Brian Mitsoda Interview
I recently got the chance to talk to one of the creators of my favorite PC RPG - Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines, to ask him about his new game, Dead State, and find out some of the grittier details about it. Here's what he had to say.
RPGWatch: Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines is probably the best game I've ever played. So, when is the sequel coming :)? Do you have any plans to work on a new, atmospheric first-person RPG in the future?
Brian Mitsoda: I have had an idea for a spiritual successor to Bloodlines for a very long time, although with the complexity of RPG/FPS hybrids from an engine/production/financial standpoint, it's not something DoubleBear can do at the moment. As soon as the tools to make that kind of game get easier to do from a small team production standpoint, I will definitely consider it. There's a reason there aren't a lot of companies making that type of game and a lot of it has to do with the cost and amount of personnel needed.
RPGWatch: Speaking of Bloodlines, why did a sequel to that game never materialize? It seemed like a great game to build a series from. You had the tabletop game to build from, and the game was so good it had to garner interest in a sequel, right?
Brian: We were definitely interested in doing more with the setting, to the point that we had put together an idea for a proposal and a prototype for one of the new World of Darkness settings. With the game's initial sales figures and Activision's lack of interest in mature titles at the time, there was no way that was going to be picked up. Other publishers weren't interested in single-player RPG pitches at the time - World of Warcraft had just come out and everyone wanted MMOs. We would have loved to do more with the setting because it's way easier to do a sequel/expansion once you've got all the tools in place from the first game, but Troika went out of business before we could find a publisher for another game.
RPGWatch: Atmosphere is very important in an RPG and Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines had it in spades. Jumping to your new game, what does the atmosphere feel like in Dead State? What are some things that you've done to increase the atmosphere and make it feel like a real zombie apocalypse is happening around you?
Brian: Dead State is all about the survivor mentality - what do you do to survive? The zombies aren't really the point and are kind of like an ongoing natural disaster that everybody needs to adapt to. The real threat in Dead State is the other humans, whether that's the everyday needs and problems that come from running a shelter full of strangers, or the threats from other groups and survivors out in the world. You are way more likely to be killed by another human than a zombie in Dead State. Since we're time-based, every single day presents the potential to cause new problems for your leadership at the shelter. A lot of the atmosphere comes from scavenging familiar locations like houses, stores, and malls, except now people are willing to kill for that last can of beans.
RPGWatch: Checking out your Kickstarter homepage, the game sounds great! Can you give us some specific examples of games that influenced your design of Dead State in some way?
Brian: Dead State is definitely inspired by Fallout, the original X-Com, Jagged Alliance, and Suikoden. We wanted to revisit some of the older RPGs and strategy games that inspired us, but also create a more user-friendly experience than some of those games. We didn't want to make the game focused on a traditional party/act narrative, but allow for more open-ended gameplay and the possibility that any of your companions could permanently die.
RPGWatch: Zombies seem to be very, very popular right now, and it seems like there are new games coming out all the time that feature zombies in some way. So tell us, what will separate Dead State from the other zombie games that are out there?
Brian: The focus of Dead State has always been to make a real-world RPG that was less about the zombies and had more of an emphasis on the human survivors. The zombie genre has never been about fighting the undead, but the mindset of the people who survived the initial crisis. The zombies are out there, they're a threat, but your group still needs to eat and protect itself AND so does everyone else out there. Our game draws from the atmosphere of a natural disaster where no one is coming to restore order and bring relief to the survivors. There's no law any longer and survivors have been left to do whatever it takes - there's going to be a lot of people who are going to resort to brute force in that environment.
RPGWatch: For me (and hopefully some of my readers! :) ), deep RPG systems are the most important thing in an RPG, and the more complex the system, the better! What type of RPG stats, skills and perks can we expect to find in Dead State? Can you give us some examples of their design?
Brian: All of our stats and skills are fairly straightforward and have been cut down to be as useful as possible so that you don't feel like you put points in a useless option. Melee and Ranged are straightforward combat skills, while Mechanical, Medical, and Science have combat and Shelter applications, specifically building upgrades, healing allies faster, and building new armor or items. Survival is all about getting around the map quicker and more safely while also opening up potential wild sources of food. Leadership has dialogue applications, but can also be used to issue commands that can change your odds in combat. Negotiation helps you keep order at the shelter, but also allows you to more successfully deal with the demands of enemies and allies. Each skill has a choice of perks at levels 3 and 6, with a very useful perk unlocked at level 10. Pretty much whatever skill you pick is going to give you better odds of survival, but your specialties and perks will change your game experience quite a bit.
