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Interview by ‘Moddb’ (April 26, 2006)

With roughly five thousand zombie mods in development today, you might wonder why you should care about this particular one more than others. Created by a one man army, this mod looks to be a zombie enthusiast’s single player wet dream.

Tell us a little bit about your mod.

Out Of Hell is a single-player horror game set in a small town that has been decimated by legions of demonic forces. Players will assume the roles of one of two survivors, both of whom are attempting to flee to a neighboring city. Discover a deep and branching storyline which unfolds through over 10 different dark and atmospheric locations, all of which can be played through in a non-linear fashion. Out Of Hell features huge levels, multiple endings, masses of blood-thirsty creatures and a wide array of both melee and ranged weaponry to defend yourself with.

From the description on your site, the game is not strictly a zombie game, as demons and other creatures exist in it as well. Tell us a bit about this.

I wanted to keep this as much of a ‘zombies only’ game as possible since I don’t like adding too many different variables in this type of horror scenario (e.g.: Zombies and Ghosts and Mutants and Bats vs. Human Soldiers and their Alien Allies) For the sake of the story I added in Demons, but they appear humanoid and are not monstrous so it doesn’t detract too much from the ‘zombie apocalypse’ mood. I added zombified dogs for a tiny bit of variety and also because, in my opinion, they’re the only cool looking zombified animals!

Why did you decide to work on this entire project by yourself? What advantages and disadvantages come along with this?

As stated in the past, I wanted to learn as much as I could in all aspects of making a small game. I also liked having the control over the direction of the content while avoiding some of the problems that could arise with disagreements in a mod-team setting.

The disadvantages (and there are many) are that it takes way longer to create. As opposed to being only a texture artist or a prop modeler and making only those things and then giving them to the mapper to put together, I’d have to do every single thing myself. Things that I didn’t know how to do I’d have to learn, which ate up so much time you wouldn’t believe! Coding was also a nightmare in the beginning since I just plain didn’t understand it. Over time, I played around with existing UT code and with the help of other coders along the way, I learned some of the basics that allowed me to add what I needed for the game. Of course, this would have been much simpler had I recruited a coder in the beginning and asked to incorporate this feature or that, butin the end it was a tremendous amount of fun and satisfaction and I think it was worth it going solo on the project.

What has changed between the original demo and the upcoming release of the mod?

The current build has been tweaked in all respects, from artwork to weapon functionality to game play mechanics, and so the demo isn’t an accurate representation of the final version. The demo was only meant to be a basic, watered-down, single-objective version of the full game to showcase the type of atmosphere, the different types of zombies and the direction I was taking it.

Things such as ranged weapons have been tweaked for damage, spread, and kickback while the melee weapons received independent damage sounds and a much needed overhaul to the way damage is dealt. The way the melee weapons functioned in the demo made them quite useless, but with the new way I’ve done the weapons the damage is dealt in increments over certain points in a swing, as opposed to simply occurring at the apex of the swing as it is in the demo. So for example, the axe will continually do damage throughout its swing as long as it connects with a zombie, not just when the axe reaches the middle of the screen. Headshot capabilities have also been given to some of the weaponry which adds a nice little touch to dispatching the undead.

Zombie attacks can now be disrupted, which will provide you with a split-second to dodge out of the way depending on the weapon you use. Zombies also have a random chance of being stunned when injured. That said, the zombies are now much harder to destroy if you don’t know the proper way of destroying them. It’s possible to empty 2 entire clips into a zombie and still have it coming after you. If you find out the proper way of dispatching them, they’ll die in much less allowing you to conserve ammo. I had some great suggestions after the release of the demo that I took very seriously, and one of the most important ones was to add a skill factor in taking down the zombies as opposed to having them go down in a specified range of shots. The reward comes in being able to conserve precious ammo, and also adds a bit of strategy to how each weapon is used, when, and in what situation.

The game is still difficult (as it should be, and I’ll never change that) but it’s not as unforgiving as the demo (mostly the result of cheap enemy attacks). A between-level save feature was also added so that you can continue your progress at another time.

In the graphics department a lot of the assets and textures have been overhauled. I spent more time adding in details to areas of the game that seemed bland, as well as making day, evening, and night versions of all the maps.

I’ve added several subtle changes to the way the player acts in-game, such as constant breathing sounds that change over time depending on the state of player health (something I always planned, but never knew how to do until I got used to coding), a constantly-draining health status, player speed depending on the health status, and some other movement changes.

In addition, a basic sort of food dependency system has been added in that the player will be forced to constantly seek out food items to stay alive. Though it’s not too intricate of a feature (at least, not as intricate as I’d like to incorporate it into a true, multiplayer zombie survival game scenario) it does add some neat situations for the player like raiding storefronts or fridges in an abandoned apartment for supplies to hoard. Food/Drink/Health items are carried along and the amount varies depending on whether or not you’ve found any backpacks. They’ll also take time to consume, meaning that you’ll have to find someplace safe to sit and eat. Pulling out and eating a sandwich mid-firefight with the undead will have disastrous consequences!

What kinds of weapons can players expect to find? Have you remained true to the “only realistic weapons found in this scenario will be used” idea, or did you splurge a little?

Player’s will find all kinds of melee weapons from axes to pitchforks scattered around town as well as a few different types of shotguns and pistols.

Since the very start I’ve tried to stay away from weapons like sniper rifles, heavy machine guns, grenades and the like. Aside from taking away from the believability of the situation in the game, (Finding a mine-layer conveniently lying on a park bench, or how a character with no previous weapons training is able to accurately use such firearms) I think it’s just way too much power to give to a player in a game like this. I really want the player to be uncertain and on-edge throughout the entire game and it’s harder to do if you’re going to give them too great an advantage. The biggest splurge would probably be the light machinegun which was the most recent addition. It isn’t made to be very over-the-top so it still fits with the theme.

