Interview | Ubisoft Talks ZombiU with Cubed3 (Nintendo Wii U)

By Adam Riley 18.11.2012 7

Cubed3 was lucky enough to get some questions answered by the Ubisoft Montpellier team that has been working hard on the Wii U exclusive, ZombiU. With Wii U out now over in the US, the Producer of the project, Guillaume Brunier, and Senior Scriptwriter, Gabrielle Shrager, kindly shared more details on what many believe is the hottest Third Party Wii U launch title.

Image for Interview | Ubisoft Talks ZombiU with Cubed3 (Nintendo Wii U)

Cubed3: Can the game only be played using the standard Wii U controller or will it have options allowing you to use the Pro Pad or a Wii Remote and Nunchuck?

Ubisoft: Both the solo campaign and our multiplayer modes require the Wii U GamePad, which is an integral part of what makes ZombiU a unique and uniquely intense survival horror experience. Our  asymmetric multiplayer modes pit one player (a Survivor) using either a Wii Remote or the Pro Controller against the 'King of Zombies' player, in a top-down view on the GamePad for local adversarial matches. See more on multiplayer modes below *smiles*
 
Cubed3: Are there any subtle elements inspired from classic Zombie films like Dawn of the Dead besides the one hit kill mechanic? (particularly British stuff like Shawn of the Dead?)

Ubisoft: The cricket bat from Shawn of the Dead is priceless! If survival horror wasn't such a perfect fit for the WiiU, we probably would have made a hilarious game inspired by Shawn, the Dead Set and Zombieland and we do offer a few moments of dark humour inspired by these films.  My personal zombie-movie favourites include Zack Synder's Dawn remake, Danny Boyle's fabulous 28-days movies and Zombie Strippers, in which strippers spouting Nietzsche actually sound spot on!  The ingenious Charlie Brooker's Dead Set probably subconsciously made us think about the voyeuristic aspect of watching the world go to hell on camera; in any case London's ubiquitous CCTV cameras certainly did.

We've got lots of Zombie fans on the team, so we shared our favourite references (comics, movies, books, web series and games) and our story designer read, watched and played everything 'zombie' she could get her hands on. She even found an insanely weird comic called "Night of the Living Dead London" written by Clive Barker…not to be spoiled!  Anyway, these references were all essential because they allowed us to assemble the most significant tropes of the genre in order to imagine the classic contexts and situations we wanted our own survivors to experience, with our own personal twist. We also met with the whole team to find out what everyone would do in the case of a zombie apocalypse, and this provided our framework for the kinds of survivor NPCs who would carry the plot and guide players through the game.

There were three main 'survivor' categories:  run home and hunker-down until it blows over or someone comes to the rescue; make a run for it and find refuge elsewhere; search for some way to save humanity…


 

Cubed3: What can you tell us about the online elements and how MiiVerse is integrated?

Ubisoft: Our online app offers a ton of sweet features for you and your Nintendo friends to feel a little less alone in the merciless world of ZombiU (although it is not directly linked to the Miiverse). When playing online, players will receive alerts on-screen in real-time that tell them when friends' survivors have been Infected and where they are likely to be roaming if you want to go and mercy-kill them and loot their gear.  Plus you can follow stats about your own former Infected survivor characters, like how many of your friends have encountered, killed or been Infected by them. Also, you'll find leader-boards to compare your Survivors' Scores against your friends and see who are the most successful survivors.

Our « blacklight » feature allows players to scan environments with their GamePad and reveal messages left by friends (other survivors) using the spray can feature. You can help each other out throughout the adventure by spray-painting vital messages about, for instance, weapons caches and shortcut locations -- but be careful who you trust…
 
Cubed3: Many comparisons have been made regarding ZombiU and Red Steel, due to both being first-person launch exclusives on Nintendo platforms. How has the creation and marketing of Red Steel impacted on how Ubisoft approached the making of ZombiU?
 
Ubisoft: I've seen discussions about this online, but the comparison stops at the fact that they are both Ubisoft launch titles exclusively designed for a new Nintendo console. We're pretty confident ZombiU excels with both its solo and multiplayer use of the GamePad.

