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Dead Rising 2 Has Lessons to Learn from Case Zero
by Nick Halme on 09/30/10 11:37:00 pm   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


When Dead Rising first came out it was...well, it was one of the few games you could play on the 360.  It wasn't great, but it squeaked by as something unique on a console that was still trying to find its identity.  Once in Vancouver, steeped in game design and the attending developers, it became apparent that it was -- like all Japanese games (and I'm not afraid to say that) tragically flawed.

Dead Rising created tension that wasn't there by forcing one slot saving in bathrooms, sending you on badly designed "save the suicidal zombie bait" quests with draconian time limits, and freely admitting that you would probably die and lose all your saves (with their persistent character progression, which they assumed people would use for multiple new game plus' after repeated failure).

While I've always seen game director Keiji Inafune as the only Japanese videogame figure that has some idea of what's going on in the West, it's still distinctly Japanese in its ways of saying to the player "No, fuck you - try again".

After starting up Dead Rising 2, I had to shut it off after ten minutes of muted zombie killing, after equal time spent watching terribly cheesy cutscenes.  On Twitter, @kweenie summed it up by saying "They made Dead Rising 1 with a different skin. They've learned nothing from that game's problems."

But for all that, I can't help but notice that they did learn from Dead Rising's problems -- they just didn't notice.  Because they made Case Zero.

The game industry, for being one full of people with sleep rings under their eyes, tattoos and wandering imaginations, is shepherded by The Dollar and its keepers.  What we've seen in the absence of The Suits (read: The Man) is an active independent community producing unique one-offs with a sharp focus on gameplay and creative business strategies that make sense in the digital shareware-rooted world of videogames.  

Case Zero is a five dollar chunk of content, with all of Dead Rising's core gameplay, but with a focus: You, your safehouse, your daughter, and zombies.  This is a zombie game.  After buying Dead Rising 2 I regret it -- Case Zero is a better experience.  Yet, it's believed that a game is supposed to be a certain entity, something with enough man-hour value imbued to be packaged and stocked on a store shelf alongside other equal servings of game experience.

But Dead Rising doesn't work as a 10-20 hour zombie slog full of Japanese-kitsch cliches.  Of course, it does for some people -- but I can only speak for myself.  There's a reason that, despite being a complex endeavour, Left 4 Dead is an anomoly: A co-op run through a zombie gauntlet.

What if, instead of working on a Dead Rising with new features, they had worked on a string of DLC worlds?  Different safehouse hubs, different cities, different items, different enemies -- and no time limit.  Dead Rising works as a game that never ends, because that's what the low-impact zombie bashing is -- a core gameplay grind for character skills, trapped inside an arbitrarily limiting traditional box, with the pretense of producing terror with a bag of tricks which are more adept at mindless hack and slash.

After those first hits against the zombies in Dead Rising 2 I was already tired.  I remembered all those hours of Dead Rising the first.  There I was, swinging a guitar at zombies, whacking them with an unsatisfying thump and twang eliciting the same spray of blood.  And for what?  A bad story?  Hell no -- not again.  

Without the hackles of "being a real, full length game"?  With meta-mechanics that allowed me to perform the RPG grind in peace and make my own adventure?  Hell yes.  By boxing up game concepts into sixty dollar products we've started taking the player's imagination and spirit of adventure out of the picture.  

What if I just want to see how long I can survive hopping cars over a zombie infested interstate highway with just a can of tuna and a machete?  That's what I want to create for myself, but Dead Rising 2 assumes I care what they want to make me do.

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Martin Khufu
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I disagree strongly I've been playing Dead Rising 2 for the last few days and its really entertaining. Much much better than the Left 4 Dead series.

The only thing I'm disappointed in is the story, the story in Dead Rising was a lot better than the story in Dead Rising 2.

You mentioned there were a lot of problems that wasn't addressed but you only really mentioned the annoying save problem. I wouldn't really call it a problem myself but I find the saving in bathrooms quite interesting despite being annoying it would be too easy for the player just to have autosave from time to time.

Eric Cartman
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They are completely different game genres. I would call Dead Rising a hack-and-slash game about random missions and encounters. Left 4 Dead is a linear co-op shooter. Dead Rising is about killing zombies in fun ways, a perfect example being the weapon combos in DR2. Its about helping survivors back to the safehouse, and killing the nutjobs in the area.

Left 4 Dead is about working together as a team of four to survive a battery of, in my opinion, amazing AI. Its about teamwork at its core. And its characters.

They have completely different goals as games, so to say one is better than the other is stupid. The only thing they have in common is the fact that they both have zombies.

