An Interview with Jeff Ross the Game Director of Days Gone

After four months since the release of Days Gone, the PlayStation exclusive has seen tremendous success around the world. As of the end of July 2019, Days Gone was ranked the second best-selling game in the UK in physical sales and has sold very well in other European countries ranking in the top 3 in Austria, Sweden, Switzerland and Portugal, according to GfK Entertainment. Days Gone was also ranked in the top 10 in best-selling games so far in the USA, according to NPD. Along with their continued success, Bend Studio has released plenty of post-launch updates and free content, including survival mode, bike skins and weekly challenges that span across twelve consecutive weeks. The last challenge releases on Friday, September 13th, along with New Game Plus.

Days Gone is an open-world action-adventure game set in post-apocalyptic Oregon. You play as Deacon St. John, a drifter who rides the broken road trying to survive. The landscape is beautiful, but horror is around every corner not allowing you to catch your breath. Two years after the outbreak, millions of cannibalistic and mindless Freakers roam the world. Other survivors and even infected animals hunt you as you fight to stay alive. As terrifying as the world has become, what lies in the core of the game is brotherhood, trust and hope.

Today, I had the great privilege to speak with the Game Director behind Days Gone, Jeff Ross. Jeff was a designer for sixteen years at Bend Studio working on titles such as Syphon Filter, Resistance: Retribution and Uncharted: Golden Abyss. After six years of tireless effort, I wanted to find out a little more about the behind the scenes making of Days Gone during this time, and hit on points of the game that fascinated me during my playthroughs. Jeff took time out of his busy schedule to answer my questions about some of the thinking process during the development stage, the balance of design and gameplay, the strong narrative aspect of Days Gone and more.


The Broken Road: First of all, how’s your ankle doing? I hear Lost Lake has a pretty good doctor.

Jeff Ross: I was afraid Addy would try to use that Liston knife on me, so I opted for Bend’s fully functioning, state of the art hospital. Sorry, Addy! The ankle’s feeling much better now (just over one month into the healing). It turned out be a really small fracture from a relatively low-speed bike crash at 25 mph, it still had a pretty big impact on my day-to-day life. If I hadn’t of been geared up with proper riding boots it would have been much worse. Let my story be a reminder to everyone to ride safe.

What is one thing you had in the script that you really enjoyed, but didn’t make it into the final cut? Whether that is a character moment, side quest, extra storyline, etc.

We considered adding jobs called Survivor Stories. These were moments where Deacon could overhear people in encampments, learn about their struggles and unresolved emotional issues born from the sudden onset of the apocalypse. These were opportunities for Deacon to embark on adventures to find key objects, use tracking to determine the fate of loved ones, and other ways he could help bring closure to these survivors. It was a way to flesh out the world and expand the story lens to show the devastation was shared and not unique to Deacon. We ultimately realized these would be too distracting from the main narrative and decided against developing them. As it turns out we had plenty of other content to make an epic game.

What was the most complicated issue to work on during the development process? Horde mechanics, motorcycle movement, random encounters, gameplay balance or something else?

Of course it was all hard, but we had some developers who executed at the top of their game for the horde, motorcycle, open world, and everything else. The most challenging task for me was balancing and tuning an epic 30+ hour game. With narrow deltas between the start and end states for things like guns, melee, attributes, skills, and bike upgrades it really meant playing incredibly long loops to get a feel for their changes over time. Of course the more I played the better I got at the game, so I had to find a way to filter out my biases and try to see the game through the eyes of first time players.

What made you decide on the name Freakers?

This was all John Garvin. He’s a bold Creative Director who’s never content with easy answers. And he had this concept pretty early on. He was really just trying to capture whatever colloquialisms might emerge as survivors tried to describe creatures that were new to their world. Theoretically you could travel to another location where the locals had different nicknames.

When creating the horde at the Old Saw Mill, was 500 Freakers the magic number that you wanted to hit for the player to experience? Was there a time that you wanted to significantly increase or decrease that number?

We had to counter-balance performance limitations with our desire to visually fill the space with enough enemies to seem daunting or impossible to take-on. When you’re creating something new like the horde you really don’t have any data or examples to use as a starting point. I have to admit that we started with some wild guesses just to start the conversation, and 500 was design’s starting number, expecting to be talked down. But kudos to the engineering team for sticking with it and making that work. I really don’t think it would have been that compelling otherwise.

The motorcycle is not just a toy to use for transportation, but another character in the game. Do you have more ideas on how to continue that direction for design and upgrades for a possible sequel? Maybe attaching weapons to the bike, creating a sort of Mad Max style?

I’m really happy with how the bike systems turned out. We have a key philosophy, “the bike is essential for survival.” Combined with the Action Survival pillar, we were able to make tough design decisions (things like saving at the bike, adding saddlebag ammo upgrades, and requiring the bike for fast travel) that helped fill the open world loops with tons of tension that became a trademark of the game. Finally, Days Gone will always be grounded in a believable day-after-tomorrow reality and tone that keeps players grounded. We’ll continue to push the creative gameplay limits, but we never want to transport players out of that grounded reality.

From the very start of the game we see Deacon and Boozer chasing down Leon and ending with Deacon killing him. Toward the end of the game, Deacon goes back to that same spot to save Manny. Are these two story points supposed to show the transformation of who Deacon became by the end of this journey?

The Days Gone story is a complex, highly-interwoven tapestry. Every detail, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant is intended to serve the larger story and world.

The details in Days Gone are truly something to witness. From the movements of Deacon’s finger for trigger discipline or shifting gears on the motorcycle by using the clutch and gear shift, to blood splattering on Deacon’s hand from a knife blow. How important was it for your team to get these little things right?

Details like these are essential for immersing and keeping players locked into believing our world is real. I have to be honest and admit I didn’t even have to ask for many of these details—each team in the studio pushed their elements as far as they could, and the result was often times me being just as surprised as you whenever I discovered these nice little touches.

The stories are what attracts me to video games. What I love so much about Days Gone is that everything you do relates to the overall narrative with the intertwining storylines. Not only does this impact the story elements, but it makes the gameplay feel worth it. What made you choose this style over the normal open-world checklist missions?

John and I made a decision early on there would be no superfluous activities in our world. Everything available to players would have to advance the narrative in some way (whether it was the main story, or secondary world building). The Storylines menu was added quite late in development, mainly to as a way to reinforce how everything mattered to the story, especially when players spent significant periods of time in the open world between missions with cinematics with overt storytelling.

I hate to put you on the spot Jeff, but how are you doing in the challenges so far?

There was a time I used to joke I was the best Days Gone player in the world because I got to present the game in public demos like the E3 2016 Sawmill demo. But with the release of our challenges, my days at the top are gone. The players are really good, tactical, and cleverly using the rings and patches in ways to go back and run up their scores. I’ve resigned myself to achieve Gold in every challenge, but making a run for the top of the leaderboards just isn’t in the cards.

What is your favorite challenge, and which character do you prefer to use?

First of all, I love the crazy variety our designers have come up with. They also did a great job generating sub-challenges with a lot of depth. Having said all of that, I love the raw simplicity of Surrounded especially played with Boozer, my bald brethren.


I would like to give a big THANK YOU to Bend Studio and Jeff Ross for their support and coming onto my blog to speak to me. I am very grateful for this opportunity and I couldn’t say thank you enough. You can catch all the latest news about Days Gone from Bend Studio on TwitterFacebook and Instagram.

[Sources: NPD via: VentureBeat; GfK Entertainment via: TheSixthAxis]

The Last Days

The seven year wait is over… The Last of Us Part II is out today! In celebration, I wanted to put my own spin on this week’s preparation for the game the only way I know how, Days Gone style. On Monday I started a little series called The Last Days combining Days Gone and The Last of Us together for one ultimate crossover. Each day I posted photos, fun questions and comparisons on Twitter for people to join in on the discussion. Thank you all for participating, it was a lot of fun! To end The Last Days series, I wanted to dive a little deeper into the comparisons of both games and reveal the winners you answered for the questions during the week.

*Major SPOILERS ahead for both games*

They’re Not Zombies

First and foremost, both games do not include the term zombies. This is a similarity between the two games, but also a difference. The word zombie is casually thrown out by people in regards to any dead or undead human that has formed into a cannibalistic creature in media. Both games took the sense of a zombie, and spun the genre to fit their own creative story.

In Days Gone, the infected humans or animals in this case are called Freakers. The Freaker Virus was developed from research done at Cloverdale Lab. The virus was spread across the world by one person who unknowingly was infected by trying to expose the corrupt Cloverdale at an environmental convention. At the convention held in Portland, Oregon the infection spread from person to person where they then traveled back home all over the world. Freakers have multiple stages including Swarmers, Bleachers, Newts, Screamers, Reachers, Breakers and an Intelligent type. Freakers are not dead in the way you think of zombies. The virus also crossed species infecting different animals including wolves, bears, crows and bats.

