Zombie RPG: DoubleBear interview

Brian Mitsoda from DoubleBear was more than happy to chat to Critical Gamer about the company’s recently announced zombie RPG – on the condition that we sacrifice someone for them to kill and reanimate, in the name of research.

As regular readers may have guessed, the CG tea boy position is open again…

CG: So, how did DoubleBear – and the idea of a zombie MMO – first come about?

BM: DoubleBear mostly came about as a result of a career largely spent on big projects that sometimes went on for a year or longer before they were sadly cancelled or the studio went bust. After a while, you kind of sense that being in charge of your own fate would be a much better way to go. Coincidences and opportunities aligned and it became a very convenient time to start a studio, so I did. The fact that it’s not a very big studio working on a massive project made that all a lot easier.

CG: Can you tell us anything about the story?

BM: Specifics and info about characters would ruin a lot of the fun. Really. But I’ll tell you what you won’t find in the story:

-Evil Corporations

-Alien Conspiracies

-Sinister Looking Guy Who is Totally the End Boss

-Press A to Jump

-Psychic and/or Spunky Magic Girls

-Dark Wizardry/Portals to Hell/Bioorganic or Original Style Demons

-Simple Divisions of Good and Evil

CG: Zombies seem to be the ‘in’ thing in gaming lately, with many games using them as enemies. What sets ZRPG apart from those other games?

BM: Are zombies really in or is it that they’re just thrown into every game as enemies? I don’t really think a game is part of the zombie genre unless it incorporates the themes of the scenario – survival, societal breakdown, survivor guilt/morale, the quest for safety or a sense of normalcy, and the story being more about the humans than the zombies. That’s what our game aims to do, which I think is what sets it apart from games that just throw zombies in because they’re fun to shoot or run over with a lawnmower. I’m not saying zombies aren’t fun to blow up, but I’d say there are very few games with zombies that actually embrace the setting. It’s really a grim setting that doesn’t lend itself to the “hero saves the day, defeats ultimate evil” plot of most games. I don’t know if people will be enthralled or pissed that they’re actually getting a zombie game that really reflects the genre accurately, but I know there’s been plenty of people out there who really seem to like our direction so far. The fact that we don’t have to hook a million people or more to break even makes it easier to take some chances with the way we tell a story.

CG: Why do you think you’re the first team to make a single player zombie – themed RPG?

BM: As I said, the genre doesn’t really lend itself to the traditional game story structure. There is no ultimate bad guy – everyday people with their survival instinct kicked into high gear are your friends and foes or both. Sometimes we forget we’re making a zombie game because the zombies are not the threat – they’re everywhere, they’re a constant obstacle – but the other humans are capable of much worse, and you have to watch out for them and keep your group together on top of all the other problems. Did I mention the setting may be a bit bleaker than what gamers are used to?

CG: What do you think zombie games have done right – and wrong – in the past?

BM: There aren’t many I’d say really use zombies to their full potential. I think the best ones emphasize the survival aspect well like Dead Rising and Left 4 Dead, but I don’t think many of them consider what more than a few hours or days in the zombie apocalypse would be like. We’re patterning the setting after real disasters, considering that even after the damage is done, things don’t go back to normal. Our game is about surviving weeks and months or more after the world as we know it stops functioning. It’s not you, a shotgun, and several miles of zombies: it’s you, some strangers, the need for food, shelter, safety, weapons, fuel, and other groups of survivors that want those things too and that might do anything to get them.

CG: People like George A. Romero have in the past used Zombies to highlight social issues, such as consumerism or class conflict. Do you intend to use your zombies to highlight any particular ideology or satirise human nature in some way?

BM: There’s definitely got to be a little more going on than “zombies attack,” yeah, that’s part of the fun. I don’t know about straight out satire, but if things get too serious or “deep” than it’s a real bitch to keep going with the story as a player and a writer. There will be a few points made, and some humour where it fits. A few movements, wars, and news stories of the last few years have definitely been on my mind while I’ve been writing it, but I haven’t consciously tried to level any grand criticism at American foreign policy or anything like that. If it generates controversy (and by extension, sales), sure, I’ll play along with anything that people see as the game’s message.

CG: In many Zombie films, the ending tends to be “everyone dies” or “The survivors get away in a helicopter, with depleted numbers”. Have you considered yet how to end a game of this kind, where presumably things go from bad to worse?

BM: Yes. And to not get into specifics about the endings, there is no room to get comfortable in the game. There’s always some crisis to deal with. There’s not really a way to make things right or save the world. There’s day-to-day security or escape, but that’s about it, with the exception of the small victories. The endings should be satisfying for the tone of the game – I think that’s about all I can admit without spoiling them.

CG: With Zombies being essentially mindless, you’ve mentioned that more focus will be placed on the humans and the psychological effects of a Zombie Apocalypse. What kinds of people can we expect to meet on our travels through ZRPG?

BM: There’s Mystika, the surly thief with a secret crush on the player, Xynax, the stuck-up wizard-in-training who thinks he’s better than us, and M. Byson, the psychic nazi running a secret organization that plans to take over the world by entering a secret fighting tournament. Oh, wait… no, they’re definitely not in the game.