Matt Christian
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Good blog/review!

Quite awhile ago (before DR2 was announced) I picked up the first game through Games on Demand for Xbox. Only recently have I focused on it enough to get through the story (which was extremely aggrivating at times).

I also recently picked up Case Zero in anticipation for the 2nd game in the series.

From what you've mentioned though, I won't be getting DR2 as I was completely annoyed by the first game at times (including overly difficult bosses and the whole single save snafu). Especially since I'm a perfectionist, it's dumb when a game gives you 2 quests and only allows you to physically complete one of them.

Amir Sharar
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I am a perfectionist as well, but I think you have to change your mental paradigm to accept the save system, and subsequently the rest of the game.

By leveling your character up, boss battles become significantly easier your 2nd and 3rd attempt and you are able to perform multiple quests at once as your speed and efficiency increases.

Justin Speer
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" became apparent that it was -- like all Japanese games (and I'm not afraid to say that) tragically flawed"

So you're not afraid to look ignorant with broad generalizations. Congrats. It's admirable to stand up for your opinions even if you understand they're likely to be unpopular, but come on.

Definitely stick to your ideals, but get out there and play some more games. You'll have a better idea of what you're talking about and people are likely to take you more seriously.

Mike Weldon
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I could not disagree more with your assessment of Dead Rising. That game alone makes me glad I bought an XBox 360.

"created tension that wasn't there by forcing one slot saving"

I could just as easily say that other games diffuse tension that should be there by allowing you to save and restore your game at any time. It works both ways.

To go away from the original formula that made the original game unique would be akin to remaking X-Com as a first-person shooter. Maybe these games just aren't your thing.

Nick Halme
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@Martin Khufu

It's a bigger rag against the game than you think. It *would* be much easier with an autosave system...a good way to get the player to respect your core gameplay, even if it is repetitive with no immediate goals, is by introducing artificial difficulty. This is a very Japanese design choice, although devs like Platinum don't resort to it (perhaps you could call them new school). Saving is not in itself difficult, but making death a huge time waster makes the so-so combat exponentially more tense (not exactly the same as fun).

I'd appreciate it if you didn't take my comments as "I hate the game". I don't. I'm pointing out some flaws, and then pointing to a method of delivery that makes more sense for the gameplay. Trying to defend the game and calling my opinion wrong doesn't do anything for me.

@Justin Speer

I make a point to buy and play games I actively dislike, and that includes games like Final Fantasy, Metal Gear Solid and Armored Core. But then, while I do enjoy the Devil May Cry series, Lost Planet, Bayonetta, Ninja Gaiden and Resident Evil, they do some pretty strange things. Ninja Gaiden is the most forthright in forcing pattern memorization that wouldn't be out of place in Ikaruga, and it's just as hard. It's still fun, but it can get painful and not fun quickly. Lost Planet seems to want players to lose their balance on hillsides and fall to the bottom, or spend twenty seconds in a cloud of dust, or be air juggled by a rocket launcher. These are things the game is *doing* to the player, things that are forced -- and Japanese games are jam packed full of arbitrary rules. That doesn't make them bad necessarily, but it does, well, make them Japanese games.

Armored Core, Metal Gear Solid, and Resident Evil (and DR shares this with RE) have what seem like intentionally awkward core controls that force the player to fight against his own movement and targeting in order to create difficulty. Devil May Cry is, actually, maybe the exception here -- the core controls are responsive and tight, like Ninja Gaiden, and the enemies are creative and force players to adapt their play style to new challenges. They can still be artificially difficult thanks to unforgiving health systems and enemy damage, but the controls are not trying to fight you.

Dead Rising is a pretty big culprit. Your weapons break very quickly, never letting you pick a weapon of choice (without weapon breaks, that one limiting mechanic, Dead Rising becomes a fun hack and slash rather than a careful path clearing game). Every time you're shot, you're taken out of your ranged aim cam. Why? Because it makes it more difficult - not more fun. The design focuses around meta-rules that inhibit player freedom rather than finding a way to put that thrill into the core combat loop. This is the sort of tragic flaw that Japanese games have; it's a methodology and a way of thinking -- one that clearly some people, and possibly most if not all Japanese gamers, agree with. But judging from what I've learned in the West, if Dead Rising were developed by Microsoft internally for instance, there would be a long list of user experience issues to deal with. Traditionally the Japanese like their games directed; MGS and DMC with their locked, directed cameras for instance. I recall an interview with Inafune where he suggested that if you gave a Japanese gamer a GTA game they would put it in, see that there was no primary objective and that they could go anywhere, and then turn it off -- they don't want to go anywhere.