In The Last of Us, a parasitic fungal infection or commonly known as the Cordyceps Brain Infection is what devastated humankind causing the fungus to grow while the host is still alive. The infection grows in multiple stages with each stage more dangerous than the last. If infected, a host begins as a Runner. If the host continues to “survive” it can move on to a Stalker, Clicker or Bloater. It all depends on the length of infection.

Quick Points:

  • Both games use the term “Runners” as a type of infected. Both are dramatically different.
  • Both games use a “heavy” class for their infected. The Last of Us – Bloater. Days Gone – Breaker.
  • The Last of Us infected is classified as classes based on the duration of infection. Days Gone is classified as types depending on how the virus infected a person based on structural DNA or evolution of the virus.

Story Beats

If you examine any story close enough to another you will find some similarities most of the time, especially in a post-apocalyptic setting. Looking at the story alone, here are some of the story beats I found that relate to each other in some way.

Let’s start at the beginning. In both games, the story begins pre-apocalypse as we start to see the world go into chaos. Deacon and Joel both lose someone (in some capacity) they love very much. As a player, we are then connected to those characters because we feel their grief; we are invested on where the story goes, what happened to the world and how does this character move on from here? The title of each game then pops up onto your screen, giving you goosebumps knowing that these stories are going to be emotional. Days Gone pushes you 2 years later from that opening scene and The Last of Us pushes you 20 years later. Right away, we learn who Deacon and Joel have become in this new world; Deacon a drifter and bounty hunter, and Joel a smuggler. Both men also have a companion in Boozer and Tess. We begin to put our thumbs on the sticks and experience what life has been for both pairs in the apocalypse. Deacon and Boozer begin a chase with Leon, and Joel and Tess head to see Robert for their guns.

Now, let’s fast forward a little further and go back to the infected, more specifically the “heavy” class we talked about earlier. The first boss fight in each game involved the big brutes, the Breaker and the Bloater. The Breaker and the Bloater interrupted Deacon and Joel’s missions to gather an item; Deacon the antibiotics and Joel the car battery.

Fast forward even more to see the relation of the importance to the school missions. In Days Gone, Deacon and Sarah go to Chemult Community College to find a centrifuge for her research. In The Last of Us, Joel and Ellie went to Eastern Colorado University (Go Big Horns!) in search of the Fireflies. Each story beat to a school was a critical moment in both stories.

The last story beat I wanted to hit was the ending to each game. In Days Gone, Deacon shoots his way through a heavily fortified camp to rescue his wife Sarah. In The Last of Us, Joel shoots his way through the hospital to save Ellie. Both endings included a lot of casualties with two men determined to reach their goal of saving someone they love. In the end, Deacon and Joel went through a lot more than any man can bear, but they survived and they moved on with the person who they love and who changed them as a man.

Character Match

Days Gone and The Last of Us have an incredible cast of characters making each one just as memorable as the next. With strong women characters, to a great display of diversity, villains and original characters, it shows why these stories are so well received. Below, I have put together a list of some of the characters from both games to show how each character relates to their counterpart in the other game.

Deacon — Joel

Survivors, seeking redemption

Sarah — Marlene

Stubborn, focused, aimed at the greater good

Boozer — Tommy

When you need them, they will be there for you

Iron Mike — Bill

They’ve seen it all. You want these men on your side if you can

Lisa — Ellie

Innocence turned into survivalist

Rikki — Tess

Tough, independent, will take care of business

Twitter – The Last Days

If you missed anything regarding The Last Days short series, you can look back at all the tweets here. Also, the winners are revealed from each question that you answered during the week. I was very happy to see all the love for Days Gone!

Winner: Deacon St. John

Winner: People would rather face the Runner in The Last of Us

Winner: Breaker

Winner: Colonel Garret

Winner: Freakers

Winner: Boozer

I hope you all enjoyed The Last Days crossover series! Somehow, I always find a way to sneak Days Gone into something. Have fun this weekend, don’t post spoilers and endure and survive. Those Days are Gone waiting for The Last of Us Part II!

Bend Studio Proved the Review Scores Wrong with Days Gone

It’s time to let the past die. Kill it, if you have to. That’s the only way to enjoy a video game that was meant to be great. No, I’m not trying to bring anyone to the dark side here, but am referring to video game review scores especially concerning Days Gone by Bend Studio.

We are in an age of video games where we are spoiled by the quality of graphics, storytelling and developers pushing the creative envelope. Games are so large and ambitious that sometimes players run into a glitch or two. Before, once a game was released nothing could be done, but now any known issues that arise can be patched and updated to give the players as perfect of a game as possible. I think us as players take that for granted. Post-launch support from studios should be praised more because it shows they care about their work. Games take a long time to make and there is a lot behind the scenes we don’t see in the development process. So, next time you play a game that isn’t 100% perfect, sit back and just relax. The people who make these games are gamers just like you and I. They want to enjoy the game the same way you do.

Unfortunately, those immediate bugs don’t receive the same forgiveness by the critics. Days Gone won’t get the same treatment as games like No Man’s Sky or Star Wars Battlefront II because single player driven games don’t get the luxury of having their review scores updated. Both games mentioned prior rightfully deserve that praise after turning a sour launch into two successful games as a service for their communities. What I’m trying to say is that launch scores don’t correlate to the successfulness of a game. We all know Days Gone received mediocre scores when it was released, but you also have to take into consideration the state of the game that the reviewers had before the game was even out to the general public yet. When is it time for the players to throw away the review scores?

A little over a year later since Days Gone was released back in April 2019, word of mouth from players and the financial selling success makes those review scores moot at this point. According to the NPD Group (via Venture Beat), Days Gone was the 8th best-selling PlayStation 4 game of 2019, making it the top PlayStation selling exclusive last year. Plus, it made the top 10 best-selling digital games in 2019 too, selling more than major titles like Mortal Kombat 11 and Borderlands 3 according to @BenjiSales. However, I still receive so many questions whether to buy the game even now because of those same review scores. If you are still on the fence about purchasing Days Gone, I am here today to show you that you need to ignore the scores at this point because it is not a fair reflection of the current game. I honestly never understood the review scores in the first place, but thats a topic for another day. Bend Studio showed massive support for Days Gone from day one all the way up to January of this year. From general fixes and performance issues, to free added content, accessibility options and more.


Free Added Content

During the summer months of 2019, players were able to jump into brand new challenge modes every Friday for 12 straight weeks. The challenge modes aimed to test your skills in a variety of ways including timed trials on the bike, unlimited hordes, crazy taxi using a golf cart and surviving ambush camps. Each challenge consisted of three sub-challenges where you could earn credits by receiving gold, silver or bronze rank to unlock character skins, bike skins, rings to help achieve higher scores and patches with boosted stats that carry over to the story. All of this was completely free! The challenge modes are a permanent feature on Days Gone and they can be accessed at any time. Whether you are a brand new player who hasn’t started the story yet or a veteran that’s beaten the game multiple times you can hop right into the challenges from the main menu.

Customizing your drifter bike is a huge component in Days Gone. From performance upgrades, to visual upgrades and the color or design of your bike’s paint job there is a wide range of selection to make the bike your style. Bend Studio collaborated with other Sony studios such as Santa Monica, Naughty Dog, Guerilla and others to create unique bike skins based on their games. You can choose to ride the broken road using a God of War bike skin, Horizon Zero Dawn, Uncharted, Concrete Genie and Death Stranding. Bend Studio even added a nod to their previous games, Syphon Filter. Once again, all of this was free to every player!

The most requested feature from players was also added to Days Gone, New Game Plus. Bend took it one step further though and added a brand new weapon to New Game Plus, the BND-150. This weapon is a powerful sniper rifle with multiple different types of ammo serving as another nod to Syphon Filter. Not only did they add this game mode, but added more gameplay difficulties as well including Hard II, Survival and Survival II. The Survival modes eliminate the HUD (you can momentarily pull it up by pressing L3) and fast travel creating an immersive experience in the harsh Pacific Northwest.

Another added feature was the ability to reset Hordes, Ambush Camps and Infestation Zones as much as you want. This gives you more playability and let’s you experiment different ways to tackle the open world. Take a look at Patch 1.60 notes HERE on the conditions needed to activate this feature.

For you PlayStation trophy hunters out there, new trophies were added for the challenge modes, New Game Plus and the survival mode difficulty too.

Fixes and Improvements

From the first initial patch during launch week to the final patch in January, Bend Studio proved that they were committed to Days Gone and they wanted to provide you the best possible experience with it. Even after 5+ years developing the game, they continued to show support to the community by listening to the player’s requests and fixing any issues that needed to be addressed.

You can go HERE to see the final patch notes and all the updates that were released.

Improvements to stability and optimization were constantly made post-launch and the technical issues that you may have read in reviews from a year ago are no longer an issue. In fact, if you already own a digital version of Days Gone and you haven’t taken advantage yet, you have the option to redownload the game data freeing up more hard-drive space creating an up to date compiled file. Plus, the update brings optimization improvement to all players.

