At EGX 2014 in London, we were able to interview lead designer of Dying Light, Maciej Binkowski. I sat down with him and asked a variety of questions about the game, to see what new details I could dig out after playing the title during both last year’s and this year’s preview builds.
After a small introduction and some witty banter talking about Dead Island 1, we cracked on with the interview.
Dom: What makes Dying Light so different to any other zombie survival title that is out there right now?
Maciej: That’s a very good question, but it’s actually pretty simple to answer. So number one is definitely unprecedented freedom of movement. You can traverse through the world completely free; anything that has enough room for your hands to grab on you can just get on top of it. All maps are open vertically. You can go where you want, whenever you want. But it’s not just for the sake of it, because the way we designed the environment and the way enemies behave it really pushes you to go there. It’s actually a tool to survive.
Then on top of it we have a dynamic Day & Night cycle. It’s not just visuals; we actually change gameplay from day to night. So let’s say you’re a master of situations during the day. You’ve still got to be careful, because when the night falls you really become the pray. So even getting from point A to point B becomes a huge challenge. Then if you combine that with this really vast open world, it makes Dying Light something completely unique. You’re not going to be able to find this experience anywhere else.
Dom: That was one thing about Dying Light actually that I was very much interested in; the Day & Night cycle. A very interesting mechanic. It is not just a simple cycle through the day like other games have. In the Day it is very much business as usual and you feel like a badass during that time. But as soon as the night falls, everything changes. New variations, more zombies, and they are way more aggressive during the day. How hard was it to balance out the challenge for both daylight and night time?
Maciej: I don’t know where to begin. We wanted to have a dynamic Day & Night cycle that allows time to just flow. When we started Dying Light after Dead Island we said to ourselves “We have got to have it”. We knew it was going to happen but we only had the visuals. You really felt that there was something missing. So we sat down and brainstormed what we could do to the gameplay at night. After many brainstorms and ideas thrown here and there we thought to ourselves, “Why don’t we keep you being a badass during the day, but we don’t take away anything from you during the night?”. Everyone agreed that this sounded really interesting, so we came up with this idea to let hell break loose. We had about over a dozen different prototypes for this idea before we had what we have now. But in the end I think it’s worth it. Because we see people play testing the game and, I kid you not, we see them sweating when they play it.
At some point we actually had to turn down the aggression a little bit. The reason why was because people would come and play during the day and then they would have hectic times during the night. After that they would play during the day again and then not want to go out during the night at all. They just wanted to stay indoors. That was good at a point because we started seeing that our idea was working, we wanted them to feel that way. But at the same time we kind of went too far. We still want it to be very challenging but we still want the players to go out. So we turned it down just enough but at the same time we bought in rewards that you can only gain at night. Certain quests, materials and areas are only available to you at night. If you do all those things at night, the experience gain is bigger. So if you try your luck you will be able to level up, gain new abilities and become stronger faster.
Dom: Onto the designs of the zombies themselves. There are a tonne. As it was said earlier there are certain zombies that only come out during the day or night. In the demo there was one in a hazmat suit with a gas canister on its back. I spent a while smashing him with a spiked baseball bat until I hit the can and he started flailing around in a ragdoll animation. That was when sound played a vital part because then he exploded and all these zombies from the surrounding area start heading to my general direction.
The first time I played the demo last year, it was a matter of here is the game, kill some zombies and go nuts. I still enjoyed it but I felt like something was missing. Now with this demo, that explosion changed everything for me and that felt fantastic.
Maciej: That is great to hear. You see we want you to feel that way. We don’t want the free running and freedom that we give you to be just for the sake of it. Just like you said, these guys are attracted to noise. So you do something loud and they are going to come searching for you. That is when they start pushing you to use your skill set, to use your freedom and overcome these challenges. If you want to survive, you’ve got to commit to it, be aware of your environment and what you are doing.
Dom: One of the biggest concerns I had when I first played it last year was that its biggest competition is Dead Island 2. Where the first game was very unsure as to whether it wanted to be serious or satirical, the sequel is now looking to be a more hack & slash, funny, action game. Now that I look at it we have two choices in front of us as consumers. Pick Dead Island for a more bright and fun experience or pick Dying Light for a darker and more adult experience. What would have to be the biggest differences now between Dying Light and Dead island 2?
