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Zombie Driver HD XBLA Interview and Contest [Updated]

Seeing as how we don’t have a new Xbox Windows Phone release to talk about this week, it’s a perfect time for some Xbox 360 discussion. Zombie Driver HD - one of my personal favorite XBLA games of 2012 is on sale to Xbox Live Gold members for only 400 MS Points/$5 this week. It regularly sells for 800 Points, which is already a fair deal given the trend towards pricing XBLA titles at 1200.

To celebrate the sale, we’ve got Zombie Driver HD gameplay impressions and an interview with the game’s developer. Oh, and did I mention we’re giving away Zombie Driver avatar clothing and props as well? Find out how to win one after the break!

To kill a zombie

Zombie Driver HD

Zombie Driver HD is a top-down driving game in the vein of Grand Theft Auto 1 and 2, only with a level-based structure and much more combat thrown into the mix. Players get to drive a number of vehicles, from taxis to buses to bulldozers across a zombie-infested city while completing objectives for a shadowy military organization.

Much of the game’s fun comes from plowing through huge hordes of zombies of all shapes and sizes. But players also get several guns with which to blast the undead back into oblivion, including flamethrowers and rocket launchers. The gameplay doesn’t vary too much, but there are several different kinds of levels and some challenging fights against gigantic mutated bosses. Outside of the campaign, there’s also a tough racing mode and an endless Slaughter mode – both have excellent leaderboards.

Zombie Driver HD is a great game if you enjoy this style of driving game – some people can’t get their head around driving from an overhead view. My criticisms include the terrible and unskippable voice acting and slightly long loading times. Still, I had a blast going after all 400 GamerScore – maybe you will too. Xbox 360 owners can grab Zombie Driver HD at Xbox.com or the PC version (not currently on sale) from Steam.

Interview with Pawel Lekki, COO at Exor Studios

Pawel, please tell us a few things about yourself outside of the world of gaming.

Pawel Lekki of Exor Studios

I think there isn’t much outside the world of gaming because I spend most of my day at work to be honest. But if I’m not working I enjoy travelling by car around Europe. Moving around in your own vehicle gives a lot of freedom, and I annually make road trips with a few friends. Our record braking trip so far was visiting 11 countries in 7 days with a total of 5000km on the road.

How did you get into game development?

The first gaming-related thing I did [actually involved] classic role playing games. I was a game master for 5 years, and together with our team we created our own version of one of the popular RPG systems. I guess you could say we started modding with pen and paper.

When it comes to traditional computer game development, I started by making levels for various games with my brother. The first game for which we made our own maps was Age of Empires, then StarCraft, and later we moved on to first person shooters like Unreal Tournament, Quake 3 and Half-Life. The first Make Something Unreal contest actually played an important role in our journey because it made us go public and share our works on the internet. After that we started working on mods for Half-Life and informally started Exor as a modding group. Our first public mod was ‘D.I.P.R.I.P.’ for Half-Life 2 and because of our work on it we were all hired by a Finnish mobile game development company called Gamelion. That was the beginning of my professional game development career which started 7 years ago.

What led you and your cofounders to form Exor Studios?

After working for two years on mobile games at Gamelion we felt like we weren’t really getting enough satisfaction from our work. In the days of Java mobile development, there was a lot more business development and porting than actual game development. There was never enough time to iterate on game design or to polish our games enough. That was our main reason for starting our own studio and going independent.

Since Exor is located in Poland I have to ask: do you know the guys at CD Projekt? And are the Witcher novels awesome in the original Polish?

CD Projekt is located in Warsaw and Exor Studios is in Szczecin (relatively far away), so unfortunately we don’t know anyone at CD Project, but I personally enjoyed playing The Witcher a lot. They are probably the most known Polish game developer and I hope they can represent the Polish game development scene as well as they [have done] so far.

When it comes to the original Witcher novels, I personally didn’t like their style. In my opinion they were too dark and “down to earth.” They also have a very strong “Polish accent” - just as you see it in the game. I think that worked incredibly well in the game, but when it comes to reading, I’m more of a Tolkien, Margaret Weiss, or Tracy Hickman fan. Nevertheless the book series is a huge hit in Poland and it has a strong cult following. I guess I’m just different in that regard.

Let’s talk about some of the influences on the original Zombie Driver. What was the initial idea behind the game?

