Following up a successful sci-fi horror first person shooter game is never an easy task, especially when that game happens to have shifted several multi-million units in the process and and has built up a sizeable audience in the meantime. Luckily, Tripwire Interactive appears to be listening to community feedback and has assured fans that Killing Floor 2 will live up to expectations. As part of this, and so as to ensure transparency, I spoke to David Hensley (Game Director) and got to ask him as to how Killing Floor 2 will be able to justify itself as a fully fledged sequel. Enjoy!
Killing Floor 2 is an online survival horror shooter and is the second in the series. What advancements have you made since the original Killing Floor 1? How does Killing Floor 2 justify itself as a sequel in comparison to what came beforehand?
There are a lot of enhancements over Killing Floor 1. One of the big things we focused on, apart from the gameplay, is the gore system. This game has probably the most advanced gore system ever to be in a game. You can dismember the Zeds in 22 different pieces. You can blow chunks off their head. There’s also a persistent blood system where the blood that gets on the ground never fades away. So you can eventually just cover the whole map in blood. Everything starts off really clean, but by the end of the match, everything is just covered. But that’s really just on the visual end.
The graphics are also way enhanced. This is a completely new engine. Killing Floor 1 was on Unreal 2004 engine. And this is on a heavily modified UE3 engine. We’ve done a lot of rendering work too with different graphical effects like screen space reflections. You’ll have, in the environment, monsters reflecting and pools of blood and water.
One of the biggest gameplay things that we focused on was the perk system. The perk system is a series of classes you can select. In Killing Floor 1, we started out with six perks. And we added one additional one. But in Killing Floor 2, it’s going to launch with 10 perks, and each perk is going to have 25 levels. In Killing Floor 1, the perk system was you only had a few levels, and it was a huge grind to get through each level. And all it did was basically just level up some passives for you. In Killing Floor 2 there are 25 levels. You get snappier level-up. So you don’t have to grind as much. And then every five levels, you get a customizable skill. You can customize that before every match or during Trader Time. Usually, there’s a left side and a right side to the perk. And you can kind of build the perk the way you like it. You might have a perk that’s more about one side of the skill tree. It might be more about armor and more health. Another one might be more on moving faster and stumbling Zeds or something like that. So you can kind of take what’s there and customize it to your needs a little bit.
Given that Killing Floor 2 is a sequel, what sort of effort went into ensuring that the storyline was consistent in order to enable the premise of the game to feel authentic?
The game itself doesn’t really have a story mode. It’s either solo, co-op, or a PVP experience. But what we did was try to build a lot of, I guess, the Killing Floor mythos into the environments and maybe the level architecture and stuff like that. And part of it was that when Killing Floor 1 was made, there wasn’t much of a story there. We tried to take what was the base of the story and kind of flush out the background. So we did a lot of… writing. Every map that we created, we would write basically a bio of the map and how this fits in the Killing Floor time line. Levels like the Biotics Lab which is kind of like a tight quarter and a crusty science laboratory. In Killing Floor 2, we actually show the process of how Clots get grown from basically bio matter getting ground up and refined. And they are fed through like a Clot Mother Monster that organically grows the clone Clots.
So we tried to build some story into the environment. Also, the game is supposed to take place a few months after Killing Floor 1. Killing Floor 1 was basically based in the UK and Killing Floor 2 is spread across Europe. We try to stay consistent with the Europe and the time frame and everything.
You’ve spoken about the advancements that have been made since Killing Floor 1 in order for you to justify Killing Floor 2. One of the big problems that sequels have, especially in today’s age, is that the risks are so much higher. What steps are you taking to ensure that Killing Floor 2 appeases existing players, without diluting the series concept, and still gets new players on board?
Of course, that’s a huge challenge and risk. Killing Floor 1 was loved by so many people. It’s definitely a hard act to follow. I think one of the ways we have tried to make sure the community is enjoying it is that we launched on Steam Early Access. We’ve been iterating on the game with the community, shaping it, shaping the balance and the gameplay… We’ll try things, release on Early Access, get feedback on it, and keep iterating. Therefore, by the time we do our full release on PS4 and the PC as a simultaneous release…
Can I ask why?
There’s an exclusive period with PlayStation. It may come in the future but not on launch.
What sort of platform differences can we see between the PS4 version and the PC version? What sort of platform parity will there be?