A simple, but important quality of life fix was added early on as players can pick up and swap weapons on the ground with the “Triangle” button. Before, all items were picked up with the use of the “Square” button causing you to grab items off the ground you weren’t aiming to get. Everything was looked at and improved by the team at Bend and no stone was unturned.

Accessibility Options

Accessibility options make any game more accessible for all players. Instead of giving you a description of each option, you can see the list below on everything that was implemented. You can adjust any of these options in the pause menu under Options.

  • Inverted Horizontal/Vertical Camera Controls
  • Camera Follow Tracking
  • Disable Controller Speakers
  • Subtitle Size
  • Subtitle Background
  • Subtitle Speaker Names
  • Repeated Button Presses
  • Repeated Button Size
  • Easier Sprint Activation
  • Touchpad Dead Zones
  • Motion Sensor Function Aiming
  • Auto-complete QTE (Easy Mode Only)
  • Controller Dead Zone
  • UI High Contrast Color Mode
  • New Linear Option for Aiming

Awards

Days Gone was nominated for multiple awards in 2019 and rightfully snagged a few of them. Unfortunately, it was snubbed out of the popular Game Awards (still not happy about that). However, Days Gone received PlayStation Game of the Year and Best Storytelling for the 37th Golden Joystick Awards. In my opinion, these two awards are worth more merit because they are voted on by the players who purchase and play the game. Days Gone also won 2019 Best Visual Design for the TIGA Games Industry Awards.

Days Gone won multiple awards for the 2019 PlayStation.Blog awards including Best PlayStation Console Exclusive, Best Narrative, Best Performance and Best Soundtrack. Recently, it also picked up another award for Best Music/Sound Design in The Webby Awards.

The composer behind Days Gone, Nathan Whitehead grabbed multiple nominations for his beautifully haunting and raw score including the Jerry Goldsmith Awards, Hollywood Music in Media Awards, Gamemusic.net’s Reader’s Choice Album of the Year and ASCAP Composer’s Choice Award. You can read more about his process of creating the Days Gone score in an interview I had with him last year.

Conclusion

There is no better time to start riding the broken road than now, especially with the current Days of Play sale running up until June 17th in North America. Days Gone is listed at its lowest price yet at only $14.79 on the PS Store! Recently, the same sale was held in the UK where Days Gone took advantage and moved into the top 10 (number 6) of best-selling games for the month of May, according to Push Square. If you need to see how the game looks, go HERE for a gallery of in-game photos I captured with photo mode.

Stop thinking about the review scores and try Days Gone out if you haven’t. It’s time to throw the review scores away and decide if you like the game for yourself. Bend Studio proved the review scores wrong. The players have spoken, the numbers don’t lie and the proof has been laid out above. Fuel up your bike and hit the broken road, but remember… This world comes for you.

Content Update and a Spark of Days Gone Inspiration

The past couple of days I have struggled with trying to find the best thing to do with my Days Gone content. On one hand, posting content can be a happy distraction for people and give people the positive vibes in their daily routine. But, on the other hand I want to make sure that the important voices are being heard around the world, and that we focus our attention on these serious and far more important issues of injustice and racism. You may have noticed that I have been quieter on social media because of this reason. Out of respect to everyone, I have chosen to stay silent with my Days Gone content and aim my attention at the bigger picture for this week. Today’s blog post is an exception to provide you all an update on what will be happening soon as I had to push a couple things back. The new theme for June’s VP Days Gone will now be announced on Monday June 8th. There will also be a new blog post coming to The Broken Road on Tuesday June 9th. I will resume sharing my daily photos starting next week as well. #FanArtFriday will still be featured tomorrow, June 5th. Thank you for your understanding.


Before you go, I wanted to share this little piece today due to the relevance of it and in hopes of giving you a spark of inspiration to unite together. Video games have the ability to provide you with an impactful story that makes you feel connected to the characters and the trials they face. There’s a sense of reality that causes you to think deeper about the themes being told, and as a player you can connect it to your personal life or real world issues. I’m of course talking about the story of Days Gone and the importance of the central themes of the story that relate to our present moment.

Strip away the post-apocalyptic setting, strip away the Freakers and look solely at the characters and how they all come together at the very end of the game. (Major SPOILERS ahead)…

At the end of Days Gone, Deacon realizes that his little pocket of the world is in serious danger by Colonel Garret and the militia located at Wizard Island. The events that led up to this moment, and being saved by Kouri gives Deacon something to live and fight for. He is willing to put other people’s lives ahead of his own ambitions. He knew that this mission was bigger than just one person even if it was his wife after experiencing everything he went through to find her. His goal was to protect his friends and to create a better future in a world of nothing but chaos.

Deacon returns to Lost Lake and finds Iron Mike dead. As tragic as it is, it motivates the people in the camp to serve justice and to do the right thing. The campers rally around Deacon and come to his aid in dedication to Iron Mike. The people know they are outnumbered and outgunned by the militia, but they chose to unite and fight together for a common goal. It wasn’t just Lost Lake that joined in this fight though; Copeland’s Camp and Hot Springs came together as well. People living in different camps, with different backgrounds and a variety of different ethnicities united as one to fight for what was right.

That all sounds a little familiar, right? Whether it’s a video game or real life we all have one thing in common, we are human. We help when people need it, we look forward to the future with hope and we try to make the world a better place than what it was before. We will get through this because you are not alone. We hear you, we see you and we are with you. Stay safe everyone!

In an effort to help in a very small way, I am also holding a giveaway on Twitter for a digital code for someone to receive Days Gone. To enter, you must donate at least $1 and share a screenshot of your donation in the comments. I will then choose a random winner on Friday, June 5th at 5:00 pm EST. You can enter by clicking directly on the tweet below.

“We make the world what it is, by what we do. All of us.” -Iron Mike

Why Days Gone Means so Much to Me

After a year of sharing my love of Days Gone with you all, I wanted to go the extra step and put into words what this game truly means to me. Why do I run a blog dedicated to only one game? Why do I share my in-game photos daily? Why has this game impacted me the way it has? Days Gone became more than just a game to me, and I would like to honestly share why that is.


The Beginning – Events of Life

I’m a big fan of The Walking Dead, so when I saw the E3 demo in 2016 of Days Gone I was immediately excited to try the game out. At that time I thought, “a zombie game with a guy that looks like Daryl Dixon riding a motorcycle, I’m in!” I followed the news of it loosely up until the official release date of April 26, 2019. Once the release date was announced, I knew I wouldn’t be able to play it right away. My wife was due with our third child during that same time. At that point, I wrote it off and figured I would eventually pick it up when I had time. Unfortunately, my wife ran eight days late, so I figured the weekend before I would at least buy it and try it out for a few hours before the baby comes. I was loving my short time with it until I had to put it down for a few weeks to enjoy the time with my first son. If you’re a parent, you know that you will be up at all hours of the night with a newborn. To let my wife rest, I would take my son and walk him around the house until he fell asleep in the middle of the night. I was my little man’s bed as he loved to sleep on my chest for about two hours at a time until his next feeding. During that time, I couldn’t sleep because well he was sleeping on me. To keep myself up, I figured I would boot up Days Gone at 3:00 in the morning and knock out a few missions. I put my headphones on and sat back in the chair, while my son bonded with me as he heard my heart beating as he slept. We did this every night. It may not sound like much, but that initial bonding with your newborn is special and I cherished every night.

Fast-forward about a month later and I completed the game. A lot of people always wonder how parents can still game with having kids. It’s possible! Do a couple hours here and a couple hours there and within weeks you can easily finish a game. It may take a lot of sacrificing sleep, as it did with me, but it was good lack of sleep. I finished the game and was blown away by it all, the characters, the story, the world and the fun gameplay. However, at this time of my life, I was also hit with some bad news. My dog was diagnosed with cancer and didn’t have much longer to live. She was only seven years old. We rescued her when she was about two or three years old after she was abandoned and left outside in a kennel while her owners just picked up and moved away. My wife and I drove sixteen hours in one day to save her before being euthanized at an animal control place for lack of capacity. Her name was Sadie and she was an Australian Cattle dog. The sweetest and best dog you could ever ask for and I thought she would be with us as my children grew up. Her death hit my family hard and was the first pet death I’ve ever experienced. To help get my mind off the whole situation, Days Gone provided an escape for me. Not only that, but the last few nights of her life she would lay at my feet while I played. I would get on the floor with her, constantly pause the game and just pet her. I captured the first image below with her the night before we had to put her down. Days Gone has been with me through life and through death. It’s been with me in one of my happiest moments in my life and one of my saddest.