Cubed3: How would you approach a potential sequel?

Ubisoft: Most developers end up setting aside a tremendous number of cool ideas and features when they develop a new IP; in our case this is especially the case because of the new GamePad.  Survival-horror features, multiplayer features, online features, GamePad features, FPS features, narrative features…However, with a sequel it would be really hard to resist the desire to create and play in a new post-outbreak setting…

Image for Interview | Ubisoft Talks ZombiU with Cubed3 (Nintendo Wii U)


Cubed3: Can you clarify for us how the game actually works? If when you die, you start over with another character, then is there any ending at all?
 
Ubisoft: ZombiU offered the opportunity to write a story that is uniquely suited to a survival horror game. If one bite kills then the player character cannot carry the main storyline, there is not much time to develop a bond on an emotional level. The player becomes attached to his or her survivor based on how long they can keep them alive -- and we're fragile, so fragile! It is a struggle of wills. Each character grows more skilled with weapons the longer they live, but even if the player's next survivor does not inherit these specific abilities, the player's survival experience still accrues along with his courage and caution, learning from his mistakes in order to surpass himself next time, and perhaps keep the next survivor alive a little bit longer...

We keep the player immersed in a credible zombie survival experience without breaking the rules of the zombie genre with game overs and replays; we stay in the flow of the storyline as each survivor benefits from the progress of the last and pursues the end-game.  The actual plot is carried by the game's main NPCs, the player is the constant, with the Prepper's story unravelling slowly as we play through. Players will take away different appreciations of the game depending on how much they listen to the Prepper and the other main NPCs, explore and discover story collectibles and, especially, choose finish the game or not -- right down to the end of the credits…

Whatever players get out of it, from the significance of 'permadeath' to a credible survival experience in zombie territory, to Dee's occult Black Prophecy, we hope that some part of the ZombiU story will stick with them.
 
Cubed3: In videos already available to the public, we could see that there seems to be objectives to fulfil in the game. Can you describe to us how they are integrated in a mechanic where you can lose your character forever?

Ubisoft: Objectives completed by one survivor are completed for all who follow. Each survivor benefits from the progress of the last and pursues the end-game -- like a deadly relay race -- with the hope that maybe one of our survivors will make it out alive...
 
Zombies are the ultimate leveller: you might think that a fireman would be better equipped to survive than a school teacher, but zombie fiction often turns this preconceived notion on its head. The one who survives is usually the one with the greatest will to live. Only the player has unique skills -- our design just exacerbates this fact. In gameplay terms, this means the player character who will last longest will be the one YOU want to last longest because you WILL him to survive by beating the game with your own intelligence, patience and skill. If your 'teacher' is better prepared than your 'fireman', she'll be the stronger survivor.

It's a very egalitarian game, there's no natural aptitude for surviving a zombie apocalypse! In gameplay terms, each character you play gets progressively better at handling weapons. For instance, the more your current survivor plays with a hand gun, the faster he or she will be able to draw, shoot and reload; accuracy will improve and kickback decrease.  If this survivor dies, the next survivor you play will have to learn these skills for him or herself -- all over again!

Now there's a good reason to care about losing an experienced survivor…! On the bright side, it's a meaningful challenge, and it gives you the opportunity to try out a new weapon and different survival tactics to see if you can do better!


 

Cubed3: What made you choose London as the main setting for this game?

Ubisoft: London has a unique atmosphere and rich history. The biggest banking metropolitan in the world is a city of many contrasts, where medieval meets modernity in terms of both architecture and traditions.  Lots of opportunities for cool back-story and rich environments.  A zombie game is a great opportunity to draw people deeper into this utterly fascinating city -- a city steeped in bloody tales and grisly history.

Plus, for the entire world the British Royal Family has a unique hold on our imagination, not to mention the Brits own impassioned relationship with 'Her Maj' and her sometimes wayward kids. The Royal Guards are known around the world as the epitome of the 'little tin soldier' who stoically guards Buckingham Palace without flinching, even when harassed…There is something larger than life about them. So seeing them fall apart and literally 'decompose' while defending 'Queen and Country' is a powerful symbol, of a city gone WORL (without the rule of law).

