDL apart from the crowd?
The similarities end at “multiplayer zombie survival.” In TDL, we have our own, unique vision of how the true zombie apocalypse works (headshots only, very few fast zombies, focus on barricading and survival as it really is) set in a massive, procedurally generated world. Every time you play, there’s always something new, and something different about the world, and there’s always more to explore over the next hilltop. We’re also setting our apocalypse in modern-day, with modern American suburbs, cities, farms, and more. Not only that, we offer a true sandbox. Be the survivor you want, and survive the way you want. No limits.
Griefing is a problem in any multiplayer experience, as TDL will be multiplayer-based, what — if anything — will you do to prevent this from happening and why?
Griefing generally comes from boredom and the ability to grief at all. We’re generally allowing server managers to run their servers however they wish. If they don’t want friendly fire, they don’t have to have it. If they want to kick a griefer, they have full power to do so. There’s also something to be said of game rules and death penalty. If the penalty for death is severe and yields no consequences to people doing the griefing, then griefing will take place. Currently, in the cooperative mode, you can’t loot gear from other players you kill. When we add a dedicated PvP mode, this will be the case, and killing other players will not only be legitimate, it will be encouraged in those modes. We just want to make sure we keep the cooperative players able to play cooperative modes, and the competitive players able to play competetive modes without ruining each other’s experience of the game.
It is unclear how TDL’s world will look and feel in the final version. What kind of world do you intend to go for — A world already wrought by zombies, A world on the cusp of the outbreak or perhaps even something different?
The world takes place a few weeks after “full infection,” but we’ve never dropped a timeframe on how long that process actually took. We have some ideas internally, but it’s not crucial to the story of the survivor for them to know that. We started out trying to make the world too clean. We said “What does the apocalypse look like a week after zombies have taken over?” Many games, I feel, overdo the blood and rust, making everything look like it’s been abandoned for decades. Unfortunately for us, there’s a reason for that. Zombies don’t really feel right if the world is too clean, so we’ve recently grunged it up a bit and focused on “What does months of wear and abandonment really look like?” The art style is still developing as we create our textures and zones, and we have a lot more plans to really capture the atmosphere we want. It’s in progress, but it’s getting there. As for final graphics, we’re nowhere close to all the shaders, lighting, fancy foliage, and more that we have planned. The final version will look quite realistic – our engine is perfectly capable of that – but our main focus is on the gameplay for the time being. If the game isn’t fun, it doesn’t matter if we can simulate seventeen levels of fog density on a Saturday morning. That said, much of the atmosphere can be conveyed by the graphics, so it’s always something we do as we develop – a little here, a little there.
A number of zombie-based games have multiple zombie types; an example being the Special Infected in Left 4 Dead. Will TDL use something like this or stick to the classic archetypal zombie and why has this decision been made?
I’m actually very against “Special” or “Mutant” infected. In the context of Left 4 Dead, they’re pretty fun, but I’ve never imagined the zombie apocalypse that way. We have some ideas to add variety to the zombie hordes, such as zombie animals, and different decay rates of zombies. (We currently have slow, medium, and very rare fast zombies.) They make sense in the context of the original, classic zombies, without the game revolving around a single strategy for a single type of enemy. We’ll be releasing more information on our plans for zombie animals later on, but I feel that they will keep the enemies interesting, while maintaining a real-world frame of reference without deviating too much into a science fiction setting.
Your latest video showcases zombification in player characters; what will happen to a player’s items when they become a zombie and will they have any use in zombie form?
Zombies have no use for tools – they’re just not intelligent enough to connect the dots, so your items will serve nothing more than cosmetic detail in the future. Your old, zombified body will be wearing the same clothing you died in, and you’re going to have to kill him to retrieve your stuff. We’re still working on the penalties for death and item loss as we develop.
How realistic is TDL aiming to be. Will we see features such as bag opening/closing animations and animation priority?
That specific example of opening a bag is actually a priority for us coming up here. We want to immerse the player in the eyes of the survivor. You are the survivor, so everything they’re doing, you’re doing. The game still has to be fun, and fun takes precedence over realism (it is the zombie apocalypse, after all) but in the context of the zombie apocalypse, we want the game to feel real enough that you experience the terror, desperation, hopelesness, and the fear of the lonely apocalypse. We want the hardships and the triumphs to feel real, in the zombie apocalypse experience we’ve all wanted to experiment with ever since we watched our first zombie film.
Crazed Survivors are currently listed as hostile NPC survivors. The concept is intriguing. What kind of behaviour will they have?
Shooting at you, mostly.