The StoryHow it Connected to Me

Expanding off that last part, Sadie was my Jack. Just like how Deacon went out to find a puppy to heal Boozer’s soul, Sadie and my other dog Pepper were the ones to heal my soul at a time when I needed it the most. In 2013, new things were happening in my life and I wasn’t adapting well to it. I felt depressed at times and confused on where to go next. Then I got the first dog I ever had in my life, Pepper. Within months, we went to go get Sadie. From that point, those dogs perked up my attitude and I felt happy and ready to let go of past tribulations. They too healed my soul. After playing the part in the game where Boozer receives the puppy, all those emotions came running back to me. I remembered taking Sadie out of that animal control cage as she jumped in my lap immediately ready to go home with me. In that moment, a bond between a man and a dog began and grew more than I would have ever thought. Now as I replay the story and that scene hits, it brings tears to my eyes knowing that my Sadie isn’t with me anymore. I feel what Boozer is feeling in those moments with the dogs and that hits straight to my heart.

The biggest reason why this story resonated with me is because of the relationship between Deacon and Sarah. Their relationship reflects my relationship with my wife and I in a lot of ways. Remember how Deacon and Sarah first met, with Sarah being broke down on the side of the road? That little back and forth that they had with Deacon being a smartass mirrors how my wife and I met in high school. It was Sophomore year of high school and we both had gym class together playing basketball. Like Deacon, I was the smartass here teasing her because she was absolutely terrible at basketball. That simple initial interaction was the moment that started our relationship. We were high school sweethearts, got married at nineteen years old, and now have three children together. My wife is a lot like Sarah, she’s beautiful, strong and way more intelligent than I. While, I’m the “rough and tough” guy like Deacon who became a better man because of her.

Just as Deacon decided to go Nomad for Sarah, I decided to stop pursing my sports career early on because I found something more to life than my personal ambitions. I found a partner I would be willing to give everything up for, I found my first and only love. Just as Sarah responds to Deacon’s Nomad patch saying, “I didn’t ask you to do that.” My wife gave me the same response. That didn’t stop Deacon or I for doing what we wanted to do because we knew that they were all we needed.

From the very start of the game when Deacon put Sarah on the helicopter, I was captivated by the story. I immediately put myself in Deacon’s shoes. How would I be feeling in this moment? What would I do? His search for his wife, knowing in some slim chance she may be out there is one of Deacon’s most honorable traits. To never give up is how I was raised and is how I teach my own children. Having hope keeps us motivated and moving forward helping us find a reason to live. The feelings that Deacon felt through the story talking with O’Brian had me on the edge of my seat every time because yes, I was trying to find Sarah, but in my mind I was trying to find my wife through him. If that makes sense. I understood Deacon’s love for her and that’s what made this story very real to me. Driving south with the song Hell or High Water playing in the background, is the best gaming moment I’ve experienced. Why? All those emotions I feel for my wife, the love I have for her, the mission I would be on if I ever lost her played in my head as I traveled those snowy bends on the Thielsen Pass. Morior Invictus.

Bend Studio

One of the best experiences I’ve had with Days Gone is the interactions and support from the team at Bend Studio. I only started using my Twitter account in early May right after Days Gone released last year. I rarely ever went on before that, since I never had anyone to interact with. I decided to share a couple screenshots of Days Gone though, just because I was having a lot of fun with it when I started. My first post had very little interaction of course, but I was excited to see that members of the Days Gone team were the ones to like it. I didn’t expect anyone to really see it, let alone the people who helped make the game. After posting a few more shots to Twitter over the next couple of weeks I noticed them liking those ones too, especially the Game Director Jeff Ross. This may not sound like much, but interactions from the developers to the players do make a huge impact. It creates a sense of connection between the player to the game and the developers to the community. They may be normal people with awesome jobs, but to gamers they’re like the equivalent to our favorite players from a professional sports team.

When I first completed Days Gone, I tweeted a post of how much I loved the game. I remember one sentence precisely when John Garvin the Creative Director quoted that tweet and said, “This game was made for players like you.” Once I finished Days Gone, it really felt like this game was created for me. I thoroughly enjoyed every single aspect of it and immediately Days Gone became my all-time favorite game. When receiving that simple message, it made finishing Days Gone that much more special. I never knew that developers interacted with the community like this and those interactions I had in the first month made me realize that the people behind Days Gone over at Bend Studio were special.

As I continued to play Days Gone, I started to meet the other developers at Bend Studio. Almost one year later, the majority of the people at Bend follow me and that truly means a lot. At least I haven’t scared them off! I can’t thank them enough for giving their time to me to come onto my little blog for interviews, the support they give to my photos and just being all around nice and awesome people. It genuinely makes playing Days Gone that much more fun. There are a few of them that I would like to give a special shoutout to. For months now, Eric Jensen the Lead Open World Designer rarely ever misses a post from me and I post a lot of photos! He also contributed a lot this past week for Days Gone Week, and I felt like he was involved on Twitter just as much as I was. After planning this event since the beginning of this year, it means a lot for the developers behind the game to be so supportive toward it. Like I said, it may not sound like much but it always makes the player feel good.

I could go on and on listing people from Bend Studio, but one I must give a shoutout to here is Community Manager David Lee. This blog wouldn’t have turned out the way it did if it wasn’t for him. David always listened to my requests and worked with me to setup not only Days Gone Week but the interviews I have conducted thus far. I hope I didn’t bother you too much David! As a small creator that focuses on only one game, he didn’t have to even respond to my emails, but he did and I am very thankful for that. I remember landing my first interview with Jeff Ross last year and I was very excited to have the opportunity to do something like that. The Broken Road blog was a place just to write my thoughts about Days Gone and the people at Bend made it more than that for me. Love you!

The Community

The community of Days Gone that all of us have built is amazing! I never knew I could make as many friends as I have through social media because of a video game. From our little thank you letter to Bend Studio last year, the Mongrels community continues to grow every day. Some I talk to on a regular basis! Take Twitter aside, we have our Days Gone Discord channel too that gives us another outlet to talk everything and anything about the game. I’ve had nothing but positive interactions with everyone and that makes going on social media worth it. To have an outlet to be able to nerd out on video games and talk freely about the game you love to others is so much fun. Recently, my friend @Purple_ShirtGuy sent me a bunch of Days Gone collectibles in the mail. Why? Just out of pure generosity because he knows how much I love Days Gone and he wanted to help expand my Days Gone collection. The Days Gone community continues to amaze me and I am so proud to be a part of it. #MongrelsForLife.

It’s not just the Days Gone community that I got introduced to though, but also the virtual photography community. Days Gone started my passion of virtual photography and with that I have met tons of people who share the same interest. This is another friendly and supportive group that does this art form out of pure passion. The way we inspire each other, lift each other up and be readily available if they need an ear to vent real life problems to. I love being a part of such an incredible community like this. I was touched during Days Gone Week when virtual photography pages and people who never even played Days Gone came to my side and helped support this event. They added the hashtag next to their names, changed their own logo header on their page and shared my Days Gone content without me even asking. That is what you call a true community! I really appreciate all of your support! I also host a monthly Days Gone virtual photography theme #VPDaysGone, and each month the participation I receive blows my mind. I get it that not everyone has Days Gone or gets tired of taking photos in only one specific game, but the community continues to support it and different faces enter each time. The virtual photography community is more than just participating in themes, it gives us the ability to interact with each other, support each other and have fun doing it. And that is what gaming is all about, having fun and sharing that passion with others!

Days Gone is More Than Just a Game

Why does Days Gone mean so much to me? Because it symbolizes family, love, finding a reason to live, never giving up and much more. A game with these types of traits, the type of traits I try to live by everyday is why this story connects so strongly with me. Never have I played a game to reach me on an emotional level and relate to my personal situations as much as Days Gone. That is something special that only comes around once in a generation for a video game. When I first put Days Gone into my PlayStation 4 back in May 2019, I never expected for any of this to happen. I never expected to create a blog, to get into virtual photography, or to interview developers and actors. Everything I’ve had the opportunity to do, I’m just very thankful for. My whole Days Gone journey has grew more than I would have ever imagined. I love sharing my passion of Days Gone with everyone!

Thank you to my family, especially my wife for always being there. Thank you to the Mongrels community. Thank you to the virtual photography community. Thank you to everyone at Bend Studio for creating this game, interacting with me and supporting me. Thank you all for making Days Gone more than just a game for me!

Happy Anniversary Days Gone!

Below, is a picture of my Days Gone collection, and a few of my personal favorite shots I’ve taken over the year.

Actor Jim Pirri Chats About His Role as Boozer

When we play a video game, the stories we see unfold aim to provide us with entertainment. They tug at our emotions by making us laugh, cry, or jump when we’re scared or anxious for the characters in dire situations. The best stories provide a connection between the player and the character due to a specific theme, such as love, tragedy, revenge or redemption. At some level you have an understanding of the character’s pain and the actions they take. Stories that impact you as a player only come to light by the performances and delivery of the actors who play these characters.

Jim Pirri, the actor who played William “Boozer” Gray gave the audience that type of performance, which made Boozer a standout character in Days Gone. Behind the writing of Creative Director John Garvin, Jim Pirri took the role of Boozer and brought him to life. You may have heard Jim’s voice in other video games before too including Red Dead Redemption 2, Dying Light, Final Fantasy XV, Call of Duty Infinite Warfare, Injustice 2 and many others. He has also appeared in numerous television shows including Batwoman, Victorious, Friends and voiced in last year’s Netflix Original Love, Death & Robots. Today, Jim chats about his role as Boozer, his relationship working with Sam Witwer (Deacon) and dives deeper into some of Boozer’s main story beats.


