Dying Light Interview: Developing The Perfect Open World Zombie Game

GamingBolt interviews an all star cast behind the open world zombie game: Dying Light.

At first glance, Techland’s Dying Light just looks like another free-running, survival horror, zombie game that tests your mettle and wits at all times, challenging you to survive while also avoiding the darkness. Then you realize there haven’t been many games like that (with Outlast perhaps coming the closest). The sum of its parts indicates far more than its individual elements ever could. Unlike previous free-running games, Dying Light aims to deliver multiple escape routes and the ability to scavenge whatever you need from your environment.

GamingBolt recently had a chance to sit down with members of the development team, namely Producer Tymon Smektala, Writer Rafal W. Orkan, Game Designer Maciej Binkowski, Technology Director Jakub Klarowicz, Lead Technical Artist Maciej Jamrozik and Senior Engine Programmer Tomasz Szalkowski to get their thoughts on numerous aspects of the game, including the resemblance to Dead Island and Mirror’s Edge, next-gen development and much, much more.

Rashid Sayed: One look at Dying Light and one cannot deny the resemblance to Dead Island and Mirror’s Edge. Is it safe to assume that these two games were your biggest sources of inspiration while developing the game?

Tymon Smektala: Not really. We were inspired by lots of other things – some rather obscure zombie comics, some quite non-zombie movies, and of course our own imagination and creativity. With that having been said, when you want to make a war movie, you just have to watch Saving Private Ryan and Black Hawk Down – and you have to understand why those movies were good and how they could be improved. The same goes for games.

You cannot make a first person game with free running without referencing Mirror’s Edge. And as a developer, you cannot make your second open world zombie game without using experiences gathered during the process of creating the first one. Truth be told, when people compare Dying Light to Mirror’s Edge, it’s flattering, but we’re making a different game that only shares some similar mechanics. When people say that Dying Light resembles Dead Island, it’s a proof of that game’s success, but we really want to take open world zombie genre further. That’s why we can’t wait for people to play the game – it’s a completely unique, original beast, different from everything gamers have played so far.

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There aren’t many sequences in Dying Light that are scripted, save for a few moments in our main story missions. Everything that happens in the game is dynamic, everything is governed by the gameplay systems, everything happens while you play it.

Rashid Sayed: Free running seems to be one of the major core gameplay mechanics of Dying Light. In fact, I really like the fact that during Free Running you can take down enemies using the environments. Can you please explain why it is going to be an important element and how it can possibly make the gameplay dynamic?

Tymon Smektala: It makes the gameplay dynamic because… well, running is one of the most dynamic things human beings can do without the help of any machinery. And because our heroes have already spent a couple of months in the quarantined city of Harran, and they know the resources are scarce, they’ve found some very smart ways to fight zombies and increase their chances of survival. Using environment is just one of them.

Rashid Sayed: Dying Light will have dynamic day-night cycles and once it’s dark, the player needs to use stealth and ‘dark sense’ to avoid the infected. What can you tell us about the ‘dark sense’ and how does it work?

Tymon Smektala: The sense – it’s not the final name by the way – allows you to “feel” (by hearing, smelling, etc.) important things in the environment: enemies, hidden objects, etc. You will also be able to upgrade that special survivor’s awareness throughout the game.

Rashid Sayed: In the gameplay video, we see the player getting spot by infected resulting into a high octane chase sequence. Will the chase sequence be dynamic and different every time the player gets spotted?

Tymon Smektala: Of course it is dynamic. There aren’t many sequences in Dying Light that are scripted, save for a few moments in our main story missions. Everything that happens in the game is dynamic, everything is governed by the gameplay systems, everything happens while you play it. There are lots of water cooler moments, lots of moments you will like to share on Twitch, Facebook or YouTube.

Dying Light

It’s so big that it easily supports 30-40 hours of gameplay, it is the biggest and most ambitious game world we’ve ever created. To put that in perspective – it’s at least 3 times as big as our previous open world project, and it’s way more dense because in Dying Light you can go nearly anywhere.