I would also point you to the following:

@Mike Weldon

That's your opinion, but save systems should generally exist outside of the game. They are not gameplay. Your network connection should not suddenly fail while you're on a killing spree because it "creates tension"; the game needs more work to create tension within the game space -- forcing a single save slot and arbitrary save locations is the easiest (and cheapest) way to create tension.

I used to think it was a genius mechanic, before I was taught a class by the creative director from Relic, and he told me straight to my face that it was not a mechanic at all. I now agree with that.

Changing the format of a game is not similar to changing genres. Dead Rising and Case Zero are both within the same genre, both contain the same core mechanics. What is different is the pretense behind the player's actions because of the lack of rigid mission structure, literal size/amount of content, and more free roaming attitude. X COM is a switch from top down tactics to an FPS, retaining only the IP -- that has nothing to do with this.

I think there is a tendency to see criticism toward something you enjoy and respond with "I disagree -- see, nobody agrees, so you are wrong!" -- keep in mind that this is my opinion, and I can tell you -- I'm not lying to you about my opinion.

Amir Sharar
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"That's your opinion, but save systems should generally exist outside of the game. They are not gameplay."

It was never part of the gameplay in Dead Rising. The save system in DR exists simply because someone is not able to complete it in one go, as it would take hours to complete the game.

It is not a mechanic of the game, it is simply a feature for player convenience, just like all save systems.

The only game mechanic present is the "New Game Plus" ability, which allows those who died to try again with the experience they accumulated. Which I do think is an excellent feature. If people found the game overly difficult the first time, they can try again, and when they try again they are able to explore a bit more as they are familiar with the play area.

Nick Halme
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I think it comes off as being used as a game mechanic. A traditional "save as you go" model, or even just providing more save locations -- or more save slots in the same bathrooms -- would reveal that without the existing save system, you wouldn't run the risk of losing a lot of progress on death. You'd be worried about losing combats, not about having to replay missions you've already finished.

My stance with Case Zero is that it has none of that baggage. For all my ranting, Dead Rising is still a good game -- the criticism is coming from the point of view that it could benefit greatly from taking the focus off of playing carefully because of the save system, and put more emphasis on gameplay adventures (ie letting the player roam more, put some other goal in there for killing zombies -- a lot of people end up avoiding them).

It's not a broken game, it's just got some flaws that started to be addressed with Case Zero -- only Case Zero wasn't a "serious" release; just a lead up and essentially an extended demo for DR 2. Some sort of episodic approach would fit DR well.

Amir Sharar
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" wouldn't run the risk of losing a lot of progress on death. You'd be worried about losing combats, not about having to replay missions you've already finished."

But that is the point of the game. Replaying missions with an upgraded character is an incredibly fun experience.

Which is why I consider the "New Game Plus" as a mechanic, because it does serve to enhance gameplay and increase the enjoyment of the title.

Whereas "save" is simply only done to save your progress.

I think people who are having issues with how the save system works need to play the game with a completely different mindset.

Think of it much like Super Mario Bros. Once you are out of lives you are done. In this case you only have one life. Prepare to play through the game many times over. Though unlike SMB, you can save your progress as you cannot be expected to sit in front of the TV for hours. It's much like pausing SMB during a safe part of the level so you can play it from there as you came back from school. :)

Now you may be aware of this, so the problem this is your hesitance to embrace this sort of game. I am interested in why you feel like this way and I can only guess why, based on what some of my friends said prior to playing it "properly". You may feel that starting from the beginning will be a chore, would be repetitive, or would be pointless. The truth is that it is neither of these things.

What makes this work is that the game is fun to play over from the very beginning. This is accomplished by giving you the ability to play with your increased stats. With increased speed and attack stats, for example, a player is able to breeze through earlier missions where they initially had troubles with. Bosses can be defeated in mere seconds rather than minutes.

Missions were abundant and seemingly overwhelming to me at first, but as I played through with increased stats (ultimately I died 7 times, meaning that I replayed the game 7 times) I was able to complete many missions simultaneously. You claim that the time limits are "draconian", but when playing through the game with increased speed the time limits are very fair if not extremely forgiving.

So I think this is less of a problem with Dead Rising and more of a problem of user expectations. They've designed a very classical sort of game akin to Ninja Gaiden or even SMB on the NES, neither game can be finished on your first attempt. But to keep things fresh they allow you to play as an upgraded character, allowing you to breeze through parts that you previously had troubles with.

