ZombiU is an exciting, first-person survival/action game developed by Ubisoft Montpellier that will be released on November 18th, 2012 for the newest Nintendo console, the Wii U. Formerly the game was under a different concept and title known as Killer Freaks from Outer Space. ZombiU takes full advantage of the Wii U's exciting GamePad controller with screen to provide an a tense player experience. The player must control a random surviver who is attempting to survive the zombie acpoclypse which has recently broken out in modern day London.
We sat down with ZombiU game designer Jean-Karl Tupin-Bron and asked him some questions about the game and it's exicting features.
Also be sure to check out my thoughts after playing the game myself.
What are some unique ways that you utilize the GamePad screen?
ZombiU has been designed to take full advantage of the console’s capabilities. The biggest opportunity is, of course, the two screens. Since we are creating a survival game, we want to focus on jumping between these two screens. Looking down at the Gamepad screen helps build tension, with the player pulling their attention away from their character. Players are going to be scared, because the game is never paused. When looking to find ammo or medpacks, you need to gaze down onto the GamePad screen. When you are searching to find supplies or scanning the surrounding area, you’ll need to look down at the GamePad. You can also use the screen as a scope for the Sniper by holding the Gamepad up in front of you. The GamePad screen is also used when lock pocking doors. Working with the Gamepad has been a great opportunity for us, and we have several gameplay features that utilize it.
Are there any gameplay elements that revolve around survival?
The idea was to create a strong link between you and the character you are playing. Nobody is prepared for the zombie apocalypse and we wanted to make the experience of surviving it feel real. We have added a plenty of things to salvage and loot throughout the maps. These items are mostly randomly generated. Ammo is more precious than gold. If your character dies, you return to the last visited safe area as a new human, if you want those items you had previously, you’ll need to travel all the way to the spot of your last death. The backpack your character has drops with every death. There are various supplies that are scattered across the environment as well. Some can help you avoid encounters with zombies, things such as flares.
The game is set in London in 2012. The zombie apocalypse has just recently begun and you’ll see that most of the NPCS have different understandings of the apocalypse. The one NPC who seems to know and understand the most about the outbreak is a man called The Prepper (the character who speaks to you, gives you objectives, etc). He was prepared for this event and he knew it was coming. One of the more important characters in the game is the real-life English astronomer/mathematician John Dee, who has predicted many events of history before. He’s predicted many things throughout the world’s history and he knew that zombie apocalypse was coming. Different NPCs will have different understands of Dee’s writings.
What can you tell us about the multiplayer for this game, any competitive or cooperative modes?
The multiplayer has no cooperative mode, but a competitive mode. The idea was to use what we have already shown when the game was still in the Killer Freaks from Outer Space stage. We are pleased with the multiplayer game mode we had developed then; it’s the perfect example of asymmetrical gameplay. One player is playing a human and playing from the first-person. The second player is playing the King of Zombies. The King of Zombies uses the Wii U Gamepad. The King of Zombies can choose where zombie spawns and acts as the director of enemies. Regular zombies and special zombies both can be summoned by the King of Zombies.
Are there any special zombies that act differently? If so, in what ways do they alter gameplay?
Yeah, there are a lot of special zombies. The very first one you encounter in the game is the Screamer. He’s a punk zombie and can scream very loud and it can call new zombies towards the player. He’ll be one of your main targets. You’ll want to kill him very fast or you’ll be up to your neck in zombies. The lack of ammo resources in the game can make him a very annoying enemy to deal with. Some zombies are dressed in helmets or armor that can make fighting against them difficult. Another special infected is the Spitter zombie, which can spit acid at you. There are more special zombies, but we don’t want to spoil them all now.
What inspirations were drawn from when creating ZombiU, any zombie fiction in particular?
There has been a lot of inspiration for ZombiU and not only from videogames! We wanted to come back to the feeling evoked by the first survivor horrors. Where surviving was difficult could seriously become a challenge. The Resident Evil series was a huge inspiration for us, along with the more recent first-person shooter Condemned. The permanent death feature of the game was influenced by games like Dark Souls/Demon Souls and the new XCOM: Enemy Unknown. The permanent death and the effects that come with your rebirth is pretty similar to these games. When it comes to inspiration, 28 Days Later was a big, big inspiration, along with George A. Romero’s zombie films.
One of the more entertaining things we’ve noticed from players is that running away isn’t the most natural reaction. In ZombiU, running away is usually the smartest thing you can do. We’ve seen plenty of players hunting zombies and wanting to wipe them all out. The game has designed to be difficult, and that sort of approach to gameplay will bring you death very fast. We had to tell these early players ‘You’re not here to kill everyone’. We have put in a lot of things to help you avoid combat, such as utilizing flares. Since zombies are attracted by light, you can throw a flare far away to give you some breathing room. We designed a lot of things like that, and we hope that players will utilize them to the fullest. This is a difficult game and the limited amount of ammo can work you into a corner quickly if you try to kill every zombie you see.
Can you tell us why you made the design choice to stick with the roguelike gameplay? (the feature of permanent death), did this choice of design comes early in the development cycle?
It was always a part of the main concept. Once we decided to leave behind the Killer Freaks From Outer Space concept we sat down and asked ourselves “Okay, there are a lot of zombie games. What can we do to make it unique?“. The first concept we talked about was survival. We are talking about surviving in a zombie apocalypse that has completely wiped out a major city. We had to make it tough and difficult. We don’t want the user to say “Oh, that’s alright, I died. I’ve got a checkpoint from two minutes ago”. We asked ourselves, what is the best way to do rid of the comfort of safety? Permanent death. Several games have tried this sort of behavior, and the player experience is always gripping. Permanent death has the power to instantly strike fear into players when they find themselves in a bad situation. Players don’t want to lose their character and have to backtrack for their items. They become a lot more invested and on-edge and that’s a feature we were very happy to work with.