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Q&A: Capcom Vancouver On Expanding The Universe Of  Dead Rising 2
Q&A: Capcom Vancouver On Expanding The Universe Of Dead Rising 2 Exclusive
September 12, 2011 | By Brandon Sheffield, Tom Curtis

September 12, 2011 | By Brandon Sheffield, Tom Curtis
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When Capcom Vancouver (formerly Blue Castle Games) set out to create the sequel to the quirky zombie brawler Dead Rising, the team didn't stop with just one game. Rather, Dead Rising 2 saw two additional releases, Case Zero and Case West, which served as standalone, downloadable extensions to the proper game.

Even after this trio of games, Capcom Vancouver still isn't done expanding on the Dead Rising 2 universe. The studio is currently working on a new title dubbed Dead Rising 2: Off The Record, a "what-if" retelling of the sequel starring Dead Rising 1 protagonist Frank West.

Gamasutra recently spoke with the game's executive producer, Jason Leigh, about the origins of this odd pseudo-sequel, as well as the design and production processes that go into creating the absurd undead adventure.

So can you talk about the brand strategy behind all of the Dead Rising 2s, and all the content that's coming out about this game? I mean, well it's like Dead Rising 2 is a series in a way.

Yeah, I think that Dead Rising 2 was definitely a big title for Capcom, a big title for us, Blue Castle -- now Capcom Vancouver, and we knew that we really wanted to throw everything at the wall with it.

With Case Zero and Case West, we were trying something very different -- doing a prologue and an epilogue and supporting the game in that way, rather than doing a traditional demo. Now we're following that up with Off The Record -- which started its life as a director's cut of Dead Rising 2, but turned into this reimagining of the game -- it's been really cool to work on it, and it's definitely become sort of an enterprise all in itself; the Dead Rising 2 package. But Off The Record kind of caps it off well, I think.

Was this all part of the initial plan, or has it been kind of evolving organically? The prologue and all of this, I mean.

The prologue and epilogue were definitely part of the plan from the beginning. Off The Record was part of the plan in terms of being a director's cut of the game. Because Capcom has a long history of successful director's cuts going back to the Resident Evil series, and we wanted to give that treatment to the Dead Rising franchise.

And then the interesting thing that happened was the whole fan response to our decision to take Frank out of the series and put Chuck in, and that's where the idea came from.

Could you talk a little bit about building the brand versus confusing the brand? Like having this variety of products and getting them all in line with each other instead of stratifying people?

I guess the only way that I can answer that is to think of it in terms of being a gamer. And for me, having Case Zero there to play in advance and get up to speed on the new hero, how that character and the levels and everything carry over into the main game, and then have the epilogue as the capper I think was a really nice, new and unique progression through the game.

This new game might seem a little bit odd to fans -- that it's a reimagining as opposed to a director's cut -- but it's the kind of thing that I think I would accept if there was another series that I was a fan of, I think that I would accept it and play it and accept it for what it was.

And then of course once Dead Rising 2 has run its course, I would be asking the question of what's beyond that -- which don't bother asking because I can't answer. [laughs]

[laughs] I presumed. I can't remember the exact specifics of it, but someone from your team previously discussed some of the tools being used for the game. Can you talk a little bit about what these tools allow the team to do?

Yeah, that would've been Tom Niwinski, our technical director on Off The Record. But yeah, the tools that were put in place for testing and balancing the game are incredible. Basically, it's telemetry, so what we can do at any given point is gather data on anything that we want from a number of playthroughs from testers, designers, and so on.

So we can see how many times this weapon been used in the world, how many times this weapon been in someone's hand, and where they press the X button to attack. And then that basically drops pinpoints on the map, and we can bring the map up and see a sort of heat map of where all those instances occur. And what that allows us to do is sort of page through and see if the weapons are being used enough, too much, whether there are exploits going on, those sort of things.

Same thing with the zombie kills -- player deaths is always a good one to look at. You can see whether or not there are hotspots where we say, "okay, players seem to be dying here a lot; why is that?" Typically it's because that's where a boss encounter occurs, and those are usually the spikes in difficulty. But yeah, all of that information just makes, it takes some of the guesswork out of figuring out whether or not your game is balanced.

And how do you find yourselves using that information usually? What sorts of decisions do you have to make there?

Difficulty is one of the big ones for sure. But part of it, too, is in trying to figure out whether the game is balanced in terms of variety. In the places where we find, say, one weapon is being used a lot, we try and go and figure why that is, because part of Dead Rising is that there are 300+ weapons in the game, and we want all of those weapons to be used.

And if we find that the only weapon someone ever uses in this area is the spiked bat, well why is that? Is it because there's a combo room right there with the tools to make that; is it because there are too many of them in the world?

What are your strategies for spawning in new zombies without making it feel unnatural? What challenges do you face from a tech standpoint?

Well, one of the conventions of Dead Rising is it's a load zone based game. It isn't one giant streaming world, and every time you go from one load zone into another, there's a zombie and item spawn that occurs. And one of the things that you learn as a player is that you might've used up your favorite weapons in there, [and] if you head out and then you come back you can actually get those things again.

One important thing to note for Off The Record is that we really wanted to make sure that the load times were improved this time around -- because that was a complaint from reviewers and from fans -- and we felt it ourselves.

Right from the very beginning of developing this one, we went back into the tech and figured out what were the worst case offenders and what is it about the player experience that felt sludgy, and went in and made sure to hammer on all of those load times. And the end result right now is that the game feels like it has way more fluidity when playing it. And even though still it's a load zone based game -- you're still loading between these areas -- the loads are pretty quick and you don't feel that you have to sit here and look at a screen for 30 seconds.

Do you think people are ever going to get tired of zombies? It hasn't quite happened yet, I mean there's definitely some burnout in terms of press and critics, but fans don't seem to have slowed their appetite for zombies that much yet.

Right now it seems to be all about zombies, vampires, and superheroes. And the vampire thing may be on the wane a little bit, maybe a little bit of backlash from the whole Twilight thing. But zombies are huge right now, and for zombie fans, that's awesome.

It's awesome that there's so much out there -- the TV shows and movies and games and so on. And I love it, I love series like The Walking Dead, I think they done a great job with that series. And of course, there's Resident Evil and Left 4 Dead, it's really cool.


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