All posts by Kristofer Poland

YASHIMA: LEGEND OF THE KAMI MASTERS (Greenbrier Games)

Yashima promises to bring epic magical martial arts battles similar to what’s found in recent Naruto games to the tabletop. Its backstory is pretty standard fare. Humanity screwed up the planet and loosed kami (spirit guardians of nature) upon the land. Eventually a balance was achieved as a chosen few humans learned to communicate with kami and embrace their power. Hubris reared its ugly head, and now kami masters battle one another in an effort to become a great, unifying leader. It’s as good a reason as any to justify some old fashioned brawling, but players are unlikely to be enthralled by the narrative.

Players choose one of four kami masters and one of four kami, pair them up, and prepare their spellbooks for battle. The base game offers sixteen combinations, but each master seems to pair best with their default kami. Akiko, for example, is a fire mage. Think of the Planeswalker Chandra Nalaar from Magic: The Gathering. It should come as no surprise that she pairs best with the Phoenix kami. Players then lay down hexagonal terrain and fight to the death.

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Movement is based upon a core speed stat, but nearly all other game mechanics are handled with battle cards and tome cards. Tome cards comprise a player’s tome (or spellbook) and can provide significant advantages in battle. However, more powerful spells are often deep within tomes, and it takes time to turn through one’s pages. Battle cards exist for both kami masters and kami themselves. A master’s cards and her kami’s cards are shuffled together to make a battle deck.

Cards do a lot in this game. Perhaps they do too much. They account for offensive spells, defensive reactions, karma pool, life total, and more. This can be somewhat overwhelming for new or inexperienced players. Yashima is also heavy on keywords. To USE a card is different than to LOSE a card. DISCARDing is different from EXERTing. IMPRINT is not the same as EQUIP. And so on. Additionally, there’s the ADAPT mechanic. It varies depending on which master is being played and can drastically alter a kami’s usefulness. These are minor quibbles but can really add up over a game. However, there are other tactical aspects to concern players. Terrain on the gameboard can help or hinder players. They may end up with too many or not enough combat and/or move actions. It should be simple stuff that ends up needlessly complex, primarily due to the lackluster instruction manual.

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Every attempt to play Yashima within my gaming group has ended in the exact same way. We begin excited about the potential of awesome battles between martial artists punctuated by incredible manifestations of kamis’ powers. Then we get frustrated by confusing keywords and contradictory instructions. Then we get bored and stop playing. Others’ results may very, particularly if players are fascinated by Asian mythology. Grab Yashima: Legend of the Kami Masters if the theme truly appeals to you but most others should probably pass on this one. (Greenbrier Games) by Kris Poland

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Yeah, I’m a little late. Sue me. It’s not as if the emergence of January somehow nulls my opinions from 2015. Anyway, here’s a bunch of stuff I liked last year.

Best Albums (in alphabetical order)
Baroness – Purple
Everything a fan of guitar-driven rock could possibly wish for. This album rivals anything the band has previously released.

CHVRCHES – Every Open Eye
I was worried that CHVRCHES would fall into a sophomore slump. I was wrong. It’s every bit as good as The Bones of What You Believe.

Dog Party – Vol. 4
Imagine an alternate reality in which the Ramones were teenage girls born around the turn of the 21st century.

Goatsnake – Black Age Blues
Awesome riffs and dumb lyrics crooned beautifully. They’re back, baby!

Mac McCaughan – Non-Believers
Sweet, sappy and kinda gothy songs that seem to be about Star Wars and suburban desperation. “Lost Again” may well be my favorite track of 2015.

Motel Beds – Mind Glitter
I got your indie rock right here. It’s from Dayton, and it’s fucking fantastic.

Tempel – The Moon Lit Our Path
So epic, man. You don’t even know.

Weedghost – Luxury Umbrella
Yeah. I’m in this band. What of it? It’s still a killer album.

Best Compilation
Aquabear Legion Volume 5
This two record compilation features 24 of the best bands in Ohio being awesome. There are too many great tracks to even begin mentioning highlights.

Best Video Games (in alphabetical order)
Rocket League
This game brought me back for just one more session more than anything else that was released in 2015. Well played, Psyonix.

