Posted on May 6, 2009, Ron Whitaker GT Q&A: Tripwire’s Killing Floor
I don’t know about you guys, but here at Gaming Today, we’re always up for a game that includes zombies. Of late, we’ve been playing Left 4 Dead, and keeping our eyes on Killing Floor, the upcoming release from Tripwire Interactive. Killing Floor isn’t exactly a zombie game, but genetically engineered zombies are close enough for us.
If you’re a Unreal Tournament player, you may remember Killing Floor as a mod for UT2K4. Since then, the mod team behind Killing Floor has teamed up Tripwire Interactive to bring their mod to retail release as a standalone title, and it looks to have some serious potential.
We recently had the opportunity to chat with a few of the people responsible for Killing Floor. Read on to find out a little bit more about the upcoming survival horror title.
Gaming Today: Let’s get the boilerplate stuff out of the way up front. Can you tell us who you are, what your role in the production of Killing Floor is?
Alan Wilson, VP of Tripwire Interactive. I get all the non-tech stuff to do. Some writing and design, bit of voice acting this time, project management, PR and trying to manage the testing.
I’m Alex Quick. I’ve worn a few hats over the course of KFs production, but primarily I’m working as a level designer, and texture artist. Oh, and the mod this game is based on was largely my undertaking, so I’ve been pretty active in gameplay design discussions for the sake of consistency.
Dayle Flowers, Senior Programmer at Tripwire Interactive. Aside from the typical working on game play, I get much of the highly technical stuff that many people overlook and simply expect to work. I was responsible for connecting Killing Floor to the Steam system to support Authentication, the Master Server, and Perks/Achievements. [Edit: and designing a lot of that stuff, too! AW]
Dan Nassick, audio designer and musician. I’ve worked on the Killing Floor mod since 2005 and my responsibility on the audio team has been to organize a complete audio overhaul in the transition from modification to commercial game.
Myles Lambert, part of the original mod team. I get to do a great mixture of work, environmental art and level design and when I’m not working on that I’m working on some future DLC map content.
GT: So, judging from everything I’ve seen, Killing Floor is a survival horror game featuring some very interesting adversaries. Can you tell us a little bit about these zombies?
AQ: Think of it like going to a carnival and wandering into the wrong tent, and there’s just a group of weirdos who look like they’ve been playing dress-up in an industrial scrap yard. That’s Killing Floor. They aren’t undead, they don’t have past lives, and they largely aren’t wearing clothing because they were bred and raised in a dank hole in the ground among scientists who got a kick out of poking them with sharp things and replacing their limbs with dangerous doohickeys. The inspiration for these guys came from everywhere; games, films, books, rage against ex girlfriends. What was important is that there is a very basic slow moving character who would serve as a foot-soldier for the lab freaks. After that, all the enemies fulfill some sort of tactical role. Some of them will soak up bullets and push you back, others will nullify your explosives in mid-air so you’re forced to use alternative tactics around them, and some of them are sneaky and will use devious paths which let them circumvent your defenses. It winds up being like abit of real time strategy. But in a gorey, immediate sense; and with fewer cries of “Zug Zug”.
DF: My two favorite zeds in Killing Floor would have to be the Crawler and the Stalker as they take a more indirect approach to scare the crap out of you. They will both appear as if out of nowhere if you are not intensely looking for them when you hear them. The Crawler has black skin, which helps him blend into certain environments. He moves across the ground pretty fast and leaps at you from long distances to attack. If you don’t kill him before he leaps, you often have a hell of a time looking down to find him when the rest of the horde is closing in on you. The Stalker also moves quickly and her cloaking means you hardly ever see her before she’s right on top of you. When they attack from outside your view, they often cause players to panic and fire off full clips but hit nothing.
ML: Adding onto what has already been said, these are experiments and if you are unlucky enough to get close to one you will notice the horrific tests and mutilations made to the specimens to make them more combat effective and unstable, for example the Flesh Pounds with steel shrapnel thrust into their skin or the Gorefast with a large blade cut and wrapped deeply into his hand.
One thing that beginners will very much appreciate is that all specimens have a graphical style consistent with their combat style, meaning when you see a Crawler with half a dozen spider legs you know for sure that he’s gonna be fast.
