Dead Rising 2: Off the Record Interview - Capcom Vancouver's Jason Leigh Goes On the Record
Written Wednesday, September 07, 2011 By Lee BradleyView author's profile
Frank West is back! The star of the original Dead Rising is preparing to get his suit bloody once more, in a kind-of “What if?” scenario that sees him replace Chuck Greene amidst the Fortune City outbreak. Older, balder and slightly tubbier, it’s fair to say that the passage of time hasn’t treated our cocky photojournalist well. But has he still got what it takes?
Dead Rising 2: Off the Record isn’t an expansion, or DLC, or just a re-skin. It’s a standalone, disc-based game, with new modes, a new story, new cut-scenes, bosses, vehicles weapons and more. Yet Capcom have struggled to communicate this to fans.
Addressing this issue, and many more, is the game’s Creative Director Jason Leigh. We met up with him at Capcom UK’s shiny new offices to discuss the origins of the game, the new elements it introduces, the long-demanded revisions (proper checkpoints! sandbox mode!) and the differences between Japanese and Western development.
What made you bring Frank back?
So, the story of the way Off the Record came about was, when Blue Castle first took on Dead Rising 2, part of the deal was that we signed up to do a Director’s Cut version of the game. So while we were planning Dead Rising 2 we were also planning for a Director’s Cut.
The interesting thing is that once Dead Rising 2 was announced at Captivate, two years ago I believe, there was a fan reaction that we didn’t anticipate, with regards to Frank not being in the game – because we had gone the path of bringing Chuck Greene in.
So, while we were still confident that we were going in the right direction with Chuck and people would really appreciate the character, his story with his infected daughter and his new ability which was making combo weapons, we couldn’t ignore that fan outcry of, ‘Where the heck is Frank? You started the franchise with one character and now you’ve gone away!”
So, Dead Rising being a game that doesn’t really do things by the rules, we thought why not do that? Why not give them the game that they want? So with Dead Rising 2 we started going down the path of not really a Director’s Cut, but a re-envisioning of that Fortune City outbreak with Frank West.
That notion of giving fans what they want – presumably that fed into revising the Dead Rising 2’s save system for Off the Record?
Tons of fan feedback was integrated into the game, that’s the beauty of a second kick of the can. You get all the press response and the fan response and then you can integrate all of the stuff that you think should be in there. So the checkpoint system was one. Now, after a key story point, or loading into a new zone or when you are about to fight a boss, you reach a checkpoint. If anything goes wrong you can go back to that.
On top of that, load times were something that we concentrated on. We got a lot of flack about the fact that they were too long, so we made an effort to reduce those by up to half. Some of the bosses that were too difficult in the eyes of fans – the chef was one example –we made sure we tuned those and balanced them a little bit more. Um, and tons of little things after that.
With regards to the saving system – is there an option to turn it off? For the purists?
I guess the option there is to use one save slot and be true to yourself.
Sandbox mode too, that seems like another nod to one of the irritations, one of the things that people found particularly challenging in previous iterations of the game.
That one again, could be taken as a nod to the fans. In Dead Rising 2, one of the bits of feedback we got was, ‘Where’s Infinity mode?’ - because in Dead Rising 1 once you had beaten the game you unlocked Infinity mode. So it was important to us to put in a mode where you weren’t restricted by time limit, a story or even world gating. We give you the entire world, there’s no area that you have to unlock. On top of that we got rid of the depleting health system from Infinity mode. In Infinity mode in Dead Rising 1 you were always on the look-out for food because it depleted automatically.
However, in addition we’ve put in the Challenge system. So in the single player there’s 30 challenges – things like kill a certain number of zombies within a minute, collect a certain amount of items within a time limit and bring it back to a certain area, use the camera to earn PPs and so on. The challenges are completely optional. You can play as you see fit, run around and find cool weapons and level up your character. Or you can interact with glowing stars in the environment that indicate the challenges.
