Personal interview techniques I learned during this chat with Techland’s producer Tymon Smektala, who was kind enough to sit down with me and talk about their new zombie title Dying Light: do the interview first, play the game afterwards or before, not during. It’s rather hard to ask questions and hear the answers while wearing oversized headphones and fighting off zombie attacks. Also make sure your voice recorder has fresh batteries, not old ones with approximately six seconds of recording time on them. These technical issues aside Tymon escorted me around the Dying Light demo and tried not to laugh when I got savaged by thirty zombies after failing to catch a single one of them in my trap. I think I won’t mention that in my preview. Anyway, to the interview!
Strategy Informer: Obvious questions first – what is Dying Light and why did you decide not to make it part of the Dead Island franchise?
Tymon Smektala: Dying Light is the new game by Techland, who you may know from Dead Island and Call of Juarez but it’s a new IP because it’s really a new thing. There are so many features we’ve put in compared to other zombie games, when we looked at the list of those features it felt wrong to call it Dead Island. All the elements combine to really create an experience that feels new, so it would be wrong not to give it a new name. It’s coming out next year for PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, and PC. The game takes place in the fictional city of Harram, which is in a bad shape and it’s been closed by the military because of the zombie outbreak. You are one of the survivors trapped in the city. At the start of the game you just want to survive, then you’ll find some clues about what happened and start to follow them.
There are a couple of things that make Dying Light stand out. Firstly is the Natural Movement System that allows the player to traverse the environment with great ease. If you see something that looks climbable then you probably can. You can really go anywhere you like and if you can see something you can go there however you like. It’s a little hard to describe the system except that it’s very fluid and that it allows you almost limitless freedom of exploration. When you play the game it really improves the whole experience, and we are hoping this will not only change the zombie game genre but also first-person games in general. Our playtesters have told us that after they’ve played our game they’d go back home and play Call of Duty or another FPS and they just want to be able to do what they can in Dying Light!
Strategy Informer: It seems a little bit similar with what Titanfall’s doing, with the free-running. Do you think it’ll be a big thing next-gen?
Tymon Smektala: I haven’t been able to play Titanfall, but from what I’ve seen I think their capacity is smaller than ours and they’re not giving quite as much freedom in terms of the parkour movement. Their version adds to the experience, in ours it’s the core of the experience. Having said that I think that Dying Light and Titanfall does show that free-running is something that will be used a lot in the next generation, especially in FPS games.
Strategy Informer: I hope so. I love FPSs, but they are getting to a point where they’re feeling too similar.
Tymon Smektala: Yes, I agree, and this could be one area that makes them feel new and different again. Say in a couple of years I think that every FPS will have some kind of natural movement system or free-running system, because players will notice how it really improves the whole experience.
Strategy Informer: Does your system go as far as Assassin’s Creed, where you can go up everywhere?
Tymon Smektala: I think it’s better really!
Strategy Informer: Wow!
Tymon Smektala: All the things you can do in Assassin’s Creed you can do in our game. The only thing that you cannot do is a “leap of faith”, if you fall from that high in Dying Light you’ll probably die. That’s their thing really, anyway.
Strategy Informer: So your system is a bit more grounded and realistic then?
Tymon Smektala: Yes, for sure. I mean, of course it’s a zombie game so it’s a little funny to talk about realism! We have taken a believable approach though including with the zombies, our zombies are extremely dangerous and really try to grab you and bite you. In other zombie games your first instinct on seeing one is to grab a weapon and kill it, but in Dying Light you’ll notice that after a few hours you’ll see a zombie and think to yourself “now might not be the best time to fight it because I’m not well armed or my health is low, I won’t risk it”. If that’s the case we have to give players something else to do if they don’t want to fight. Natural movement is one of the answers, and there are lots of others including the interactive environment. In our environment you can use things to fight or escape zombies, and in each situation we want to give at least a few scenarios that can play out.
The other thing that makes Dying Light different is the day/night cycle. It’s not just tweaking the gamma settings or swapping the colour palette, it really changes the gameplay. During the day you get the regular zombie game where you have the advantage over them – you’re quick, you’re agile, you’re intelligent, you have all the weapons. So while our zombies are aggressive you still have that edge over them, but during the night they transform and the gameplay transforms with them. They get more aggressive, more vicious, they are able to chase you, they can co-operate. You really have to step your game up.
Strategy Informer: How quickly does night fall?
Tymon Smektala: The honest answer is we don’t know exactly yet because we’re still working on it and tweaking it. I think we’ll end up with something like two hours real-time is twenty-four hours in the game, but that’s not official and we’re still working on that. What’s important is that it goes continuously, so you can start almost any mission at any time and you can see how it changes depends on the time of day.
Strategy Informer: Can you just sit down and hide during the night?
Tymon Smektala: Yes, you could do that! The idea though is that we want to create a night experience so engaging that players just don’t want to do that. If they play at night the gameplay is different, you have to be more careful and more sneaky, and when the zombies see you then you will have to run. We want to create a real feeling of fear at night that players won’t want to miss!
Strategy Informer: Along with the free-running the night experience seems to be the biggest way to distinguish this from Dead Island.
Tymon Smektala: Yeah you could say that. When you look at Dying Light’s screenshots you might say “it looks similar to Dead Island” but when you play it you can see that the elements we use to create the game make the whole experience feel unique.
Strategy Informer: True, I am curious about the genesis of the game though, with Techland working on two first-person zombie franchises. Did Dying Light start off as part of the Dead Island series?
