Population Dead: An Interview with DoubleBear Productions
My Fellow Gamers;
Imagine yourself experiencing not the aftermath of an apocalypse, but actual the state of. That life-changing, world-ending tribulation event that signals the final rasping breath of the old world you once knew, for a much more terrifying and more sinister one that replaces it. A world where the restless dead freely walk the earth, and the neighbor you once knew, the friend you once trusted, is now a gun-wielding scavenger willing to end your life if it meant he could live for one more day. Sounds like the perfect setting for a game, doesn’t it? Well, that’s exactly the kind of story the team at DoubleBear Productions wants to tell in their upcoming title, Dead State.
In the game, you play as a man or woman trying simply to survive an unnatural disaster of biblical proportions. Taking shelter in a nearby school house, you and a handful of refugees must brave this now-hostile world for the tools needed to simply see another day. Food. Water. Medicine. Items and supplies needed to protect your parcel of the world from the undead. And from other humans.
I had the chance to sit down with Dead State’s Project Lead Designer (and Writer) Brian Mitsoda to try to find out more about the game, and what players can expect to experience in the not too distant future.
Wastelander75: This may just be coincidence but: Double Bear, isometric gameplay, apocalyptic setting; I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that the team members are big fans of the original Fallout games.
Brian Mitsoda: Fallout was the game that inspired me to get into the game industry and apply to Interplay, so yes, there’s definitely a lot of the original Fallout influence in Dead State. We loved playing those kinds of RPGs and with so many retro-RPGs coming out in the next year, it seems like we’re not the only ones. I have a personal connection to Fallout in that I worked at Black Isle and later went on to work at Troika, which was founded by the core members of the Fallout team.
Dead State is definitely an old-school RPG first, although we’ve used that Black Isle RPG base and incorporated survival gameplay, base-building , and personality management. The game’s a healthy mix of Fallout, Suikoden, and Jagged Alliance/X-Com.
Wastey: So how did the team meet? What drew you all together?
Brian: The team was assembled slowly and a lot of it was by luck. Annie (writer/designer) and I formed a partnership with Iron Tower Studios to try and use their tech and team to build an RPG. However, since we had no funding, most of the early work that went into the game came from fans of the idea/RPGs, modding contacts, and friends of friends. This is over the course of years when it was a side project for many of us, although I mentioned “luck” earlier because almost everyone who contributed ended up staying with the project through now. Our common bond is that we’re all gamers and huge RPG fans.
The thing about side projects is that they don’t really have a schedule and without a good workflow, game production becomes stagnant quickly. When we finally reached the point when we knew we had to secure funding if we had any hope of finishing the game, we ramped up to the Kickstarter and that success allowed us to essentially reboot the game’s production. The leads – me, Oscar, and Nick – were able to switch to full-time production, we brought on many long-time contributors to the team officially, and over time, we hired another lead (Christina, our producer), additional programmers, and QA. We’re now at about 15 people – still an incredibly small number of people for RPG development, but a pretty large team by indie standards.
Wastey: There seem to be a lot of elements that the player will have to contend with on a regular basis to keep his group happy. Food, morale, rest. Other humans. If you had to, what element would you say players should watch out for the most?
Brian: This game is all about the human threat, both internally and externally. It’s pretty easy to look at the game and write us off as another zombie game, but if you play the game, you’ll learn that the zombies really aren’t that huge of a threat, but other humans scavenging for the same resources or allies that are at each other’s throats? Yeah, they can cause problems in the shelter. Maybe even for you. You’re a group of strangers all trying to survive – you’re not questing for the sake of loot or to fight a common enemy, you are normal people thrown together by chance.
You’re not all going to be friends at the end. You will make decisions that will make other people mad. You will find other survivors and realize that if you want to eat tonight, you may have to kill people that pose no threat to you. You can’t win the game by merely killing a boss – you’ve got to play politics (even if it’s despotism), make tough decisions, and keep your people happy enough to not want to get rid of you or leave.
Wastey: Will all humans be hostile? I mean, could a player effectively work out a tentative peace between the two surviving factions so that they work together to watch each others backs (or leave each other alone), or something similar?
Brian: Not all of the other humans are hostile. Many humans are hostile while you’re out scavenging – either they kill as a rule or they’ve been ambushed so many times by other humans that they shoot on sight now. You’ll find more organized factions that might be willing to talk, but you’ll find that most people don’t trust you and only want to interact with you out of necessity. When you do find someone who wants to talk, they may be a potential ally, a potential threat, or just another person trying to get through their day without dying. You may be able to keep the peace with some of the other groups, but there are lots of individuals out in the world with no connection to an organization, and they have most likely stayed alive by preying on the weak.
Wastey: Will the player experience a day/night cycle in the game?
