IGM Exclusive – Getting Acquainted with Zpocalypse: Survival’s Social Interaction Mechanics

I think it’s a pretty universally agreed-upon notion that mankind desires companionship. We can’t stand being alone, and find all sorts of ways to prove to ourselves that we’re a part of a community. That we belong. It’s always fascinating, then, in our entertainment industry that’s so obsessed with post-apocalyptic adventures,  how characters try to cope with conflicting emotional responses to the end of the world, their instincts of self-preservation, and their desire for friendship. Offering their own take on the human response to living in a post-nuclear apocalyptic zombie crisis, the development team at Greenbrier Games is currently working on Zpocalypse: Survival, and exclusively revealed their plans about how social interaction will work in the game to IGM.

If the names Greenbrier Games and Zpocalypse sound familiar to you, that’s because you probably backed their super successful Kickstarter back in April 2012. Managing to haul in over $210k, over 1400% of their original funding goal, Greenbrier Games was able to finish up their work on the Zpocalypse board game and go on to crowdfund an almost equally successful enhancement pack known as Zpocalypse Aftermath. Now, the team is looking to develop a video game adaptation in the form of a rogue-lite strategic survival game. The game will feature a top-down perspective with real-time combat yet include the ability to pause play, thus allowing time to plan out actions accordingly. Survival tasks players with assembling a team of survivors, fortifying a base, and scavenging for resources while attempting to rebuild a stable community and stay alive amidst the chaos and seemingly endless zombie hordes.

Zpocalypse(2)Of course, a key component to survival is forming alliances with people you can rely on; but in the world of Zpocalypse, this is easier said than done. Speaking to Survival‘s team lead, Shawn Hayden, I found out what Greenbrier Games has planned in terms of social interaction within the game. “Our goal is to have the individual survivors you meet have their own stories, backgrounds, and motivations,” he told me. “With this, it will add a level of realism to the world where survivors you meet aren’t simply a meat shield for you to recruit and put to work on whatever you need them for.” Expanding on this idea, survivors will come complete with their own desires and agendas, and it will be up to the player to decide which people met along the way are worth saving, and which are better left for dead.

For instance, players may find a doctor holed up in a medical center. A trained medical practitioner could certainly be a valuable asset to any team, but that kind of common sense will work against players, rather than for them. It’s hard to convince someone they should join up with a band of rugged strangers when they already know how to take care of themselves, and have enough resources to continue doing so. In situations like this, it will be up to the player to find a way to convince the good doctor to join up, whether that be by doing a favor for him and venturing off in search of a particular supply, or perhaps using scare tactics to make them him think twice about not tagging along, is a weighted decision with future ramifications. Other emotionally-charged decisions will happen when finding other groups in desperate need of aid, with little to offer in return. Are they worth the resource drain, or should they have to fend for themselves? The world of Zpocalypse asks players to make decisions carefully, and be prepared to endure the consequences.

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In the case of wandering survivors, it’s not always clear what sort of advantages, or disadvantages, recruiting them will have to offer (much like the case would be in real life). Additionally, some lone survivors will be inherently hostile and mistrusting. When encountering such people, sometimes it’s better to simply make peace and move on, rather than attempting to add them to the group. There are no Phoenix Downs or Bubble Shields in the world of Zpocalypse, so engaging in unnecessary skirmishes with people who may have concealed firearms could result in sever casualties, making every decision and interaction a calculated risk. As the group leader, survivors will look to the player to keep them safe, alive, and well. Failure to accomplish those goals will affect two key, previously unannounced factors: Humanity and Morale.

These two social attributes will have a huge impact on the gameplay experience. Explaining the importance of each, Hayden mentioned that “Humanity dictates how you handle situations and how others perceive you. An example of humanity in use would be for the situation where you come across a survivor or two who are in pretty bad shape; you decide that you don’t want to help them out. Instead, you steal what little they had left to survive [with], almost certainly guaranteeing their demise.” In a scenario like this, the player’s Humanity would go down. The rest of the group would then react differently depending on their personality type, with some agreeing  and others strongly opposing the decision. Those that agree may lose some Humanity of their own but become more trusting of the player, whereas those that disagree will lose Morale and will even begin to consider leaving the group. Greenbrier Games wants to evoke a sense of realism, and in a harsh world where it’s hard to please anyone, players will have to do their best to keep everyone happy, or risk losing important members of the group. Having higher Humanity can also open up diplomatic solutions to potential situations, and can be useful during hostile encounters with thieves. Similarly, a low level of Humanity will present intimidation options.

Zpocalypse(1)While Humanity is affected by decisions the player makes with regards to fellow survivors, Morale is determined by many different events and situations. “Things that can affect morale include seeing your best friend eaten by zombies,” Hayden mentioned, rather specifically. “Understandably, this could decrease your morale so much that you panic and can’t act accordingly.” Panic is a real and present threat in Zpocalypse, and should a character become panicked, a couple different scenarios can occur: That character can either freeze up completely and therefore rely on companions to get them out of a situation that would otherwise result in their death, or instead go into a berserker frenzy of sorts, killing all nearby enemies. The latter is equally as dangerous for the group though, as making loud noises can potentially attract bigger zombie hordes and even more dangerous foes. “On the other end of the spectrum, you may find your favorite food while out scavenging,” Hayden explained. “Now that you have found it, you are ready to face the world and take on a whole horde of zombies.” Survivors will each have their own likes and dislikes, and must be managed accordingly. Humanity and Morale also play a role in determining how useful survivors are when back at base and on missions, as the player can assign them to complete tasks such as fortification and resource gathering.

“The goal with all of this is to simulate more realistic social interactions with other survivors, and potentially other groups in the future,” Hayden explained. Indeed, rival factions are something the team would like to implement, should they be able to secure adequate funding during their current crowdfunding campaign. As it stands, the AI isn’t currently up to snuff to generate the types of dynamic interactions the team would like to include alongside additional survivor groups and rival factions.

Zpocalypse(4)Zpocalypse: Survival is certainly an ambitious project, looking to add a new level of realism and weighted decision-making to the already tense atmosphere of a post-nuclear zombie apocalypse. The team is currently a bit more than $30k short of their intended goal, with a good 19 days left for interested backers to pledge to the project. The game is also currently looking for votes on Steam Greenlight. While an initial release is planned for PC, Greenbrier Games is also considering developing additional gameplay modes available as mini games exclusively on tablet devices further down the line. If they manage to get enough support, other post-launch features could potentially include co-op multiplayer, an episodic story mode, and even persistent servers a la Minecraft. For more information about Zpocalpse: Survival, be sure to check out the developer’s website, and follow along on Facebook and Twitter.




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