Medals are rewarded for your performance in the challenges. They’ve been tuned, so that it’s relatively easy to get a bronze or a silver. However, you’ve really got to strategise to get gold. In some challenges it’s actually impossible to get a gold with the weapons that are available in that area. So you’d have to go and find a chainsaw, or a flamethrower or something and then bring it back. Race challenges as well, where you have to reach another part of the world. Those one’s you’ve really got to prep beforehand.
So, once you’ve gotten scores for these things you can post those on leaderboards. There’s a community element to it as well, that we really hope people are going to get into.
Is that all playable in co-op?
Yeah, there are 30 co-op challenges also. And when you post those onto the leaderboard you’ll get a credit too.
In co-op, which character is the other player?
Chuck Greene. The host is Frank and the client is Chuck. That’s important to point out. Fans really didn’t like Chuck and Chuck co-op in Dead Rising 2, so we had to make sure it was Frank and Chuck. Both of them have their own sets of animation, so they play very differently as well.
Along with Frank West, the photography-based stuff is back too.
Yeah, the camera system is there and it’s fully integrated into Sandbox as well. In Case West it was in there but it was kind of ‘camera lite.’ This time around we’ve made sure to integrate all the categories - Horror and Brutality and Outtake. Plus of course we had to put in the Erotica category too. Being Fortune City, this big lush adult playground, there’s lots of neat opportunities for that. It was fun to go through and tag the world for the PPs, including numerous ‘massagers’ [he means Dildos – Ed].
How do you juggle implementing changes according to fan feedback, while keeping much of what people liked about the original game intact?
I think one of the first things you look at is - are you giving someone the option, as opposed to forcing them down a path? So the save system is a good example of where people didn’t feel we had done enough to change it [in Dead Rising 2]. We now give them the option that if you die, you’ve got that checkpoint that you can go back to. If you’re a purist, perhaps it will bother you that the option to go back there is available, but if you’re a purist don’t use it.
The changes that have been made seem like concessions to the way we play games in the West. Is that why Capcom Vancouver (née Blue Castle) were bought to the project, so that you could make these kind of changes?
Absolutely, that was part of the decision. In early discussions, before we even knew that we were making Dead Rising 2, we would talk to Capcom Japan - who was looking at other studios as well. I think one of the reasons that they gravitated towards us is that they would keep saying that they want Western development, they want Western sensibilities, and we would say yes we can give that to you but one of the things we love about the franchise is how Japanese it is. And through those discussions, they realised that not only would we bring Western sensibilities, but we would retain the quirkiness and the Japanese-ness of it. I think that’s why the relationship worked out really well.
But yeah, it was important for us to Westernise things like the gun controls, which was one of the things I disliked the most about Dead Rising 1. When using a gun in a game, I expect to be able to use it as well as I could use it in real life. And in real life I’m not stuck on a point with my feet in concrete, pivoting around like this *turns in a rigid Robocop motion*.
I think that change made the game much more accessible to a Western gaming audience, but it still has that quirkiness that separates Dead Rising from more serious zombie games like Left 4 Dead and Resident Evil and so on.
There’s a notion that Japanese game development is focused on the perfection of established ideas, rather than innovation. That’s one explanation for a perceived stagnation of Japanese development in recent years. As someone who works very closely with Japanese developers, do you think that holds up?
I can certainly weight in on that a little bit. I wouldn’t say that I’ve seen the Japanese lacking for innovation. However, I would say that the comment about perfection is true. They’re constantly pushing us and that’s the great thing about having two sides balancing the product. We’ve got this group that feeds back into us and they keep pushing us to make it perfect. That’s absolutely part of how they work. And that’s good, because it forces us to ensure the game is clean, polished and well executed.
It’s also one of the good things about getting a second kick of the can at a game. You get the chance to smooth out the imperfections from the first one.
You’ve now been bought out by Capcom. Does that mean more freedom, or less? Presumably when you took on Dead Rising 2 you had to prove yourself. But now, making Off the Record, are you free to do what you want a little more?