Brian: Yes. The game starts in the morning and ends in the evening. You go to sleep to start a new day. Night combat is an option, but it’s much harder to see and hit your enemies. Time passes while traveling or working in the shelter. Over time, allies will get fatigued, so keeping them out for too long is not advised. Every day, each ally needs food. Allies get injuries that sometimes require rest. Sometimes they get sick, sometimes they get depressed, and sometimes they just don’t want to go out. Some mornings, strangers might arrive at the gate of the shelter.
Occasionally, something at the shelter becomes such a big issue that a major decision must be made, such as figuring out a policy to handle low morale in the shelter. Every day brings new challenges in Dead State. If you’ve played the first 7 Days, that’s the tutorial week, and the easiest week you will have in the game.
Wastey: Loot and items, it’s assumed, will be finite resources, correct? Will players be able to do anything to alleviate that concern? i.e. Growing their own food, using more natural resources and so on.
Brian: Yes, constructing upgrades to the shelter can offset morale and food loss. You can build a garden and grow food. You can build a watchtower and assign allies to guard the shelter, which makes people feel safer. You can upgrade your car to use less fuel. You can look for wild sources of food or fish. There’s a whole lot of ways to boost your supplies aside from scavenging, but it’s impossible to get by without having to occasionally brave a hostile area, because that’s the easiest way to get the resources you need. You won’t be able to just hunker down in the shelter 100% – you’re just delaying the inevitable really bad day out in the field.
Wastey: What’s been the most rewarding aspect of video game development so far?
Brian: That the majority of Kickstarter backers and Early Access adopters have received the game positively. Which is to say, they like the basic mechanics and we don’t have to throw it all out and start again, so we still have a shot at making the final product something amazing for RPG fans. Of course, the Kickstarter campaign was a thrilling experience for us and we wouldn’t be here without it. But right now, the most rewarding aspect is that the end is finally in sight.
Wastey: And the most trying?
Brian: Work issues that come from not everyone having everyone on the team on the same time zone and in the same office. It takes a lot of patience and adjustment.
The message boards can be a bit much. I don’t usually comment on them, but I read the feedback, both good and bad (and horribly misinformed). Since I’ve seen an interview where even the writers from Game of Thrones say they have to stay away from message boards because of the negative comments, I’ve felt a lot better about ignoring the worst of it.
But one of the worst things that can happen to you as an indie developer and business owner is for you to do a Google search for your game and get pages of pirate sites. I know people pirate games and I know there are many reasons they do, but it still sucks to see years of your hard work being easily downloaded.
Wastey: Now, will the game have a defined narrative (beginning, middle, end), or a continuous flow of survival until the inevitable end?
Brian: There’s definitely story beats spread throughout the months in the shelter, but we’re more open in structure like the original Fallout. Most people have only played the first week so far, which is a tutorial week and is much more linear than the final game so that we can teach the player the basics of running the shelter and scavenging.
Much of the game depends on the allies you have, the people you meet, how many supplies you have, and what decisions you make. There are some events that everyone will have to face, some that will only occur as a result of your choices, and then there are some that are random and may happen at different times to each player. The best thing to do in our game is to carefully monitor your allies and supplies, explore as much as possible, and be sure not to piss off your subleaders too much.
Wastey: Say a year after the game releases, are there plans to expand the Dead State experience? DLC, expansion packs and so on.
Brian: We will keep on adding content, polishing the game, and fixing any issues that come up for at least a year after the release. If 99% players tell us “X feature would make the game the best thing ever”, we will most likely add it. If there’s the demand and sales support for major amounts of expanded content, we would gladly do it. We don’t want to do DLC along the lines of “Joel and Vic beach patrol skins!” or anything stupid, even if we know it would probably sell. We have some ideas for post-release content, but we’re more concerned about finishing Dead State. Ultimately, we love making games, but we have a decent-sized team and we will need the sales to be there for us to truly add a significant amount of new content to the game.
Wastey: What other genres would the team like to explore in the future?
Brian: That’s up for debate. We have a lot of ideas for games, but other than supporting Dead State post-release, I think it would kill me to move on to another RPG right away. I know which one I’m most excited to do, so let’s hope sales of Dead State allows to make more games.
Wastey: Honestly, say it’s a week after the real zombie apocalypse; what would you be, victim or survivor?
Brian: A week? I’m still alive probably, in my basement. Once I run out of booze, that’s when I leave the house and probably get shot.. or eaten… or fall into a ravine.
I want to thank Mr. Mitsoda for taking the time to speak with us. If you’d like to find out more about the upcoming Dead State, please feel free to visit there site HERE. Currently in production, Dead State has just announced their third Early Access update which you can read about in detail HERE. And finally, you can try your hand at the game’s tutorial, Dead State: The First Seven Days at their Steam Page HERE.
The full Dead State experience is on track for a Summer 2014 release for PC.