We chat with the Call of Duty: WWII Nazi Zombies developer leads at San Diego Comic-Con
On Thursday, Call of Duty: WWII Nazi Zombies had its world trailer reveal (see below) at the San Diego Comic-Con, and afterward, we got a chance to chat with Nazi Zombies developer leads Cameron Dayton and John Horsely about the story, the game mechanics and making this game terrifying. Take a deep dive into the game below!
ComingSoon.net: The story is really intriguing. Can you guys go a little deeper into it than what we learned at the panel yesterday?
Cameron Dayton: Yeah, it was the sort of thing where there was so much background behind each of the zombie modes that the different studios have done. We saw this as an opportunity to strike out in a new direction, so I started researching. And there is so much amazing history in that part of the world. Not just behind the war, but behind the various nations. And we said, let’s root this in something that feels solid, that feels real. And that you can check and draw a conclusion between. The story is great, because you find out, well, this happened in history and it was followed by this thing, but there is that empty space between it, and you can fill that in with some really cool bits. It all started with Emperor Frederick Barbarossa and his meteoric rise to power, and then we kind of said, well, what if we explain a little of that and fill it with some details there.
CS: I love the idea that people are hunting for stolen art in this game. Tell us a little about the background there.
John Horsely: It’s funny. You’ll see as we go into the story in more detail, you’ve got a combination of fact and fiction. There’s a lot of fact in what Cameron was talking about for Emperor Barbarossa and the myths around him and the German people. Same thing with the MFAA. The teams of the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives program were deployed in Europe looking for these stolen relics that the Nazis confiscated in museums, residences all over the world. So all of that is true, too. But, we’re Zombies, so we have a conceit. I mean, if the Germans found a way with these stolen relics to make an undead army, how would they do it? And these were undead armies built for war. They’re here to defeat their enemies. It’s not just mystical, spiritual… they’re on a literal warpath.
Dayton: And that was one of the fun things, too. It’s not just based on actual history. It’s based on, and it’s so weird to say in a Zombies game, on actual science. We tried to dig in.
Horsely: [laughs] We have all the equations at home.
Dayton: I have all the algorithms. I made a zombie at home… I’ve got a buddy at MIT that we ran this by — the era in German history and world history, we were uncovering amazing elements about physics, the atom, particles, quantum physics, all these elements were kind of just cracking open at this point and we were like, of course. Why not have some scientist looking into this and exploring this and saying, how does this apply to the human nervous system and how does this apply to life and death, you know? These all seem like those big sort of questions. When we got the collision course of actual historical artifacts and the power that is legendary in these things, well, what if we bring a little quantum physics and mono-magnetic elements, how does that all play together? And that’s where we sort of found the fun place for storytelling.
CS: So the zombies that scared the crap out of me yesterday, was the physical stuff based on science? Like, what body parts would go first?
Dayton: Oh, completely. We have some of the most talented character designers and modelers and animators on our team, and to bring them in as part of the story – it’s one thing to say, hey, we’re writing over here. You guys go do your monsters and let us know. But we talked through everything. We decided we didn’t want to go with the infectious disease, you know, the bacterial, viral plague thing, which is a fun, cool, interesting idea, but didn’t really sync up with physics and the ideas that we wanted to explore. So we said, let’s get into the human nervous system. It’s basically the human electrical system. To completely dumb it down. Is there a way that we could run a different type of energy through that. This means that we don’t have zombies with bloated, growing, organic-y stuff. They’re not semi-living. They are completely dead and the flesh is rotting. However, we’re able to get the nervous systems and the muscles to move. But, when you’re using soldiers, you’ve got some folks who’ve had their limbs blown off and entirely non-functional corpses, so what do good engineers do? They strap on bolts and strings and pistons and things that will allow the functional elements of the zombies to work. And that’s what you’ll see. Our zombies are very — I made a joke — very fahrvergnügen. Like, they are engineered to drive. [laughs] The joy of moving and ripping people limb from limb.
CS: I remember that commercial! Tell us a little bit more of the characters, maybe a little bit more than we learned on the panel, and the process of casting.
Horsely: Yeah, so the casting process is really interesting. You’re looking to find a actor who fits the role and the role fits the actor. So Cameron had been working with the actors, trying to find the right voice, to try to find the right style that’s going to get a complimentary performance that feels right to them. So that process is really fascinating to me. I had not gotten to do that before. We ended up with a terrific result, I think.