We’ve been pretty close-knit from the beginning, because those initial talks before we even got the contract, we knew that we were each going to be learning from each other. However, we were respectful of each other’s position when it came to creative matters. Capcom was very involved with the creation of Dead Rising 2 and they’re still very involved with this one. However, it does feel that Capcom Vancouver has ownership of the Dead Rising franchise now.
In terms of how is the relationship now, post-acquisition? It’s fantastic, because if there’s one thing that we have that we didn’t have when we began Dead Rising 2, it’s more trust. So they can leave us alone and we can do our work and then get back together with them and get the feedback and make sure they’re happy with it and they’re telling us to make corrections a little bit but, yeah it doesn’t feel like a first-party third-party relationship at all. We are Capcom now.
So, should there be a Dead Rising 3, you would be the developers of it?
I can’t discuss that right now.
Presumably it’s to do with customer response. If Off the Record sells millions upon millions of copies, you’d be mad not to make another, right?
OK, so back to Dead Rising 2: Off the Record! A lot of developers seem to market research the character out of their characters, if you know what I mean. It results in bland protagonists designed to appeal to the broadest possible audience, but can be quite dull.
The Dead Rising series seems to reject that, particularly with Frank West. Frank has the capacity to be quite divisive. He’s cocky, he’s not especially good-looking and in Off the Record he’s getting a bit tubby. Is that something you’re conscious of?
In talking with Capcom Japan early on, they said very clearly that their vision for the character in Dead Rising 1 was certainly not to make a stereotypical Japanese character. They didn’t want a blue spikey-haired character with a big sword, or anything. They wanted to go with a very Western character. Not only did they want to go for a western character, they did not want to go for a typical square-jawed hero. They wanted a photojournalist; a cocky, swaggering photojournalist who is a bit of an everyday guy. So that’s how Frank West came to be.
When we were developing Dead Rising 2 we tried to do the same thing with Chuck Greene. They constantly said to us, ‘don’t make him a perfect hero.’ I think in the end we went a little bit more to the Western stereotype than they did. But again some of the comments that we had when Dead Rising 2 was first announced, when Chuck got out there, people were saying ‘this guy’s not good looking, he’s actually a little bit ugly and why would you choose him as a hero?’ We took that as a compliment because we had achieve what Capcom Japan had set out to do.
In Off the Record, with Frank we’ve progressed him. He’s not late 20’s, early 30’s anymore. He’s actually a little more middle-aged. His hair’s going back a little bit and he’s looking a little bit rougher around the edges. But that really suits what we’ve done with the character. In the timeframe between Dead Rising 1 and Dead Rising 2, we’ve has a passage of time where he’s gone from being a big celebrity at the end of the Willamette incident, he’s flushed all of that down the toilet and now he’s trying to make a comeback. So the backstory and the look of the character I think is really cool.
In a hypothetical world where Dead Rising 3 is in development, would you like it to feature a new character completely?
I think the best way to respond is to say no comment.
Any demo plans?
No not for this product.
Maybe a Case Zero-style prologue?
That’s surprising. Case Zero seemed like a successful and unique idea.
Ok. Do you feel like it has been difficult to communicate that Off the Record is a disc-based game, as opposed to DLC?
I do feel like it’s been a challenge *laughs*. It’s been frustrating, actually, because we’ve said a number of times that this is not DLC. Off the Record is actually a larger game than Dead Rising 2, because although we’ve removed a little bit – the "Terror Is Reality" multiplayer mode – there’s a lot of extra stuff. We’ve added Psychopaths, we’ve added more weapons, food, clothing, the new Uranus Zone theme park area, the sandbox mode: this is a much, much bigger game than Dead Rising 2. As a result it just couldn’t be DLC.
Oh, I should ask, seeing as we’re an achievements website, how hard will it be to pick up all 1000 points in Off the Record?
We’ve scaled it back a little, to make it a bit more accessible. There’s still going to be some tough challenges in there. There’s one or two that are relatively tough, just because we didn’t want it to be a cakewalk. Overall though, I think people are going to find it a little easier to get all the achievements.
Dead Rising 2: Off the Record is out on October 11th in North America and October 14th in Europe.