AW: Amazing how many of these Evil Corporations and Mad Scientists there are these days. Worrying times. Yes, in KF’s case, Horzine Biotech were engaged by the British government to conduct super-secret work into man-made soldiers, on a nice cheap basis. Mix some nice genetic engineering with handing out some large weapons and you can save a fortune on defense costs! By the time the government realizes it is NOT a good idea, the Mad Scientist has already gone off (WAY off) in some odd directions, and lies about shutting the program down. And, of course, then It All Went Horribly Wrong ©
GT: I’m sure that Killing Floor will contain many weapons to beat back the zombie hordes with. However, I’ve heard that it also has some in-game items that players might not expect. Can you tell us about some of those, such as the welder?
AW: The welder is very straight-forward. A hand-held, rechargeable electronic welding tool. Works on most doors, as just about every door uses SOME metal. So you can simply close a door – and weld it tight. Stops the zeds making it through, for a while at least. They WILL break through, but it will take time. Of course, they aren’t completely stupid and some will try to find other ways to get at you – other doors, windows, A/C vents – all sorts! You can cut the welds open again. It can be quite funny when the players realize there is an unstoppable horde coming through the other door – and you’ve welded up your only escape route!
GT: I know that Killing Floor can be played as a co-op or solo game. Are there major differences in the modes, or is it simply a matter of the numbers of players involved?
AW: It is the same game, automatically scaled to make sure it is a similar level of challenge for any number of players. How hard you find the Solo mode will depend on your play style. The “extra” challenge in Solo is that there is simply no-one to watch your back and that can make a huge difference, as you just can’t be shooting in every direction at once. You need to shoot fast and think fast to avoid being surrounded, cornered. And eaten.
ML: The Solo should really be used for getting used to the game and for times when you simply want to get killing without having to scream down the mic every time a Flesh Pound comes around the corner.
AW: The game will ship with the core game mode – you and your friends taking on the specimen hordes. Try and get through all the waves and finish off the Patriarch at the end! Inevitably, there are a whole bunch of ideas on the drawing board that we can add in after launch, including the “Story” mode from the mod, for instance.
GT: With the timing of the release of Killing Floor, it’s almost inevitable that it will be compared to Valve’s Left 4 Dead. Have you tried Left 4 Dead, and if so, how would you compare the style of that game to Killing Floor?
AW: I love L4D! There, I admitted it. But the games are really two different beasts. L4D shows all Valve’s attention to detail and polish, as you’d expect. As you’ll see, we like attention to detail and polish too. L4D gives you these insane rushes of hordes, mad killing sprees, mixed with some creeping around to the next location. Versus is great fun with the right bunch of guys. The most obvious comparison though is with the new Survival mode. And the difference is very simple between the games there. L4D is about mad rushes, hordes charging at you, live as long as you can. KF is more variable in pace, much darker, creepier. So long as you think about it, you can buy yourself moments to breath, recover – but there is a sense of dread always there. Lots of yelling of “Fleshpound! Fleshpound!” going on in the office ?
DF: Having only played L4D a little, the biggest difference I’ve seen is that it only takes a few zeds to scare the crap out of you in Killing Floor. Often you hear things creeping about around you, but you can’t see them. This is particularly true for the Crawler, which only stands a couple of feet off the ground. Although they are not very deadly, they are a terrible bother if they get too close. Since they blend into the hordes and some environments very well, you often frantically look around for them when you hear them. This is more directly true for the Stalker due to her cloaking ability. This diversity in the zeds that are after you makes the game play out entirely differently.
DN: I tried L4D when it first came out and I’ll actually be getting it soon. I didn’t want to get it while working on KF else I’d never get anything done. Comparing the two games is about as productive as a Romero vs Russo debate. There’s absolutely no reason why you can’t enjoy them both. While there are similarities, the two games each have their own unique aspects to set them apart. The biggest difference I’ve noticed in KF is that things can go south very quickly. Once that happens you don’t quickly forget and that is what instills that sense of dread knowing that one second you could be turning Clots into pulp and the next you might be taking a tour of their digestive system; all depending on your strategy as a player and a team.
ML: I would say simply that they should not be compared. Comparing Killing Floor with Left 4 Dead would be like comparing James Bond’s Lotus Esprit to the latest racing car, it shouldn’t be done. They are two separate products and great at what they are intended to be. Killing Floor is all about atmosphere, tension and great cooperative fights against hordes of Specimens that would like nothing better than to rip you to shreds.
GT: Killing Floor started out as a mod for Unreal Tournament. What’s it like going from a mod to a retail release? What are some of the challenges your team has had to overcome along the way?
