John Garvin, writer, and director of Days Gone, reveals why the world is your enemy
With a launch date set in stone – 22 February next year – there’s no looking back for Bend Studio, the dev behind Days Gone. Despite recently playing the game, we still have questions. So we’re sitting down with writer and director John Garvin to discuss why Freakers aren’t zombies, and more.
Garvin helps us dig a little deeper into how the game plays, discussing upgrades, the open world, and how anything can happen… OPM: What is the elevator pitch on what Days Gone is all about, for those unfamiliar with it? John Garvin: It’s an action/adventure, thirdperson shooter, set in an open world where the world comes for you. So it’s an open world that’s dangerous, it’s always dangerous. As soon as you leave one of the encampments, you are going to have to deal with hordes, infected animals, marauders, ambushers, and that’s really what makes us unique, the fact that we’ve created an open world where no matter what else you’re trying to do, you’re trying to survive. OPM: There are obviously a lot of games with zombies and things of that nature. People see Days Gone and think it’s another zombie game. How do you respond to that? JG: Well, you know, if you are putting me in the same company as The Last Of Us, which is one of the best games ever made, and my
response to that is, I always want to know what they mean by that, because to me, some of the best movies I’ve seen are about ‘Hey, you take a mass infection, you kill a lot of people, you change the world, and then you make people dangerous, so millions and millions and millions of creatures want to kill you and eat you.’ Instantly, I’m on board with that. I’m like, ‘Okay, yeah, tell me more’. Especially in an open world game, because I haven’t seen a lot of that. But I feel if it’s got a compelling story, if it’s a new take on it, so in the grand scheme of zombies, yeah, we’re like, infected. So we’re like 28 Days Later zombies, instead of Walking Dead zombies. And that’s, to my mind at least, that’s a huge difference. OPM: Why is it a big change? How does switching from classic zombies to infected beings affect the gameplay? JG: Because what that allowed us to do was to create an ecosystem; you’re in an open world, with a day/night cycle, and you’ve got creatures that need to eat, they need to sleep, they need to drink… all of that is built into the daily cycles of the horde. You find a horde den – a cave or a mine – you can track what they’ve done during the day. You can actually find where they go to feed, because we have all of these mass graves in the world. That’s why they are out here in the wilderness. And then you can find out where they feed, where they drink, and you can follow them and learn their habits, and that’s important, because later on there’s going to be missions where you have to take them out. And they’re just dangerous all the time. If you run into one while you’re on the highway trying to do something else, good things don’t come of that. OPM: Can you tell us a bit about what we are seeing today in this demo? JG: So we wanted to give you guys a hands-on experience of the open world. So this is about an hour and ten minutes into the game or so; the first hour is a sort of linear experience, it introduces the main characters, introduces a lot of the world, and then we say, ‘okay, here’s the open world, go and do what you want to do’. So you have, in this example, you have a couple choices. You have this job called Let Freedom Ring, which is one of the ambush camps, and Copeland, one of the characters of the game says, ‘Hey, go take these guys out.’ But you also have your injured best friend, and he needs medical help, so you’ve got to go and break into the MMU, which is a Mobile Medical Unit, and you find these scattered throughout the open world and they all have a different puzzle to get into them. And
IF YOU RUN INTO SOMEBODY OUTSIDE OF THE HUMAN ENCAMPMENTS, THEY’RE DANGEROUS.