The Broken Road: You and Sam Witwer had great chemistry together on camera. One of the things I loved most about Days Gone was the brotherhood between Deacon and Boozer. How was it working with Sam?

Jim Pirri: He was the best! He made it super easy because one, he’s so good and two, such a cool super chill guy. He made it very easy to have that type of loyal brotherhood relationship because he is just a really good guy and an amazing actor. He couldn’t have made it easier.

The comical beats between Deacon and Boozer are done very well following a tense situation. How much did you enjoy saying all the arm jokes?

I loved it! I’m nothing if not a corny dad, so loving all the dad jokes. John Garvin the director/writer was kind enough to totally give us carte blanche and freedom with allowing us to improvise. He was always, how would you say it now say it in your own words. It gave us a lot of freedom to mess around and play like that. Which, I really think helped that relationship go that well that you were referring to in the first question. Thanks to John for setting that up.

As an actor, how do you prepare for a scene as dramatic as getting your arm amputated? At that point, how do you relate to Boozer in that situation?

The simple answer is I use my imagination. I just imagine it. Acting is nothing other than playing pretend, hopefully at a really high level. What I did was I imagined what it would be like. I get the script like the night then start imagining it and working on them. For me, it’s as simple as that. When we shot it, I was focusing more on how the pain would feel and conveying that. Apparently, I am much more a crybaby than Boozer is. Boozer is a lot tougher than I am. I was just focusing on communicating that pain. John was like, no we can’t have Boozer doing that. That’s where you find the difference between yourself and a character. So we adapted and ended up playing more on the anger against the Rippers. It takes something like that to really point out the differences between you and your character which I find really funny.

The mission, ‘Drinking Himself to Death’ is a fan-favorite. I must know, what was it like voicing a drunk character singing old McDonald?

It’s the best! It’s so much fun to portray that stuff as an actor. But, the trick is getting the pain underneath it, which also is fun for us actors. I love portraying three dimensional characters that have a reason for acting stupid or silly and self-medicating in any way because that’s how we are in life. When you play the game, it gives you a deeper experience and makes it more real. Its awesome to do stuff like that. It kind of increases our understanding of humans in tough spots, which we all are at various times and I really like that.

Boozer’s story was filled with a lot of emotional trauma even before the apocalypse with the death of Joany. After wrapping Days Gone, was there one lesson that you took from the character of Boozer and put into your own life?

I will say that the looking out for his brother and his family of choice. I really like and admire and respect the hell out of that. I definitely try to do that with my friends as well, looking out for them in this crazy pandemic. You know it’s much simpler in the way I’m doing it and not nearly as risky, but that’s something I try to embody in some form or another and aspire to. 

I want to give you a hypothetical situation here. Let’s say the roles were flipped with Deacon and Boozer, and Boozer put Joany on the helicopter. Do you think Boozer would have handled the situation the same way Deacon did?

Absolutely 100%, without even thinking about it. That’s all I got to say about that one.

I have a two-part question for you. What was your personal favorite moment in Boozer’s story? What did you enjoy the most playing this character?

There’s a few moments. One of them was getting Jack. I’ve been working on it by that point for about three years and a lot of its very intense and dealing with as they say in the game, being in the shit. To have that moment, was a real breath of fresh air. Even though we’re just acting it, you’re imagining it and thinking about these things a lot and trying to put yourself in that position when you are portraying it. When you have something like getting a puppy, especially for Boozer who loves dogs so much it’s like the best thing that could happen to him. Knowing as an artist that its also going to be something that helps him find his way back towards a better life, is also really cool from that point of view.

What a badass he was. That’s honestly it, to be that much of a badass. In my real life, I am not. But I wish I were, and it was really fun to be able to play someone like him. That was the best.

Boozer is a beloved character in the Days Gone community. So much so, as there is a virtual photography theme held each month called Boozer Appreciation ran by your number one fan, @Sim_nell. When you were first casted as Boozer, did you ever think that this character would be so well received like this?

No, not at all. I was just doing my job. Just trying to do the best I could portraying this character with the awesome writing that John gave us. That’s all I was trying to do, and this is a total surprise and very very appreciated.

After a long day of work, how many times do you say to yourself “there’s a bunk calling my name?”

Right now I’m not, but when the game first came out I ended up playing it straight through like two times in a row, which is very rare for me. A lot of times I don’t make it through my own games, not because they’re bad but because I’m really impatient. But this one, I just got sucked into the story, and also just love the game. When it’s those sessions where its three in the morning and you got to get to bed and stop playing because you got work to do, I was definitely saying it a lot. I’m not saying so much anymore, but maybe I’ll start up again.

Finding a puppy for Boozer was such a happy moment in a world filled with darkness. Jack is probably more of a star now in player’s eyes than Deacon and Boozer! Are you a dog person yourself? If so, what kind of dog do you have?

I’m definitely a dog person, although I don’t have a dog. I haven’t been able to have a dog other than for short periods in my life for various situations based on primarily where I lived. I was lucky enough to foster a Pitbull for a short time while the agency found a home for her. She was awesome. Then I dog sat for a friend of mine who was working on a project overseas for about a month or so. I always loved their dog; they had this boxer name Rosie. She was the best! I loved that dog. I felt so happy to be able to interact with her, walk her, play with her, and feed her. However, I know the dogs I would get. I always wanted a Newfoundland. I love big dogs. I definitely would like a Newfoundland, although here in LA I always worry about the heat being a little hard for them to handle with that thick coat. Like I said I also love Boxers, just personality wise. I also would like a Blue Heeler. I think that’s what I really want is a Newfoundland and a Blue Heeler. That might be because that’s what Mad Max had in Rogue Warrior, actually I know that’s where that came from. Those dogs are awesome! I like smart dogs and kind of mutty looking too. 


You can pick up Days Gone on sale for only $19.99 in North America right now on the PlayStation Store!

Thank you to Jim Pirri for coming on The Broken Road to help celebrate Days Gone Week! You can catch all the latest news about Days Gone from Bend Studio on TwitterFacebook and Instagram.

Credit: Photos 3-7; @Sim_nell

Days Gone – More Than Just a Game

By Rachael Fiddis@IrishSoul81

I’ve always been fascinated by the apocalypse. People fighting for their survival, finding measures they never thought about before to just stay alive and watching how it changes the mindset of humanity. I understand that this is probably a pretty strange thing to say now given that most of the world is on lockdown due to a deadly virus and how some of the elements from my morbid curiosity has actually come to light. 

When Bend Studio first introduced Days Gone almost 4 years ago at the Sony E3 2016 panel, naturally my eyes lit up. At first, it was the post-apocalyptic world that drew me in but as the developers released more gameplay and information about Days Gone, I started to realise that what really made this game so unique are the diverse characters and the meaty narrative draped across a beautifully crafted Oregon landscape.

As a video game reviewer, it’s always so important to me that I remain as open-minded and honest as possible so of course, I had a few doubts on whether the end result of Days Gone would make for appealing gameplay when it finally released. But on the day of launch and a few hours in, any doubts I previously had just washed away. The game immediately captured me. Not only was it stunning to explore with its vast lakes, majestic mountain range and lush forests – Deacon St. John instantly pulled at my heart-strings. Here was this tough but tattered biker, unafraid to show his emotions and who never gave up even when faced with hopelessness. 

Days Gone led me down a path of so many feelings which for me, makes a game stand out from the rest. At any given time, I would feel a plethora of emotions from sadness, anger, grief, hopefulness and pain. The developers at Bend Studios not only created a game with substance, but they created a game that made you feel, whether you wanted to or not; you were instantly part and parcel of it. 

As I said in my review of Days Gone, Bend Studio has crafted something unique to them, something personal, and something that asks players to enter with an open mind and a little patience. I think it’s plain to see that I loved my play through of Days Gone, so much in fact that I’ve since played it over again, gathering something new each time and Bend Studio have become one of my favorite game developers. 

One of the elements that makes Bend Studio stand out so much isn’t solely their game, as fantastic as it is. Without a doubt, they are the most approachable, most interactive and friendliest developers I’ve come across. So much so that I’ve gotten to know a few on a personal level and who have also contributed to an upcoming feature of mine. Need to ask them a question about Days Gone? Count on them to reply to you over on Twitter even if it’s just to tell them how incredible they are.

So, we have an amazing game and an incredible development team – what about its community? Personally, I don’t usually engage too much with a game’s fan-base as sometimes it can be a little, how should I put it, obstinate? The Days Gone community is unbelievably wholesome, friendly, helpful and just a lovely bunch of people where I can even count some of them as good friends. For me, this is the cherry on top of an already special package which can be a rare find today. 

