Regardless of how you feel about Rebellion Developments’ Sniper Elite games, there’s no denying that they cater to a deep impulse within us for unorthodox gunplay. Even with Zombie Army Trilogy, the current gen compilation of Sniper Elite: Nazi Zombies 1 & 2 (along with an unreleased third game), you’re not just running trains of zombies around. Oftentimes, you need to hunker down, ready your rifle and mow down the hordes, one by one. And of course, there’s no denying the satisfying, slow motion X-ray executions that ensue.
GamingBolt spoke to Rebellion CEO Jason Kingsley about Zombie Army Trilogy, including the motivation to bring the Nazi Zombies games to consoles, translating the experience to the PS4 and Xbox One and much more.
"It’s worth pointing out we never work on one game at a time - we have different teams constantly prototyping and developing different games, so making ZAT didn’t mean we weren’t working on other projects too!"
Rashid K. Sayed: What motivated the decision to bring Zombie Army Trilogy to current gen consoles as opposed to, say, a brand new experience with Sniper Elite 4?
Jason Kingsley: Well there were two simple reasons. The first and most important was the demand from the community. The original Nazi Zombie Army releases just blew up – we completely underestimated the reaction and suddenly we had lots of loyal Sniper Elite fans on consoles saying “what about us?”
The second reason was simply… we could! When we self-published the first Nazi Zombie Army in 2013, our only option was Steam for PC – consoles were closed off back then unless you had a traditional publisher.
Forget the tech for a second, the biggest advantage of the new consoles is that Microsoft and Sony have reached out to studios and indies like Rebellion and said “bring your games to us – you don’t need a publisher”.
Also it’s worth pointing out we never work on one game at a time – we have different teams constantly prototyping and developing different games, so making ZAT didn’t mean we weren’t working on other projects too!
Rashid K. Sayed: Zombie Army Trilogy serves as a compilation of the Sniper Elite: Nazi Zombie Army games for the Xbox One and PS4. What was it like to translate the base experience to current gen consoles and how do said consoles improve upon the same?
Jason Kingsley: It fitted well to be honest – the feel of the rifles and the core third person mechanics were already proven on consoles with Sniper Elite V2 and 3. We did also already support console control pads on Nazi Zombie Army for PC of course, but for a dedicated console audience we did have to make some tweaks and adjustments to the feel of the controls. We knew this risked making Zombie Army Trilogy easier for PC players than the original games, so we kept tweaking and refining with our QA team until we got the balance spot on.
Rashid K. Sayed: ZAT is very co-op focused, especially for four players – how does this affect teamwork and the overall gameplay in terms of difficulty, quantity of zombies, etc?
Jason Kingsley: It’s true that 4-player co-op is the game’s main calling but it was always important to us that our tech could support scaling the number of zombies. That way, if a player drops out of a team the zombie levels drop dynamically to make sure you don’t get swamped unfairly.
And on the flip side there are crazy sharpshooters out there who prefer to play as a team of 2, or even solo – and change the settings to face the number of enemies usually seen by 4 players!
In terms of design, an early decision too was to allow players to pick their gameplay style, tactics and loadouts from the first minute.
Player flexibility is really important to the game’s co-op design – everyone can contribute, and everyone can save the day if things get a little scary. We deliberately avoided player “classes” because it would be no fun if 3 out of the 4 players were bleeding out for example, and the only player left was an engineer who couldn’t revive his team mates. With ZAT everyone has to adapt to what’s in front of them and the team dynamics change with them.
"I think what separates us from other horror action games is the need for focus, and a nice contradiction of high intensity with slower, more precise gunplay. Everyone needs to play their part in a team, and the tactical use of explosives plays a prominent role."
Rashid K. Sayed: The third installment particularly intrigues us. Why wasn’t this originally released in its standalone form? How did development on the Xbox One and PS4 influence the final result?
Jason Kingsley: Naturally we started working on a standalone third chapter after the success of NZA 1&2, but as soon as we started digging in to the Xbox One and PS4 kits for Sniper Elite 3 we realized the Nazi Zombie Army series would be a great fit for the new machines.
