Climax Studios and SCE Worldwide Studios talk about the PS4 and upcoming plans for the Dead Nation franchise.
Developer Housemarque may be popular and well-known thanks to their hit PS4-exclusive shooter RESOGUN, but the studio’s first real breakout effort was with Dead Nation on the PlayStation 3. Many could look at it as a Left 4 Dead clone in terms of the Special Infected implemented but otherwise, it was an awesome top-down shooter that paid homage to classic twin-stick titles with its power-ups, various weapons and difficulty. It was also a ton of fun to play, especially in co-op.
This led to the team at Climax Studios ultimately porting the game to the PlayStation 4 and PS Vita, offering it for free to PlayStation Plus subscribers. Housemarque is still busy with its own efforts, including a new IP and expansion for RESOGUN, but what does the future of Dead Nation hold? We spoke to Climax Studios senior technical director Claire Blackshaw along with Associate Producer Rogan Ogden and Executive Producer James Hawkins of SCE Worldwide Studios XDEV Studio Europe about sequel plans, the motivation of re-releasing the game for PS4, benefits of a release on PS Plus and much more.
Ravi Sinha: Last year, we saw a brief live-action teaser where a man was suddenly and brutally murdered by a zombie. Was that the first hint of Dead Nation: Apocalypse Edition arriving for the PS4 or was it meant for something else?
James: To be honest, as much as anything, that great live action movie was just the guys over at Housemarque having a bit of fun, ruffling one another up and experimenting with fancy dress;) Yes, I’m going with that and look forward to hearing the guys laughing a bit when they read it!
Ravi Sinha: Dead Nation was perhaps one of the more under-rated games on the PS3, being tons of fun to play and still challenging enough to return to on a regular basis. What motivated you to bring the game to the PS4, rather than working on a sequel?
Rogan: Dead Nation on the PS3, was voted best exclusive PSN game for 2011 and so we chose to bring the game to the PS4, so all those next-gen converts, and first time console owners could experience a true PSN classic, along with the people who already loved the game.
"Dead Nation has always been a great game that is brilliant when played with another player and so one of the advantages for Dead Nation: Apocalypse edition is that it’s easy to find a co-op match because there are literally millions of PS4 players that have the game."
Ravi Sinha: Is a sequel for the series currently planned at this point? After RESOGUN, it’s really hard to decide which franchise we’d rather see you guys work on first.
James: The PS4 version of Dead Nation seems to have been really well received but we’ve not made decisions about sequels at this time.
Ravi Sinha: How does the Apocalypse Edition improve on the base experience, along with adding new content and improved visuals?
James: I’ll let Claire Blackshaw, Senior Technical Designer at Climax take this one as it was Claire that took the lead in regard to new features, sharing her excitement about The Magic of Next-Gen with the rest of the development team and making this a key focal point for Dead Nation: Apocalypse Edition.
Claire: The whole team at Climax is especially happy with the new Broadcast+, and we have enjoyed watching streams by Shuhei Yoshida, Penny Arcade and others. My other favorite feature is the Challenge mode and I’vegot quite a few challenges bouncing back and forth between myself and some friends which really changes how I play the game.
Ravi Sinha: Given the exposure that PlayStation Plus has on the PS4, Dead Nation: Apocalypse Edition will be circulated among a larger group of consumers on day one of its release. How does this benefit you over a traditional release right out of the gate on PSN?
Rogan: Dead Nation has always been a great game that is brilliant when played with another player and so one of the advantages for Dead Nation: Apocalypse edition is that it’s easy to find a co-op match because there are literally millions of PS4 players that have the game.
"An expansion to the game, is definitely an interesting prospect, and something we might consider for the future. In the meantime however, Dead Nation: Apocalypse edition includes the ‘Road of Devastation’ expansion that was created for the PS3 game and so there is already a lot to play."
Ravi Sinha: What are your thoughts on the trend of re-releasing titles for next gen consoles without changes? We’ve seen something similar with Ubisoft’sRayman Legends. Do you feel there’s an obligation to improve the experience or perhaps add something that might have been left out when the game first released?
