Brian Mitsoda

Brian Mitsoda

Jim Cojones This is the first time You are working on a game You are self-publishing. How does it differ from the previous experience?

Brian Mitsoda In previous projects, people would pay me money to work, and now I spend money to work. Sometimes I wake up with this feeling that I have maybe failed to grasp the basics of economics, but then I check my notes and remember that my company owns the rights to the game, controls the marketing and release, and owns the eventual profits. It's a different kind of gamble.

The game will get finished, but whether or not we make any money relies on us delivering a fun game, promoting it well, and hitting the magic sales number.

In a studio, you might work on something for years and have it cancelled or thrown out and while you got paid, you have absolutely nothing else to show for it - I was kind of tired of rolling that boulder up the hill. The tools, awareness, and framework for smaller productions are there, and I'm really excited by the possibilities now and in the long-term - also, a bunch of awesome people have worked out the kinks over the years, so by no means is the team flying blind.

Jim Cojones One of the most important aspects of the game is the shelter. Will it be possible to upgrade it, make safer or more comfortable?

Brian Mitsoda BIt will be necessary to upgrade the shelter to make it more hospitable to survivors and also increase the player's survival chances. For example, building an infirmary will make wounded allies heal faster. Building better fences will keep allies happy and make constant repair less of a concern.

Upgrades require requisite amounts of skill, parts, and man-hours to complete.

They're great for compensating for morale loss - you know how in Dawn of the Dead, the survivors built their space up to make it feel more like a home?

Well, it's kind of like that. The upgrade system also feeds the need to go out scavenging for more parts, people, and fuel to get things built.

Different survivors will ask for or need different upgrades, so you'll also have to weigh that factor with your own preferences of what to upgrade next.

Jim Cojones You have mentioned there was a hurricane in a place You lived once and said it helped You design ZRPG. What observations did You find the most intriguing?

Brian Mitsoda After Hurricane Andrew hit in 1992, most of the area where I lived in Miami had been leveled. There was no electricity, no running water, no gas, few stores opened, curfews, military stationed in certain areas, and a sense that things would never be the same. It was a traumatic experience - one that leaves a scar on your subconscious to the point of setting your nightmares there. The real difference for the game was that I imagined this experience on a global scale - what if a major disaster like Andrew or Katrina or the Haiti earthquake happened and nobody rode in to the rescue because they were too busy dealing with the problem in their own backyard?

As a world, we're tightly intertwined by the internet and transportation and international law, but what happens we're suddenly cut off and have to deal with one another on a very small scale, without the promise of aid rolling in within a few days? That, more than OH NO ZOMBIES, is the driving design of the game.

Jim Cojones We already have pretty detailed info about the stats and skills in the game. But how do You increase these skills? Do You have use-based system or one that use experience points? If the second one, what kind of accomplishments will be awarded with experience?

Brian Mitsoda Skills are bought with skill points. Stat points are rare, earned when the player earns a certain amount of skill points. Our experience system gives skill points for completing objectives, not for just running around killing things. There are perks every few skill levels, as well as a few hidden perks that require the player to play creatively to uncover them.

For example, you might come across a hospital while traveling and suddenly have an objective to explore it OR one of your companions might know about the hospital, tell you its location, and suggest you get supplies there. You could get skill points for exploring the hospital. You might also get a few more if you collected a certain amount of medical items while in the hospital. Another ally might have asked you to try and find a certain medicine from a clinic, hospital, or pharmacy, so if you find that, you might earn even more skill points from that hospital. There are a lot of way to earn skill points or earn credit toward an eventual skill point.

Jim Cojones Does the random factor matter a lot in the game? Is it restricted to skill rolls or are there locations and people that can be found in different places during different playthroughs?

Brian Mitsoda Randomness is one of the first ones we thought was integral to making the game play out a bit differently each time. We don't really have the time to randomize every little thing in the game, but we have a good amount of it. Some of the locations and availability of allies can change, but not for all of them. We don't expect players to find every event and ally on a single playthrough.

There are quite a few events or enemy situations that are unlocked by doing things in a certain order or in response to your dealings with other groups.

There are also some events that will depend on who's at the shelter and how they feel about you. A couple events are truly random, like one where the common cold's going around and the player can either keep ill allies off the duty roster, order them on their feet and back to work, or use dialogue skills to milk the situation for extra loyalty.

Jim Cojones While most of the RPGs and most of the modern games never let You fail so much that it won't be possible to continue after resorting to the most recent save, some of the titles You list as the main source of influence (X-Com, JA2) did. A couple of screwed missions against aliens meant a player lost experienced soldiers, lost equipment and financial sources are cut so it was difficult to rebuild. Will it be similar in ZRPG?

Brian Mitsoda Yes, definitely. If you lose assets and allies, you will have a harder time, but on the other hand, you can still get out there and try to replace them - though we have a finite number of allies and resources in the world. I think the game is about hard choices, and I think that the setting will help reinforce rather than frustrate players when they lose people or allies get infected or they make enemies of one of the tougher groups. To be fair, we have allies warn players when actions have repercussions and we give players an "unconsciousness" buffer when someone hits 0 HP in order to let the player try to save them before they die/get killed, but there's definitely a lot of risk/reward involved in our game. Because of some of the randomness, I think players can expect the game throwing some different stuff at them on each playthrough, similar to Civilization or X-Com. We also have several levels of difficulty that will let players choose the amount of risk they feel comfortable with.