Rashid Sayed: What can you tell us about the mission structure in the game? Will it be a ‘true’ open world wherein the player can complete the main and side missions independent of each other?

Rafal W. Orkan: Sure, you are completely right. Even if the quests, be it main or side quests, share the same story background, they can be completed independently. It’s up to the player. What’s more, when you play the game in co-op, all gamers can do different missions, most of them at the same time – unless the story requires them to stick together. When we say open world, we really mean it.

Rashid Sayed: Will the game have any kind of skills or leveling up system?

Tymon Smektala: Yes, there’s a whole RPG character progression system in the game, so you will be able to upgrade your character spending hard earned experience points on skills and perks. The same goes for our Be The Zombie mode, in which you play as a zombie and get special zombie experience points for killing survivors. You can then spend those zombie XPs for zombie skills to build an ultimate zombie killing machine. How kick ass is that?

Rashid Sayed: The game is set in an absolutely vast word. Can you please let us know how the big world is and how you guys plan to make sure that the player will explore it?

Tymon Smektala: It’s so big that it easily supports 30-40 hours of gameplay, it is the biggest and most ambitious game world we’ve ever created. To put that in perspective – it’s at least 3 times as big as our previous open world project, and it’s way more dense because in Dying Light you can go nearly anywhere – with the Natural Movement system there aren’t many obstacles that you can’t overcome.

We do hope that players will be exploring that world not only because they follow the main storyline, but also because of the curiosity and just plain fun of playing the game. There will be lots of side missions, randomly generated dynamic events, challenges, and meaningful collectables. And because our game is build for emergent gameplay, it’s just good to boot it up and have a blast playing it for a couple of hours with friends – exploring the game world will just happen by the way.

Dying Light

The important thing is we aim for each weapon type to feel differently. For example, the knife is very fast, but it has limited range and it doesn’t deal too much damage in a single strike.

Rashid Sayed: What can you tell us about the weapons in the game? We saw electric knife and pipes. What else is in there?

Maciej Binkowski: We can’t reveal too many details about the arsenal of weapons just yet. Still, in our demos so far you could see pipes, knives, machetes, hammers, axes, baseball bats, and throwing knives. The final game will have much more than that :)

The important thing is we aim for each weapon type to feel differently. For example, the knife is very fast, but it has limited range and it doesn’t deal too much damage in a single strike. The two handed hammer on the other hand is very heavy, costs a lot of stamina to swing it, but when it hits, it generally kills everything in front of you. You have to decide what kind of weapons best supports the way you want to play.

On top of that, we also have firearms but you have to remember that while being powerful, they are also very loud. So it’s relatively easy to quickly kill a bunch of bad guys, but you risk attracting a lot of attention from the infected. It’s up to you to make the call and decide if this is the right moment to use firearms.

Rashid Sayed: Dying Light will be one of the few titles that will be cross generational. What kind of differences can players expect between current and next gen versions of the game?

Tymon Smektala: In terms of the core gameplay, there will be no significant differences. Very early in the production process we’ve decided that we want the game to play exactly the same on all platforms, so we’ve created a new version of our in-house Chrome Engine technology to support that goal. That’s why all Dying Light elements that relate to the core gameplay – be it the enemy AI or the number of zombies on screen – stay the same, whether it’s current-gen or next-gen. On the other hand, we also wanted to use the extreme processing power of PS4, Xbox One and PC, so these versions use all advancements in the field of graphical fidelity, including our very advanced physically based lighting model.

For regular gamers it might sound like a technical mumbo-jumbo, but it’s something they should really be excited about: thanks to the new lighting model, the whole game world looks extra realistic and instantly gets +10 to immersion. Of course, we’re also using some of the more specific next-gen features, like lightbar and touchpad support or voice recognition, the latter being tied to our in-game noise system (you can draw zombies’ attention just by screaming at them).