What about Molotov cocktails, or a hairspray + lighter combination? ….Actually, I suppose a flaming zombie would be worse than just a normal one, wouldn’t it?

I deliberately left those out. I just never liked weapons like that in zombie games though I’m not entirely sure where this comes from. Given the way the zombies are here, setting them on fire using those methods wouldn’t help much anyway.

In the first demo, zombies would only chase you as long as they could directly see you in their line of sight. Is this still true?

Not in the full version. Zombies will attempt to chase you down as long as you are alive. It’s still possible to lose them but it’s a bit trickier.

Ages ago on your site forums, you were asking people how they would like zombies to react when you leap atop a car to get away from them. What do the zombies do now?

Originally, I didn’t like the idea of giving the zombies any sort of jumping ability. I just don’t like the way it looks and in terms of game play I think it would make things way too frustrating for the player (not being able to scramble to safety). I opted to leave it out but that in turn created other problems. As seen in the demo, they just wouldn’t know what to do when you got out of their reach, so they simply stood in one place taking punishment from player attacks. I’ve made a couple of changes since and though they still won’t clamber after you, they will at least move around near your position until you decide to drop down. The end result looks a little better. I’ve also added in a random vomit attack every time a zombie gets injured to counter a problem where you could just stand on cars, attacking the zombies with melee weapons while they just stood there.

Are there any vehicles in the game that you can drive or ride in?

There are vehicles in the game that the player will be in, but not be able to control. The map design makes it nearly impossible to have drivable vehicles since there is just too much clutter lying around. In the past, I’ve also stated that I didn’t feel that this would be good for the atmosphere, taking away from the scare factor if you could plow through hordes of zombies in a van!

Do you have any plans for a sequel or additional levels in the future?

I have plans for a sequel and also a side-story but whether or not I’ll begin work on these immediately after the release of Out Of Hell is undecided. I have a couple other projects of mine that aren’t horror based that I may end up doing first.

In your mind, what separates your “zombie mod” from the others out there?

I think the biggest difference lies with the story and the situations that are presented within. It doesn’t revolve around any sort of virus or chemical outbreak, nor are there large bands of armed survivors trying to fight back. The entire town is decimated, leaving only a handful of people left to figure out what had happened. I tried to emphasize the loneliness of the situation, attempting to make the player feel as stranded and as helpless as possible in a town where everything else is trying to find and butcher them. The zombies also adhere to a different set of rules. Many people will be surprised when they discover that the zombies won’t die when the head is taken off and that the zombies are driven by urges to destroy the living, not hunger. (People will find out that the zombies actually have no interest in feeding as the story goes on) I hope that these factors will help create a unique experience for everyone.

Do you have a release date planned?

June 20, 2006 is the exact date. I know I’ve made some release goals in the past, but you wouldn’t believe how many issues crop up over time!

So….why Chicken+Ribs Combo as a name?

To be completely honest, I simply had a craving for chicken and ribs one day and thought to myself “Hey! SWEET NAME!!”

Is the story going to be entirely self-contained, or will a sequel be necessary to further explain the goings on in the game? Cliffhangers seem to be popular things in gaming today.

The story is self contained and a sequel would only serve to add to it, however, it won’t be presented right to you. A lot of the story must be put together by the player, in that things such as files, notes, and other important documents will have to be found as the game progresses. I’ve left room for the player to draw his own conclusions from the events and theories provided by some of the characters in the game, so no one will be a hundred percent sure what has happened to the town. Multiple play-throughs will also be required to gain the biggest grasp on the story, as some events will only be revealed provided you take a certain route.

What did you think of Land of the Dead? I think Dennis Hopper saying “Zombies really creep me out, man” is forever going to ruin it for me, though it wasn’t just him…

I absolutely love Land Of The Dead! I personally thought it was impossible to top the original Dawn of the Dead, but Land of the Dead is now my favorite zombie movie. In all honesty, I didn’t bother seeing it when it first came out as it didn’t seem very appealing to me. I ended up renting it one night just for something to do, and I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised! Mr. Romero would never let fans of the genre down. The whole cast was fantastic, awesome special effects and zombies, and there were so many great subtleties with that movie. Great scenes like Kaufman’s ‘Responsibility’ speech and his elevator scene, the whole thing with Cholo becoming a zombie, and when ‘Slash’ (the Tom Savinni zombie who was the gang leader in the original Dawn) appeared (even carrying the same machete!), my head nearly exploded! I just love that movie.

What do you do outside of modding? School \ work wise?

Real life responsibilities take up much of my time, but otherwise if I’m not doing anything related to or for Out Of Hell, I’ll be console gaming!

Why do you think people are so fascinated with zombies?

Zombies are just plain cool in so many ways that it’s hard not to like them! They’re hideous and gruesome, yet always so varied in the way that they look. They’re nearly unstoppable and absolutely relentless in their pursuit of warm flesh. The whole idea of being injured by a zombie and then eventually becoming one is a downright freaky thought as well. I also think that the different kinds of situations that are attached to the ‘zombie apocalypse’ idea appeal to a lot of people.

And last but not least, want to give us some hints about those other projects you have in mind?

The Unreal engine is so versatile that you can do virtually any type of game that you want. I’m an old-school gamer at heart, so I’d like to make a side-scrolling game (Ninjas!), an overhead space shooter and a 3D beat’em up. I also have a first-person ghost-hunting game in mind as well as a fishing game. These are things that I’ve always wanted to make and now that Out Of Hell is done, it frees me up to create the sort of games that I’ve always wanted.

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