Bringing back zombies with Dead Rising 2 at Game Design Expo

There’s nothing better than a little zombie slaughter, and if you can kill zombies in a mall setting using practically anything at hand to dispatch the vengeful undead, so much the better. Dead Rising brought fun and violence to a new level, and for the sequel Vancouver-based Blue Castle Games added a few twists. 

Level director Josh Bridge and Creative Director Jason Leigh walked the audience at the Game Design Expo through their process to bring Dead Rising 2 from concept to console. 

The challenge for Blue Castle was to take a 1.5 million best seller that had been released on Xbox 360 and crafting a sequel that would be released on three different platforms. The game also had a big fan following that wanted more and was very vocal.

To begin with Blue Castle looked at the original game and reverse engineered it, trying to figure out what the game did right and how they could do better.

They also had 3 rules to sequels. First, it’s important to “celebrate the great stuff,” so fans get more of what they love about the first game. At the same time, you have to fix what didn’t work and also add new hooks to bring added value to both new and old gamers. 

The team determined that the huge number of zombies, the gruesome killings, the endless choice of weapons and the dark sense of humour were all thing they wanted to bring to the new game.

However the original save system, which made saving the game very difficult (though was designed to increase tension) was an aspect of the original game that Blue Castle wanted to improve upon. 

The concept of survivors for the protagonist to save was a great idea, Leigh said, but the survivors just weren’t smart enough to navigate the mall on their own. The biggest frustration was Otis, the character who would call and dispatch you on missions. The problem was that Otis would continue to call you ad infinitum, then admonish you for being rude. Otis, Blue Castle assured the audience, will not return.

Dead Rising 2 will have a new casino setting, a new hero and will expand the universe of the first game. In order to do that, they identified several game pillars they had to build. 

One pillar was zombies and ultraviolence. Blue Castle has vowed that they will bring that aspect of the game back and gorier than ever. The second pillar is that everything is a weapon. The open world aspect of the Dead Rising will also be repeated in the new game. 

Time is another factor Blue Castle wanted to stress in Dead Rising 2. They wanted the player to always be aware of the countdown before their mission ends.

The new hook for Dead Rising 2 is combo weapons, which will blend disparate objects like kayak paddles and chainsaws together to create the “paddlesaw.” 

Clear vision and collaboration is the only way to get such a big, resource hungry game made, Bridge said. Knowing the game inside out is important, but knowing what the game isn’t good at and sticking to the original vision is also vital. Evangelizing the game to developers is also important, so people don’t go off in different directions and the game remains focused. The best way to evangelize is to use wikis, powerpoints and visuals to walk people through the game’s core concepts. 

Because artists “don’t read”, the designers created a “metrics box” which allowed the character to jump through a blocky virtual world that demonstrated within the game’s environment how the size of stair, rooms, hallways  and other objects related to the protagonist. 

Blue Castle also tracked exactly how players were using the game, observing which weapons they used and how they get around the world. All that data was processed and presented as graphs and datasets so they could figure out how the game was being used more or less in real time.