RPGWatch: What can you tell us about the companions in Dead State? Are there any hidden companions that require effort to get to join your crew, such as a character hidden in a hard-to-find location, or requiring some certain prerequisite to be met to get them to join?)? Will different characters have different classes, if classes are even in the game?
Brian: There aren't classes in the game, and allies use the same types of skills that the player does. Every ally has different stats, skill, and perks that make them useful in different ways. Some allies are better off utilized at the Shelter, while some are more suited to combat. A few allies will show up automatically, but many of them must be found out in the world. There are a few that will only join your Shelter if you take certain actions. And, of course, if you piss them off out in the world, there's always the chance they might just attack you rather than join you. Not all of them start out willing to join you immediately.
RPGWatch: Vampire - Bloodlines seemed like it had significant player choices around every corner, and it made for a very re-playable game. What type of choices will there to be made in Dead State, and how heavy will the consequences be? Can you fail some quests because you chose the "wrong" dialog? Will the game adapt to your choices and change based on them? Do quest outcomes differ based on your choices?
Brian: The consequences range from altering an ally's mood to losing supplies to provoking certain allies to take an action against you. Dealing with certain groups can lead to attacks on your Shelter's fence or the chance of encountering more enemies out in the world. There's also Crisis Events - major events or disasters that require a vote by the Shelter's leadership - that change the entire mood of the Shelter and can have far-ranging consequences when it comes to the respect of the sub-leaders there.
As far as failure, it's possible to result in less than optimal situations from your decisions, but you'll never instantly be killed or anything that severe. We always give you the chance to alter the situation inside your Shelter yourself - such as making an ally have a "convenient accident" that day. You'll never be able to please everyone at the Shelter with your decisions, so the best thing to do is to balance your actions toward the majority or try to tweak the allies in the Shelter to be more likely to side via bribes and negotiation.
There are several major factions you deal with in the game world, and the options you take with them can vary quite a bit. Some of them might even be willing to work with you or at least respect you enough to leave you alone. Most of the day to day in the game is going to be working with your own people and keeping up the morale of the Shelter. The endings of the game will be dependent on the number of allies you have and some other factors ranging from faction relationships to the skills of you and your fellow Shelter residents. Our hope is that every player writes their own story of survival within the actions that they take.
RPGWatch: What can you tell us about the loot system in Dead State? Will there be a lot of interesting things to find in the game world? Can you talk about some of the different weapons, armors, clothes, useable items? How about "useless" items, such as clutter, or unique accessory items that boost your stats in some way?
Brian: All of the loot in the game is randomized, although there are some items that are rare or unique. Unlike most games with a lot of junk loot, almost everything you find in Dead State is useful and can be brought back to the Shelter to increase the amount of food, morale, parts, and fuel you have available. Weapons and armor can be found out in the world, though you can also use your Science and Mechanical skills to build mods for ranged weapons, upgrade or build new armor, and create new thrown items such as grenades. There are also data items that can be brought back to the Shelter to unlock the stories of what happened to the world before society collapsed. If you can bring it back the Shelter, it's probably valuable in some way, even if it doesn't seem that way at first.
RPGWatch: Challenge is an important aspect of a good RPG and is another area where Vampire - Bloodlines nailed things. How hard will Dead State be? Will there be different difficulty settings? Will it present a real challenge as you progress, and require some thought and tactics to survive?
Brian: Most people who have played the Early Access content have probably had an easy time of things, but that's because the first week of the game is essentially a tutorial. The game can be very difficult, especially if you try to take on a group that your allies just don't have the skill and equipment for. However, the real danger in the game comes from running out of supplies - not only will morale in the Shelter start to plummet, but if you don't get out into the world and find the items you need, it will most likely be game over for you.
RPGWatch: Is there any level-scaling in the game design? How about the enemy encounters - are they static and hand-placed or more randomized? Are there more powerful zombies that inhabit the world right from the start?
Brian: Random encounters can be added based on in-game time or from decisions you've made, but since the game is based on real locations, named areas will always be in the same place. While loot is random, enemies are pre-determined, but zombies can always be attracted to the map if you make too much noise. There are no "super zombies" in Dead State - the biggest threat out there is going to be other humans. Zombies only become a threat in large groups or when you're already wounded from fights with other groups of survivors.
RPGWatch: Is the loot in the game world static and hand-placed, ala a game like Baldur's Gate, or more randomized, ala Diablo? Some area in between? How hard is it to find fresh supplies, and will others actively be pursuing the same supplies as your team? Lastly, will there be a lot of unique, one-of-a-kind items? If so, what types?