AW: Didn’t you ask us this question 3 years ago ? (Note: It’s quite likely! – Editor) The single biggest challenge (for me) isn’t technical. It is the one about how do you maintain all that is really good about the mod, not lose any of that – and yet still enhance it dramatically. And that was helped by the fact that the core gameplay in the mod was truly great. Mind you, that is what caught our eye in the first place.
DN: The transition was a good challenge. Given the differences and difficulty between working on a mod and a retail game can be great, years of working on, releasing and maintaining that mod can introduce you to the type of work environment required to participate in a retail production. The biggest challenge is shifting gears. You may have several tasks to complete in a few months with a mod. With a commercial title those tasks may double, you have significantly less time to accomplish them, and the production quality has to be superb. For the players that have asked why they should get the retail game when the mod is free, this effort will be clear once they get their hands on it.
ML: Personally for me, its a great experience. The step up from mod development to working on a commercial game is quite huge, but very rewarding. Working alongside the Tripwire team was great and it is quite unbelievable how much your work will improve just by working commercially. The largest challenge for me personally was simply management and organization, never before was it so important to get work done right and in time.
GT: As a mod team, how did you reach the decision to go to a retail release, and how did you team up with Tripwire Interactive? Was there ever a time when you thought that you might not find a publisher?
AQ: I think it might be better to say “was there ever a time when you thought that you *might* find a publisher?” And the answer would be: no. Killing Floor started as an art project for me, and evolved from that into a fun little game after almost four years of sweat and blood and trial and error. Ironically, there was a point a few years back when Tripwire approached us about porting to RO, and I remember my response being “sure!” followed by doing nothing. Roll on 2008 though, and things were looking a lot different for KF. UT2k4 was pretty much dead, and the community was dwindling. So there was probably a bit of “crawling back” that happened when I approached them a second time, and discussed porting (and later, the game deal). I guess if you look at it another way, the time between KF’s first talk with Tripwire, and the game deal were necessary to get the mod to a point where its qualities stood out enough to warrant being picked up for retail.
DN: I’ve contributed to every version of KF since it’s been a UT2004 mod. I’ve stuck with it for that long, I didn’t see any reason why I should stop now. The decision to turn KF into a retail game was a great one. As a mod, KF’s exposure was really limited by the number of players that owned UT2004, a competitive arena FPS, that got involved in the online community, were proactive in their search for mods, and enjoyed cooperative and/or horror survival games. There’s a lot of forks in that road on the way to discovering a mod like KF. Becoming a standalone game was an excellent decision as it greatly expands the potential audience that KF can be exposed to by eliminating several prerequisites.
I never considered the possibility of not finding a venue to publish the game on. While there’s still a good demand for physical media, digital distribution has proven to be very attractive for both players and developers and that industry has developed quite well over the past several years.
GT: What’s one thing our readers might not know about Killing Floor that you think they should?
AW: The Killing Floor mod was first released back in 2005.
AQ: The lead developer of the original mod is super sexy and still single. He bathes regularly.
DN: You’ll be missing out on a lot of cool stuff if you stick with the mod. Get the game. Take it from someone that’s played it for four years, it’s worth it.
GT: When can we expect to see Killing Floor on Steam? Do you plan a release to retail stores as well?
AW: On pre-sale right now. Scheduled to be available to play May 14th. And yes, in various discussions on a retail release for North America and Europe. And Japan, too.
GT: Thanks for taking the time to speak with us! Is there any parting thought you’d like to share with our readers?
AW: Killing Floor isn’t Left 4 Dead. You can buy BOTH of them and enjoy them both. They are different games. And we said “recession-friendly pricing” – and now you know we meant it!
AQ: Environments in a horror game should ooze with atmosphere.
DN: Looking forward to wiping out some specimens with everyone on the 14th. Get Killing Floor and join the fight, I could always use the help.
ML: Killing Floor is simply a fantastic game, with good, rounded core game play built and tested for over four years as a mod and later tweaked and perfected by a commercial studio. I don’t think it can get much better!
We’d like to thank the Killing Floor team for taking the time to talk with us. If you’re interested in checking out Killing Floor, it’s slated for release on May 14th via Steam. With a retail price of just $19.99 (and a pre-order price of $14.99), it’s definitely priced right. You can get more info by visiting the Killing Floor Steam site, or by visiting their official site.