Star Wars: Battlefront
This is just about everything I want in an online multiplayer game. The graphics are gorgeous. The sound design is flawless. Matchmaking is rocky, and there’s a lack of depth. On the other hand, Star Wars.

Best Tabletop Games (in alphabetical order)
Coconuts
It’s a dexterity game for kids. Nevertheless, some of my favorite gaming memories of last year involve gathering around the table for intense, coconut-flinging action.

Warhammer Fantasy
Let me make perfectly clear that I am not talking about Age of Sigmar. I’m talking Warhammer 8th Edition and The Ninth Age. That’s right. The community-created ruleset is far superior to Games Workshop’s neutering of their own property.

X-Wing Miniatures Game
A steady stream of awesome expansion ships from both Disney-approved canon and the old Expanded Universe keeps this game from getting stale.

Best TV Shows (in alphabetical order)
Ash vs Evil Dead – Season One
It was one of those hold-your-breath moments for Bruce Campbell and Sam Raimi fanboys/fangirls. Could this series possibly capture the magic of a decades old indie darling franchise? The answer is a resounding yes. From the beginning through the ending, it’s full of the gore and humor fans wanted. I’m already looking forward to season two!

Rick and Morty – Season Two
This show is essentially the perfect cartoon for adults. It bounces back and forth between highbrow and lowbrow humor too fast to even notice. The voice-acting is top notch, and the continuous threads that run through its episodic nature are well thought-out. Get Schwifty!

Best Movies (in alphabetical order)
It Follows
This is my kind of horror movie. Awesome music, the supernatural, and an ever-building sense of tension.

Mad Max: Fury Road
The best feature-length car chase I’ve ever seen. As an added bonus: feminism!

Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Pure fan service and that’s just fine with me. It’s nice to see familiar faces, but the new cast of characters are the strongest and most intriguing in the film.

Best Comics (in alphabetical order)
Bitch Planet
The idea seems at first like pure exploitation. Then, you actually read it. Everyone should be getting this book.

Low
It’s a tale about family ties and a dying planet. It also features my favorite artwork in an ongoing series. Stunning.

Best Podcast
We Watch Wrestling
I don’t listen to many podcasts these days, but when I do they’re usually about wrestling. The boys at WWW provide the most fun wrestling podcast available on a weekly basis. That’s the bottom line!

Best Trend in Wrestling
The Excellence of Independent Wrestling
The indies are killing it. Whether you’re into Lucha Underground, PWG, NJPW, or one of the countless independent promotions across the world, there is no denying that indie wrestling is on the rise. NXT is proof that indie wrestling can even be profitable for massive, heartless corporations run by dinosaurs. When even WWE takes notice and raids talent, you know you’re onto something.

Worst Trend in Wrestling
Vince McMahon
Please retire, Vince. Please. You’ve made your mark on wrestling. It will last forever. Now go away. Hand the reins to Triple H, as he’s doing a bang up job with NXT. Take Stephanie off the air while you’re at it. Allow the business to grow and evolve, and those shitty Raw ratings will recover.

Best First World Problem
Too Much Entertainment
I find myself more and more in the same predicament every year of late. There are too many TV shows to watch and too many games to play. On Netflix alone I haven’t even started Master of None, Daredevil, Jessica Jones, or Making a Murderer. How am I supposed to play The Witcher 3 and Metal Gear Solid V and Fallout 4 all within one calendar year? I haven’t even started Undertale yet!

Dave and I are great friends and agree on many topics, but I have to point out something from part one of our wrestling gaming roundup. I’m fairly certain wrestling can’t be back. To the best of my knowledge, it never went away. Though it may have experienced numerous ups and downs over the past 30 years, wrestling never died. And it never will. As long as good and evil exist in this world, so will professional wrestling. Now on to the review!

LUCHADOR! MEXICAN WRESTLING DICE (SECOND EDITION) (Backspindle Games)

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Apart from sharing similar subject matter (Even this is debatable for those who see pro wrestling and sports entertainment as very different things.), Luchador! Mexican Wrestling Dice is nothing like WWE Superstar Showdown. Both feature muscular combatants vying for in-ring supremacy, but as far as game mechanics go these are two radically different animals. Superstar Showdown is a game of rock-paper-scissors (Or, more accurately, slam-strike-grapples.) at its core. Luchador! is, on the other hand, a dice rolling game.