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every aspect that Days Gone has brought me in its one-year of existence. I want to say thank you to the developers at Bend Studio for putting their blood, sweat and tears into one of the best video games I’ve had the privilege to play and for opening their hearts to the players, even when they are hit with some negativity. I honestly can’t wait to see what’s next for Days Gone so I await with bated breath until I can experience another journey down the broken road.

In the words of Deacon St John –  “why do we keep going on? Because what the hell else are we going to do?”

Talking Iron Mike with the Actor Eric Allan Kramer

The characters of Days Gone were not like any other cast I’ve seen in games. They were original, diverse, human and relatable. Each one played a key role in the story and their actions made sense. Without this group of characters, Days Gone wouldn’t have felt the same. That speaks to the level of writing and the performances by the actors and actresses. One character that left an imprint on player’s hearts was Iron Mike. Iron Mike represented hope in a cruel world, and was a crucial part in Deacon’s journey.

I had the opportunity to ask the man himself, Eric Allan Kramer who played Iron Mike some questions about his character. Eric Allan Kramer is best known for his roles in Good Luck Charlie and Lodge 49, but has appeared in numerous shows and films such as, True Romance, Robin Hood Men in Tights, American Wedding and recently appeared in the new show On Becoming a God in Central Florida. It was wonderful to talk about one of my favorite characters in Days Gone and to understand a little more about Iron Mike. Eric provides an in-depth look at who Iron Mike is, what type of person he may have been and his relationship with Deacon.


The Broken Road: This was your first acting gig in a video game, correct? How was your experience, and how did it differ from television shows and films? 

Eric Allan Kramer: Very first. And probably the best way to get my feet wet in that world as everyone was incredibly helpful and available. Also some solid actors to play off of. The suit took a little getting used to but I was surprised as to how quickly I became comfortable in it once we started playing the scenes. Very different from one camera shows and films as you never had to move the camera, reset and relight to cover different angles. You were covered the entire time and could just run the scenes, very quickly finding a rhythm and flow. If anything it felt closer to Multicam shows. 

Most people know you from the TV show, Good Luck Charlie as Bob Duncan. I remember watching this show in high school! What similarities if any do you see between these two characters, Bob and Iron Mike? 

Ha! Not much, I think… Except both have to deal with other people who feel they know how to do things better. And I guess they are both exterminators in a sense, yes? 

One of my favorite quotes in Days Gone comes from Iron Mike;

“We make the world what it is, by what we do. All of us.”

This quote resonates a lot right now with our current world state. What type of positive words do you think Iron Mike would say to the people? 

I think he would say to look for the people doing good and encourage more of that. Help when you can, point out to others what can be done when you can’t. 

How would you describe Iron Mike to someone who has never played Days Gone before? 

Iron Mike, I think, is a guy who you want and, at the same time, shouldn’t have in charge. He is a compassionate leader, caring and looking out for the best interests of his community. But at the same time he has lived and seen too much. He is as broken as the world around him and I think that stops him from making decisions that he knows need to be made. He leans too much on compromise and lets his desire for how he wants things to be win out over reality. 

How much of yourself was portrayed through your character? 

I think there is always a bit of yourself that you bring to every role. Not sure how much of myself I recognize in Iron Mike, but there were certainly moments in speeches he had that hit home in a real way. 

When Deacon first arrived at Lost Lake, he was reminded that if he stepped foot in the camp again Iron Mike would kill him. In your mind, what do you think changed in Iron Mike’s head to bring him back in?

Iron Mike always, whether he admitted it or not, looked for the good and the positive in people. Maybe because he felt he lost that in himself. Deacon’s journey was an honest one and I think Mike saw that, felt that, even if he believed Deacon was blind and it was foolish. 

Iron Mike and Deacon have almost that tough father/son relationship. He even says that Deacon reminds him of his younger self. What type of man do you think Iron Mike was before the apocalypse? 

I think Mike was probably a hell raiser. Lived on the edge. I don’t think you survive very long in that kind of post apocalyptic world without having that in you.  

In the scene with Iron Mike and Deacon in Sherman’s Camp, the revelation of how it all went down was dark and really made you feel for Iron Mike. As an actor, how much does a scene like this impact you while you are giving out the dialogue? 

What’s great about this game is the humanity that is at its core. Situations and dialogue like in that scene make the world and those characters far more real. And, as an actor, characters like that are very rewarding to play.  

*SPOILERS below*

Even with Iron Mike gone, his legacy will forever mark the lives of Lost Lake including Deacon, Boozer, Rikki and Addy. Do you think Deacon can fill in those big shoes? 

If anyone, Deacon can. I think the two of them showed each other the best of themselves along with a warning of the dark that lies underneath. I’m sure Deacon will carry that with him. 

If you could change one thing about Iron Mike, what would it be?

I would keep him alive in case there is a Days Gone 2… Although, I don’t think we could ever rule out his spirit coming back and tearing someone a new one. 


You can pick up Days Gone on sale for only $19.99 in North America right now on the PlayStation Store!

Thank you to Eric Allan Kramer for coming on The Broken Road to help celebrate Days Gone Week! For Iron Mike! You can catch all the latest news about Days Gone from Bend Studio on TwitterFacebook and Instagram.

Lead Open World Designer Eric Jensen Rides The Broken Road

Days Gone is known for a harsh but beautiful world that is unforgiving and will push you to its limit. You must adapt to your surroundings if you want to survive. Whether that’s a horde of Freakers, enemy marauders, infected animals or a roided out Freak as Deacon likes to call them, they are all coming for you. That’s one of the mechanics that sets Days Gone apart from other games. The open world is full of life and it doesn’t allow you to take a breath. The game wants your heart to race, it wants you to use your whole arsenal and it wants you to use strategy. That’s when you know you are playing something special. So, how does a big open world like this come to be?

I spoke with Lead Open World Designer Eric Jensen, who oversaw and worked on creating the open world design in Days Gone. Eric is a huge part of Bend Studio’s success over the years. He started his career with Bend over 14 years ago where he worked as a QA Analyst for Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror. Now, he and the rest of Bend Studio produced their biggest game to date last year and it displayed the type of incredible talent that is located over in Bend, Oregon. It’s always a pleasure to learn more about their development process and gain an understanding of the type of hard work that went into it all. Eric shares plenty of interesting insight here, including his role in Days Gone, crafting the open world and those sweet PlayStation trophies.


The Broken Road: As a Lead Open World Designer, what were your main responsibilities in Days Gone?

Eric Jensen: I worked on, oversaw, or collaborated on most systems, content, and interactions outside of missions. This included all of the Ambush Camps, Infestations, NERO Checkpoints, Hordes, Encampments, camps jobs, dynamic encounters, open world population, and collectibles. I think that’s everything… 🙂

The trophy photos relating to the storyline were all scripted by you to capture a cinematic moment that tied to the trophy itself. Usually in games, our trophy photos capture a blurred picture or even a black screen. Hopefully, this kicks off the new norm for trophies in future games. What made you choose to do it this way?

Yes! I absolutely hope that more people adopt this technique. The best thing about Trophies is they offer a record of the games you have played, for better or worse. When you think back to all of the games you’ve played in your life, for the most part the only proof of those accomplishments are your own memories. I see Trophies as a cool opportunity to both show off those accomplishments but also to remember them yourself. That’s where the Trophy screenshots come in to play.

I’ve always loved the idea of capturing the moment when you accomplish something in a game but quite often they end up as black loading screens, some menu screen, or an in-game shot with very little context of what you achieved. Apparently it’s a little known feature, but the PS4 has a screenshot cache function where you can trigger a Trophy screenshot in advance of the Trophy unlocking. Insomniac’s Spider-Man used the same technique with their story act and boss Trophies.

Since Days Gone was a story heavy game I chose key moments within the story to tie Trophies to and then found the coolest frames within the cinematics tied to the moments. I would add a key frame to each cinematic then when it was hit it would capture that screenshot. When the mission was complete and the Trophy popped, it would then attach that previously captured shot to the Trophy. My hope is to continue this technique and advance it in the future so players have something cool to look back on after they have completed their favorite games.

You oversaw the trophy names too, correct? That must be a fun job to have! Tell me, how many references do you initially try to throw in?

I did! Myself, David Lee (Community Manager), and Elyse Lemoine (Senior Narrative Designer) worked together on all of the Trophies. Jeff Ross knew how passionate David and I were about Trophies so he gave us the opportunity to lead the charge with them. Looking back at Trophy lists from some of our favorite games we noticed it’s always been an opportunity for developers to have a bit of fun that may not always fit the tone of the game.

Very early on we knew we wanted to have references to other games as well as some of our favorite movies.

We have references to Die Hard, Shaun of the Dead, The Fast and the Furious, GTA IV, Ghost of Tsushima, Burnout, and even Syphon Filter. I also snuck in SpongeBob Squarepants and Wu-Tang Clan in to a couple Trophies.

It was a lot of fun, but it was also a lot of work to try and come up with clever names that also made sense to what the Trophy was. I think my favorite was “Days Gone in 60 Seconds” for defeating a Horde in under a minute in Survival Mode.

