08.12.11
News, Q&A, Studio Review 76

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! :)

Emily

  1. Researcher: Emily

    Doug wanted me to pass along this answer, too. It was asked by Breakd0wn from MMOZed. ;)

    Can you please draw me a pony?

    When I was in kindergarten, there was a girl in my class named Shannon who only drew ponies. The other kids picked on her and said that I was a much better drawer. It bummed me out, so I stood up for her and said that there was no way I could draw a pony as cool as the ones Shannon could draw. For the rest of the year, everyone asked her to draw ponies and unicorns for them. And to this day, I still can’t draw horses ;)

    • Researcher: ChinoXL

      I am sooooooooooo happy he mention Alan wake…that makes me feel soooo much better of how this game is going to look.

    • Researcher: qwerty

      the zombie standing in the field was my favorite. It gave me a weird feeling just looking at it and i hope the feel of the game is the same way

    • Researcher: Breakd0wn

      Doug, you’re a fantastic human being.

      -Break

    • Researcher: Brant

      I’ve known and worked with Doug since 1996, and that piece of the zombie in the field is my favorite of everything he has ever done.

    • Researcher: NatwithanN

      I’v got to agree with Chino in terms of graphic style. The last thing that I and probably a lot of other zed fans want is for Class3 to adopt the style Borderlands and the upcoming Darkness 2. I feel that the huge defined lines and comic book colours take away, if not completely drain all the horror and realism from the game.

  2. Researcher: luketheduke47

    Cool Post! Keep up the great work Comrade Doug!

  3. Researcher: Josh

    I love how you guys are going with the small town setting for class 3, I myself am from a small town in Alabama and can relate to what you are bringing to class 3.I believe the setting will make the game eerie and artistically pleasing as opposed to a large city setting with bland skyscrapers blocking the sunset.This game is the game I’ve always wanted to play and I am comforted knowing It’s in Undead Labs’ Hands.

  4. Researcher: Punk Head

    Dude awesome interview, this game seems so close but I know it’s so far away.

  5. Researcher: escapeartist

    every time you guys post something, i’m in love all over again =)

    what a great read! he likes pretty much everything i like it seems (windwaker YEAH! my favorite zelda!) and i love love love that they’re doing it in a small town.

    btw i have the sunset one as my background, but after reading this post i’m considering changing it to the Chance Encounter one, that is great! i know that feeling!

    crossed paths with a badger once in a corn field with a buddy. even 2 vs the mini-bear i was terrified and we froze on sight and backed away quietly, but we were like 9 and didn’t have guns =)

    • Researcher: tra

      I to had an run in with an coyote with my uncle we were young so I know the feeling

    • Researcher: Emily

      You know what else is surprisingly scary to run into? Beavers. Those guys will freaking rip you up if you get too close.

      When I was a kid, we’d also run from the huge groundhogs we’d get in Pennsylvania. They’d chase you too if you weren’t careful.

      Crazy times.

    • Researcher: Dantron

      Dantron warns the humans to stay away from male swans, especially if the female swan is protecting her young. Male swans get quite aggresive when their off spring are approached. Dantron has noticed that this trait is shared by most vertebrate life forms.

      Dantron inquires if Doug has ever done a drawing of a robot engaged in combat with zombies.

  6. Researcher: Cody

    hey since we are talking about graphics I would seriously suggest taking a look at Euclideon’s limitless power video on youtube if you haven’t seen it yet, basically instead of using polygons they use little atoms and they have figured out a way to run this extremely fast and have an unlimited number of atoms on a screen which gives the artist complete freedom. Unfortunately its not out yet and it won’t be for a few months so it might not be possible for Class 3 but if y’all want to have a huge edge graphics wise on all other games out there it needs to be in Class 4 and all future games y’all make

    • Researcher: Damian

      I dare say that technology wont be available when this is nearly done. For one, they’re still lacking an SDK, which for most is a critical requirement.

    • Researcher: Trent

      …..Do it….

    • Researcher: Cody

      Ya they said a few months so it might be ready for class 4 but that means they would have to completey redo the graphics from class 3 I still think it would be worth it though

  7. Researcher: Kick

    Can’t wait. First time a game caught my eye enough to actually care about it.

    • Researcher: M.

      Sun, moon, and stars….

      What a lovely thought.

