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House of the Dead: Overkill

Lead designer on zombies, bringing the arcade home and living up to expectations

House of the Dead Overkill is one of the top tier Wii games hitting in the first half of 2009. We managed to get a few questions directed at Headstrong's lead designer Alastair Halsby, who kindly took some time out from the development crunch and making zombies to answer them.

Here's what he had to say...

How far through is work on House of the Dead: Overkill?

Al Halsby: We're past gold master, and the game is being manufactured right now. We're all very excited to see what the reception will be.

What elements of the old House of the Deads did you want to keep for Overkill?

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Halsby: The fear of being overwhelmed by enemies, the sensation of fast movement and having a split-second to catch small targets for pickups. Also, we thought it was very important to make sure the enemies feel right when shot - so for example, a single headshot will always kill. The trick is pulling off the headshot in the first place.

And what did you want to change about the old formula?

Halsby: We had to expand the scope of the game, to make it appropriate for a console title. Arcade machines are often geared up to squeeze credits out of people (to maximise revenue). We wanted to give the impression that this was an ultra-cool arcade machine that you'd just dropped 40 credits into, and that it was capable of delivering a paced experience - so you get highs and lows, not just constant escalation.

Console light gun games have been near extinct in the last few years. Why do you think that is?

Halsby: I think the control scheme is the basic reason. Light-gun technology simply doesn't work with modern flat-panel TVs, or HDTVs, computer monitors etc. Previously light-guns were relatively cheap to make (a wire, a sensor and some plastic) but for the last few years you've needed much more expensive kit to do the same thing. Fortunately the Wii came along and integrated all of that kit for us.

What attracted you to Wii rather than the other, more powerful consoles? Did negative reviews of Time Crisis 4 on PS3 affect your decision?

Halsby: First and foremost the control scheme, obviously. The two-joystick twelve button console controllers are good for some games, but not for a pick-up-and-play blaster like House Of The Dead. We loved the simplicity of the Wii Remote - just point and shoot. Anyone can play it.

We were well into development when Time Crisis came out, so we followed it with fascination, but I don't think we were worried by any criticisms posed.

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Do you think there's room in the Wii audience for a 'mature' game like House of the Dead?

Halsby: Naturally! Didn't Resident Evil IV on the Wii sell over 1.5 million copies? Just because mature gamers enjoy Wii Sports doesn't mean they won't also enjoy blasting zombies in the face.

The game has a very distinct style. How many different art directions did you try before you settled for the current, Grindhouse-esque one?

Halsby: The pulp look was our second style, although I should mention that the majority of characters, locations and enemies were well underway before we did the makeover. Originally we had a 'softened realism' look, with a touch of the usual bright SEGA colours. The pulp theme came through with a confirmation of a solid mature rating, a funk soundtrack and plenty of dismemberment, so I think it was something the whole team leapt at as soon as it was suggested.

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