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Page 2 of 3GB: Take us through the character creation and progression systems you're working on. How will the advancement system compare and contrast to other RPGs?
Brian: Character creation shouldn't be too different than what people are used to - you can choose your character's gender, skin color, hair, some cosmetic details, then assign their starting stats and skills. We have four stats which are mostly related to combat ability and eight skills that can affect a wide variety of actions. We really focused on making the skills have such an impact on the game world that leveling them up would have an instant impact on ability, rather than have a bunch of redundant or mostly useless except for special occasion skills.
Unlike a lot of other RPGs, you don't gain XP from killing things - you get skill points from completing objectives, which means that the player can go about things in any way that completes the task, rather than have to kill everything that moves. These objectives are both reoccurring and also reactive to events that have been set off by the player's actions. In a lot of cases, avoiding combat or using the zombies against opponents is a better strategy than going in guns blazing. Reaching certain key milestones (like recruiting a certain number of strangers to your shelter) or making critical decisions in your role as a leader can unlock choices of new perks for your character. We definitely want to encourage players to play the way they want rather than grind for success.
GB: What are some of the non-combat skills we'll have access to? How often will each of these be used throughout the game?
Brian: Every skill in the game has multiple functions, except for Melee and Ranged, which are the 100% combat skills. The Medical skill is used to restore HP and cure temporary statuses, but it also has applications in speeding up recovery of HP and long-term statuses (such as sprained arms) for doctor types who are willing to spend a day or two treating the wounded. The Science skill allows the player to create everything from enhanced armor to explosives. The Mechanical skill is useful for lock-picking and weapon and shelter upgrades. Survival allows players to travel more quickly on the area map, as well as identify wild food sources and avoid or ambush enemies in random encounters. Leadership and Negotiation open up different dialogue options, as well as confer bonuses to either ally combat ability(leadership) or overall morale loss (negotiation).
GB: There are some very compelling mechanics in this game, such as the morale system. Tell us a bit about how this works and some of the benefits and consequences tied to it.
Brian: So, remember when I was saying that we wanted to get certain skills right before we worked on other systems? Morale was definitely a key skill to nail the feel of the zombie genre. It represents the nagging hopelessness that the group feels as the situation begins to look bleaker with every passing day. Overall Morale drops daily, the amount being based on the overall moods of the group. But, if people get fed, if their mood improves, if there are luxury items (like toilet paper) stocked in the shelter, and the player makes decisions that the majority agree with most of the time, the Morale will be positive. If the Morale has been positive most of the time, the player has a bank of good will that can mitigate short term morale hits like allies being killed or infected. If Morale starts to become negative long-term, it can lead to things like allies leaving or confronting the player.
There are a lot of systems tied to Morale - minor and major player decisions, ally mental health, upgrades, scavenging priorities - it's really the key mechanic in the game. It's definitely a gauge for how the player is doing as a leader. You don't have to make popular decisions or be a hero, you just have to be good at making people feel like they're better off under your leadership than being on their own.
GB: Is panic tied to morale? What can you tell us about how panic ties into the game? Is it something we'll be dealing with a lot?
Brian: Panic isn't directly tied to Morale, but if an ally's mood has been negative - like let's say they've become depressed - they might be more prone to panic. Panic really is a factor of two things - the NPC's damage threshold (amount of damage they take before they fear for their lives) and how terrified of zombies they are. Some allies will never worry about wounds, some will never worry about zombies, and a few (including the player) will never panic at all. There are some statuses and some special circumstances - like an NPC losing a close friend - that might make someone more likely to panic. Overall, if the player manages their combat team effectively, they shouldn't have to deal with panic very often. If an ally is in a situation that is causing them distress, they'll warn the player. Panic's also not a guarantee, even if circumstances are right - there's always a chance that NPC won't break.
GB: How much of the game will we actually spend fighting/escaping from zombies, as opposed to interacting with other survivors?
Brian: There are two main parts of the game - shelter management and scavenging. The shelter management bits involve talking to NPCs (who may bring problems to you), making decisions about what upgrades or item creation should be a priority for the shelter, and taking stock of what you have to plan for what you'll need and where you should try to go to find it the next time you leave. There's a whole lot to do out of combat, and lots of people to talk to if you recruit everybody you find.
The combat portions occur when you either encounter a group of humans or zombies while scavenging. There's definitely ways of avoiding combat, but there's no escaping it. You may have circumstances where you can talk your way out of combat or threaten potential enemies, but once you get outside your shelter, anything could happen. Our combat system is modeled after turn-based tactical strategy games as much as RPGs, so even if there is a bit of combat, it's more about strategy than attack vs. defense values.