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Yager's Dead Island 2 was waylaid by uncertainty and Unreal Engine 4

Dead Island 2 went through a range of developers before its release, and Yager Developments had the most impactful—and troubled—time with it.

Justin Carter, Contributing Editor

June 20, 2023

2 Min Read
Key art for Dambuster's Dead Island 2, showing a Slayer in a pool surrounded by zombies.

A new report by Game Informer digs into Dead Island 2's development tenure under Yager Developments. The Spec Ops: The Line studio previously planned to turn the zombie sequel into a shared world game similar to Destiny, and the piece shines a look on how the project came into disarray. 

Techland was originally set to develop Dead Island 2, but Deep Silver rejected its pitch. As it shifted focus over to Dying Light, Yager pitched Deep Silver its take on sequel in 2012 and got approved, partially because it seemed like the cheapest bid at the time.

Notably, the shared world ambitions weren't part of Yager's original pitch. According to one source, Deep Silver basically told the developer to turn Dead Island 2 into "the world's smallest MMO," with a design structure and RPG mechanics similar to Bungie's sci-fi shooter.

"We're like, 'Well, what does seamless multiplayer mean?'," they recalled. "And [Deep Silver] says, 'Well, we don't really know; you figure it out.'"

A separate Yager developer was candid in telling the outlet that staff couldn't handle that type of game, both in terms of experience and technology. "Destiny was developed by maybe 600 people," they said. "We were a team of 90. Maybe 100. And we were not ready for that."

They added that there was one day where "95 percent of the company realized that the game was working really horribly. [...] I think it was probably 30 percent or 35 percent of the reason why this game was canceled in the end."

Yager's Dead Island 2 was too late to be saved

The Yager version from Dead Island 2 had other issues beyond the staff's inexperience with making a big-scale multiplayer game. It was one of the first studios to use Epic's Unreal Engine 4, which added to the development troubles. 

Staff from both Yager and Deep Silver believe the engine largely contributed to the project's end. While Dambuster's Dead Island 2 runs on Unreal Engine 4, the engine wasn't made for open-world games back then. 

One of Yager's higher-ups claims Epic "never got anywhere close to being able to say, 'Yes, this is an open world-feasible engine.'"

Despite assistance from Epic and staff from Volition trying to help, Deep Silver chose to kill Yager's Dead Island 2 in 2015. Development duties were transferred over to Crackdown 3 developer Sumo Digital in 2016 before finally settling on Dambuster Studios in 2019. 

To date, Dambuster's Dead Island 2 has sold over 2 million copies since its late April release. It's reportedly "exceeded expectations" of its parent company Embracer Group (which acquired Deep Silver in 2018].

Game Informer's report features more information on Yager's time with Dead Island 2, along with thoughts on Sumo Digital's brief time with the project and Techland's original sequel pitch.

About the Author(s)

Justin Carter

Contributing Editor, GameDeveloper.com

A Kansas City, MO native, Justin Carter has written for numerous sites including IGN, Polygon, and SyFy Wire. In addition to Game Developer, his writing can be found at io9 over on Gizmodo. Don't ask him about how much gum he's had, because the answer will be more than he's willing to admit.

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