James: As Rogan said just now, PlayStation fans voted the original Dead Nation, the best exclusive PSN game for 2011 and I know that millions of PS3 players downloaded it. But the truth is that there are many more millions of players that didn’t download it and so we saw PS4 as the perfect opportunity to improve and update the original game and bring it to the players, before there are so many blockbuster titles that some might miss it, like many did on PS3.
Claire: A good game is always a good game, whether it’s a re-release or completely new title but we have also worked really hard to improve upon the original PS3 game so as to make the PS4 game, the definitive Dead Nation experience, with the new features bringingsome fresh ideas to the whole concept of ‘social gaming’.
Ravi Sinha: Dead Nation only has 2 player co-op. Will Dead Nation: Apocalypse Edition support 4 player co-op somewhere down the line?
Rogan: If there is ever a sequel, we will almost certainly explore this, but in order to make the gameplay compelling with 4 players we must design and create new content, weapons and enemies for the best experience possible and that is beyond the scope of the decision to bring the original game to PS4.
Ravi Sinha: What additional content can we look forward to in the coming days for Dead Nation on the PS4? Will there be any new unique maps or weapons?
Rogan: An expansion to the game, is definitely an interesting prospect, and something we might consider for the future. In the meantime however, Dead Nation: Apocalypse edition includes the ‘Road of Devastation’ expansion that was created for the PS3 game and so there is already a lot to play.
"The PS4 is a great platform to work on and port to as it's a more standard hardware and the tools are great. One of the big challenges with Dead Nation was going from 32bit to 64bit given the optimized data formats. Once that hurdle was overcome it was mostly smooth sailing, adding new PS4 features and polishing."
Ravi Sinha: Dead Nation runs at 30fps on the PlayStation 4. Is there a specific reason why you guys were not able to push it to 60fps, especially given the fact that RESOGUN which is a more resource intensive runs at 60fps?
James: RESOGUN has the advantage of being developed specifically with the PS4 in mind, where Dead Nation was developed specifically for the PS3. Due to the complexities and dependencies of the original game, and especially the way that the original game utilizes the PS3 architecture so as to avoid dropping below 30fps at all times, we decided early on that it was better to put our effort into genuinely new features and ensuring it looked great at a solid 30fps, just like it does on the PS3 but in full HD and with improved visual effects.
Ravi Sinha: Tell us how different it is porting a PS3 game to a PS4 compared to making a game from the ground up for the PS4? What kind of challenges did you faced?
Claire: The PS4 is a great platform to work on and port to as it’s a more standard hardware and the tools are great. One of the big challenges with Dead Nation was going from 32bit to 64bit given the optimized data formats. Once that hurdle was overcome it was mostly smooth sailing, adding new PS4 features and polishing.
Ravi Sinha: Can you tell us how many months it took you guys to port the game to the PlayStation 4?
Rogan: All said and done, it took about a year to complete both the PS4 and PS Vita versions to the high level of quality required and ensuring that the core gameplay remained faithful to that of the PS3 game.
Claire:We finished the PS4 game a little earlier than the PS Vita version but as Rogan has said, we developed the PS Vita version at the same time, so it’s really impossible to say exactly how long it took just for the PS4 game.
"Sony have worked incredibly hard to ensure that PS4 is as easy to develop for as possible and so with a solid base all things are possible."
Ravi Sinha: From a development perspective what are your thoughts on The Order 1886? Do you think it’s maxing out the PlayStation 4’s power?
Rogan: Personally, I think The Order looks great and when I think about what Naughty Dog have achieved on PS3 with the Unchartedgames and The Last of Us, it’s really exciting to imagine how The Order can evolve.
Ravi Sinha: Obviously Sony’s internal team are working around the clock to provide better tools and update the SDK. What kind of advantages will these updates bring to PS4 games and their development in the next 2-3 years?
Claire: Sony have worked incredibly hard to ensure that PS4 is as easy to develop for as possible and so with a solid base all things are possible.
Ravi Sinha: Tell us now! What do you have planned for E3?
James: You’ll have to wait and see for yourself but if you get the opportunity to try PS4 VR Headset, I highly recommend doing so!
Ravi Sinha: Is there anything else you want to tell our readers about Dead Nation: Apocalypse Edition?
Claire: Switch to Wide HUD if your TV is setup correctly it looks great. And also give Challenges a go and try turning on the Challenge Ribbon which might help you unlock your friends or the top leaderboard scorers strategies.