that’s just two of the things you can do. There’s also an infestation zone you can clear out. And doing that opens up a fast travel route. Or, you have other ambush camps you can take on, and you’re always dealing with these ambient events. Things like a pack of wolves will suddenly attack you, and you weren’t even aware that they were there. So that’s kind of why we wanted to demo this part of the game, is because it’s open world, you get to ride the bike, you get to do ranged combat against humans if you want, or you can solve this puzzle, fight swarmers, try to help your friend. OPM: We played the section where we were helping our friend. We had to go to a medical trailer, and fix and power up the generator. At one point, we were on our way to the next mission, and we ran out of fuel. Then this crazy woman came after us with a pipe – who would she be? JG: That just happens. It happens in the open world. So she was a marauder, and she wanted to steal your stuff and kill you, so that she could take all of your stuff. OPM: So a marauder is a human enemy? JG: And one of the things that we decided a long time ago about the world is that if you run into somebody outside of the human encampments, they’re dangerous. There’s no concept of running into… well, actually, I take that back, there are times that you can find hostages, and it’s very apparent who are the good guys and who are the bad guys. But for the most part, if you run into somebody, they are trying to kill you. Obviously, because she had a pipe, she was trying to kill you. OPM: We didn’t even want to kill her, but we had to because she was attacking us. JG: There you go, that’s what happens. OPM: It seems like there are a lot of systems, and a lot of depth. We got to repair our vehicle. Can you talk a little about those elements? JG: Yeah, so we call that ‘action survival’, and what we wanted was the excitement of an experience that’s real, without the minutiae of a lot of, you know, you have to fuel your bike, you have to repair your bike, but you don’t have to change the oil, or check the pressure on its tyres. So there’s a certain amount of upkeep that we want you to have to be aware of, because it creates opportunities. Like, if you ran out of gas in the wilderness, and suddenly you’re on foot, you know, you’re going to have people with pipes trying to kill you. And that wouldn’t happen had you paid more attention and gassed up at Copeland’s camp before you left. So it’s one of those things where we just want the player to be aware and be thinking about things. Don’t take things for granted. So that’s one example. OPM: And we understand it’s going to be possible to upgrade Deacon St John as well. In what kind of ways can we improve this central character as we play? JG: Obviously you’re managing your health, right? So that’s pretty important. And if you did the MMU, then you know that there was an upgrade in there, so there’s newer technology. If you open the right crate, yeah, you get the injector. So there’s 13 of those in the game, and if you find them, and get them, then you can upgrade your health significantly, and that makes a huge impact on your survivability when you’re in the middle of the world. OPM: So we boost our health and then we can own the game, right? JG: When you’re fighting a horde, all the health in the world isn’t going to help you. You need other skills. OPM: It seems like it’s okay to run away from the Freakers? The creatures that attacked us when we came out of the trailer? We fought a couple, but then we were losing, so we got on our bike and rode away. JG: I encourage anybody to run when they need to. It’s a solid tactic when against the horde. OPM: So getting on in the game is not about clearing areas? JG: It is about clearing areas. So there’s a logging camp at the foot of O’Leary Mountain, which is where your friend is. There is a logging camp there that is what we call an infestation zone. So that infestation zone has four or five nests in it, and each of those nests has to be burned out, and then once you light a nest on fire, Freakers will come out, and you’ve got to fight them, you’ve got to deal with them. So you absolutely are forced at points to take them on, if there are things that you are trying to accomplish. So why do you want to clear a nesting zone? Because that’s the only way you can open fast travel routes. So we do have fast travel in the game, but if the marker route goes through an infestation zone, you can’t use it until you clear out a zone. OPM: What do you hope people take away from the cool stuff they might see or encounter in the game? JG: Well, the most important thing is I hope they think it’s fun. So riding the bike, and just the way the bike feels, the scale of the world, like being able to ride to your next objective, and then get out on foot and have to, you know, the combination of on-foot objectives while you’re trying to solve puzzles, or take out swarmers, or fighting marauders, or just riding through the world itself, and facing the dangers of the world. You know, it’s kind of funny, but even in 20 minutes, I think you can get a good sense of what that is. OPM: Is there an ultimate objective in the story that you guys aren’t talking about it yet? Tell us a secret… JG: It’s definitely… we haven’t been focusing too much on story yet. There will be a lot more to come on that, coming soon. I’m the writer, and the director, and I’ve written all the games for SIE Bend, and they are all narrative, story-driven games. So this is a huge part of the game. We’re just not talking about it yet. OPM: Worth a try! Can you tell us anything else you want to get out there? JG: Just that the world comes for you. I think that’s the number one thing, because it’s about how dangerous the world is, and giving the player all the tools that they want, and letting them solve it however they want.
Freakers are fast – always remember where you left your motorbike.
Middle John Garvin also wrote and directed the Syphon Filter series. Left Rain dampens sound, but brings out more Freakers. Right Too many. Run, don’t shoot!