Lead Level Designer Jordan Woodward speaks with GamingBolt about Rebellion’s newest co-op shooter.
Rebellion have made a name for themselves with the consistently solid Sniper Elite series, but though the stealth shooter franchise is their flagship property, there’s plenty of love out there for its goofier offshoot Zombie Army as well. Zombie Army 4: Dead War brought players back into the world of Nazi zombies last month, delivering enjoyable, intense co-op action across its campaign and Horde mode, and proved once again just how inherently enjoyable that premise is. Not too long ago, we sent across questions about the game – asking about everything from its post-launch plans to the improvements it makes over its predecessor – to the developers. You can read our interview with Lead Level Designer Jordan Woodward below.
NOTE: This interview was conducted prior to the game’s launch.
"For Zombie Army 4 it was really important to us to create a game that fit well within the Zombie Army universe and provided an experience that Zombie Army fans and our community found familiar."
Given the build options and the way the game is structured, co-op obviously looks like a huge focus for Zombie Army 4– but how does the game balance itself for those who want to experience it solo?
Creating a great co-op experience is at the heart of Zombie Army 4 and every decision we made throughout development had to cater well for co-op. That said, we wanted to make sure the game could be enjoyed just as much in solo play. As part of the level design balancing process, we have crafted experiences that will scale for the number of players present. This means that in 2-4 player co-op, players will be challenged a little more with larger numbers of zombies to contend with and sometimes slightly tougher types of enemies. Additionally, this gives some variety to playing the game in solo and co-op, adding to the replayability. It’s also worth mentioning that players can customise the difficulty – for example you could play in solo mode and tune your difficulty for 4 players.
What are the areas you focused on the most in terms of making improvements over the previous Zombie Army games?
For Zombie Army 4 it was really important to us to create a game that fit well within the Zombie Army universe and provided an experience that Zombie Army fans and our community found familiar. It had to be first and foremost a sequel to Zombie Army Trilogy, but with everything turned up to the next level. We wanted to provide a much richer and deeper experience than previous games in every way. One of the first things fans of the franchise will notice is the massively expanded character and weapon customisation.
We’ve added character perks which allow you to choose a range of bonuses to attach to your character, tweaking the gameplay to suit your playstyle. Perks can be changed to another at any time. We didn’t want to lock you into making a permanent choice, but to experiment and have fun with all of the options and combinations. Complementing these are weapon upgrades, which can be unlocked by completing challenges and searching for them in the game world. They allow you to bolt on modifications to their weapons and make them more powerful. For example, upgrading the damage type to fire explosive or electrified rounds.
We’ve also focused a lot more on the detail in the world – not only does all of the gruesome and gory detail look incredible, there’s a lot more environmental storytelling, collectibles and lore to pick up on. The world is much bigger with a lot more focus on exploration. On the surface, you’re shooting Nazi zombies in the face with a shotgun and watching limbs fly – but if you dive deep in to the world and the lore you’ll find there’s a lot more to piece together.
Given the series’ close links with the Sniper Elite games, how did the development of Sniper Elite 4 and the feedback you received for it from the critics and the community help with Zombie Army 4′s development?
At the start of every project we’ll take time to do some research, looking back at what critics and our players have said about previous games. We also conduct surveys with our players and talk regularly to our community about what they liked and didn’t like. This really helps add to our vision for our games.
We’re lucky at Rebellion that we have a lot of hard-core and passionate fans. We have great communication with our community, for example on social media and on Discord where our developers can chat directly with our community. This helps provide experiences we know our fans and community are eager for, which is massively important to us as a studio.
"Zombie Army is obviously an over-the-top, absurd stretch of historical events, but there’s also a sense of grounded authenticity and believability in the universe, which I think is pretty cool!"
For the Horde mode, the idea of the map getting bigger the longer you survive is quite an interesting spin on the concept- can you talk to us a bit more about how that concept came about, and how it’s implemented in the game, mechanically speaking?
In Horde Mode it was important to keep players moving and provide new challenges as they progress, rather than keep them in one spot for 12 or more waves. This led to the design of the map getting bigger the longer you survive. We wanted to allow you to get a little comfortable and learn the area in the first few waves – then open a new area and take you out of your comfort zone, changing the spawn locations and types of enemies and increasing the challenge every time a new area opens.
Progressing through the areas to an escape point was also part of the narrative of the Horde missions. We wanted there to be a sense of progression to an end point, ultimately allowing you to either escape the horde or choose to stick around and fight to the death!
The premise of the Zombie Army inherently lends itself to self-aware and over-the-top content at times- is that something that you’ve tried to take even further with Zombie Army 4, with things such as enemy design, encounters, and the like?
Definitely! Zombie Army is obviously an over-the-top, absurd stretch of historical events, but there’s also a sense of grounded authenticity and believability in the universe, which I think is pretty cool! In the design of Zombie Army 4 the aim was to dive even deeper in to the world of the occult, exploring enemies that would have been created by occult dark magic, rather than science, while trying to make everything seem believable and backing everything up with reason and storytelling in the world. This theory was core to the design across all aspects of the game – for example exploring what a zombified, back from the dead, living zombie tank or halftrack would look like and how they were created. Giving them hearts, ribcages and gruesome fleshy bits!
Roughly how long is an average playthrough of Zombie Army 4?
It really depends on a lot of things – what kind of player you are, how many people you’re playing with, how much of a challenge you’re finding it. The thing is, we’ve designed the game to be very replayable and we’ve encouraged you to be able to drop into any chapter and enjoy the game, increase your rank, unlock new things and find more collectibles. With all that said, it’s fair to say Zombie Army 4 is easily the meatiest, most content rich entry in the series yet, and there’s plenty there to keep players satisfied.
What are your plans for Zombie Army 4 as far as post-launch support is concerned?
We’ve been very vocal about supporting the game after launch. We have tons of additional content in Season 1 including new weapons, characters, weapon skins and of course new campaign missions. The first mission in the new mini-campaign is coming out very soon – watch this space for more news!
"We’ve come such a long way since Zombie Army Trilogy. You can see it in every screenshot – in fact we’ve had a load of fantastic ones come in through a competition featuring the game’s Photo Mode. The game looks absolutely incredible."
Do you have any plans to launch on the Switch?
Not at the moment. We are, though, bringing Zombie Army Trilogy to Switch and that’ll mark the series’ debut on Switch, which is really exciting. It’ll be out March 31st!
You’ve spoken about branching out into VR with the Sniper Elite games. Is that something you’re considering for Zombie Army as well?
Sounds like an interesting idea to me! But we’ve not got anything announced there. We have, however, revealed Sniper Elite VR and that’s been doing the rounds at shows for quite a few months now, and we’ve seen loads of people have a great time with it!
Does the game will feature Xbox One X and PS4 Pro-specific enhancements? Is 4K/60 FPS on the cards?
We do have enhancements! On Xbox One and PS4 Pro you can either select the Quality Mode that will render the game at 4K with the frame rate targeting 30fps, or Performance Mode which targets 60fps at a 1080p resolution. That way you can have an enhanced experience that prioritizes frame rate or resolution, depending on your preference.
How is the game running on the original Xbox One and PS4, in terms of frame rate and resolution?
We’ve gone down the route of 1080p and 30fps as we have done for our recent games, and to be honest the game looks absolutely fantastic on the original Xbox One and PS4. We’ve come such a long way since Zombie Army Trilogy. You can see it in every screenshot – in fact we’ve had a load of fantastic ones come in through a competition featuring the game’s Photo Mode. The game looks absolutely incredible, and as the Lead Level Designer I’d like to think it plays pretty incredibly too!