Many people may not realize it, but the open world of Days Gone was designed by only 5 to 6 people and you were a big part of that. How did the team accomplish such a great feat?

Yea, the open-world design team was at its peak 6 people. I will note though, that we absolutely could not have accomplished any of that without the help of other designers, artists, animators and programmers.

With such a big world, and such a small team, we had to go about everything a bit different than what we were all used to or even comfortable with.

Everything we created needed to be built for versatility and adaptability. This allowed us to spend a good amount of time designing and polishing a piece of content that could be used all over the world without feeling repetitive or too copy pastey™.

We also built a lot of dynamic systems that would adapt to the state of Deacon or how the player was playing the game so that no two experiences would play out exactly the same.

Think smart, work hard, and you can do a lot with a small team.

You seem to have your hand in a lot of the development for Days Gone. What else did you do for this game that the general public may not know about?

I helped out a bunch with the UI. I designed and implemented a lot of stuff on the Map Menu including the Region panel that shows all your progress in each location, as well as the Fast Travel system.

I helped design and maintained most of the Inventory, Crafting, and Collectible systems.

I designed and helped implement the Trophy menu that shows all of your progress on unlocking Trophies.

I came up with almost every fake brand or business name in the game. I also went to Garvin with the name for the town of Farewell and NERO, the National Emergency Response Organization.

Name one thing that you are most proud of working on in Days Gone.

It might sound a bit obvious, but I’m incredibly proud of the Open World and the team that built it. We had never built an Open World game. We had a small team. It may have taken a bit longer than we originally expected. It really seems to have resonated with people and it’s the thing that nearly every player spends the most time engaging with. So, for that I’m very proud of the Open World we built for the players of Days Gone.

‘This World Comes For You’ holds very true to the dynamic of Days Gone. It’s more than just a saying, as it is the core for the open world gameplay. Was this always the vision, or was it an ever-evolving door to try and set it apart from other open world games?

We knew very early on we didn’t ever want the player to feel comfortable just standing around in the world. We knew we didn’t want traditional slow-moving, shambling enemies, which meant they would likely always be chasing after the player. Then you throw in hungry animals that aren’t too picky about what they eat anymore, and a bunch of ruthless Marauders that are going to kill anything that gets in their way of surviving, and you have a world that is always coming for you. When we first got a version of the open world population up and going and some of our dynamic encounters triggering, it was brutal. It was very clear that we were headed down the right path. After probably 1000’s of hours of play testing and user testing we dialed it all into what shipped with the game.

Was there anything else that you wanted to throw in the open world that had to be cut for some reason? Whether that is a certain style ambush, an additional animal to hunt, different collectibles, etc.

From the first day we knew we were going to have the game take place in our homeland of Oregon, I wanted a Freaker sasquatch. Myself and Greg Callahan (who sculpted the incredible Deacon vs Freaker statue) talked about it from the beginning. Bigfoot is kind of a big deal in Oregon and we both thought that it would be awesome to have one in the game. It would have been so cool but unfortunately, we didn’t get the idea of the ground. Or did we? Maybe there’s one out there somewhere that hasn’t been found. There isn’t. Or is there? There isn’t. =(

The world is constantly alive. When I’m riding the broken road, I will come across wolves chasing deer, Newts crawling off rooftops, bears attacking Freakers and so on. When creating this interactive and seamless world, what is the biggest challenge you came across during development?

Making the world feel alive, lived in, and active was quite difficult. You can’t just throw population in the world and hope that it looks real. We had to create rules and mark up a bunch of stuff in the world with information that we could read in order to produce the correct population. The Hordes seek out the nearest food and water sources. Deer are going to be attracted to water and seek out the same plants that Deacon can collect. We tried to give everything a purpose and a goal in the world, in order to make it as believable as possible.

I saw your name a couple times up on the leaderboards in the challenges as they released in the summer. What was your favorite challenge, and which character would you usually choose to play with?

Haha, Lord knows I tried. I think I was only ever near the top of the leaderboard a couple times and it didn’t last long. Man, the Challenges were so much fun. Both to work on and to play. The Horde challenges are always a blast, but I think my favorite was the golf cart challenge, Dead Don’t Ride. It just had a charm to it that I hadn’t seen in games in a Crazy long time. Also, we were able to feature songs from artists in the studio which was awesome! While I don’t think I’m at the top of the leaderboard on any of them anymore, I did get Gold in all of them in order to get all the Trophies. =)


You can pick up Days Gone on sale for only $19.99 in North America right now on the PlayStation Store!

Thank you to Eric Jensen and Bend Studio for coming on The Broken Road to help celebrate Days Gone Week! You can catch all the latest news about Days Gone from Bend Studio on TwitterFacebook and Instagram.

Days Gone Week

After months of planning, I can finally reveal to you the inaugural…

DAYS GONE WEEK

Starting on Monday, April 20th join us as we celebrate the one-year anniversary of Days Gone! Fans around the world get to share, connect, create and discuss the game we love. You can take part in the celebration by sharing your Days Gone virtual photography, photo edits, streams, videos, fan-art, discussions and anything else you would like to add to the week. There will be interviews, giveaways, fan-appreciation videos, streams, a photo mode contest with prizes and more! Let’s show Bend Studio how much this game means to us!

What You Need To Know:

  • Days Gone Week will kick-off on Monday, April 20th and run to Sunday, April 26th – the one-year anniversary of Days Gone.
  • Make sure to use #DAYSGONEWEEK on social media to join in on the celebration. (Most of the celebration will reside on Twitter, but please feel free to share on other platforms as well – Reddit, YouTube, Facebook and Instagram).
  • Anyone can join in! Have a walkthrough stream from last year? Or old photos you posted when the game came out? Feel free to reshare it with #DaysGoneWeek.
  • The goal for this week is for the community to all join together to share our passion of Days Gone and show appreciation to the developers behind the game, Bend Studio. Create, share and support to fill everyone’s feed with nothing but Days Gone during this week!
  • Each day will highlight a part of the game to spark conversation, creativity and to give the day a little extra Days Gone. Monday begins with the family – Deacon, Sarah and Boozer.
  • The Broken Road blog is your home for everything Days Gone! Check out interviews from the team at Bend Studio, topics on the game, fan-fiction stories, videos, virtual photography themes/tips and browse a gallery of photos captured in Photo Mode. Plus, all the content being released during Days Gone Week will be posted under it’s own page making it easier for you to view and keep up with everything that is going on. The tab is located at the top of the page.
  • Check out The Broken Road Discord channel where you can talk everything and anything about Days Gone 24/7 with other Mongrels who love the game as much as you do. Join HERE!
  • Take a look at the rest of the event schedule below to make sure you don’t miss anything!

Photo Mode Contest Information:

PicsArt_03-13-10.02.04-01

Celebrating the one-year anniversary, we want to see your favorite moments captured from Days Gone for a chance to win some amazing prizes! Prizes include exclusive Days Gone t-shirts and Broken Road patches courtesy of Bend Studio. Plus, The Art of Days Gone book and a Mongrels patch and Days Gone cosplay photos courtesy of @goosecosplay1. Starting on Monday, April 20th, you are invited to submit a max of four photos. Your entries must be your own work and captured using the Days Gone photo mode feature.

The winners will be chosen by myself, @vikingdad278 and my other Days Gone enthusiast @Sim_nell. We will be looking for unique photos that express your favorite moment from Days Gone. With so many strong and powerful moments in the story, we are looking forward to seeing what you will come up with.

Details:

Submit your entries on Twitter using the hashtag, #DaysGoneWeekContest.

  • Theme: FAVORITE MOMENT
  • The contest begins on Monday, April 20th
  • Submissions will close on Saturday, April 25th at 11:59 PM EST
  • Maximum 4 photos per person. All photos can be in one tweet or in multiple tweets
  • Open to all regions
  • Winners will be chosen impartially and by merit of the theme, not popularity
  • FIVE winners will be announced on Sunday, April 26th at 6:00 pm EST by @vikingdad278 and @Sim_nell
  • Prizing is categorized below:

Grand Prize

Days Gone T-shirt from Bend Studio

Days Gone Patch from Bend Studio

The Art of Days Gone book

Farewell Original Mongrel’s Patch and Days Gone Cosplay Photos courtesy of @goosecosplay1

Second Place

Days Gone T-shirt from Bend Studio

Days Gone Patch from Bend Studio

Days Gone Cosplay Photos

Third Place

Days Gone T-shirt from Bend Studio

Days Gone Patch from Bend Studio

Days Gone Cosplay Photos

Fourth and Fifth Place

Days Gone Patch from Bend Studio

Days Gone Cosplay Photos


Event Schedule:

*Schedule may be subject to change

Monday – Deacon, Sarah and Boozer

The Broken Road InterviewGuest will be announced on this day

Photo Mode Contest Begins

Farewell Original Mongrel’s Patch Giveaway Begins – See @goosecosplay1 for more info

Days Gone Collector’s Edition Giveaway Begins – See @Sarokeye for more info

Take part all week long with your Days Gone virtual photography with @Captured_Collec. See them for more details on how to take part.