We first wanted to make a quick and easy project and we thought that a retro top down perspective would fit that purpose very well. We also wanted to make a game with cars that have guns attached to them. The next logical step was to populate a city with zombies and let the player mow them down in huge numbers. We had a few ideas about making the gameplay more open and less linear, but we simply didn’t have the resources to do that.

Did any classic games help inspire the gameplay?

We definitely looked at the classics – Grand Theft Auto 1 and 2. One of the best things in that game was making a juicy gouranga  and we wanted to recreate that feeling, but with much more intensity – hence the zombie horde. (The term “Gouranga” is displayed in the first GTA when players run over a group of Hare krishnas. –ed.)

What led Exor to revamp the original PC game as Zombie Driver HD?

Zombie Driver HD

We always wanted to release it on XBLA and PSN, but originally we didn’t plan a re-release on Steam. The technical side of developing the console ports took much longer than we expected, but [during] the same time we kept adding content to the game and improving it. At some point we decided that [HD had become so] different from the PC original that it warranted a new name. However, I’m not sure if calling it Zombie Driver HD really worked well. Most people [seem to] think that we just improved the graphics, but there is simply so much more content in the game.

Did you address any specific feedback about the original game when creating the HD version?

Absolutely. One of the biggest complaints was that the Story mode missions were all the same, so we completely overhauled that mode and added a lot more variety to the game play. Another huge complaint was the lack of a mini map in the original PC version or that the nitro was treated as a regular weapon - now it works as a separate system. [We also made] a lot of other small tweaks and changes.

What aspects of Zombie Driver HD are you most proud of?

I’m really happy with the new nitro system and how it made the game a lot more dynamic. We also made the game run almost three times faster on the PC than it did before. The story mode in Zombie Driver HD has received a lot critique. Nevertheless, I think it is much better than in the original.

One of HD’s improvements is the addition of voice acting for the story. Unfortunately, the voices – particularly the female – aren’t so great. These scenes are unskippable during actual story missions, too. If you ever release an update, would it be possible to change it so they can be skipped?

We are aware of the reviews that the voice acting has received... Unfortunately [new] audio files would be too big for the 4MB patch limit on XBLA so we won’t be able to update them on that platform. When it comes to skipping cutscenes, we aren’t planning to change that.

Aww. Well, do you have any concrete DLC plans for HD yet, and if so, will the DLC add new Xbox Live Achievements to the game?

We don’t have any DLC plans yet. We would like to add some new vehicles and maps to the game [eventually].

Zombie Driver HD is Exor’s first Xbox 360 project. What was it like working with Microsoft, from the earliest stages of the process through final certification?

We have a mixed opinion about working with them, to be honest. Their technical support works really well, but it appears they don’t really want to talk to developers in terms of how their platform works. Our only contact with Microsoft was through our publisher Cyberfront.  Microsoft refused any direct discussion with us about the game. We don’t actually have anyone to talk to at Microsoft about our future projects.

Finally, Zombie Driver HD has also just come out on Tegra-powered Android tablets. Would Exor be interested in releasing Windows 8 or Windows Phone 8 ports in the future as well?

We would like to do that, but Microsoft doesn’t allow games rated PEGI 18 on the Windows Store, so that platform is closed for Zombie Driver HD. I don’t understand Microsoft’s policy on this, and I hope they change their mind someday. I mean, you won’t see a lot of blockbuster hits on their Windows 8 platform because of this. No GTA, no Assassin’s Creed, no Witcher

Contest

Zombie Driver taxi avatar prop

Now that you're properly educated on the joys of driving over zombies, we can finally give out some avatar codes (skull mask or taxi prop). To enter, make sure you have both a forum account and a commenting account! Post a comment with the following information:

  • Forum username
  • Do you own an Xbox 360?
  • What is your favorite zombie game and why?

The seven people who leave the most interesting answers will receive an avatar item download code via PM in our forums. This contest ends at the close of Saturday, February 16th.

Update

The contest has ended. Winners and their favorite zombie games:

  • Jdelroyc, The Walking Dead
  • CJ Thunder, ???
  • Spacedvest, Read Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare
  • Tylerh1701, Read Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare
  • Wellsmanfu, Dead Rising
  • YamaYamaYama, Dead Rising
  • Sans Gluten, Zombies Ate My Neighbors
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