Players roll a lot of dice to simulate beat-downs in singles, tag-team, three or four player free-for-all, and cage matches. Each player primarily employs four wrestling dice with faces labelled as follows: Miss, Hit, Block, Counter, and Pin. Competitors roll simultaneously, and dice must land in the included cardboard squared-circle to have an effect. The ring is a small touch, but it’s so damn cool! It adds just that little touch of authenticity and grandeur to each and every round. Successful hits or counters allow for the rolling of green Hit dice. They cause from one to three points of damage to an opponent. Rolling two Hit results allows players to roll a special Luchador die that can inflict up to seven damage on an opponent. If an opponent’s life is low enough and if a Pin result is rolled, then players can roll special yellow Pin dice. Opponents can be defeated either by pinning them for a three count or knocking them out. Advanced rules give more personality to each luchador by highlighting their strengths and weaknesses as well as allowing for Killer Combinations that can instantly alter the course of a bout.

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Games of Luchador! are very fast-paced. Experienced gamers will pick up the rules quickly, and newbies will only need a few rounds to get the basics. It’s not particularly deep or complex, but it is a helluva lot of fun! Each luchador has a distinct personality. Descriptions of their signature moves make them feel like real wrestlers, and proper mindfulness regarding their strengths and weakness can mean the difference between victory and defeat. There are even cardboard championship belts for singles and tag-team competition! This can lead to day-long, pay-per-view style cards that culminate in championship matches. Putting together tournaments would be equally easy and fulfilling. Bragging rights mean so much more when parading a cardboard prize before all your shamed opponents. What it boils down to is that this game is a whole lotta fun and definitely a case of the more the merrier.

We hope you enjoyed our coverage of these two great wrestling games that are currently available in games stores worldwide. I’m sure we’ll get some cool expansions to Superstar Showdown, and we’ll do our best to keep you updated on them. There may even be an entirely new wrestling game IP that we can tackle here. I’ll keep my fingers crossed for either PWG or Lucha Underground entries, and I’m certain Dave shares that enthusiasm. Will there be a part three of our wrestling gaming reviews? Only time will tell! (Backspindle Games) by Kris Poland

 Super Hardcore Hamlet Builder Pro 5000 of the Stars! 1599 AD (The Game Crafter)

It’s incredibly difficult to please everybody when designing a game. Different gamers want different things; be it a challenging experience, a high fun-factor, an impressive tactical depth, a great story, or something else entirely. The folks behind Hamlet Builder Pro (The game’s full name is far too long and unwieldy to type more than once.) aren’t trying to please everyone. Instead, they created a fast-paced city-building game with plenty of randomness and customizable degrees of difficulty. Basically, they managed to make a tabletop game that feels like a PC game and can be enjoyed either alone or with up to five friends.

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The game is played over seven rounds, each begins with the flip of a card, with different win conditions applied to each round. While revealing Bountiful Harvest allows everyone to collect their income twice, the Taxes card forces players to discard a number of coins equal to their Military and Culture values. Players then blindly draw three building tiles either from the 1-point or 2-point tile bags. Alternatively, they can choose a single 0-point value tiles from a stockpile that everyone sees. These tiles often end up being critical prerequisites to placing more expensive tiles later in the game. Players then use their accumulated coins to pay to place tiles in their hamlets. Once tile placement has finished, players pass their remaining unbuilt tiles to the person on their left. This seemingly adds a great element of randomness to the game but can also provide tactical opportunities to truly screw over opponents. Tiles offer ways to improve players’ Income, Military, Culture, and Coin Storage Limit. The winner is determined by adding up the point values of tiles in one’s hamlet plus Culture and Military values.

If Hamlet Builder Pro sounds incredibly straightforward, that’s because it is. Much of its brilliance is rooted in the game’s simplicity. Experienced players will easily fall into the flow of its gameplay after a few rounds. They’ll soon figure out when to stockpile coins, which 0-point tiles are crucial to their strategies, and how to make the most out of their randomly drawn tiles. There is, however, more depth than initially meets the eye. High cost tiles often require prerequisites or feature special rules. For example, the Blacksmith provides a terrific boost to both Military and Income. However, a Smelt must exist somewhere in a player’s hamlet before the Blacksmith can be placed. Additionally, the Smelt requires a 0-point Mining Camp in the hamlet. Inspired planning is easily thwarted by the luck of the draw, but not so much so that tactical thinking becomes pointless.