Brian: Loot is randomized, and containers will also degrade as time goes on to simulate the actions of other survivors looting areas. You can find harvesting spots for fresh food or fishing if anyone in your group has Survival skill. There will be a few unique or hard to get items, especially certain types of armor or melee weapons. Ammo is pretty scarce for the higher level guns. Like most RPGs, you're not going to get some of the best stuff without going into some of the most difficult areas or sinking a lot of points into certain skills.
RPGWatch: Approximately how big is the game world, and will it be completely open to explore from the beginning? Are there any more dangerous spots that you should steer clear of at the beginning, but can still visit and get your butt kicked thoroughly :)?
Brian: It's pretty much all of central Texas, which is a large chunk of land (about as big as France, I believe.) Mostly everything is open from Day 1, although you're going to need a vehicle to get to some areas and back within a day. If you think you can go into a difficult area and attempt to get great gear, we're not going to stop you, although it's going to be tough. If you get most of your allies killed immediately, the game is going to get much tougher for you.
RPGWatch: Your Kickstarter campaign mentions a morale system. Can you talk more about this? What type of things will affect the system and what consequences can be found by having high/low morale? How can you boost morale?
Brian: Morale is tracked at the shelter. It is brought down by the moods of your allies and is brought up by luxury items and Negotiation bonuses. Mood is tracked per ally and contributes to morale drain every day. Ally mood is affected by things you do in dialogue, things that happen at the shelter, and the deaths of allies. A personal relationship with someone is going to impact mood loss even more. You always want to shoot for the highest morale you can. If mood gets low for allies, they may become depressed or angry with you and refuse to work. If morale gets too low at the shelter, it could result in the place falling apart. You also have to worry about how much respect you have with the sub-leaders at the Shelter - if they think you're running the place into the ground, they may just band together to get rid of you.
RPGWatch: Crisis Events sound interesting. Can you give us an example of one? What type of far-reaching consequences will your decisions in these events have on your shelter?
Brian: An example of one Crisis Event would be a food shortage. You're running out of food at the Shelter, so you and the other sub-leaders meet to discuss what to do. Do you wait and see what happens, make people eat things they wouldn't consider to be food normally (such as rats and bugs), ration food at the Shelter for the immediate future, force people to go without food for a day, or do you commit to a course of action that will mean fewer people in the Shelter by the end of the day? The sub-leaders will make suggestions and you will back a course of action. If enough people think it's a good idea, it reinforces everyone's faith in you as a leader and leads to better morale at the Shelter, but if they don't, it can lead to worse morale.
You want the sub-leaders to back your decision because they individually influence the morale of certain allies in the Shelter. If sub-leaders greatly respect you, they will back you automatically, but if you keep taking actions they don't approve of, that respect erodes quickly. Sub-leaders expect you to vote for their decision. With 6 potential sub-leaders, it's impossible to please all of them, so you want to get a majority of them to side with you. Sometimes Negotiation and Leadership can give you the option to propose a compromise that more sub-leaders can get behind. The Crisis Events are mostly about playing politics with your shelter's leadership.
RPGWatch: About how many hours can a thorough player who does most of everything in the game expect to spend with Dead State? Including extensive exploration, most, if not all of the available side quests and the main story?
Brian: It's a huge game. Most people are taking 6 to 8 hours to complete the first week and the game spans months. We estimate there's easily 60+ hours of content in the game, but if you were to try and find every ally, every piece of data, and every location, that number goes way up.
RPGWatch: Finally, I want to thank you for taking the time to answer my questions. Myself, along with many others, are very excited for Dead State and can't wait to get our hands on the final copy! Any last thoughts you'd like to leave us with? Maybe describe a special feature you are really proud of, or something unique that you feel is executed particularly well in Dead State?
Brian: I think if people are looking for an old-school feel without playing the same old RPGs again, Dead State is definitely the game for you. We're not promising that you haven't seen elements of Dead State in other games before, but you've definitely never played an RPG like this before. If you're tired of fantasy or sci-fi and want more real-world settings in your RPGs and characters that can't just magic their way out of situations, then supporting this game is crucial. Most of all, remember that this isn't a zombie game - it's a game about human beings and all the horrible things we are capable of when the stores are all closed and the internet no longer works.
Information aboutDead State
Developer: DoubleBear Productions
Play-time: 20-40 hours
Regions & platforms
· Platform: PC
· Released at 2014-12-04
· Publisher: DoubleBear Productions