Editor: Jonathan Bester
Photographer: Darryl Linington
This year at rAge 2012 we had the honour and privilege to meet and chat with two of the development members of Ubisoft Montpellier. Nicolas Robin Associate Producer and Mounir Radi Snr. Game Designer/Lead Content Designer made a special trip down to South Africa to tell their South African audience a little more about their new game ZombieU, which is being released the same time as the Nintendo Wii U as part of their release lineup.
Jonathan: Is there any specific reason why you chose London as the location for ZombiU?
Nicolas: We had tried different cities, such as New York, but we decided to move to London because we liked the look and feel of it. There are many landmarks and the atmosphere was just right for an apocalyptic setting. It’s very dark, narrow and there is plenty of rain and it was actually very good for what we had in mind. This is not your traditional survival horror as told in the United States, it is old Europe and it is mysterious and it was kind of sexy to use. London has also been in the spotlight a lot lately, especially with the Olympic Games
Jonathan: Give us a little more background as to how long it takes you to put a game like this together, give us the steps you need to follow that brings us to the end product.
Mounir: We were going for a very fast paced feel and yet our goal was to rethink survival horror and it took us a little time to do that. All in all we’d have to say about two years. From prototypes straight to combat.
Nicolas: Yes, it was great finding good mechanics. We started with fast paced mechanics but then we wanted to slow it down, especially utilising the two screens. We didn’t want the player to just play on the TV, so we introduced the Wii U Gamepad into the mix. We tried to bring new mechanics to the player, especially by introducing new interactions in the environment. We really rethought the atmosphere, especially where interactions are concerned. Adding a lot more steps to how you go about doing things. All using the Wii U Gamepad.
Jonathan: Ubisoft Montpellier is well known for bringing us such titles as the Rayman series, Beyond Good & Evil and other such adventure titles. What prompted the change to the survival horror genre?
Mounir: We have worked on many games before. Montpellier is mainly a creative studio and we don’t want to restrict ourselves to any one specific genre. So the move to survival horror was quite an easy one. Whereas other studios, like Montreal focus more on your action packed games, we like to focus on anything creative. People need to create other things.
Nicolas: Throughout everything we are a creative studio, and we took our past experience with first-person-shooters and combined it with survival horror to create something truly unique.
Jonathan: How did you find developing with a new controller in mind as opposed to the controllers of the current generation consoles?
Mounir: It was quite interesting because we had to rethink the way we play games, especially survival horror. When the survivor is checking his inventory or aiming with his crossbow, he needs to use the Wii U Gamepad to do this. You can also pick locks and use security keypads with the Wii U Gamepad. This really brings an interesting new way of playing a game like this.
Jonathan: Can you reveal at this time if there will be any DLC or expansion material coming to ZombieU after launch?
Nicolas: The possibility of adding DLC exists, but we are unable to reveal at this time whether there will or won’t be any forthcoming DLC.
Jonathan: We have learned through the Developer Dairies so far that there is a larger overarching story-arc which will shed a bit more light as to the cause of the infection, but can we expect to see this evolve into something much larger, or possibly leading into sequels as with previous Ubisoft titles?
Nicolas: The way we have developed the story, there is certainly room for ZombiU to stretch out into more games. We have plenty of material that was not utilised during this game that we really would like to make us of in future games.
Jonathan: We know that a lot of passion, determination and creativity go into a video game. What sets ZombiU apart from other games out there? What makes it special?
Mounir: What sets ZombiU apart is the new features introduced while using the Wii U Gamepad along with several other features, including the fact that you play the game as different survivor everytime the previous one dies. You then have to go and kill this survivor, who is now a zombie, in order to get your stuff back. Another new thing that has been introduced, and that we are really proud of is the fact that if you pick something up with one character, and you go back to that area, that object is no longer there, it will be on the body of the zombiefied character. Also, there is a bit of an RPG element, whereby if your character becomes strong with melee, then those attributes will stay, even after death, which will make the zombie that much harder to kill. Lastly, anything that you improve yourself on, will remain with you until the end of the game irrespective of which survivor you are playing as.
Jonathan: Here’s a behind the scenes question for you guys. Can you tell us a bit about the working environment of Ubisoft Montpellier? What do you guys do for fun around the office?
Nicolas: We are gamers at heart, and when we are not working we like to hang out, go for a drink, play video games, especially the football games. We are very competitive in the office and we regularly hold in office gaming tournaments to try and see who the best of the best is.
Jonathan: Is this your first time in South Africa? If so, what do you like most about it? Is there anything special you would like to do while you are here?
Nicolas: This is our first time in South Africa but because we are still to finish ZombieU, we unfortunately do not have the time to see your beautiful country. We really would like to come back once the game is done. Who knows? Maybe we might be back for rAge next year.
Jonathan: Lastly, what inspired you to get into video game development?
Nicolas: I used to be an engineer, and I was involved in managerial type work, in fact, I worked for many years in the engineering field, but my passion for games eventually got the better of me and I started developing games. I remember growing up with the Commodore 64 and playing games like Loderunner. That is where my passion really started.
Jonathan: Lastly, do you have any final words for our readers?
Mounir: We would really encourage people trying out ZombieU to try and finish the game with one survivor.
Jonathan: Will there be any sort of reward for doing this?
Mounir: That is a secret. But you might just be surprised at what you might find.