We’re trying to keep the PlayStation version as true to the PC version as we can. So the versions don’t actually look that much different. I’d say the biggest difference is that the controller UI has gotten a lot of iteration on the PS4. Our current build at Tripwire is something we have done tons of iteration on. So it’s basically focusing on navigating menus with the control, doing battle with the controller. We did make use of the PlayStation touchpad. But basically, we’re trying to keep graphical parity with the PC as much as possible and gameplay parity. So I think it’ll very much feel like the same game, just with a really refined controller input. We have dedicated servers on the console as well.
Killing Floor 2 is an online co-op multiplayer game and relies heavily upon this component. A recent game that came out and bombed at retail was a game called… not Overwatch.
That definitely did not bomb.
It’s the one that was published by 2K…
Battleborn… But the same thing happened with 2K’s previous game Evolve… the one with the big monster. Given how difficult it is for online-centric games to maintain a sense of community, what steps are you taking in order to ensure that, six months down the line, the online player base and online community won’t be dead?
I think both the games that you mentioned there had probably different issues than each other. I think Evolve was an amazing game, but the monetisation system that they had at launch is what really seemed to turn players off. And they recently went free to play. And now I think it’s probably one of the top 10 games on Steam. So I think their game was good. I think it was more their publishing approach…
Is Killing Floor 2 a paid-for product?
Obviously, one of the things that people have said is that in today’s market, for publishers to adopt a paid-for product approach for multiplayer-centric games… well, that’s not the done thing to do. And it’s one of the reasons also why Battleborn has just dropped in price…
Yeah. I think one of the things that Tripwire does is we’re pretty famous for post-release support. Killing Floor 1 we supported with free content for I think seven years. So that’s one thing that really keeps the game alive for us and keeps interest alive in the community. A few times a year, we’ll release free content updates, new maps, new weapons, new gameplay features. And in Killing Floor 1, we also did really crazy seasonal events. In the summer, it’s a Summer Sideshow Event. All the monsters are circus freaks. And in the Christmas, they’re all mutated, evil Christmas creatures. I think stuff like that really helped keep the game fresh for people. And we plan on doing stuff like that for Killing Floor 2. So I think for us, our post-release support will be key to keeping the community alive in the gameplay.
You obviously supported Killing Floor 1 for seven years. How long has Killing Floor 2 been in development for? Or to put it another way, how long will the game be in development for when it launches?
I believe when it launches, maybe a little over… I believe we’re on three years, maybe a little over three years in development. We’re definitely going to have post-release support for one year. And we’re going to keep doing it as long as the game sustains itself. Whenever we do a content release, we’ll also release some cosmetic content for purchase. And that’s the way that players can say, “Hey, we really like this. We want the game to keep adding more content.” So it’s completely optional. It’s not gameplay content. But that’s the way that it helps us to be able to support it and make more content.
Killing Floor 2 is based on fantasy survival horror. What inspires the game’s monster designs – not only for the grunts but also the bosses?
The art direction of the monsters? So before Game Director, I was the initial Art Director on Killing Floor 2 as well. So part of it was staying true to Killing Floor 1. We didn’t want to just completely change everything. People are already comfortable with the designs that we had. For Killing Floor 2, you have tiers of monsters. You have the really weak Grunts, Alpha Clots. And then you have your middle-tier guys. Then you have large mini bosses. Then you have huge bosses. So we tried to do something where the level of technology in the monster kind of shows how strong they are, and the size kind of shows how strong they are. So the little grunts have no technology at all. They’re just mutated freaks…
And then maybe a tier up from that, you might see the Gorefast. He’s got a blade in his arm, a husk. He’s got a fire cannon. Or the Siren… she has screaming technology. But also, we wanted to make that look like it could be mass-produced cheaply. So those guys have tech on them. But it looks kind of like brutal low-tech, basically just like metal getting pinned to them, something that they could just basically weaponize these creatures really cheaply and effectively.
And then when you get to the large guys, they are fewer in number. They’re higher-budget monsters. They have more technology. And that’s when you get into the Scrake and the Fleshpounds. And then the bosses are super high-tech, super giant. And those are the “spare-no-expense” type of guys.
You’ve spoken about the different enemy types and what inspired them. But one thing I’ve impressed by is the sound design and how you also have a heavy-metal inspired soundtrack. Do you want to talk a bit about that? How were you able to get the monster growls and the enemy effects to your liking, especially when so much of what goes on in Killing Floor 2 is not be based on reality?
I think sound is a big part of Tripwire. Mark Muraski and the other Audio Directors that have worked on the project, they obviously get the most credit. But our President is also really into audio and really pushes for high-quality audio. So I think it’s the synergy of the Audio Directors and the President John Gibson working back-and-forth with each other. They really push each other.