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While there were a few misprints, such as special rules tiles and tiles with prerequisites displaying the same color icon, but I chalk that up to the version we tested being a pre-release game without finalized artwork or components. Speaking of components, the small white scoring rings are way too easy to nudge in the wrong direction or even blow off of the table with a quick arm movement or sigh. Nevertheless, these are very minor gripes for an incredibly fun game. Hamlet Builder Pro allows its player(s) to easily determine just how challenging the game experience ends up being. That, combined with enough randomness to keep every round interesting, is enough for a whole-hearted recommendation. If you grew up playing any of SimCity’s many iterations and are looking for a more streamlined tabletop experience, Hamlet Builder Pro was made just for you. (The Game Crafter) by Kris Poland

Howdy, fellow ‘blasters. You’ve probably heard about #GamerGate by now, but you may not know much about it. The first half of last night’s Colbert Report focused entirely on the controversy that has led to death threats being made against female game designers, journalists and commentators. Colbert’s first guest was Anita Sarkeesian, creator of the vlog “Feminist Frequency” and central figure in this gaming story that’s garnering attention from mainstream press across the globe. Colbert stays in character but also allows Sarkeesian to make her point, which is straightforward and incredibly valid.

The second half of the show includes an interview with Harvard historian Jill Lepore, author of The Secret History of Wonder Woman. There’s tons of great information within focusing on the third oldest superhero ever. Yes, we live in a world in which the most even-handed televised coverage of women in games and comics is on Comedy Central.

You can catch the episode now on Hulu and any number of streaming video sites of questionable legality. Enjoy!

Goat Simulator. Yup. It's a thing.
Goat Simulator. Yup. It’s a thing.

The Goat Simulator video entertainment game, made by Coffee Stain Studios and distributed by the kind of in-jokey word of mouth that let potato salad earn somebody $60,000 on Kickstarter, is something that people are fiercely debating. I won’t lie, this is probably the kind of thing that you don’t want to know there’s a serious debate about, but this is the world we live in. Let’s investigate.

The game started as a joke at a game jam, a collaborative brainstorm/coding exercise for developers. The idea was to spoof “simulator” games, which tend to be like model train sets – lovingly crafted, extremely niche, and super boring unless you care deeply about the subject.

So Goat Simulator was the opposite – frantic action. You’re a model of chaos as your goat-avatar butts over fancy parties, cars, grandmas, etc. Since it was made in a hurry, they did their best (which was a very good job – they ARE professional developers) to capture the feeling of anarchic fun, but the game was half-made and buggy.

Word about the prototype was leaked, it hit a nerve in the neck of the internet, and with a swell of popularity and hype, Coffee Stain made it into a more or less full game. They kept in a bunch of non-essential glitches in to make the game funnier, because that’s the kind of game it is.

I’m hesitant to even describe the gameplay much because it doesn’t matter. The devs have compared it to a skateboarding game and that’s as good a description as any – I tend to think of this old Flash game I played where you’re a jumping dolphin. You initiate “runs”, dashing in Goat Sim, grinding or half-piping in skateboard games, or jumping out of the water in the dolphin game, and on each run the idea is to do as many tricks and cause as much damage as possible, with consecutive tricks building up a score multiplier. There is some mild exploration, a few upgrades and secrets, but really you’re looking at a few minutes of fun as you explode things.

And here’s where the controversy comes in. Critics of the game say it’s buggy, unfinished, pointless, hacky, in short, just not a good game. They think it shouldn’t cost any money, basically. Supporters fire back that that’s sort of the POINT, it’s an exercise in game development silliness merging with internet sentiment. If it’s buggy, that’s a joke about bugs in serious games. If you hate it, you’re taking Goat Simulator too seriously. This only makes sense given the meme-like following that also created it. Sure, maybe you “had to be there” to get the game, but that’s the point.

In fact, as I type this out, an analogy suggests itself. This game is Snakes on a Plane. Conceived as a joke, produced to fit a moment in time on the internet, lambasted for being mediocre, defended as ironic fun.