Today's gamers are expecting scenarios that give them "unlimited lives", which is what "game saves" now serve as, as a mechanic.

A game save gives a person unlimited lives because it gives them a chance to resume from a point where they were safe without having to play from the beginning.

So I really think this debate and your article is all about "unlimited lives" in today's games, and how you feel that the lack of unlimited lives is a design choice that is flawed.

Mike Weldon
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Do you ever play MMO's? Basically those games save your progress every time you log out, but there are situations where it doesn't. Most instanced dungeons, aside from raids with timed lockouts, are designed to be run through in one sitting. If you don't have time to finish or your network drops or your group breaks up, you lose. Are you suggesting that this is a flawed mechanic too? Ever play Diablo? You can save your character's progression, but not the world. If you quit, you have to start over back in town.

We are all entitled to our opinions, but you seem to be discrediting anything outside of your areas of preference by calling them "flawed" or "not a mechanic at all". I can see why these mechanics make it more difficult, and I don't believe you can apply them to just any game, but I feel they are necessary in this particular game in order to force the player's actions to have any risk at all. It is not a survival game. It is game where you have to manage the clock and manage the amount of risk you are willing to take between safe areas (save locations).

I won't deny that it is an artificial way to increase difficulty. I put it in the same category with Nethack where you can save anywhere, but there is only one save slot and if you die, it deletes your save game. It is a cheap mechanic, but if you take it away, it makes it a completely different game and you lose the thing that makes the game unique. If you take away the "draconian" time limits and allow free saves, you would be left with a 6-hour zombie beat-em-up with no risk of ever failing at anything. There are other games that you can play that are exactly that. DR is different and that doesn't make it flawed.

Nick Halme
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Of course. I think there is a contract with MMOs -- this is live. You're playing with other people. That said, WoW has implemented a save state system to their dungeons, saving enemies killed. It's a design problem; Blizzard addressed it.

Additionally, I'm saying that when you subtract the save system limitations, you beef up the combat and its goals. Maybe, like Case Zero, the clear and primary, constant goal, is moving to different areas to find Zombrex. Maybe you're attacking camps of human NPCs for their food, then escaping through zombie territory. Think MMO quests that don't have to follow a linear storyline. DR is a very traditionally structured game with core mechanics that are sturdy enough to exist in the smaller DLC world.

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DR is a niche game (which I and a lot of other people really enjoy) so it is kind of silly to use it as a basis to generalize that all Japanese games are tragically flawed. Is that really true of Mario Galaxy? Zelda? Demon's Souls? SSF4? Prof Layton? Bayonetta? Persona? Castlevania? MGS? Gran Turismo? Pokemon?

Really? Try to be a little more open minded; no offense but it sounds like you have a lot to learn.

Nick Halme
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DR is a niche game because of its game design. Do you think Capcom wants it to serve a smaller audience? A niche game might be a complement to the gamers that covet it, but no to the studio that wants to keep being a studio.

I should have also been more clear about genre. You name a few games there that are exclusively Japanese. Street Fighter and Pokemon don't have Western counterparts (in the sense that Street Fighter influenced Western fighting games, and turn-based strategy is by and large Japanese in origin, going back as far as I know to something like Ogre Battle). This is probably a comparison for some other post, but I was speaking to game with contemporaries -- comparing say Resident Evil to Gears of War and how the game design instructs players.

So, Japanese games are developed, chiefly, by Japanese developers -- next to "the West", Japan is "the other" center for game development; a center that has developed its own thinking from the ground up aside Western practices. You could argue that the U.K. is another center for game development, but I think it can be fit into "the Western way of thinking".

To say that Japanese games are all fundamentally flawed is hyperbole, but I think it's necessary to get my stance across -- these certain trends (mechanics, feature sets, amount and type of content) are endemic to that culture. While something like Gran Turismo might not differ in its methodologies from Forza, it's the exception (ie. racing games from everywhere in the world are very similar in construction).

Saying this seems to have been taken as discrimination, supposing that because the vast majority of Japanese games feel differently, play differently, and are generally quickly distinguishable from Western games, this means that Western games have no flaws. Western games, with the way that development hive mind has grown up, has its own trends (and problems). But this article isn't about Western game design.

Something that games like Persona, Zelda, Demon's Souls (especially), MGS, Mario -- the vast majority -- all share in common are a few things:

Punishment: Player death is often a focus; I believe even something so recent as Vanquish has not picked up regenerating health (ala Halo, CoD). Modern Japanese games in this way are similar to older titles like a Castlevania, or an older Mario. Dead Rising holds death over your head for what seems like a strange reason: player fear leads to less combat, gravitation towards running through zombie hordes rather than fighting, and generally a feeling of holding your breath between save areas. Whereas Western games have come to a point where, on the whole, death is not a game over but a bump in the road (leading to experimentation), Japanese games trend toward telling the player that he should be very, very careful about dying - because it could end your game.