Share as many Days Gone shots as you want with @VPinspire Monday through Friday. Check them out for more information.

Join @MagGamerInc at 10 am EST on his first playthrough of Days Gone at twitch.tv/maggamerinc.

Watch @cubsfansolo over on twitch.tv/cubsfansolo at 2 pm to 5 pm CST for some horde hunting.

Come watch @Undead_Kirsty in her first playthrough at 7 pm GMT on twitch.tv/undeadkirsty.

Join @MollyzxGames on twitch.tv/mollyzxgames at 8 pm UK for some horde hunting

Tuesday – Supporting Characters

Fan-Appreciation Video by @OCDeidre

Fan-Appreciation Video by @slasher_jpc

A Look at the Other Side: Entry 1 – Written by Kevin McAllister (@vikingdad278) will be narrated on the @BlueFunkPodcast by @Lady_SnipeShot at http://bluefunk.buzzsprout.com/

Join @MagGamerInc at 10 am EST on his first playthrough of Days Gone at twitch.tv/maggamerinc.

The voice behind the Breaker in Days Gone, @Kato__Gaming will be playing Days Gone at 1 pm EST on twitch.tv/kato__gaming.

Join @MollyzxGames on twitch.tv/mollyzxgames at 8 pm UK for some horde hunting.

Wednesday – NERO

The Broken Road InterviewGuest will be announced on this day

Fan-Appreciation Video by @YourHostNick

A Look at the Other Side: Entry 2 – Written by Kevin McAllister (@vikingdad278) will be narrated on the @BlueFunkPodcast by @Lady_SnipeShot at http://bluefunk.buzzsprout.com/

Watch @StonedDropBear on twitch.tv/kwola420 play Days Gone at 12 pm PST.

Watch @JoeyImageTV on twitch.tv/joeyimagetv at 7 pm to 10 pm EST for another playthrough of Days Gone.

Thursday – Oregon

Fan-Appreciation Article by @IrishSoul81

Fan-Appreciation Video by @NickStotch

A Look at the Other Side: Entry 3 – Written by Kevin McAllister (@vikingdad278) will be narrated on the @BlueFunkPodcast by @Lady_SnipeShot at http://bluefunk.buzzsprout.com/

Watch @StonedDropBear on twitch.tv/kwola420 play Days Gone at 12 pm PST.

Come watch @Undead_Kirsty in her first playthrough at 7 pm GMT on twitch.tv/undeadkirsty.

Join @MollyzxGames on twitch.tv/mollyzxgames at 8 pm UK for some horde hunting.

Friday – Freakshow

The Broken Road InterviewGuest will be announced on this day

Live Challenge Modes Stream at 12:30 am EST with @vikingdad278

Come watch @Undead_Kirsty in her first playthrough at 7 pm GMT on twitch.tv/undeadkirsty.

Join @MollyzxGames on twitch.tv/mollyzxgames at 8 pm UK for some horde hunting.

Saturday – Motorcycles

Fan-Appreciation Video by @Sim_nell

An interview with @vikingdad278 on vpvibrancy.blogspot.com about Days Gone

Days Gone takes over the virtual photography weekly theme, #SnapSaturday! See @snap_vp for more details on how to join.

All-Day Live Stream from 12:00 pm CST to 8:00 pm CST with @YourHostNick. Plus, free copies of Days Gone will be given away!

Live Stream at 9:00 pm EST – “I Remember” with @vikingdad278

Watch @StonedDropBear on twitch.tv/kwola420 play Days Gone at 12 pm PST.

Join @MollyzxGames on twitch.tv/mollyzxgames at 8 pm UK for some horde hunting.

Come watch @Undead_Kirsty in her first playthrough at 7 pm GMT on twitch.tv/undeadkirsty.

Sunday – Happy One-Year Anniversary Days Gone! Go send some love and thanks to everyone at Bend Studio today!

The Broken Road Blog Post

Photo Mode Contest Winners Revealed at 6:00 pm EST

Days Gone Collector’s Edition Giveaway Winner Revealed – See @Sarokeye  for more info

Farewell Original Mongrel’s Patch Giveaway Winner Revealed – See @goosecosplay1 for more info

New Cosplay Photo Shoot from @goosecosplay1

Live Stream at 9:00 pm EST – “I Remember” with @vikingdad278

Come watch @Undead_Kirsty in her first playthrough at 7 pm GMT on twitch.tv/undeadkirsty.

See you on the broken road soon to celebrate Days Gone Week!

A Different Perspective

As I learn and grow in virtual photography, my techniques continue to evolve. The more I invest my time in Photo Mode, the more I feel comfortable with all its settings. Trying new things will help you think outside of the box to capture photos you wouldn’t have thought of before. Since I wrote “Through My Lens” back in October, my perspective has changed on the photos I take in Days Gone. I try to get more in-depth with my shots today by seeing through the photo. What kind of story am I trying to tell? What subtle object is in the image that provides that extra punch? How can I capture the dynamic lighting, the atmosphere or manipulate the distance to grab that extra detail? What can I do to bring something new to my shots? These are the things that run through my mind with each photo. Every snap I take, I try to outdo my previous best. I love creating things within Days Gone and my goal with this virtual photography series is that it may inspire you to create and try something new.

Storytelling Through Photos

A good habit to create when entering Photo Mode is to ask yourself, what story am I trying to tell here?  Asking yourself this simple question will help inspire you to look for new angles, to capture that subtle detail in the background and end with a photo that you will love. And that’s what it’s all about right? Enjoying the art form and loving what you create!

Here is an example. These two photos may not be flashy, but it’s the story behind it that made me capture it. “Before Death and After Death” shows the state of Boozer at two points during his story. On the left, he’s lying on the ground badly wounded on the verge of death. On the right, he’s a new man with a new outlook on life.

An Extra Punch

So, you have a photo all lined up with the settings exactly where they need to be, but after looking at the final product you realize there’s just something missing to give it that extra punch. I have gone into Photo Mode more times than I can count without actually saving the image because I wasn’t happy with the outcome. Maybe the composition wasn’t right, the lighting, or I missed getting a detail in the right spot to put the image above the rest.

Days Gone is filled with details waiting to be captured, and sometimes that extra Freaker in the shot makes all the difference, or a shooting star in this case. Look below at this photo I captured recently. I loved how it came out with the low angle of Deacon on his bike and having the night sky provide a canvas for the backdrop. To give it that extra punch I’ve been talking about, I was lucky to get a shooting star on the left of the image. It might not be much, but it puts this shot at a different quality level than one without that small detail.

Dynamic Lighting, Atmosphere and Distance

These three components are something I’ve been trying to work on a lot recently with my shots. If you can incorporate one of these to a shot, along with providing a story and an extra punch I can almost promise you that you will have an extraordinary photo that you will love. Everything I talked about so far go hand in hand with this. For example, by focusing on dynamic lighting, the atmosphere will creep in, the distance of the shot will be perfectly adjusted giving you that extra punch, all the while creating a tone or story within the picture.

Dynamic Lighting – You can use anything as a light source such as fire or a flashlight. Look at the image below where I used the motorcycle headlight in a dark tunnel to capture this shot. I focused on the lighting to hit one side of Deacon. There I can adjust the contrast and the angle to highlight the part I want, while disguising the rest in the shadows.

Atmosphere – Honestly, this may be the “easiest” to capture because all of Days Gone is atmospheric. The way the world moves, the chaotic nature, the haunting caves can all be used as atmosphere. In this shot, I went with the foggy graveyard in the Survive challenge mode. My subject I was capturing that day was Carlos, so I was looking for a spooky scene and found it! Look at the fog, the gravestones, the night sky and how the bare trees provide that atmosphere I’m talking about.

Distance – There are many ways to interpret distance, but I look at it as layers. What’s in the forefront that you are focusing the picture on, what’s right behind it to provide that extra punch and what’s further out in the distance that ties it all together? In this photo, Deacon doing the wheelie is the focus. The next layer includes the lumberyard where Freakers roam and you can see how the train fell off the tracks. The third layer includes the criers in the sky and the mountain in the distance bringing the “wheelie” photo to more than just the bike itself.

Something Fresh

Taking the same type of photos every time will get old and will drive you to stop taking photos all together. That’s why its so important to try new things, to experiment and share photos that may not be your normal technique. You may find yourself a style that really speaks to you! Enjoy the creation process of the art form!

As for me, I experimented enough with the advanced settings in the Photo Mode that I found a way to capture the black and white silhouette shots that I absolutely love to take. I wasn’t the first to figure this style out, but I had fun learning how to do it. So, for the people who have been wanting to try it out I have provided you the steps to create the silhouette preset so you can take your own shots. Enjoy!

Lastly, here are a few of my recent shots that I am proud of, and in my opinion displays my progression of virtual photography within the past year. Maybe they will inspire you!