You can learn something about yourself from where you fall in this debate. If you try to make a “bad” (ba-a-a-a-d?) game and succeed, have you succeeded? Have you failed? Is it alright to then release that game to the public, and charge them for it? If an in-crowd, in this case game developers and internet meme-ists, makes their brand of humor available for sale, if you can in some sense purchase inclusion into that group, is that an abomination? Or is that just how these things work?

Though the term is over-used, this is really a hipster game. It’s a game for you to own, and to be known to own, rather than a game you have for play value. Supporting this game by buying it is a statement about the circles you run in, the kind of humor you have, the kind of person you are. If you want to support spontaneity, bizarre humor, and like the easy translation of zeitgeist to actual products, by all means, invest. It’s not a terrible game, and it’ll be a few hours of fun. If you want to actually purchase a video game, you can do better. (Coffee Stain Studios) by Ben Holmes

GOOD ALTERNATIVE SUGGESTION:
If you want a concept game with a weird sense of humor, try Viscera Cleanup Detail by RuneStorm. Play its multiplayer with a friend and chew the fat some evening, and see if you aren’t finding some emergent gameplay in high-fiving each other with severed limbs before long.

It’s that time of year again. Gamers the world over are nearly bursting at the seams in anticipation of “The Best Four Days in Gaming”™ at Gen Con 2014. Well, I’m not going. My decision to skip this year isn’t out of protest or anything of that ilk. It’s just a busy time of year, and I have other things to do. So I figured I’d post my super late thoughts on the 2014 Origins Game Fair, an event I actually attended.

I like Origins. A lot of gamers seem to think of it as an appetizer to Gen Con’s main dish.  Others describe it as a lesser convention. I don’t know if either perception is necessarily accurate. Columbus’ Origins has it’s own identity and a pacing that is very different from its neighbor in Indianapolis. My experience this year was a more relaxing one than any time I’ve spent at Gen Con. Granted, I wasn’t there on Saturday and heard that lines on that day only were nearly unbearable. Anyway, here are a few games I played and stuff I thought seemed cool.

I saw this bootleg Archer shirt. It was probably funnier when ISIS wasn't real and super scary. Organized murderers are the real monsters.
I saw this bootleg Archer shirt. It was probably funnier when ISIS wasn’t real and super scary. Organized murderers are the real monsters.

This year’s theme was monsters, so it was cool seeing Ninth Level get some attention for the full-color release of their beer and pretzels RPG Kobolds Ate My Baby! They also featured a quick and easy card game starring the same hungry kobolds from their RPG. A brief demo was enough to recommend a purchase. It was also nice hearing the occasional bellowing of, “All hail King Torg!” Things like that warm a gamer’s heart.

I spent some time with our Editor-in-Chief and Lead Designer at the Cool Mini or Not booth. They make some really fun games. Their price point seems a little higher than average, but that’s easily explained by all the neat plastic miniatures included. No cardboard standees here. Kaosball offers a unique update in the vein of Blood Bowl or Bill Lambeer’s Combat Basketball. It’s a two-to-four player board game in which your team can try to score the most points or simply murder the opposition. The core set comes with four full teams, all of which have beautifully designed (although unpainted) miniatures. Tons of additional teams are also available for purchase. Rivet Wars was their other game we demoed. It has elements of RTS games with two players building up armies that will ultimately march to their doom. If you’re the type of gamer who doesn’t mind a substantial initial investment for hours of fun in the longterm, you can’t really go wrong with Cool Mini or Not.

A four-player game of Kaosball in progress
A four-player game of Kaosball in progress

As I’ve been building my WFB Skaven army, of course I had to pick up some bits. I managed to score some different sized bases that I plan to use in creating some unit-filling scenery, a few Dwarf victims, a Plague Priest, an older Warlord model, and a reasonably-priced Forge World Warlord on Brood Horror. The army is coming together nicely. Check back for studio updates and hopefully some battle reports.

I picked up what looked to be a trading card on the top of a trashcan. It turns out it was some clever advertising from illustrator Kelsey Cretcher. Her work has a very clean, almost storybook feel to it. Check her out if you want some drawings or design work.