Tymon Smektala: Not really. Two reasons why: firstly, we’re big zombie game fans. Secondly, Dead Island was hugely successful. We’re an independent developer from Poland, we just work with publishers on these projects. In that situation you don’t have that much space to try things you’re not good at or don’t have a good feeling about. After Dead Island we felt we were good at making zombie games and liked doing them, so we wanted to follow that – but having said that, there was a feeling in the company that we don’t want to make another Dead Island. We wanted to put it to one side and use our experience making those games to make something new. Dying Light was the answer.
Strategy Informer: Is it multiplayer as well?
Tymon Smektala: Yes! In terms of online gameplay you get to play the whole game in four-player co-op. It’s drop-in drop-out, so someone could join you or leave at any time. The other thing is that we have a special mode called “Be The Zombie” that allows you to play as one of the zombies and invade other people’s games.
Strategy Informer: Excellent!
Tymon Smektala: Thanks! What’s extra cool about that is that you get experience points for your zombie character and you can level it up. You start off as a basic zombie and finish with this ultimate killing machine. We announced this mode about three weeks ago but we’re still waiting for the right time to show it off.
Strategy Informer: Would you literally start off as a basic slow zombie?
Tymon Smektala: Well it’s slightly different to the normal zombies as they wouldn’t be much fun to play, it’s a bit more special. It’s still quite weak and it doesn’t have any extra skills, but when you build it up it gets stronger and more skilful… if it’s okay to say “skilful” when talking about zombies!
Strategy Informer: Are you aiming for a multiple choice/consequence type of experience?
Tymon Smektala: Yes. How it works is that we have a system called “Dynamic Encounters” which are randomly generated events that happen just for you. We judge based on many different factors to see if it’s right to put one of these events in front of you at that time. Each playthrough will be different.
Some of these encounters will be more complicated than others, and the outcome will influence how some parts of the game play later on. They don’t influence the main story though. You can play the whole story, choosing whether to participate in these events or not, and it won’t change, but if you save or don’t save people or interact with certain characters or don’t then the game will flow differently.
Strategy Informer: There’s an actual story then?
Tymon Smektala: Yes, I’m actually quite proud of the story and I can’t wait for people to see it!
Strategy Informer: You’ve been quite quiet on it so far.
Tymon Smektala: We’re waiting for the right time to reveal this as well. All we’re saying right now is that it takes place in Harram, you’re a survivor, you find clues about what’s happened… that’s all for now. It takes place in a fictional place because we wanted the freedom to create some scenarios and broach some subjects that you can see in the news even today. If you watch the news today I bet you could find something shocking that we touch on in Dying Light. I think that our combination of these things is quite unusual and I really can’t wait for people to see it all.
Strategy Informer: How open and free-roaming is the world?
Tymon Smektala: I’d say it’s about 95% open. You can go nearly everywhere. If you see a building you can go in it, there are caves to go in, you can swim in and under the sea to find things of interest there. In terms of size it’s around 3-4 times the size of Dead Island’s map. Dead Island was a very flat game, but in Dying Light you can go really high. It’s not only bigger than Dead Island but you also have to take into account that verticality factor as well.
Strategy Informer: Will there be a quick travel option?
Tymon Smektala: Yes of course. The game world is so huge that we really needed to have that option.
Strategy Informer: Roughly speaking how long do you think the play time will be?
Tymon Smektala: Roughly speaking, the main story is about 15-20 hours, and with all of the side missions and dynamic encounters it could be up to around 50 hours. The game is designed with co-op in mind though, so even when you finish the game you’ve haven’t seen everything. We want to give something to players that play a lot and to players that just want to play a couple of hours at a time with their friends. You can play for a lot longer than that 50 hours.
Strategy Informer: Have you got any DLC or expansion plans yet?
Tymon Smektala: We have some plans of course, and I think we’ve announced some smaller DLC things to start with like skin packs. We have so many ideas of things we’d like to do with the Dying Light universe that if the game is a success then I’d like to do something really cool with the DLC. As for now, we’re focusing on the main game. It’s important for us to do that since it’s the most ambitious project Techland’s ever done and we want to prove to players that we can play with the big boys and make Dying Light a AAA experience.
Strategy Informer: Does this mean Dead Island is dead?
Tymon Smektala: That’s up to our publisher! [That’ll be Deep Silver, whereas Warner Bros is publishing Dying Light]
Strategy Informer: Were you pleased with the response to Call of Juarez: Gunslinger?
Tymon Smektala: As I said, Dying Light is the most ambitious Techland project ever and want it to be a true AAA experience. Because we were so successful with Dead Island we were able to expand our studio, get more people and better resources and spend more money and time on every part of our games. Call of Juarez: Gunslinger is kind of a teaser of what we can do now.
Strategy Informer: I very much enjoyed it, by the way!
Tymon Smektala: Thank you! It’s a teaser of what the new Techland can bring. We proved that we can create an engaging, original, good-looking experience in the digital-only space with Gunslinger. Now it’s time to take that quality level and implement it into Dying Light. I’m pretty confident we will be able to do this.
Strategy Informer: Okay, thanks for talking with us Tymon!
Tymon Smektala: No problem, thanks for checking out Dying Light!
You can check out our preview for Dying Light elsewhere on the site, the playthrough for which Tymon sat next to me and helped me through. Big thanks to him for doing that and for chatting with us, and I’m already dribbling in anticipation to see how Dying Light turns out. It’s definitely already one of my most wanted for 2014, so let’s hope Techland can live up to the promise being shown off right now.