After mounting zombies to fireworks and shooting them in the sky, I sat down with Jason Leigh, Dead Rising 2: Off the Record’s executive producer, to discuss Frank West’s take on Fortune City. Late in the interview, Leigh who works at Capcom Vancouver shared one piece of advice Capcom Japan gave to his team. It’s important for a Dead Rising game to have some weapons that are designed just to play with zombies. That’s likely part of the reason why the Pegasus – fireworks taped to a horse toy – were created for Off the Record.
Why did you want to revisit Dead Rising 2 with Frank West as the main character?
Jason Leigh, Executive Producer: The interesting story about how Off the Record came about is it was first conceived as kind of a director’s cut to Dead Rising 2. We started to go down that path, but when Dead Rising 2 was announced with the character of Chuck Greene, there was a bit of fan backlash of why are you getting rid of Frank? He’s the hero of the franchise, he should be in the second game.
We felt really confident with Chuck, we knew the fans would eventually gravitate to Chuck when they learned about his story and the gameplay he would bring to the series. We changed the direction of the Director’s Cut because we realized there is some opportunity here, rather than do a traditional director’s cut, what if we re-imagined or re-envisioned the game where Frank is the hero. All sorts of story possibilities come into play automatically. Plus there is gameplay with Frank’s camera. It really came from the fans.
Since Dead Rising 2 is in the hands of fans now, did you make any other changes to Dead Rising 2 due to their reaction post-play?
Yeah, we paid a lot of attention to the forums and Dead Rising is a fan-favorite franchise. It’s a franchise driven by fans and we felt it was important to listen to fans and pick up on some key things in the forums. Things like load times, which were called out as problematic, we drastically reduced them.
The checkpoint system is something that came out of feedback as well. Some people thought the save system was a little bit too harsh. So, we put in a checkpoint system that saves after key story events and boss battles. Beyond that, lots of little turning to the game. Difficulty turning for some of the bosses, the chef was called out as being brutally difficult. He’s been toned down a little bit.
Did you tweak how many zombies can appear on the screen?
We’ve upped the zombie density this time around. When we first started showing the game at Captivate a couple of years ago, on one level we had 7,000 zombies on the screen. What we found in Dead Rising 2 that was not actually practical in an environment because it was just too dense. This time around, because we made Frank a tougher character right at the beginning and we gave him more cool weapons that do a lot more damage, we actually managed to up the zombie density and have the world be a little more dangerous for him.
How many more zombies than Dead Rising 2 would you say, as an estimate?
In places, we upped the density by at least 30%. There are probably a few thousand zombies in any one environment.
What kind of new weapons does Frank have to combat the larger zombie horde?
Some of the new weapons we put in are… very destructive. We have two new weapons that are derived from a tennis ball machine. One of those you combine with a saw blade, you can shoot saw blades out of a tennis ball machine. Another one is a tennis ball machine and motor oil. That one shoots flaming tennis balls. The cool thing about that one is instead of shooting in an arc like Freedom Bear, this one rotates in a 360 degree pattern that kills all of the zombies around the place.
Aside from fighting zombies, what is Frank doing in Fortune City?
He’s in Fortune City to try to get his fame back. After Dead Rising 1 and the Willamette Incident he became very famous. He had a book and a talk show, but his career went down the toilet. He arrives in Fortune City as a competitor on Terror is Reality as a special guest zombie killer. Through the course of coming to Fortune City and being involved with the next outbreak, he realizes once again there is a conspiracy behind why this is happening and why the outbreak is caused. The missions in the story have been changed quite heavily from Dead Rising 2. It’s very Frank focused, it’s his story as a photo journalist. The camera comes into play in the missions and solving the story.
Will any other characters from Dead Rising return?
We’re not revealing a lot of details on the story yet, but we definitely have a surprise or two in store.
How is Frank’s camera used in the game?
Not only is his camera the signature device and helps him earn PP. The camera is involved with him solving missions. In one mission right at the very beginning where he sees the exchange of a bomb for money and he has to cover this with photographs to complete the mission.
Also, Frank is a man of action. He gets in there and roughs people up and there are lots of bosses and psychos he encounters in the story as well, but the camera is an integral part.
Is this story a what-if scenario or is it canon?
It’s definitely a what-if, a parallel universe. Canon would be more of the Dead Rising 2 story with Chuck Greene and how that launched into the Case West story as well. This was just an interesting opportunity, like I said earlier, to try something very different where what-if Frank was in Fortune City.
Will there still be multiple endings?
Yes, this is still a Dead Rising game. It’s still the convention of a sandbox on a clock. All of the Dead Rising games so far have branch points where if you do it a certain way you get a certain ending. There is replayability where is players try things a slightly different way they may find a different ending.
Will any of these endings hint towards a different franchise?
Can’t talk about that yet.
What kind of new combo weapons will we see in Off the Record?
The demo at E3 has a new theme park area and we designed new normal weapons to support the park. We’ve got garbage cans that are shaped like escape pods and so on. We also have five our new combo weapons and these are some of the most fun ones I think we’ve ever put in the Dead Rising series. One of them is the Pegasus, a pony on the stick with fireworks on it, what Frank does is take it, impales a zombie, and then the fireworks go off launching the zombie up in the air where it explodes. That one is a lot of fun. Once you use a combo weapon on a zombie you can pull out the camera and take a picture to earn PP on that.
The cryopod is the garbage can combined with fire extinguishers. When you put that on a zombie’s head, the fire extinguishers go off and it hovers over the ground. As it hovers and passes zombies, it freezes those zombies until it goes off and shatters them all.
Is the theme park area the only new area in Off the Record?
It’s the one new full area that we added to the game, but we’ve made sure to go in and add little surprises to the rest of the environment as well. We put a few new psychopaths in the game, nothing that we can talk about it. These are probably some of the most audacious ones we’ve put in the game so far.
How did Capcom Vancouver come up with stuff like the Pegasus?
A lot of the weapons in Dead Rising 2 came from trips to hardware stores. We walk around and look at different tools and say that would be great for killing zombies. One of the things that Capcom Japan, the production team that originally worked on Dead Rising 1, kept saying to us was – "It’s not only about killing zombies, you’ve got to figure out some weapons that are funny, some weapons that play with zombies."
One of the beauties of Dead Rising is it’s not a serious zombie killing game like Resident Evil per se, the humor is a big part of it. Silly things that you can put on their heads. The pony on the stick where you can impale them, those kind of ideas I think make the game a lot of fun.
One thing we discovered early was it wasn’t a lot fun to take two weapons that were deadly by themselves and make another deadly weapon. It was fun to take weapons that were quite useless, but then combine those together to make those quite deadly rather than a base weapon like an axe or sword. A lot of it came down to what objects would be in environment like this, then it came to a mix and match. Most of the time it wouldn’t be interesting, but other times you would surprise yourself.
You mentioned some things you learned from Capcom Japan, but what did Capcom Japan learn from watching your team develop Dead Rising?
We feel like we’ve taken the series as ours, we feel like we own it now. We’re still guided by Capcom Japan, but we take it very personally that this is our franchise and these are our games to build. I think with Dead Rising 2, not only did we bring technology to it, but we brought a lot of Westernization to the game. Simple things like not being able to move while shooting was one of the first things we insisted had to change to for Dead Rising 2. Also, making the game a little more Western and user friendly.