Also, we use this middleware called Wwise. It really helps us balance the audio and be able to separate audio from one another. So it’s not just stock Unreal audio. So the Wwise technology helps us a lot.
And for the soundtrack, we actually licensed a lot of music for the metal. And then we have this guy, zYnthetic. He made a lot of music in Killing Floor 1. He did all the techno tracks on that as well.
Killing Floor 2 obviously has the co-op aspect, so the survival horror feeling is greatly reduced. How are you able to maintain the horror element, even though you’re surrounded by friends? How are you able to maintain that sense of foreboding atmosphere which is so integral to survival horror games, without the game necessarily devolving into, say, being another online shooter?
I think part of it is the environmental art direction, and basically, what the visual pillars that you’re looking at are. We try to focus at least on the visual pillars, focus on a few key things that the artist can put into their levels, which is abandonment. We want the levels to feel like they were abandoned. People left in a hurry and there’s scattered debris. Another visual pillar is massacre. So you’ll see body chunks and blood around you. Also, cultural atmosphere and atmosphere in general. So lighting plays a big role. We wanted the world to look lived in. There’s tons of graffiti. That’s another way we blended the story in. There’s a lot of anti-science graffiti around the maps that kind of feeds into the “Hey, people that were here, before they got slaughtered, they knew that this company Horzine that’s behind this whole thing, they were up to something,” and they’re spreading that through graffiti. I think a lot of it is just picking a few visual pillars that you focus on and then making sure the look and atmosphere is consistent.
I’ve noticed that there are a few moments in the game where the game arbitrarily decides as to when it should have a bullet-time moment. If we are to make comparisons with co-op survival horror game Left 4 Dead, that game had this hugely complicated AI Director. Basically, if the players are doing really well, the AI Director throws more enemies at you. Along with the slo-mo aspect, is there something within Killing Floor 2 that is similar to how the AI Director in Left 4 Dead functions, where the game tracks as to how you’re doing, and depending on player performance, will decide as to how many enemies it throws at you and how intelligent those enemies are? In other words, does Killing Floor 2 have difficulty on the fly?
It does. It’s completely different from Left 4 Dead’s approach. And we tried to hide it as much as possible. Basically, the game will kind of affect how good you’re doing. And it may let up on you. It’s not going to throw more or less zombies your way, but it might slow the spawning down of them a little bit. Or if you’re just about to die, the zombie may attack you, and then taunt, and then attack to give you maybe one second to get a shot in before it kills you. It’s kind of subtle things like that. So there is a dynamic difficulty on the fly. But it’s kind of like a rubber band difficulty because we have four difficulty modes. The rubber band can take you 10-15 percent in either direction on the difficulty mode. But it’s never going to get insanely hard or insanely easy. It’ll maybe just rubber-band a little bit around your skill. And it’ll be on the scale of the team as a whole.
Doom recently came out. I know that Killing Floor 2 is a different product to Doom, but Doom has a level creator that allows co-op maps. Have you looked at Doom and how it integrates co-op survival horror shooting experiences, and maybe looked at how you can integrate part of what Doom has done into Killing Floor 2? In other words, has Doom inspired you in any way?
I’m a huge fan of the new Doom. Visually, it’s amazing. I love the gameplay too. It’s really true to the original. I haven’t played the co-op mode that you’re talking about, but I definitely am going to look into that. We’re actually big into modding on the PC, and we’re releasing some PC mods on PS4.
Do they include level editors?
If you want to make levels for Killing Floor 2, you have to make it on the PC, and upload it to Steam Workshop. And then if it’s really liked by our community, we’ll take a look at it, possibly integrate it into the game, and then push it out to PS4 eventually. Right now we have three maps that are community-made that have been taken in-house with a proper QA team. We did bug fixing and performance passing, and worked with the map creator to take their really awesome custom map to a stage where we can say, “Hey, this is an official custom map that we’re releasing.”
Would you ever upgrade some of the Killing Floor 1 maps and re-release them as part of Killing Floor 2 software bundle?
So far we’ve been doing kind of like re-envisions. Manor was re-envisioned as being completely different. Also, Biotics Lab is another where there’s kind of a simple idea in Killing Floor 1 which we really ran with it in Killing Floor 2. We haven’t done a straight one-for-one port yet. But the community is doing that a lot. The community made West London and the original Biotics Lab in Killing Floor 2. If they got good enough visually and with the gameplay, we would consider putting them out on Killing Floor 2. But right now, we’re really just looking at “Hey, what’s the community doing that everyone is liking?” I’m looking at those maps and trying to work with the creators to polish them up.
Thank you very much.