      I have to leave Los Angeles to see the greater star field that’s out there… but when the 1994 earthquake hit… ALL THE LIGHTS WENT OUT !!!

      And then we COULD SEE the stars and the Milky Way.

      It was a beautiful view !

      If I were designing an opening sequence for the game, I’d show the night side view of Earth from space as the city and town lights wink out across the planet as the Z-plague spread.

      A very few lights would remain on…
      Remote bases, small towns with hydroelectric power, or solar power… maybe some generator powered lights left running by a film crew devoured by REAL zombies, while filming their fictional zombie epic…

      The view would slowly drop down from sky, to eye level near one of those small town light sources… to the distant wilderness surrounding the town….

      The point of view would shift to a Zed’s dead eyes captured by the moon, the Milky Way Galaxy…and stars… ( suddenly a rifle shot rings out in the distance ) the Zed turns and notices lights shining in the distance…through the trees… and then begin to stagger towards the lights… !

    • Researcher: spencer

      I can’t wait for this game to come out! im gonna climb on top of a merry-go-round and have someone turn it on and going to randomly shoot zombies from the top!!! XD

    • Researcher: escapeartist

      nice description, that would be an awesome intro I can almost see it already except I thought you were gonna say he got eye/headshotted with a spray. Having a shot get his attention would be a great way to indicate to players that they are attracted to sounds though, good call.

    • Researcher: Emily

      Nice, M! And yeah…it’s pretty awesome to see the sky when the lights go out. I grew up on a farm, so I always took that for granted. When I moved to the city, it was a shock to not be able to see the stars anymore.

  8. Researcher: Danny

    Nice, I can’t wait for this. I am still so excited. I have never anticipated a game like this. I also have never followed a game so early in it’s inception and belabored its arrival!

  9. Researcher: M.

    Hello Doug !

    I’m enjoying the art concepts you’ve shared with Undead Labs fans like myself.

    Your artwork has a beautiful “near real” look that is wonderfully vivid and colourful, and yet helps remind one that this is art – and not a photograph.

    Some of my favorites from the Flickr site are: Summer Cottage ( hope and desolation evoked all at once ! ), Miss Zombie Slayer ( HELLO…! ) Crash Site at the Airport, and Chance Encounter.

    Looking forward to seeing more of your Visions…!

    Sincerely,

    M.

    >>>

  10. Researcher: Conora

    I’ll admit a lot of this resonates with me on some level. I’ve always preferred Z-day occurrences that are set in smaller locations, albeit with the chance to visit or move to larger ones.

    And no doubt you have our own ideas for zombies but this is something I figure I might as well share. While I’ve been developing a Zompocalyse themed PnP system I gave a lot of thought and research time to zombies. Eventually it occurred to me that perhaps freshly turned zombies would be fast and stupid, the former due to their muscles still being relatively fresh.

    Then on the other hand the older zombies would be slow and growing in rudimentary intelligence the older they get. Effectively 28 Days/Week (and any other source with fast dumb zeds) to begin with and then Land of the Dead-esque zombies that have been around a few years.

    Anyway that’s just me sounding off ideas, whatever comes from your minds will no doubt be an amazing ride and experience. Both due to the level of commitment you guys have, the experience you bring to the table and the depth you plan to go into.

    • Researcher: Mephster

      Much more excited about the game after reading this article. We seriously need to have this game today! :)

    • Researcher: Seth

      hey i just had a idea for this game that would add a whole new style of game play and all you would have to do is add one thing.

      being able to tie zombies up with rope or something. then you could build a caged in area something like a arena drop the zombies in their and just for your amusment throw some survivors in tehir and watch them battle it out. or when ever people are at war with each other then they could just catch a whole bunch of zombies and put them in the back of those big pickup trucks or uhaul trucks. and drive into another survivoeres huge castle or fortified area and open the back of the truck let the zombies out and drive out of their.

      but to tie up the zombies u have to knock them to the ground or knock them out or something otherwise they could bite youj while ur tying them up. (is it possible to knock out a zombie?)

    • Researcher: Arafell

      Fear effects would be cool for the game too. When your character hears or sees a zombie, a fear counter goes up and you start hearing effects – your heartbeat, your breathing. As your guy panics, it would increase the amount of noise he makes and lowers his reload speed.

      As far as creepy scenarios, I think it’d be freaky to open your door one morning and have on standing right there in your face XD