Dead Island is Here to Stay: An Interview with Creative Director James Worrel

Recently with the hands-on preview of Dead Island 2, I got to do, I also got to sit with the Creative Director at Dambuster Studios and talk about the past of Dead Island and what it was like getting ready to bring the series back into the conversation with its bombastic approach to the zombie apocalypse.

Justin: So, I do want to start off with the elephant in the room. Obviously, there have been a lot of trials and tribulations surrounding Dead Island 2. Through multiple iterations and developers. How does it feel now that, like, the end is in sight, it is we are finally getting down to it?

James Worrell: Well, we were very confident with our pitch in 2018. We’ve felt we knew what we could do with that island. And from that pitch, those early creative decisions. You know, we built the engine from scratch, but you’re right. It has been, you know, for years of us wondering how it would be received if there is anybody still out there. But when we announced it at Gamescom, it was just awesome. And you know, the reaction we got from the auditorium, we’re in front of the stage that evening. And then from, all the live feeds from fans all over the place, we realized that one people were still really eager for this game and really happy that it had been announced, but also, we were really pleased with what they were saying, and what they were sort of hearing from the people who had an inside reveal there at Gamescom as well. So that was, that was nice to know. I always used to describe it as the rest of the games world was this fleet on the surface, and we were there. A submarine just shadowing them all this time. And any moment, we were going to breathe. So we were all very relieved to see that kind of reaction. 

Justin: So, was there anything left over from the previous Dead Island 2 pitches that we’ve seen bits and pieces of over the years that were brought forward to this iteration?

James Worrell: Yeah, Los Angeles. We thought that was a really good and bold statement. But I think it made sense as well. You’ve got a really diverse, vibrant city, one of the major cities in the world. It’s also a city that kind of because of that diversity, and vibrance is a real statement for humanity, right? You know, if humanity is going to do something wonderful, chances are it’s going to happen in or around LA first, right? And so having that as a backdrop for the ultimate threat to humanity, there’s an apocalypse, there’s this horrible disease that eats away within the human soul. Yeah, it was the perfect setting, but we started everything else from scratch.

Justin: I did notice in my hands-on time we see Sam from Dead Island make a return. Kind of a two-part question here. One do we hear “Who Do You Voodoo?” And two, are any of the other survivors making a reappearance?

James Worrell: No. And no, At least not yet.

Justin: Okay, that’s fair. So this one might be a little difficult to answer. Back in 2006, when the original Dead Island was first revealed, like, way, way, way before it was what it happened to be when it came in 2011. There was this flesh system shown off, where it had real-time damage to the flesh. And obviously, that was left on the cutting room floor. But now we get this; I’m just gonna say an amazing version of this in Dead Island 2 that we will be getting to enjoying soon. Did you go back to the old, revealing footage of Dead Island in 2006? To kind of, like, get ideas for that? Or was that something that was kind of in your head when you went, Okay, this is what we wanted. This is what we want to do.

James Worrell: As soon as we decided that Dead Island 2 was going to be zombies at the core, it wasn’t going to be about humans squabbling with each other. As soon as we realized that it was really the heart of Dead Island. I mean, that’s the absolute beating, the bloody punctured heart of Dead Island, then, I think the notion that the gore system hadn’t been developed to that degree was just a real missed opportunity. And we realized that if we started from scratch, we thought we could do it better. And two, we thought that a procedural system like that not only gives you those kinds of visceral Gore and play rewards, but it kind of provides a huge analog sandbox combat system. Because I guess one of the things about fighting monsters in horror, right, and especially zombies, is that you rarely have a full-on game plan, right? So, you know, very often in games, you kind of know what’s going to happen, right? But we’re in a procedural system where everything’s analog and the difference between hitting here and here is something fundamental To the different lengths of cutting off a limb or taking out the eyes or something like that or pushing them back into something which they then stumble on and then fall over, that sets off the light and you know, it’s that kind of ad hoc chaos that makes fighting zombies. Really rewarding and really fun.

Justin:  I wasn’t sure how I was going to, you know, enjoy it. I mean, it’s been a while for Dead Island. But I will say, You guys have nailed it. You guys have knocked it out of the park. So far, it is head and shoulders above what I thought was going to even be possible. I’ve really enjoyed what I’ve played so far. I do have to ask for fans of the series and new fans. Is there anything you’d like players to kind of keep in mind when they’re going into HELL-A?

James Worrell: Two things from a gameplay point of view. You know, we’ve written heroes and introduced this kind of pulp, Hero tone. And I would really lean into that and run towards the danger and really engage with the combat system, don’t be afraid. Don’t sort of hang back, which is what I used to do when I first started playing the game, right? I’d spend my time running around a car being chased by zombies, and the game design director would go, “What are you doing? Reckless coward just gets stuck.” I’d say the advice would be just get stuck in, and then you really learn the system really rewards, and there’s so much depth to the combat. And I’d say the second thing is if they are fans who’ve been hanging on all this time and sort of poring over every little syllable of lore that they could find from the game and online, we have put an inhuman amount of effort in putting world building and backstory into this game. Every square inch of the game, every logo, every set piece, every bit of environmental storytelling, even the throwaway line in cutscenes, and things like that. They point to a much bigger picture. So we’re trying to build a much, much deeper and much more rewarding truth to the zombie outbreak for our players, especially really attentive players. So keep your eyes open.

Justin: So, are there plans to expand upon Dead Island 2 with DLC or expansions?

James Worrell: Obviously, but nothing announced. It’s kind of been our plan. But, you know, we’ve got to see see how it goes. Absolutely. 

Justin: How did the team take the Goat Simulator 3 trailer, kind of playing on the original announcement trailer?

James Worrell: Yeah, we loved it. At the con, we had a little plush goat in the visually recorded interviews as a nod to them. We love those guys.

I want to thank James for taking the time to sit and talk about Dead Island 2 with me. Five years in the making, and the time is almost here. After my hands-on time with it, I can’t wait. It is going to be a blast just running around HELL-A with a group of friends.

Dead Island 2 releases April 28th, 2023, on PC, PS4/5, and Xbox.

For more interviews, reviews, and features, stay locked to DreadXP and check out my hands-on preview for Dead Island 2.



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