Answered by: Jens Jankuhn
1. Tell us about your role on the team, how you got into Game Design and what games you have previously worked on.
My name is Jens Jankuhn and I’m the Creative Director at Candygun Games. I’m responsible for the game design of Dead Block as well as the level-design, which is my true passion.
Back in 2005 I was working on an independent game project organised by an internet community when, after 2 years, everyone involved realised we had no chance to complete the project. During that time, I was heavily involved in the game design side-of-things and learned a lot from the many mistakes that we made.
After we cancelled that project I began working on the idea which later became Dead Block. My main focus was to have fun and innovative core gameplay and I began work on a prototype of the basic elements of the game.
I then spent 2 years working as Level-Designer for Replay Studios on Velvet Assassin and when that company was shut down, I saw the chance to team up with the others and make Dead Block a reality.
2. What makes Dead Block different to all the other games with Zombies already out there?
There was always one thing I liked about Zombie movies but I never saw included in any Zombie game in the market, and that is that people barricade themselves inside a building from the approaching hordes and defend themselves with the things they find inside. They use furniture to build blockades on doors and windows and explore the building, looking for weapons and other useful items.
In a way it’s based on the idea that “my home is my castle”. It’s not just about building temporary barriers against the undead, it’s about having a shelter in which you feel comfortable and familiar and which you feel compelled to defend.
3. What are the key gameplay features?
There are four key elements to Dead Block from a gameplay point of view:
- Gather resources - you can destroy every piece of furniture and search every object
- Build blockades and traps - hold them back or kill them with deadly traps
- Manage other Survivors - benefit from the abilities of the other survivors
- Beat down Zombies - Kill intruders with your melee weapon and smart bomb
4. How many different traps are there and what unique gameplay aspects do they bring to the game?
Each character can build three different traps, which means we have a total of 9 traps in the game. Depending on the characters attitude the traps have different effects on gameplay. So because Foxy is the most attack-minded character, she can build traps which kill zombies most effectively. As a builder, Jack can build traps which are generally more focussed on improving the defences.
The traps are the key to success in the game as they allow you to kill zombies inside and outside the building. You can even convert them into helpers for the player – the cardboard trap for instance (see above) places a box that has a human head painted on it, on top of a zombie’s head. When zombies wear these boxes they are disoriented and are mistaken as a human by other zombies. This was they act like a decoy and by defending themselves against any attack, they even kill other zombies. Even the most hopeless situation can be turned around to your advantage with the right trap.
5. What makes a good Dead Block level design?
Dead Block is a non-linear 3rd Person game and in most cases, the levels consist of one building which is generally open to the player to explore. A good level design is achieved when players can easily orientate themselves in this building in order to remain focussed on the defending aspect of the game, rather than having to figure out where they are in the level.
As Dead Block is not designed to be in a full-on horror setting, it was our goal that players feel comfortable and familiar in the environment. That maybe even they will end up defending it for longer than they have to before completing the level.
6. What were the main design challenges you had to overcome in terms of playability? Did you get external feedback during the course of development? What did that tell you?
The main challenge was to make the innovative gameplay features, and in particular the different types of traps, accessible to the players. Usually when people play a 3rd Person game with Zombies in it, they expect it to be like all the other Zombie games they are familiar with.
As a result, it was quite challenging to convey that the key to success is found in defence. Yes, you can slay Zombies with your nine-pound hammer but they will just keep coming, wave after wave, and you can’t beat them all by yourself!
Since Dead Block is not a linear game, it is difficult to let players learn features step-by-step. Due to the feedback we had from our own testers, focus groups and the testers at Digital Reality we were able to work hard on putting together a tutorial that lets players get familiar with the gameplay without being overloaded with information.
7. How did you decide to use Achievements/Trophies in your game? Can we look forward to some particularly challenging ones?
Yes. From my point of view, good Achievements or Trophies are those that encourage the player to try out special tactics in the game. These usually the most fun to chase. The “Pooh dance” for example still makes us smile when we unlock it during testing.
However it is also good to reward players for progressing in the game and for collecting medals. Therefore we decided to create a mix of progress achievements and “special tactics” achievements. Additionally we have a few Achievements or Trophies that require the player to think about and prepare for special situations before being able to unlock it.
Finally, we have one very hard achievement which only very skilled players will be able to achieve.
8. Which of the games features are you most excited about?
One of my favourite ones is to smash-up every piece of furniture in the rooms. It’s fun to be able to clear a fully furnished room, to smash cupboards, chars, shelves and leave behind nothing than an empty room.
A big design goal for Dead Block was to have high replay value and I think this is something we achieved well. Even after a year of working on the game, I still have fun playing it and still get surprised by finding new and different tactics to complete a level.
Another big thing for me is the co-op mode. It’s fun to watch the exaggerated characters in single player but when your friends take control of Mike, Jack or Foxy you often find yourself in situations which make you grin or laugh.