Direction over player control: A Fallout 3 or GTA is something you won't find in Japan. Don't interpret that as "Japan isn't 'with it' enough, to like these games" but rather take it as "These are not Japanese games". Japanese games trend towards linear progression, and guide players in many ways. Camera control is often not given to the player, which would be odd in a modern Western game (sans God of War, Dante's Inferno).

Character first: Not all Japanese influences are devices that are off-putting to Westerners. Mario is a great example of designing the player's avatar first, and developing a complementary world around the character. The modern Ninja Gaidens are another example.

But the issue is that Japanese games so often tend to follow a similar formula -- it's like it's now accepted that there are certain ways to construct a game. This is perhaps reflected in there being, as far as I know, zero game content DLC for Japanese games. Whereas you might have a map pack, mission pack, or expansion content being delivered for modern Western games, SF IV might give you skins. That's maybe another issue altogether, but it supports the fact that Japanese games have become (or rather stayed) very traditional.

Studios like Platinum are very forward thinking, but are still beholden to some conventions. The obligatory (but not fun!) puzzle solving amidst a game that's been developed for its combat (Bayonetta), or the fact that there are very traditional multi-stage boss fights in Vanquish that seem very out of place in the Western-influenced realm of cover based shooters.

Saying "I have a lot to learn" is not a contribution to this discussion, as you'd seem to disagree that Japanese games are developed in Japan by Japanese developers (who do, by the way, dislike many Western games and their methodologies) leading them to be different (and at times nonsensical to someone raised on Western games).

I like to always come back to Itagaki's use of taunting the player on death or by choosing low difficulty settings (telling the player to move down to "Ninja Dog" if they die thrice) -- that's something that the very Microsoftian, user-experience-concerned West would be afraid to do. It makes players put down their controllers. I still wonder how so many people can call Mario casual, as I've always found it to be one of the most difficult games -- I've always died and been forced to start over before seeing all the content. Western games and their "quick-save every five steps" concepts also have their problems, but you can see what I'm aiming for when pointing out that many of the problems Dead Rising as a franchise suffers from are Japanese conventions -- conventions that, to me, provide for a bad experience.

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You got a lot of heart guy. Keep learning and maybe you can form some more coherent theories; there are indeed a lot of differences between many East and West games but I think you've made some poor generalizations and your history is off. To wit:

Given that Capcom saw the sales of DR before they greenlit a fairly similar sequel don't you think they had a good idea of the sales they were looking at with DR2? Also don't forget DR2 was actually developed in Vancouver.

Turn based strategy has its roots in table top games like Chess and Go. Even turn based strategy video games were mainly western for years, and even now are developed all over the globe

Fighting games have been widely developed in the west since SF2 broke the ice (see Mortal Kombat and Fight Night, wrestling games too).

Resident Evil 4 inspired Gears of War quite a bit

L4D doesn't have regenerating health and it seems to do pretty well don't you think? That sort of mechanic does not define a genre or need to be present in every game.

You seem to have the wrong idea about DR; hordes of zombies are never a life threat in that game, they are a sand box to play in (and the method to leveling in DR2). The real threat is the time limit which is usually the motivator to run past hordes.

Death mechanics (and lose conditions in general) are a tool in game design, not a dogma. Demon's Souls fantastic use of death, bodies, souls, and saves should prove that beyond a doubt.

Some of the earliest open world games were Japanese: Zelda and Metroid, JRPGs Some modern Japanese incarnations are the Kengo and Yakuza series.

3D camera control in 3rd person games was pretty much codified by Mario 64 but 3D games do not always benefit from manual camera control; God of War and Prince of Persia should have driven that point home for everybody.

Ninja Gaiden was one of the first games to offer DLC on Xbox Live; Resident Evil 5 has substantial DLC expansion too, so it isn't as drastic as you claim.

Mixing puzzle and action gameplay is hardly significant; Raph Koster's 'A Theory of Fun' posits that all games are inherently puzzles.

Multi-stage boss fights are something that Western shooters have mostly missed out on, but I don't think those games are the better for it. Very few Western developers can manage a good boss fight.

I'm not sure why I wrote all this for you, but I sure hope it helps. Japanese developers are still a powerful and entertaining force in the west, and we should continue to learn from their many strengths.