The RPG Codex interviews Annie VanderMeer Mitsoda (formerly Annie VanderMeer Carlson), who you might recall is currently working as a game designer on Guild Wars 2 as well as working with Brian Mitsoda on Iron Tower Studios' Zombie RPG.
15. The game is using the Age of Decadence engine, which looks pretty shitty and is out-dated. Why not use Unreal Engine 3? Can you talk about some of the technical challenges involved and how you're addressing them?
Well, to be entirely precise, the game is using AoD's toolset and trappings, while the engine has actually been upgraded to Torque 3D, which is pretty awesome. We hit up T3D because Iron Tower's programmer, Nick, gave it a look-over and said he could transfer stuff pretty easily, and the Garage Games guys were selling Torque 3D at a discount to indie devs that made it a perfect choice. T3D is making stuff look really great right now, and is has been burly enough to handle everything we've thrown at it. It was also important to us to get an engine that had a great deal of support behind it, and in addition to having a lot of other studios using T3D who could offer advice, Garage Games has had a good support track record (which is rarer than you'd think when it comes to game engines...)
Thankfully, we haven't been running into many technical challenges, I'd suspect largely because we knew what our limits were as we began designing the game and not during implementation (which is a goddamn nightmare when it happens). We shot for things we knew that AoD's engine could do immediately (or with a little work and a few tweaks), which put the onus on Brian and I as designers to make systems that were simple to implement, easy to understand, rewarding to master, and meshed well with one another. I know some people have heard some details about one of our systems and whined that it's too simple - individually they might seem simpler than another single-player indie RPG, but at the same time, ZRPG will have other complex systems (like survivor Morale, managing food supplies, and handling shelter upgrades) that other RPGs don't have. This'll help us test and balance systems early in development, and spend the polish phase tweaking elements of it to add subtleties or remove issues that might have popped up.
16. But no really, how far into development are you? Do you have all the maps yet or just a few models; or are you still very much in the planning stage? Is anything working yet? You said getting something that's fun is the first goal so what's your first focus: the combat or the surviving or a bit of both or something else?
Can't go into details about our stage of development, but that focus question is a good one so I'ma address that. Functionally speaking, I'm going to say we have to get the combat working on a solid model, because it's tied into a lot of basic character creation skills. Also it's a common adage among designers that "if the combat sucks, your game is fucked," so we want to get the basics of that working well before we get the survival/management aspects ironed out. I'd say they're of equal importance, but perfecting the functionality of the combat I think is a little higher priority, but also easier to do at the early stages and will require fundamentally less polish and tweaking than the management aspects will.