Everywhere you look London is a monument to capitalism and Western Democracy. Its posh and well-lit store-lined streets teem with cosmopolitan citizens of the world...and yet just underneath, you can feel the unrest...the growing crisis of our times, see it in the tents of Occupy London and read the truth on graffitied brick walls...

« People are the Plague » What better place for the world to end -- and it's on an island, so maybe there's a way off…

What's not to love!

Cubed3: What made you shift the development of this game from Killer Freaks from Outer Space to ZombiU? When did that change occur?
 
Ubisoft: As we developed Killer Freaks from Outer Space, the deeper we got into creating  features specifically designed to make the most of the Wii U, the more we realised how perfect the Survival Horror genre is for the console; and then we just got more and more excited as the game concept grew almost organically. The shift in creative vision, gave us the opportunity to deliver a game that would include both the gameplay features and compelling story elements that we think gamers will be thrilled by on the Wii U.

Cubed3: The horror genre in video games, over the last decade, has shifted more towards the pure action genre rather than survival. Yet ZombiU focuses on survival. Did you sense there is still room for this genre of gameplay in nowadays gaming scene?
 
Ubisoft: As one of the industry's most beloved genres, ZombiU's rejuvenation of the Survival Horror genre seems to be cause for celebration! Especially since the addition of the GamePad is a perfect fit for it. It's a brand new and amazingly immersive experience that you can only get on the Wii U. So it's not a throw-back and so not a question of if there's room for 'traditional Survival Horror.' Is there room for survival horror on the WiiU? I guess we'll find out! In any case, fans of the genre will DEFINITELY want to sink their teeth into ZombiU -- but also fans of new gaming experiences everywhere.

Image for Interview | Ubisoft Talks ZombiU with Cubed3 (Nintendo Wii U)


Cubed3: Did the team travel to London to accurately design the locations in the game. And if so, which particular spots did they go to and what was most enjoyable in both creating that place in the game and being there in person?
 
Ubisoft: ZombiU does not present a one-to-one visual representation of London; it's a credible, creepy, apocalyptic vision of this great city. The objective in any work of fiction is to transform reality in order to sublime a vision of that reality. We needed to create a London that is compelling and credible; a London that serves the vision we wanted to communicate of our zombie story.

We travelled to London and walked the city end-to-end, shooting footage and photos, scoping out the setting for cool locations...it's important to feel the atmosphere of a city to translate it into textures and polygons. The biggest banking metropolitan in the world is a city of many contrasts, where medieval meets modernity in terms of both architecture and traditions. As mentioned before, its streets teem with cosmopolitan urban-dwellers while underneath you can hear the beating heart of a city steeped in bloody tales and grisly history.

When we reached the Tower of London -- a key location in the game -- we got all excited and were running around like kids. The Beefeaters with their 4-Century-old costumes,  grisly tales and Monty-Python-like humour were a huge inspiration -- they brought the place to life with their tales. The thought of playing a zombie game in a medieval fortress was just too cool, especially with Tower Bridge and the Gherkin in the background. Inimitable.

Cubed3: How much of London is covered in the game -- just the well known places or does it cover more residential areas of the city?

Ubisoft: There are three principal locations in the game that showcase the city's contrasts, from the splendor of Buckingham Palace to the squalor of an East London council estate. Players will explore Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London and a vast residential area we think of as 'Brick Lane,' which is our own vision of Bethnal Green where the 'normal people' live and work and eat and play.
 
Cubed3: Will multiplayer be a big focus? Or is ZombiU primarily a single-player affair?
 
Ubisoft: The 'King of Zombies' has organised his own sadistic London games to entertain his bloodthirsty subjects…Play as King Boris on the WiiU tablet, crazed boss of a violent gang and self-proclaimed 'King of the Zombies,' and beat all survivors…one by one! Or play as a Survivor and attempt to outwit the King of Zombies and his brain-dead 'gladiators.'