You know your neighbour? The one that’s got the piece of shit car in their yard, keeps weird hours, buys industrial size cans of Beefaroni, and may or may not be dealing meth? Okay, so someone vaguely resembling that could be in the game, except that he’s got the upper hand in this scenario and all the other neighbours that have wanted him to move out for the longest time are already dead. That gives you an idea of the kind of people that populate the game, kind of. There’s quite a few humans in the game and nearly all of them could be allies or enemies depending on how you handle the situation.

I’m hesitant to say too much because I don’t want people to come into the game with preconceived notions about some of the characters, nor do I want to ruin some of the surprise. We’re guarding a lot of the story elements because we’re allowed a lot more control over the story and how much gets shown. It’s the difference between the teaser trailers of old and the tell-you-the-whole-movie-in-two-minutes trailers of modern times.

CG: Zombies seem to lend themselves pretty well to humour (Stubbs the Zombie, Shaun of the Dead, Re-Animator, Zombieland etc). Can we expect there to be humour in ZRPG, or are you going for more of a bleak, dry approach?

BM: I can’t write anything without having something funny in there, because I need to keep myself amused while writing the thing. Overall the setting is pretty damn bleak, yeah, but all good horror has moments of levity to really distract you long enough to sneak up behind you and pounce. I feel disappointed that this answer wasn’t funny.

CG: Your website mentions Brian’s love of giraffes, so Zombie giraffes are surely a no-brainer then?

BM: I do love giraffes, but there are no zombie animals in the game. Probably get a giraffe image somewhere, somehow in the game.

CG: Vampire the Masquerade : Bloodlines contained a fairly explicit reference to George A Romero and zombie films, did Brian write that quest? Can we expect any zombie movie homages in ZRPG?

BM: I did write that quest and, I’m proud-shamed to admit I also voiced the character of Romero. You can expect homages to all sorts of stuff in the game, including zombie films, obscure bands, and leafy vegetables from around the world.

CG: With you using the Age of Decadence Engine and going turn-based it sounds like you’re harking back to the Fallout 1 & 2 era of RPGs. What informed that decision? Is it a case of you being a new and small studio and it’s easier to develop a turn based game, or more because those games are still used as a high watermark for RPGs by many fans?

BM: That we’re using the Age of Decadence Engine is a bit incorrect. We’re actually integrating the Age of Decadence code into Torque 3D so that we can use existing tools to implement gameplay and significantly boost the graphic capability, and by “we”, I mean the guys at Iron Tower, as they’re doing the heavy lifting on the programming and art side.

The reason we’re doing a game that resembles the original Fallout more than the most recent one is due to the fact that it takes a staggering amount of people and money to do an open-world game in a full 3D space. We could have set out to do that, but we would have most likely (okay, definitely) failed. Because we’re not taking a lot of the chances with the tech, we can take more chances with the story and setting. I don’t think turn-based is necessarily better or worse than real-time RPGs, but it’s what our game engine does and the gameplay has been tailored to make the best use of it. Turn-based RPG combat still shows up in a lot of different games, so I don’t think it’s something that is going to scare off players. Even the rerelease of Fallout seemed to sell quite a few copies, as does Civilization, as do JRPG/Strategy games on consoles and portable systems. I don’t think the people who will be interested in this type of game will be turned off by turn-based combat.

CG: You’ve said that you’ll be using the shambling slow zombies, rather than the fast moving kind that seem to have been popularised lately. Is that because you’re zombie purists? or was it purely a design choice for the kind of game you wanted to make?

BM: Both? I don’t think fast zombies make sense (see Simon Pegg’s writeup on this) but also the game is about this slow decay of everything familiar and the humans being the big threat. The zombies are there to keep the player moving and to prolong a feeling of dread. One of the mechanics is noise, so the more noise that gets made, the more likely it is that the zombies will find you, so certain weapons like guns (which are powerful) will also draw more zombies to your position.

Also, because they’re slow, you might just choose to ignore them, although this leads to situations where they start clustering around your location and making what should have been an easy looting target into a complete nightmare. With fast zombies, you can’t ignore them – they’re in your face – they’re the fucking Mountain Dew ad of monsters, which would totally ruin the pacing of the game and the focus on the human aspect. Slow zombies wait for you to get real comfortable or sloppy and that’s when they become dangerous. I think a lot of players will be surprised at just how much they underestimate the shambling zombies.

CG: The Zombie Survival question of “What would you do in a Zombie apocalypse?” has been going around for years now, so what would you do?

BM: Die. Most likely. Even after reading a bunch of survival books as research for this game, I still can’t even live off the land if I go camping for a few days. I suppose I’d try to be considerate and put on something bright orange so as to make myself easier to spot as a zombie. Ah, who am I kidding, I can’t pull off fluorescent colours.

Why not brave the strange world of DoubleBear? Shuffle over to www.doublebearproductions.com and see what the hell’s going on.

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Written by Patrick G

4 comments

  1. Nice interview guys, I’m curious about what exactly they’re going to make of this game. Staying tuned, I guess!

  2. Michael J /

    Turn-based Zombie apocalypse survival RPG written by Brian Mitsoda sounds pretty much like the perfect game to me.

  3. moooooosebawls /

    Me and friend were working on something a zombie MMORPG for a while and now find I this crap out!! I feel like they kidnapped my baby and gave it drugs and put it on the corner!! While I was making it coffee

  4. This game is an RPG not an MMO

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