Jim Cojones Using firearms generate sound which can bring the zombies to the player's group. Is the sound level dependable on gun? Is there any way to make them less loud?

Brian Mitsoda One way we balanced guns was to make them much louder than melee weapons and make a lot of the more powerful guns as loud as they tend to be in real life. Gun fanatics may write in to tell us how wrong we are that a sawed-off shotgun isn't as loud as a hunting rifle, but we don't care, because it's like that for game balance reasons. And for as crazy as people seem to be about silencers, in real life they aren't found in abundance, nor are they made for every type of gun. There are one or two guns that can take a silencer, but you'll have to be pretty skilled to create one.

Jim Cojones You present a design topic on Iron Tower Studio forum every Monday, discussing ZRPG features and often asking a question to the fans. Do their responses have any impact on the game?decyzje?

Brian Mitsoda Absolutely. Whether they know it or not, I often use them for focus testing, as well as sounding boards for design decisions. There are definitely systems in the game that we'll prototype before we add or discard, but for ideas that we're kind of iffy on or not 100% certain of, we do toss some of that out there to see what sticks or inspires new directions for us. I think after the game is released, people will be able to go back over the boards and figure out where we were doing this.

Jim Cojones Is there any game element You'd like to see in ZRPG but had to resign from implementing it because it would be too difficult or too time-consuming for Your team?

Brian Mitsoda There could be elements in there right now which turn out to be too difficult to continue with, though I really hope this is not the case. As far as actual stuff that was thrown out, I'd say we were conservative and fit the design to what the Iron Tower guys thought was possible to alter or add to the AoD code. I mean we definitely ruled out things like full major cities - the scale was too big, and in the fiction of the game, they are some of the worst places to be. We're also pretty sure VO is out because of time/money to implement.

Jim Cojones We didn't have many occasions to look at the game graphics so far. When can we expect more screenshots?

Brian Mitsoda Yes, you can expect a lot of screenshots and other stuff very soon. You will definitely see the internet equivalent of a signal flare on that day.

Jim Cojones What can we expect from artificial intelligence? Are You trying to make it just sufficient or have more ambitious plans?

Brian Mitsoda If you play the AoD demo, you'll find yourself up against some damn fine AI.

We'll be working with that base code to get the squad/human AI to not only be competent but play up to its personality traits. If an AI is cowardly, they'll run rather than stay and fight. If an AI is a medic, they will try to help injured party members rather than keep on fighting. We want these to feel like real humans making real judgment calls. The great thing about doing a zombie game is that one set of enemies gets to be dumb and predictable by design.

Jim Cojones Do You have any expectations regarding the number of copies sold?

Brian Mitsoda As with all businesses, I have a plan and a magic number. What that number is, I won't say right now, but you'll know if we hit it if you see us start doing publicity for the next game in money hats and monocles.

Jim Cojones It's probably way too early to expect anything concrete about next projects of DoubleBear but I imagine an RPG about zombie apocalypse wasn't the only project You wanted to realize. What kind of themes would You like to explore in the future?

Brian Mitsoda For business reasons, I'd say the next game we do (if we survive long enough to do another) would be something using the same engine we're using for ZRPG. If ZRPG sells like iPads and we get 6000 emails a day asking for a sequel, I'd give good odds to that being the next project. We have lots of ideas for the setting, plus it's a lot easier to make a sequel with the understanding of what worked and what didn't. Or maybe we'll be so burnt out from zombies that we'll make an 80's Spring Break movie RPG.

Aside from that, I don't really like to talk specifics of projects that may not make it past the "good idea" stage, but I would definitely like to do a multiplayer action-RPG one day that has nothing to do with military guys shooting or stabbing military guys. I'd say more but I want people to be interested in ZRPG right now. Here's a deal - if everyone goes out and buys ZRPG, I'll start talking about other games DoubleBear is interested in designing.

Jim Cojones Imagine You are making a spy RPG. What would be the basics of design?

Brian Mitsoda Oh, man, I am not doing this again. I already spent enough time theoretically making one of these.

Jim Cojones You were joking that during making of a vampire RPG You were running around in a cape. How did You prepared for ZRPG?

Brian Mitsoda Wow - you remember that I said that? Good memory. Anyhow, I think the way I got into the "character" of ZRPG was starting the business in a home office. When you're not working in an office with dozens of other people and never leaving the house to go to work, you get this sensation of being isolated.

It's a feat of will to start a business and create a game, and even more so when you've got to handle so many different kinds of tasks, so I suppose there's this crushing weight that, like the survivors in a zombie film, you just want to get through the worst parts of it and keep going until things get better. Also, I walked halfway across town with a backpack full of cans of food and dry goods, and let me tell you, I preferred the cape even with the strange looks.