Dead of Winter from Plaid Hat Games is a pretty cool twist on what could be a tired zombie trope. Two-to-five players try to get their group of survivors through a deadly post-apocalyptic scenario. Basic concerns like food, fuel, and ammo come into play. Most interesting, however, is that each player has her own secret objective. Victory conditions can be met for the team, but individual players can still lose if they fail to meet their secret objectives. Add to this the fact that one or more of the players may win by betraying the others, and things get very interesting. Votes to exile members of the community show that even in the midst of a zombie apocalypse politics still plays a vital role. There’s potential here for a huge amount of replayability.

Sticking with this year’s monstrous theme, RARRR!! by APE Games could be a great educational tool. It involves elements of betting, pressing one’s luck, and a whole lot of basic math. The demo was enjoyable, and the art style is a perfect fit for a light-hearted monster game.

My RARRR!! monster tearing shit up
My RARRR!! monster tearing shit up

White Wizard GamesStar Realms just might be my favorite game of Origins 2014. It’s a two-player deckbuilding game in which each side attempts to build up their fleet while decreasing her opponent’s influence. Think Dominion or Ascension… only in space. Ships and bases belong to one of four factions. Some allow players to get rid of their basic cards, some allow for draws or forced discards, some build up for massive attacks, and others help replenish a player’s influence. The core set is fantastic, inexpensive, and has me very excited about future expansions. If this sounds even the least bit intriguing for you, be sure to grab a copy of Star Realms.

That’s that, I suppose. All in all, I had a pretty great time. I guess not everyone around me shared my perspective. I heard the comments, “I’d rather be at the Geneva Convention,” or “I wish this was Gen Con,” more than once at this year’s Origins. For all those gamers left longing a couple of months ago, it’s just about time for those wishes to come true. Enjoy the hustle and bustle, everyone! If you’re lucky or rich enough to play in the Cones of Dunshire charity event, then bully for you. Thank Adam Scott (or Ben Wyatt if he’s in character), and tell him that he’s a goddamn genius. 

Sanya Weathers, Director of Community at Undead Labs, spoke with Ghettoblaster for the gaming feature in our last issue. As is often the case, the interview had to be edited down because of space restrictions. However, Sanya and I had such a great conversation covering so many interesting aspects of her interactions with the State of Decay community that I decided to post the bits that didn’t make it into the issue here. Check it out!

Undead Labs' Director of Community Sanya Weathers
Undead Labs’ Director of Community Sanya Weathers

Ghettoblaster: How big is the staff at Undead Labs?
Sanya Weathers: We’re around 30 people now. We’ve been growing. Since the game was a success, we started adding programmers so that it wasn’t a couple guys working their fingers to the bone. We just started a new QA person. Thank goodness. The QA was an army of two doing an incredible job. With the simulation you can’t just run tests because there are no two gameplays alike. You can’t play this game two times in a row and have the same experience. That’s part of the game. That doesn’t mean there aren’t bugs. I think DJ’s psychic. That’s our QA lead. It’s the only explanation. That and the players sending us logs. We had a guy last night comparing the code between the console version and the PC version. He actually figured out a way to get at the code and then run a comparison to find where the different lines were for the subroutines guiding a particular upgradeable facility. We have the best community online. I swear to god.

GB: What is the relationship between Undead Labs and the player base of State of Decay?
SW: I’m really proud of my guys. It’s the only message board online where if someone’s wrong they apologize. We call them our rocket fuel. They’re the reason we’re able to go farther and everything else. The community contributes ideas, and they give us their feedback. It all sounds so very normal, but we take it much more seriously than usual. There’s no taking it under advisement with us. It’s, ‘This is how they’re actually playing the game.’ Here’s the thing. Once we finish designing it and it goes into a player community’s hands, it’s not really ours anymore. We know how we meant people to play the game, but that doesn’t mean that’s how people are going to play the game. We pay attention to see how people are actually playing and try to move forward from there.