Maciej: We liked what we did with the original Dead Island. People loved it and we like the combination of paradise with zombies gore and tons of blood. But now it’s time to go to move onto something new. We still wanted to keep the same feel for the combat, because we are huge fans of melee combat that you can really feel. At the same time we wanted to be more action-survival this time around. So now the combat is there, but it is simply an option. There will come situations where you cannot fight your way out and you will have to use the environment, traps and your know how to get out instead. In order to have that, we needed to go darker. This time round we are much more adult and survival like.
Dom: I played the game last year and it was great, I really enjoyed it. This year it has been improved upon and it feels a lot better. How far has the game come ‘til now? Have you had to get over many boundaries to get Dying Light to where it is today?
Maciej: You have no idea. It has come up to the point where we look back at what we made last year and we think “Oh man that’s s!@#”. Having that extra time, we were able to polish up so many things and it feels much better now, as you said. Because we have time to play it ourselves, we get the chance to sit down, play and see what we can improve. It sounds weird to say “You have to play the game, it’s your job”, but that was exactly how it was. Most of the time there were many little things that we had complaints about. But if you put those all together, the changes we make can be much bigger than originally thought to create a better experience overall.
Dom: RPG elements; you have them in Dying Light. What RPG elements can we expect to see in the game?
Maciej: The thing that I like most and the feature that is concentrated on is character progression. When you spend time with the game you get better at the skills you are using. We have two major proficiencies that are called Power and Agility. Agility is affected by running, jumping and climbing whilst Power is affected by attacking, lifting heavy objects and similar things like that. When you do these things you accumulate points and level up. When you do, your character becomes stronger, faster and gains access to special abilities. We don’t just want these to be parameter boosters; we want them to be game changing. As if everything is a new toy that gives you different options with handling situations.
For example, you can unlock an ability where you can use a zombie in front of you as a stepping stone to get to a higher ledge. On the other hand, if you choose something else, then you will have to deal with that situation completely differently. We made a system where your character is built around what you like to do as a player. A full experience made by you and played by you.
Dom: Is there any kind of character customisation at all? I have heard and seen very little about the story of the game so far.
Maciej: Sadly I cannot give you many details at the moment but I can let you know a few things. You play as this guy called Kyle Crane. So you have a very specific character. But the way the character develops, whether he is more of a runner or a killer, is completely up to you as you play the game. He has a name and a mission to fulfil with catalysts that keep him going forward. But in terms of play style, that is completely up to you.
Dom: The parkour is a fantastic mechanic to have in. It feels so right in a game like this. But I have to ask, how deep does the parkour rabbit hole go?
Maciej: Let me give you a little background first of how we came up with the free running. After playing Dead Island and having an open-world, sandbox game going on with zombies, we realised that if there is a situation with enemies you can just climb on a car and that’s it. Then we have other FPS games where you have knee high walls you cannot even jump over. So when we decided to make another game, we wanted to give players freedom of movement. If I can do it in real life why can’t I do it in the game? When you start you can do the basics of running, jumping and climbing. But even when you are doing this, you are sluggish, slow and you haven’t honed your skills yet. You have a body and your body has weight; that is what we want you to feel with your character. So as you progress and gain levels, your skills improve and you see it firsthand. Climbing faster, taking bigger leaps, using enemies to keep your momentum going. All of these factor into the freedom of movement.
Dom: Coming back into Dying Light from Dead Island is weapon crafting. In the demo we had an electrified axe, a flaming knife, a normal pistol and a baseball bat with nails in it. Are we going to see any new variations on classic weapon modifications or are we keeping with the good old same old?
Maciej: I’m pretty sure you’re going to see something unique here. Sadly I cannot go too in depth with this at the moment, but what I can tell you about crafting is that the basic mechanic is back. You find the materials, you craft them together with a weapon and now you have either special properties or more power. However, we wanted to streamline the whole thing so that it works with the freedom of movement. So now you can craft new weapons anywhere in the world. The second thing is that, since we are in the action-survival genre, you will notbe able to build everything in a single playthrough. So you have to make the decisions between making healing items or building new weapons.
A big thanks goes out to Maciej and the team for letting us have this interview. If you would like to listen to the full, unedited interview then have a look at the following video. This also includes some more questions about the games co-op and PvP modes.
What do you think of Dying Light? Are you interested in the new zombie survival experience? Let us know your thoughts in the comments and keep your eyes peeled for more of our EGX 2014 coverage.