Then it was just a case of asking ourselves “What’s best for the players?” and of course one unified online community for each platform was the answer, rather than three disparate groups. We also made sure that the game was suitable for release in Germany – removing banned symbols and so on – so that players there could play online with the rest of the World, even if they saw a slightly different texture here or there.
We also knew that we needed to consider series veterans, so that’s why we’ve unlocked every mission from every chapter right from the start, and also why we gave Steam gamers a hefty discount on the Trilogy if they owned either of the first two games. That was our way of thanking them for their support, and also giving them thousands of new players to team up with!
Rashid K. Sayed: Aside from a higher resolution and frame rate, what other improvements does Zombie Army Trilogy introduce to the “snipers vs. zombies” gameplay model?
Jason Kingsley: Well I’m not sure snipers vs. zombies has actually been done too often! I think what separates us from other horror action games is the need for focus, and a nice contradiction of high intensity with slower, more precise gunplay. Everyone needs to play their part in a team, and the tactical use of explosives plays a prominent role.
More than anything, the visual and audio design throughout ZAT is the ultimate love letter to cult zombie and horror films we grew up with – there really isn’t anything out there with the same atmosphere and devotion to the source matter.
Rashid K. Sayed: With DirectX 12 tipped to make a splash on the Xbox One and more developers utilizing the PS4’s power, what excites you the most regarding the future of current gen consoles?
Jason Kingsley: The future’s bright, make no mistake. For developers like us, we know the machines are here for the long run so that gives us stability. But also they can change to meet the needs of players – think about how different the last consoles were in 2013 compared to when they launched, or consider the breadth and variety of games that can now be successful without huge marketing budgets. The consoles’ continuing evolution will keep everyone on their toes, gamers and devs alike.
"Our dev and marketing resources were dwarfed by everyone else on that list, and there’s only one explanation really – we just want to thank everyone who supported us, played our games and told their friends about them too."
Rashid K. Sayed: It’s been discovered that the PS4 is the first console for many of its owners. When bringing out a re-release like Zombie Army Trilogy, how do you balance the act of catering to those first time players of the franchise vs. giving veterans something new to look forward to?
Jason Kingsley: We didn’t have to worry about it too much – as we mentioned earlier we opened up all the levels in the game from the start, so veterans can jump into old favourites, or skip straight to the new content and horde mode.
New players on the other hand can start from the beginning, or jump into an online match with more experienced players to learn the ropes. That’s where YouTube comes in – it’s full of amazing videos showing players how to get the most out of their games – whatever their ability or experience.
Rashid K. Sayed: It’s 2015 and while zombie games are still happening, the phenomenon that exploded with The Walking Dead TV show seems to have simmered down in recent times. Will that affect the future of the Nazi Zombie Army franchise going forward?
Jason Kingsley: Not really, just like any studio we make games we want to play first and foremost. It always makes us laugh when the “oh not more zombies” line gets thrown around because the reaction from gamers is often so different to the critics who decry them. If we feel we can make another Zombie Army title that we want to play, we will. If we think it’s run its course, we’ll move onto something new!
Rashid K. Sayed: The Xbox One’s eSRAM has been the major culprit behind the resolution issues on the consoles. Now that you have actively developed on the console, have things improved on that front?
Jason Kingsley: Both Sniper Elite 3 and ZAT run at native 1080p, as do the majority of Xbox One and PS4 titles released in the last year. We really don’t know why this seems to still be a news story if we’re being honest. Developers’ games improve with the age of the hardware – this is a fact that hasn’t changed since the dawn of video games!
Rashid K. Sayed: Is there anything else you want to tell us about the game before we let you go?
Jason Kingsley: I want to talk about the game’s players actually! Last week ZAT sat in the top 10 in the UK alongside Sniper Elite 3. Our dev and marketing resources were dwarfed by everyone else on that list, and there’s only one explanation really – we just want to thank everyone who supported us, played our games and told their friends about them too.
We’ve loved seeing all the co-op lets plays and Twitch streams go live over the last few weeks, it’s been one of the most enjoyable months for Rebellion ever.