With SURVIVORS VS KING OF ZOMBIES, ZombiU features one-on-one competitive multiplayer modes, which tasks one player with controlling zombie hordes (Infected Units) using the Wii U GamePad, while the other player fights to survive in FPS view with either Wii controllers or the new Pro Controller.  The multiplayer features three exhilarating game modes including assault, death match and survival modes.

SURVIVORS VS KING OF ZOMBIES, is full-fledged multiplayer experience, with deep gameplay that will provide many hours of fun. The Wii U allowed us to create an exhilarating experience that can be shared by a hardcore gamer and a more casual player -- friend or family member -- without the latter becoming completely outmatched. Unlike the campaign, which offers a solo Survival Horror FPS experience, the 'King of Zombies' player uses the Wii U GamePad at a more relaxed pace. The gameplay is more about overall strategy than any  gamer reflexes honed over years…so it's more immediately accessible.

Our multiplayer modes are also a bridge for new players to get into the game before they acquire the courage to face the Infected hordes alone, while offering a more traditional first-person shooter experience using the Wii U Pro Game Controller or Wii Remote and Nunchuck. Even survival-horror fans will love blowing off some steam with a little running and gunning! *winks*


 

Cubed3: How challenging will the final game be? Will there be multiple difficulty settings?

Ubisoft: There are three difficulty settings: Normal, Survival and Chicken. Normal is the optimal survival-horror experience, ZombiU as it was was designed to be played for a credible survival experience in zombie territory. Survival mode is for experienced players whose ultimate reward is to beat a game with a thrillingly, seemingly impossible challenge. Just yesterday, the team was glued to a video transmission of one of our play-testers making an epic journey through the game. There's no greater reward for us either than to see him make it, daring death from moment-to-moment right down to the finish line and to see how great he felt to have surpassed himself constantly. And for those who are intimidated by all the hardcore discourse, but who really want to make it to the end…there's Chicken mode, for newbie survivors who shouldn't feel bad about wanting to play a great survivor horror and unique new gaming experience, even if they get shit for it from their "hardcore gamer" friends (it'll be our little secret *laughs*).
 
Cubed3: One-hit deaths and battling back to the place of death to pick up items is reminiscent of Dark Souls. Are there any specific games that ZombiU has taken inspiration from?
 
Ubisoft: Definitely games like Demon's Souls, Dark Souls, Resident Evil 0, Bioshock, Amnesia, Plants vs. Zombies

Cubed3: Can we expect any references, subtle or otherwise, to Ubisoft's original Zombi?
 
Ubisoft: ZombiU is not a sequel to Ubisoft's 1986 game Zombi, although the name is a wink and a smile at that first title. ZombiU is being developed by Ubisoft's Montpellier studio, the creators of award-winning games such as  Rayman Origins, From Dust and Peter Jackson's King Kong: The Official Game of the Movie and GRAW.
 
Cubed3: Is ZombiU entirely action-oriented, or is there a deeper story to uncover?

Ubisoft: It is 2012, the year of the apocalypse for the Mayans and many other cultures both old and new…London is falling in the wake of a terrifying Blight, an outbreak of a new form of virus of plague-like proportions. This is the second time a great plague has decimated the city; the first Great Plague of London happened centuries ago, in 1665, and only the Great Fire of London was able to wipe out the infection in the end.

Both of these apocalyptic events and the fire that follows have been foreseen by England's 16th Century Nostradamus -- Dr. John Dee. Dee was quite literally the Royal Magus or 'Wizard' to Queen Elizabeth the First. He is one of England's most reputed historical figures, at once revered and reviled in his lifetime as a brilliant mathematician, philosopher, spy and "sorcerer."  It is Dee's "Black Prophecy" (Dee is Welsh and means 'black'), which heralds this Last Great Blight in the fall of 2012…

The origin of this plague is in dispute—but it is Dr. Dee's research (on plague victims he had treated across Europe) and his quite literal conversations with God's angels, which may allow the player to discover the fabled Panacea and save humanity…

We stay in the flow of the storyline, guided by the mysterious Prepper and the other main characters into a deep and compelling story of conspiracy and betrayal that spans four Centuries.
 
The Black Prophecy is about to be realised… Be smart. Be prepared. I hope you survive!

