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Tim Willits – Chief Creative Officer at Saber Interactive – discusses the key to developing a great licensed video game.
Tim, it’s great to catch up. To kick us off, what about the Evil Dead franchise made it ripe for the video game treatment?
We’ve always felt that this franchise is a perfect fit for a brand-new, modern game. Evil Dead has so many iconic characters that, combined with its approach to humour and its over-the-top gory action, come together for a great new game.
Yes! And it’s already gone down well. One review said it feels ‘made by fans, for fans’. What was your relationship to the franchise before making the game?
Many of us at Saber are long-time Evil Dead superfans, so this was always a dream project for the team. My personal favourite is Evil Dead 2, but all of the movies and the television show are great.
The gore, the humour, the chainsaw hand! There’s lots of strings to pull at when looking at the brand. What were some of the key elements you knew the game had to have in order to create an authentic Evil Dead experience?
We really wanted to bring the Evil Dead universe to life in a game more faithfully than ever before, so there are a ton of key elements incorporated from all the films and the TV show. These include iconic characters – many voiced by their original actors – and fan-favourite environments, like The Cabin, recreated.
We also have recognisable weapons like Ash’s chainsaw and boomstick, enemies like Eligos and Henrietta and much more. It was a priority for us to capture the spirit of the series and the trademark approach to action and Deadite-dismembering combat.
Yes, you mention working with the original actors – and that includes series star Bruce Campbell. What was that working relationship like?
It was great! He voices four different versions of Ash Williams in the game, one from each film and one from the TV series, and it was wonderful working with him in the recording booth. He put a ton of effort into all kinds of details in the game and we think that it shines through in a way fans and players will appreciate.
“Many of us at Saber are long-time Evil Dead superfans, so this was always a dream project for the team.”
And the same can be said of Dana Delorenzo and Ray Santiago – Kelly and Pablo in Ash Vs Evil Dead – and the entire returning cast.
Another iconic element of the series is Sam Raimi’s sweeping demon camerawork. It was great to see that make it into the game…
We knew we wanted our Kandarian Demon players to see and move through the environment in the same exact way viewers see it on screen. We iterated on the idea and landed on the sweeping, fast-paced first-person camera that’s in the game now.
We’ll put a quick video above here so people can check it out. Was it a challenge to recreate that style in-game?
Our team is incredibly talented and made it work. When you combine that with laying traps, spawning Deadites and possessing players, it really helps to not only provide a new unique playstyle but also to completely capture the feeling of being a Kandarian Demon.
Kudos, it’s a great execution. Now, with licensed games, I’d imagine there’s a bit of a tightrope walk between being respectful to the source material, without being creatively handcuffed by it. How did you guys walk that line?
It wasn’t really an issue. We knew the type of game we wanted to make, and we had a good idea of how the franchise would translate to an asymmetrical multiplayer horror experience.
There are always conversations about creative decisions during development, things to tweak here and there, but by and large our licensor partners were very supportive of the vision and gave us everything we needed to make what players are enjoying today. And we’re far from done – we’ve got exciting plans for more content that we’ll be sharing soon.
We’ll keep our eyes peeled for that. The first Evil Dead came out in 1981, and I’d imagine the slightly grubby, low-budget feel of the original trilogy is tough to capture in a slick video game…
Well, we knew we wanted to create a modern version of the original trilogy’s atmosphere, so we kept the dark and spooky ambiance, the characters and weapons and the bloody action, and of course the aforementioned Demon gameplay.
“As technology improves and fandoms grow, developers and publishers are realising there’s a market for quality, licensed video games.”
We think we did a good job transplanting the feel of the franchise into a modern multiplayer experience, and we’re really happy to have heard from countless fans of Evil Dead that recognize that as well.
As well as Evil Dead, we’ve recently covered news of video game adaptations for brands like Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Indiana Jones and Bond… In years gone by, licensed games haven’t always been looked at in the best light, but do you think we’re in the midst of a bit of a heyday for licensed video games?
Absolutely. As technology improves and fandoms grow, developers and publishers are realising there’s a market for quality, licensed video games. And that’s only going to continue as these games get better and better.
The key to doing it well is to understand the licence, understand its fanbase, and then deliver a worthwhile experience that players – including old fans and new – will want to get into, and get their friends into.
Consumers are savvier than ever before. They’ll see a cash grab for what it is, and they’ll appreciate the teams that put the time, energy and heart into bringing their favourite franchise to a video game.
Absolutely. Tim, I think that’s a great note to wrap on. Thanks again!
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