Dayton: Yeah, the fun part was how the two things kind of merged, because writing in games has to be agile. You might have the most brilliant character written and then tech comes and says, no we can’t have a levitating guy with blue skin. So okay, back to the drawing board we go. So by keeping it agile, we can also write to our actors and what they did best. Because we have several sessions planned, we can go in and do one session and go, you know what? The strongest parts were when we got David Tennant to swear. So let’s amp that up because it was so funny. It was so genuine. So they all kind of evolved. One of the reasons we went with the MFAA in this case was because it was such an eclectic mix of professions and individuals and men and women and it wasn’t – I mean, there are so many amazing, powerful stories of warriors, and our single player game tells some of those stories. There are countless films that are telling that story. So what if we tell the story of the people who went into this to save what was most important about mankind, which was the art, the writing, the beautiful things that we’ve created over the centuries… there are stories of great warriors… our single player game tells those stories and there are countless movies… we wanted to make the story something tangible, something apart from the epic rockets going across these major battlefields. What about a brother and sister who just hadn’t agreed on the same thing. And they parted ways because of political differences. It’s something that is, unfortunately, very poignant in this day and age. Let’s talk about that division and the potential of coming back together. So we thought that would feel real and bring us into something a little bit more in the grasp of all of us.
CS: Can you go into some of the specifics for characters? The cast you have here is great. You have David Tennant and I’m a huge Doctor Who fan. Are there any Easter eggs for that?
Dayton: We decided we were not going to tell anyone about our Easter eggs, because that is the marrow of a good zombie game is the surprises and stuff, but we have got countless surprises both referring to games and referring to stuff outside of the games, I guess we’ll say. And the seed of it all was Marie and her brother Klaus. So we knew we needed a woman who was an example of strength, of power, of intellect, who could also show some nuance. So Katheryn Winnick (Vikings) was so good for that. What she’s been doing on Vikings and what she’s been doing in her real life, you know? She’s a black belt. She’s taken on an entire genre, an entire part of history that is usually owned by the men… there was no question about that. And then moving into, okay, we’ve got these other characters. and it’s funny, as we stepped into them, the name just became so obvious… Ving Rhames (Pulp Fiction), I mean, can we get Ving Rhames… and the moment he stepped into this character, it was also an interesting time for black men in the United States as well, and their role in the war and their role in the country. We wanted to have individuals who could explore these interesting shadows and folds in our own history.
CS: What can you tell us about any new game mechanics that you brought in?
Horsely: Yeah, it was an interesting opportunity for us. We have a really pedigree in horror and we’re certainly adept at making first-person shooters, so to put those two things together came pretty naturally. We looked at what had come before with the other zombie games and we wanted to recognize that kind of sensibility and expertise that they’ve been developing… we had to shoot the gap a little bit for what we could add or subtract to get it to feel right to us, but not structurally change the game too much. We have this traditional mystery boxes and perks and the things that traditionally populate other zombie games. Cameron and the team have done a great job in making it fictionally work… for instance, we don’t have the chalk outline… we have ways for players to be more cooperative, so there’s ways to give things to other players. We have inducements like be a better cooperative partner in the game. Looking at the zombie side, we had an opportunity to look at things that are kind of function built. So we didn’t reveal all our cards in the trailer, there are other zombies who are built a certain way and they lend themselves to certain mechanics about how you interact with them or don’t… those are woven into the puzzles, woven into the traps, woven into how you might want to train them through.
CS: I loved what you said on the panel about doing slower scares. What can you tell us about that?
Horsely: Talking to some of the leads within the studio who’ve got experience in doing this, we’re talking about timing, and scaring people is a lot like humor. You can get fatigued and repetition doesn’t always work. What we’re trying to do is build tension… waiting for that right moment to break that tension with a good scare. You see it all the time in the movies and a properly done scare is pretty effective. It’s a physiological reaction your body has to things on screen. The timing and the placement all has to come out right. You’ve got a split second to get it right.
Dayton: My favorite thing is that you can tell when the team upstairs is play testing our game, because you can hear theses little yelps. You’ll hear these bad swears…
Horsely: Even I get scared. We have this way of dealing with player behaviors… it’s like how oceanographers talk about the perfect wave. The winds come together. So we know when that happens in the game. We know there’s a zombie right behind you. We know you’re low on health. We know you just came off of this.
Dayton: We know how long it’s been since you had a scare, so the simmering builds. Not to make it sound like we mathmaticized an algorithm-ed out the fear situation, but we’ve figured out the perfect wave and we rely on it.
Are you guys excited for Call of Duty: WWII Nazi Zombies? What are you most looking forward to? We want to hear from you! Leave us your comments below or tweet us @ComingSoonnet, and stay tuned for more news from San Diego Comic-Con 2017!