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Nice read. Some parts looked like they were just copy-pasted by the Ubisoft guy, but it's no big deal.

Yeah, I'm thinking it was a case of them getting so many interviews in at the time that they must have got tired of repeating the same answers! Smilie At least there is a LOT of extra titbits included and it's certainly interesting to hear about how there are plenty of ideas floating around for a sequel. Let's hope that it doesn't take as long to appear as Red Steel II did, since they delay killed that sequel.

Adam Riley [ Operations Director :: Senior Editor :: Cubed3 Limited ]
Word of Adam | Voice123 Profile | AdamC3 on Twitter

First reviews are in... and they vary between 4 and 9. o_O

The biggest complaint is that it's too much survival and not enough action. You use your melee combat (the cricket bat) a lot, because ammo is scarce and guns attract more zombies. Most reviewers didn't like that.
Eurogamer on the other hand loved it and gave the game a 9 out of 10.

The game has been getting very mixed reviews, from the middle of the scale right to near the top of the scale. Has it killed my excitement for wanting to play this? No, not at all. I've always thought that this games would be one of those games which gets mixed reviews because it's designed with a certain audience in mind.

Going back to the roots of survival horror is definitely something I'm interested in. But I have one question for people who have played the game: Can you get other melee weapons besides the cricket bat? I know you start off with a cricket bat and pistol each time, I know you can find new guns, but can you also obtain new melee weapons?

If not, it isn't a huge problem, the game still looks great to me. Can't wait to finally get my hands on the Wii U. Only 12 days to go... Smilie

( Edited 18.11.2012 21:01 by Mush )

I was under the impression you could pick up all sorts of stuff, like police truncheons, etc...I'm sure I heard that somewhere. Not 100% sure, though.

The mixed reviews thing is quite interesting - there are some that will over-inflate the game due to it being the only really dark original game at launch, like what happened with Red Steel, and others going to the other extreme thinking that being overly harsh on it is a good thing.

From what I've played in early builds, it's a very solid survival horror game that does what RE5 and RE6 failed to do - add scares to the action. Looking at the GamePad to rummage through boxes, etc, may get annoying for some because zombies can maul you without warning, but in real life it'd probably be the same - attention drawn away? Prepare to be chomped on! You really need to have your wits about you throughout.

Adam Riley [ Operations Director :: Senior Editor :: Cubed3 Limited ]
Word of Adam | Voice123 Profile | AdamC3 on Twitter

Adam Riley said:
I was under the impression you could pick up all sorts of stuff, like police truncheons, etc...I'm sure I heard that somewhere. Not 100% sure, though.

The mixed reviews thing is quite interesting - there are some that will over-inflate the game due to it being the only really dark original game at launch, like what happened with Red Steel, and others going to the other extreme thinking that being overly harsh on it is a good thing.

From what I've played in early builds, it's a very solid survival horror game that does what RE5 and RE6 failed to do - add scares to the action. Looking at the GamePad to rummage through boxes, etc, may get annoying for some because zombies can maul you without warning, but in real life it'd probably be the same - attention drawn away? Prepare to be chomped on! You really need to have your wits about you throughout.


Thanks for your impressions on the game Adam, I thought I heard about picking up police truncheons, but the guy in the GameSpot review just kept complaining and complaining about using the cricket bat, so I was just wondering if you can pick up anything else.

Like I said, it doesn't really matter, it appears to be a great survival horror game. A lot better than what RE5 and 6 were, at least. I really like the fact that you are vunerable when you are doing something like trying to crack a lock on a door, or searching through your backpack - it really adds to the overall scare factor of the game.

As for comparisons with Red Steel, I fucking loved that game anyway. I'm not even ashamed to say it. The sword combat was nowhere near good, but I loved everything else. I went into that game with "launch goggles" on and I shall treat Zombi U in exactly the same manner. Can't wait to get my hands on it, tbh. Smilie

When you asked about the multiplayer bit he talked about King Boris and how he set up his own blood thirsty games. Is that a friendly nod to Boris Johnson and the Olympics lol. Please let King Boris look like a zombified Mayor

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