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We aim to have the final game running at 1080p, 60 fps on both PS4 and XboxOne, and it seems that we will be able to achieve this.

Rashid Sayed: With resolution and fps being the big deal these days, can you let us know whether the game will run at 1080p/60fps on PS4 and Xbox One?

Jakub Klarowicz: It’s too early to tell. We aim to have the final game running at 1080p, 60 fps on both PS4 and XboxOne, and it seems that we will be able to achieve this. Obviously, we’re still working on the game itself and its optimization, but we aim to provide that kind of experience when the game launches.

Rashid Sayed: Dead Island on the PC had pretty vast visual options. What kind of graphical options can PC players expect in Dying Light?

Maciej Jamrozik: The PC version will take full advantage of the most advanced graphics cards. At the same time, we will offer a wide range of visual options, which will ensure that also less up-to-date computers will be able to run the game.

Rashid Sayed: We saw Dying Light running on the PS4 and it looks absolutely gorgeous. From a development perspective what are your thoughts on the PS4’s GPU and GDDR5 RAM? I am sure it must have removed a lot of bottlenecks when compared to the PS3.

Tomasz Szalkowski: PS4 is a truly fantastic piece of hardware! Its high GPU performance comes from the API, which allows a strict control over all processes, and facilitates optimization and experimentation. Obviously, with greater control comes greater responsibility, for example for correct synchronization between processing units.

A modern GPU, an adequate API and a unified GPU/CPU address space let us develop new algorithms and techniques that simply weren’t possible before: a ShaderModel5 hardware working with DX11 was limited in terms of capabilities comparing to how the hardware actually could perform, and many things were beyond control. Now the GPU alone is fast enough to not only render high quality visuals at 1080p, but it can also take on some task of the main processor. The first presentation of Dying Light for PS4 is just the taste of what the Chrome Engine 6 can do on this console!

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Many a time you will be encouraged or even forced to avoid a confrontation and hide. You should also remember that the game features random encounters. They not only bring more variety to the game but may also be an incentive to complete certain missions again and again, because each time something unexpected is set to happen to you.

Rashid Sayed: Similarly, how does Dying Light take advantage of the Xbox One’s eSRAM? Does it have any bottleneck or did it actually simplify the development process?

Jakub Klarowicz: We haven’t played around with the eSRAM much yet. Currently, we use it for storing the zbuffer and shadowmaps. It’s especially helpful because the memory is readily available for any purpose and unit: the CPU, the GPU, textures, render targets, etc. It really smoothes out the optimization process.

Rashid Sayed: One last question, how long do you think the game will last and are you planning to add a multiplayer component?

Tymon Smektala: We assume that the game will deliver at least 30-40 hours of gameplay, but remember that we’re unable to set the upper limit, because it depends on too many factors.

We can say, though, that the length will be a result of how much time the player will devote to exploring, completing side-quests, crafting weapons, etc. Your playing style will also be a factor here: you don’t always have to fight, and not always escape is the most profitable option. Many a time you will be encouraged or even forced to avoid a confrontation and hide. You should also remember that the game features random encounters. They not only bring more variety to the game but may also be an incentive to complete certain missions again and again, because each time something unexpected is set to happen to you. Clearly, it has a direct impact on the game’s length.

From the very beginning, Dying Light has been created with the co-op mode in mind. That’s why we take extra care developing this feature and implement unique mechanics devoted to co-op gaming. We boast a full four-player cooperation mode (both local and online), but we can offer you something more, something special. Namely, I’m talking about the “Be the Zombie” DLC. It’s a competitive multiplayer game mode, available when pre-ordering Dying Light (the PC digital versions for sale straight from the producer at https://boxoffstore.pl/en/games/dying-light/). Still, if you plan on diving into the single-player mode only, you can be sure to get tons of fun as well.


  • Angelsx

    Nice interview.So to expect 1080p 60fps on next gen.That sounds great.

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