The Heart Of Horror

When you think about the zombie apocalypse, zeds aren’t the only things that count. A huge part of an outbreak is the aftermath — the destruction of civilization and everything that goes along with it.

This setting has be a great inspiration for our art director, Doug Williams. By now you’ve probably seen a ton of his awesome concepts, but that doesn’t really tell you about his vision for the world of Class3 or the look and feel of the game.

That’s why I decided to sit down with him and get his thoughts on the visuals you’ll see in our world. Our conversation started with two words:

“Faded Americana”

We’ve been describing the art style of Class3 as “Faded Americana.” What does this mean to you?

When I picture Faded Americana, I think of the America I remember as a kid growing up in a small town — the parades that would go down Main Street during holidays, the patriotic knicknack shops that popped up downtown. Things had a sort of quintessential 1776 flavor to them. Nowadays, lots of these places have started to age. You see small stores closing, driven out of business by the larger chain stores in the newer parts of town. If there are parades at all, they’re smaller and less celebrated. It’s like these places have started to fade, slowly becoming obsolete as time ticks on.

Faded Americana really resonates with me because there are many analogies between the style and a zombie apocalypse. In both cases, you see society hanging onto the ghosts of its past — whether it’s an old store owner still hanging his faded American flag in front of his run-down shop or whether it’s a group of survivors banding together to keep the flame of humanity alive in a world that’s been ripped apart.

Why did you choose a small town setting for Class3?

I felt that it would be easier for most players to make a connection with small towns than exotic cities. If you remember Jeff’s recent article, we actually asked people to mark their own hometowns on a world map. We had thousands of responses, and the results definitely backed up our guess: most of us don’t live in major metropolises. Many of us are from smaller towns, suburbs, and rural areas all over the world.

[On that note, if you haven’t added your hometown yet, you should! – Emily]

How do you strike a balance between beauty and horror in a post apocalyptic world?

In games and movies, lighting and setting is a huge part of horror. If you look at movies like Monster Squad, Poltergeist, and The Thing, you’ll see that moody feel. They use a lot of lens flares, eerie blues lighting, fog, and shadows. This is definitely a good way to get across that scary feeling, but in the real world there are other things that can drive that point home, too.

For example, the feeling of being alone.

One memory that’s been a big inspiration for me was the time I saw a coyote out in a field by my house when I was a kid. I was walking in the tall grass by myself and suddenly realized that there was something else there, and that it was eyeing me. I froze. My heart pounded. I was terrified. This experience was actually the inspiration for this field zombie concept I did for Class3.

Horror isn’t always about something exotic or supernatural. Normal can be terrifying when it’s flipped or when foreign things invade that familiarity. Think about the way you’d feel if you came home one night to find one of your bookcases flipped over; or if you walked in and saw a zombie in your living room. That instant fight-or-flight instinct you get is the heart of horror.

What is one of your favorite art styles in this generation of gaming?

Well, I like a lot of games for a lot of different reasons. The atmosphere and ambiance of Alan Wake and Silent Hill 2 really resonates with me — knowing that there’s something out there in the fog waiting for you is incredibly creepy. As far as non-horror titles go, I think that games like Ico, Shadow of the Colossus, and Legend of Zelda: Windwaker are gorgeous. I’m also a big fan of the look of Red Dead Redemption and the cool style of Borderlands.

What has been the most difficult thing about creating the world so far?

I’d say that the biggest challenge artistically has been the lack of abundant light sources in the world. When you think about it, when the zombie apocalypse hits, power is going to eventually go out and there aren’t going to be a lot of humans around. Now think about how dark it gets when you’re out in the middle of the country, away from cities and towns. Because of this, we have to light the world naturally, using only the sun, the moon, and the stars. Of course, if survivors get a generator going they will probably have some light in their base, but that’s not really going to be a common occurrence.

What’s the scariest thing about a zombie apocalypse?

Since I have a family, the scariest thing for me would be worrying about keeping my kids safe. I’d also need to make sure that they’d be OK if something were to happen to me, which is a grim possibility in a post-apocalyptic world. The thought of having to let go is something that no parent really likes to think about.

I guess there would be some kind of closure if I were to come back as a zombie and get finished off by my family, though.

Will buildings be all destroyed/burnt out or will it look like people failed to come to work one morning?

You’ll see a mix of both. It’s going to be obvious that something has happened, but the world hasn’t been completely destroyed. As you can see in some of our concepts, places like Dunniway City have had fires break out, but it’s not a widespread occurrence. Since a zombie apocalypse would pretty much wipe out human society, it really provides us with the opportunity to add a lot of natural, haunting beauty to the environment.

With all of the movie, book, and game influences out there, how do you separate yourself from the pack to create a unique visual zombie experience?

There are a lot of things that zombie fans have come to expect, so I try to take inspiration from as many sources as I can. For instance, I’ll watch movies to get ideas for scenes, then take the elements I like to paint new things.

Paying attention to what other people have done is important (especially when you’re looking at things that define the genre you’re working with), but the trick is to not get stuck on established lore or canon. You need to take what you like and build on it to make your own thing.

Will zombies be wearing the clothes that they had on while they were alive? Would some be missing clothing?

Zombies prefer eating brains to changing outfits, so yeah…they’ll be wearing the things that they’d had on before they were turned. Assuming they were fully dressed at the time, of course. 😉

What kind of look and feel are you going for with the zombies? Are you going with ultra-gore or more of a Night of the Living Dead, dead-eye look with little massive trauma?

Our zombie types will vary — some will be freshly dead while others will be older. Personally, my favorite kind of zombies are the super gaunt, skeletal ones…like this guy from Tom Savini’s 1990 remake of Night of the Living Dead.

How graphic will the anatomy of the zombies be?

Depending on the zombie, the anatomy can get pretty graphic — and not always in super realistic ways. When we’re designing things for the game, we focus on what that we think is fun. I think it’s much cooler to slice open a zed’s belly and see a big, black pile of phlegm plop out as opposed to seeing realistically modeled piles of intestines and organs.

Out of all of the concepts you’ve created, what’s your favorite?

I really like the one of the sun setting over the abandoned main street of McMillanville because it captures the contrast between the natural beauty of the world and the bleakness of a ruined town. It’s been a treat watching the guys bring this image to life in the game.

Thanks for sitting down and chatting with us, Doug! It’s always cool to get an inside scoop straight from the source

I hope you guys liked this interview. We’ll be doing more of them as we get further along in development, so stay tuned.

Have an awesome weekend! 🙂