During EGX Rezzed 2014 in Birmingham we listened to a talk from Maciej Binkowski, a game designer from Techland, the makers of Dead Island and Call of Juarez. He talked to us about Dying Light, a new survival horror game offering players a new level of player freedom through its Natural Movement System.
Maciej explains that Dying Light is an upcoming first-person action survival game set in a vast open world infected with zombies that has a dynamic day and night cycle. He asks the group if we like to smash zombies and cut them into pieces which naturally gets a ‘woo’ of excitement. Dying Light is more about melee combat than shooting and the team wants to make sure that players feel every strike they use on zombie skulls. The focus on melee mainly comes from guns and ammo being rare in the world of Dying Light, not to mention that loud noises such as gun shots attract groups of zombies so while guns are in the game the smart option is to use them sparingly.
In a bold statement, Maciej says they’re revolutionising the first person genre with unprecedented movement in Dying Light. He talks about how games have progressed from side-scrollers to 3D games, to the introduction of jumping though the latest games have taken a step backwards in terms of gameplay. First Person Shooters now are full of cut scenes, have very linear maps and are more about explosions and big guns. However, with the progression of gaming players still find themselves hitting invisible walls and failing to climb a fence even if it’s knee-high. They didn’t want a game like that.
The Techland team therefore sat down earlier in the process and discussed the freedom of movement that they want players to have. We should be able to jump over walls, get on top of buildings and see what’s on top allowing players to play their way without limitations. Therefore their main objective was simple; if it looks like you can climb it, you can. The whole world is your playground and there are no invisible walls. He then shows us a complex birds-eye view of the Dying Light world that pinpoints everything you can climb and there were hundreds of pins dotted around the map. You choose where you want to go and how you want to get there with all the maps open vertically as well as horizontally allowing unprecedented freedom of movement.
Going from point A to point B in Dying Light is an adventure. He shows us some free running sections where he makes a conscious decision to avoid a horde of zombies so he hops up a wall, across the roof and through a window. Searches it quickly for loot then out another window along a wall and jumps on a single zombie with a melee attack. The free-running even in this early stage looks fluid and a combination of Mirrors Edge and Far Cry 2. The setting, though he did say there were different ones, is a Favela which is a perfect playground with the living quarters in close proximity and the open windows.
Emergent gameplay and unscripted sequences create these water cooler moments that players will want to talk about with their friends. No scripted path mean players can experiment with where to go, what to do and how to do it. He shows a quick video of a group of zombies chasing the player who throws a decoy grenade (looks like it gives off smoke) that lures zombies to one area. A zombie in a hazmat suit joins the party so he whacks him in the gas tank and watches him spin up into the area and explode on top of the crowd of distracted zombies. This kind of freedom provides varied challenges and forces players to make on the fly decisions.
When the sun’s going down in Dying Light, it’s time to find somewhere to lay low. It’s much more dangerous at night with more zombies, tougher enemies and the obvious issue of it being difficult to see. If it’s getting late or your health is low then you may want to avoid fighting which is when the almost endless possibilities of free running come into play. He shows us two quick videos of getting out of a tight situation. The first the player hops on a roof, runs round the zombies, into a room, out the window and away. The second, he jumps off a zombies head, yes you read that correctly, over him slides under a fence and he’s away. It’s the player that decides how to handle these types of situations.
Maciej starts talking about the challenges the developers faced. The biggest issue being that they originally had to place markers on everything players can climb such as rooftops and telephone polls. However, this got very complicated very quickly with over 50,000 markers at one stage. Changing an object and managing this amount of objects was a complete mess. For this reason they built an engine where almost everything is climbable in some way and the game decides on the fly which objects near to the player can be climbed and how.
Much like a movie set, in a lot of FPS games there are a lot of buildings that are simply there for show and there’s nothing in them. Because you can go anywhere in Dying Light, every building has something to explore and the potential for something for the player to find. For this reason the team also had to develop their AI in a way that enemies can give you a challenge when you’re on the roof. A video is played of the player running along the roof tops, there’s a zombie on the edge of the roof so he runs into him with a melee to the face and they both fall off through a wooden roof below. The idea is to make the player feel ‘badass’ in his words.
As well as feeling every blow to a zombies brain, Techland also want players to feel fast and agile when free running. They put a camera on an actor and got him to do some free running in the hope that the movement would transfer and they could use it as a base. However it didn’t work like that. The camera doesn’t reflect the experience that you have when you’re running fast and traversing at high speed. Therefore they were forced to go back to basics and make all the animations by hand to make it feel like you have weight before adding animations of your arms and legs. This created another issue however in that it gave viewers motion sickness.
He explains quickly that moving in the world gives your brain two signals – balance and vision of movement. However on the screen your vision says you’re moving but your balance sense says you’re staying still and it’s this contradiction that creates motion sickness. For this reason they were forced to add a small dot or reticule in the centre of the screen. This small dot provides a stable point for your brain to focus on while the world around it moves and stops the contradiction and thus the ill feeling. Most first person games have the barrel of the gun to focus on which is why games like Call of Duty don’t create motion sickness. To aide this, they also took the edge off the quick camera movements and found the balance between feeling fast and not making players sick.
There was no mention of multiplayer, though we hear there’s co-op play, and he said there’s no word on a release date or even a release date for the release date. From what we saw, though many might say it’s just another zombie game, it does look very interesting and we’ll see what Techland leak out in the coming weeks about the future of Dying Light.