The game behind the stunning trailer, developed by Axis Animation and Savalas, is finally ready for release
A young girl’s body lies in the grass, the image intercut with her running down a corridor pursued by undead hordes; time rewinds as she flies up, back through the window her father just threw her through as she grapples him from behind, biting a huge chunk from his neck, all backed by a melancholy classical soundtrack. So begins the trailer for Dead Island which packs more zombies, blood and pathos into three minutes than you’d think possible. It’s a beautifully constructed mini-movie that switches between forward and backwards storytelling, showing a family caught up in a world of horror. Unsurprisingly it’s turned Dead Island into one of the most anticipated games of the year.
Within hours of release the trailer set the internet on fire: for 18 hours it was it was the top trend on Twitter across the world, and within a few days it had over 4,000,000 views on YouTube. ‘It was amazing to see people from the film world calling us up saying “Why have we never heard of you guys?”’ says Richard Scott, managing director & executive producer at Axis Animation who made the trailer. It picked up a Golden Lion in Cannes and there are even rumours of a film.
‘There was more flexibility than normal,’ explains Stuart Aitken (managing director & technical director at Axis), who directed the trailer. ‘[Developers] Deep Silver didn’t want to focus on the playable characters so we had free rein on who the main characters should be. I think tonally it was quite different, we decided to treat this like a tragedy rather than look at these heroes and how much they kick ass. You are actually watching the downfall of this family; I think it made people feel they could be in that situation, it made them empathise more.’
It’s hard to emphasise how much the music brings the whole piece together, setting the tone and taking it beyond your usual zombies on the rampage action. ‘They wanted this emotive music which is a contrast to the gruesome brutal visuals, to bring out the tragic reality of zombie attacks to try and make it emotional,’ adds Giles Lamb of Savalas, who composed the music. ‘Which is quite unusual for a game trailer which is usually about impact.’
Savalas released the track on iTunes and it soon topped the soundtrack chart in Europe. ‘It was just unbelievable for me as a composer it was a real profile mega-boost,’ says Lamb. ‘It was above the Inception soundtrack and these other big Hollywood soundtracks.’
What’s even more interesting is that Axis and Savalas are both companies based in Glasgow. Founded in 2000 Axis have been making games trailers for top tier games such as Killzone 2, Mass Effect 2, Brink and Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions as well as computer generated adverts (clients include Scottish Power, Renault and Sky) plus short CGI films (including viral teasers ‘inspired by’ Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch - see below). Savalas provide soundtracks to film, television, games, radio and commercials, such as music for the films Red Road and Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself, the Irn Bru ads (see below) and the BBC.
But with all this focus on the trailer can the game live up to the hype? The game itself looks like a fairly conventional zombie action title. ‘One of the more controversial elements of that trailer was because we had that freedom we could deviate from what the potential tone of the game might be,’ says Aitken. ‘It’s a short film set in that world, it doesn’t tell you exactly what the game is like, but we’re trying to tell you something about the world and the franchise.’
‘For me it’s like you make a great advert for a soap powder it doesn’t mean the soap powder is great. We are being brought into the mix to help market and sell the product,’ adds Scott.
The impact of the trailer has been so great the developers have actually tweaked the game itself. ‘The game was still in development at that point and the reaction to the trailer fed into that,’ according to Aitken.
‘They are bringing in more emotional elements,’ adds Lamb. ‘It’s very bizarre that the trailer has influenced the game, but in a way you’re just testing the audience.’
Dead Island (Deep Silver) is released on PC/PS3 and Xbox 360 on 9 Sep.