Dead Block - Rock and trap zombies!

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Dead Block Developer Q&A - Chapter 2: The Art Direction of Dead Block

  Answered by: Andreas Hackel

1. Tell us about your role on the team, what your background is and what games you have previously worked on?

My name is Andreas Hackel and I'm the Art Director at Candygun Games. In my role I am responsible for defining the visual style of the game. I've worked in the games industry for 10 years and have a background in graphic design, web design and 3D Modelling. In my previous role I was Lead Artist at Replay Studios where I worked on Velvet Assassin and Crashday.

2. How would you describe the overall process you go through to design the art for the game?

I really wanted the look of the game to be stylised, cartoony and funny and at the same time also match with the scary zombies elements of the game. In terms of style, I was inspired by games like Team Fortress 2 and classic B-movies of the 1950's.
We first started the process with reference images from which we created concept art. Being a small team, we did all of this ourselves. The character modelling was one thing we outsourced but everything else was done in-house either by Chris (Animation), Matthias (3D Modelling) or me. The 3D modelling and animation was done in 3D Studio Max and then imported into the Unreal Engine. All the lighting and shaders are done with the Unreal Engine.

3. What inspired you to do set the game in this time period? What impact did the 1950's time period and B-movie setting have on the visual look of the game?

For one, not many games are set in this period and there are a whole slew of very typical and interesting design elements from this time period. Elements like the cars, milk bars, chrome, juke boxes, fashion and hairstyles are all instantly recognisable as coming from the 50's.

I was always fascinated by the 50's-style basement party room in my grandparents' house. Rock'n'Roll started appearing in the 50s and was loved by the younger generation but was seen as something threatening and corrupting by others. Rock'n'Roll plays a big role in the design of Dead Block. B-movies of this time period were very a source of inspiration as well, with their sensationalist and dramatic style. The first zombie movies were also similar and depicted zombies the way they should be: slow.

4. How did you decide on which locations would make a good setting for a level?

We wanted to use locations which players are familiar with and which they may have seen being used as hide-outs for humans in zombie movies. We also wanted to give the player a wide range of locations and so every one of the 10 levels represents a different building with its own characteristics. So for example, we have a School Hall, a Diner, a Mansion, a Warehouse and other locations like that.

The locations are very gameplay driven and so we designed the art around the gameplay. Our Creative Director Jens decided in which locations the levels would play. My job was to match the locations visually with the style of the 50's and the Southern State setting.

5. All the cinematics and cut-scenes in the game are created using the in-game engine – what were the benefits and disadvantages of this approach?

Many of today's games are using in-game graphics for their cut-scenes. This has multiple advantages in that the player is not pulled out of the game because the visuals stay exactly the same and we could use the same assets, background, lighting set-up and animations for the cut-scenes. If we changed any of the assets in the game, the cut-scenes would immediately reflect this without having to re-render everything. We saved a lot of time this way. The promotional artwork was done in a similar way, where we used high-resolution screenshots as the basis for creating the Key Artwork for example.


6. What aspect of Dead Block are you particularly proud of – artistically and in general?

I'm very proud of the minimalistic approach we took with a very small and efficient team. I think our character designs are strong, unique and funny and the animations, which were all done by hand, really bring them to life.

We also had to come up with some clever solutions due to working within the set parameters of the Unreal Engine. For example we did not have dynamic lighting but wanted dynamic (i.e. destructible) furniture.

Another important aspect of Dead Block is that it represents a classic horror theme – zombies – in a funny, light-hearted way. There are already many zombie games in the market which are very dark, brutal and realistic. We wanted to set ourselves apart from that and emphasise the funny side of the zombie topic. Hence the reasons why we chose a cartoon style for the visuals and were inspired by the B-movie trailers of the 1950's, which look a bit ridiculous now but were meant to be really scary when they first came out back in the day.