Publisher Deep Silver unveiled Dead Island 2 in 2014, and Los Angeles was the primary location (with a hint in the game’s logo that San Francisco might also be in it). Fans were excited about the sequel for a number of reasons – the original reveal trailer was great – but many wondered: Why is Dead Island 2 set in a non-island location?
I was traveling to Nottingham, England to visit Dambuster Studios and that was one of the first questions I asked. Given that this is the team that’s been developing this game since 2018, it’s not surprising that Lead Narrative Designer Khan had an in-depth response.
Simply put, Los Angeles has figuratively become an island.
Dead Island 2 begins in the final days of LA’s evacuation after the zombie outbreak swept the city. She says some aspects of this evacuation were surprisingly efficient, so the entire city was sealed off unexpectedly well. The authorities’ final decision is that LA must remain in quarantine to allow the infection to run its course and hopefully die off. As a result of this quarantine, no one can go in and no one can leave. As if completely surrounded by water, with no access to boats or other means of escape, humans (and zombies) in LA cannot escape the city. Although LA is not geographically an island, authorities have cut LA off from the rest of the world.
This is the lore explanation for why Los Angeles is the setting for a game series about being stuck on an island with zombies. There’s also a practical reason that sits somewhere between the lines: Los Angeles is an iconic place, easy to market, and offers more variety than a resort island like Banoi on Dead Island. I wouldn’t be surprised if Los Angeles was the setting, simply because making a zombie game in the city is great fun. It certainly seems to be the case, if my conversations with Dambuster are any indication.
“Going from Banoi on a resort island to Los Angeles… the answer is… it’s super diverse,” Design Director Adam Duckett tells me. “There’s a lot of possibility and potential, both in terms of the environments, the characters, the staff and the zombies themselves, that we can build into the game. There’s that vibrancy, the sun-kissed spots, the beaches, the exotic Bel-Air mansions and so much more. It’s a great environment for us to get that fighting experience.”
Creative director James Worrall echoed Duckett’s opinion, saying that LA was an excellent opportunity for big characters in terms of location and actual people.
“Los Angeles has a pretty eccentric or expressive kind of culture and identity, and that identity is recognized around the world,” he says. “Whether you were in LA or not, we all saw it through the lens of Hollywood, and we thought that kind of Hollywood lens would be a great way to entertain while you’re running around beating zombies.”
During my conversations with the team at Dambuster, the developers referred to the game’s setting as “postcard” LA. Los Angeles’ open-hub design takes players to iconic locations you’d likely see on a postcard in a California airport: Bel-Air, Hollywood, the Santa Monica Pier, Venice Beach, and more. Given the game’s approach to pulp action horror, each of these postcard locations have been caricatured to some degree, which makes sense – the locations need to fit the over-the-top gore of the zombies and the larger-than-life characters decided to stay in Hell-A.
“They have these two or three shifts,” Worrall continues. “We have that fantasy version of LA that everyone has seen – the Hollywood lens. Add to that the tragic remnants of the failed evacuation attempt… and then some classic zombie trophy ypse. But we paid a lot of attention to improve the atmosphere and color of the place. [Art director Adam Olsson] and his team did a great job to glorify this place. We’re not looking at any version of Fallujah or anything like that or a war zone. It’s still an awesome, easy to navigate and relatable space.”
Olsson says on the visual side of things, he and his team worked to build the almost mythological being that LA has become as a city, further highlighting Dead Island 2’s pulpy atmosphere. Worrall said that Dambuster’s inspirations for LA’s Dead Island 2 vibe hark back to the horror of the ’80s, ’90s, and ’00s, particularly in the more lanky areas like Robocop, Nightmare on Elm Street, and the Alien and Predator franchises.
“I have really, really nostalgic memories of watching a movie in the afternoon and you were immersed in that world and the credits were rolling and you came out in that sunshine and there was this real sense that you just left a real place,” Worrall remarks when I ask him what he hopes to convey to players once the Dead Island 2 credits roll. “And there’s a little sense of loss, but a little sense of, ‘Well, I can’t wait for the next one.'”
As for Olsson, he wants players to feel dazzled by all the colors and how it all comes together in Dead Island 2.
“I want them to say, ‘Why aren’t more things doing this?'” he says. “Zombies are awesome. Really what we want to do here is just bring back the fun of zombies because… we’ve had so many games in 10 or 20 years where it’s been popular, but so many of them are just this dark mirror showing us that deepest depths of man. And I just want people to come out and be like, ‘That was fun. Zombies are fun again.’”
Worrall, Olsson, Duckett and the Dambuster team believe Los Angeles is the place to be.
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