GB: Did working bugs out on the Xbox version help out the development of the PC version?
SW: Yes and no. In terms of the gameplay, the PC guys got the gameplay more or less as we intended it. We’ll never stop making improvements. Like I was saying earlier with testing, you can’t test this sort of game in any traditional sense. Our army of two did their absolute best, but we’re still finding things that need to be adjusted. No software is going to be perfect, and we’re not going to stop working on it until someone makes us stop working on it. Quitting’s not how we roll. The PC guys got the game as we had designed it, more or less. Of course PC introduced all kinds of other new problems. The nice thing about developing for consoles is that everybody has the same kind of hardware. With PC we’re still finding weird combinations of drivers and cards and hardware that we could not have possibly predicted. We don’t have a testing lab with billions of hardware combinations in it. We tried to hit the most popular ones and then have been refining ever since. Just yesterday morning I was saying, ‘Okay, guys. If you have the drivers from this date you need different ones. Our game will crash and die if you have this mid-November Nvidia driver. It doesn’t work with that. You need to roll back three days or go forward a month.’ I can’t remember at this point. There’s just so many combinations. So hardware was definitely a big challenge. Certain kinds of setups will run your CPU really, really hot. We did a patch before the holidays that mitigated the worst of that, but there are still some combinations of hardware that don’t like our game. We just don’t have the resources to test every combination, but we’re pegging away at it. Our players report it. They send us their DXDiags. You know, I’ve never actually said that out loud. You know what I mean. The DirectX diagnostic tool thingy. I love the PC. I’m a PC gamer myself, but at the same time with a console you just plug it in! It works, and it looks gorgeous. Drivers? What? Drivers have quickly become the bane of my existence.

GB: State of Decay was released fairly late in the life cycle of the 360. Are there any plans for a rerelease for the newest generation of consoles?
SW: No. No plans. The Xbox One and the Xbox 360 are not compatible platforms. There’s no real point of commonality for us to jump from, so it would be nontrivial in terms of time and effort. We think it’s better just to focus on the next game.

GB: I want to discuss that next game soon, but it seems almost like the studio was created just to make State of Decay.
SW: This is the game we were dreaming of when the studio was formed. Actually, the game we were dreaming of originally is something still codenamed Class4. Originally we wanted to make a smaller version, like a proof of concept. Then it turned into its own thing. It stopped being proof of concept and became a fun game all by itself. And being smaller in scale, it’s less risky. The original dream was the massive online world.

GB: So that’s what Class4 is going to be? An MMO?
SW: There’s no secret about it. That’s been the stated dream since 2009.

GB: How is that development going? Is there a projected release date at this point?
SW: There haven’t been any announcements at all. Discussions of the future of the franchise are ongoing. I’m hoping that we can have something to say relatively soon, but I’m not invited to those discussions. We have high hopes, and the success of State of Decay really gave us some options that we’re excited about. As soon as we have something we can say, we’ll be saying it. I always post the news to the community first, so it’ll be on Facebook and Twitter and our forums before it’s anywhere else. There’s not so much as a single line of code written for Class4 yet, but the dreams are all online. Nothing actually exists because it can’t. Part of the bargain for getting State of Decay built means that Microsoft actually owns the IP. But we wouldn’t make a game that we didn’t believe in 100%. If Undead Labs is making the game you know it’s something that we love and care about and are going to swim through rivers of blood to make awesome.

GB: I’m not sure if State of Decay would work as a multiplayer game. I think it thrives at being a single-player game.
SW: It is a great single-player game. We had originally wanted to have some sort of co-op mode, so you could play with a friend. You can actually see traces of the original concept when you play it. I think it would have made a brilliant co-op game, and I’m still sad that that didn’t happen. That was a decision we made back in July. We were like, ‘Okay. It’s a big hit! Let’s see what we can… Oh god.’ It would take nine months at the expense of every other update, every other patch, every other downloadable content. If we did nothing but focus on making a co-op multiplayer mode, then we could do it in nine months. That’s just not worth it. That offers no value to the people who actually bought the single-player game. We need to be supporting this game and patching it and fixing it and adding cool new stuff. It was a tough call because that was something that we really, really loved. Instead we’re focusing on making the next game multiplayer. In terms of true multiplayer, where someone doesn’t have to be your friend as opposed to co-op where you’re presumably playing with someone you like, there’s things you can do with design that mitigate it. There’s no need for a game to have spawn camping where you log in and boom you’re dead. That was my original experience in Ultima Online. I played it for a day. I kept getting ganked as I popped into the world. I could never get away. I was told if I had just ran straight into the woods from that point I would have been alright. How was I supposed to know that? I was a grass green newbie who had never played before. How was I supposed to know that if I took off in one particular direction I would have been alright? Instead, it was just frustrating. That was 1997! There’s no excuse for that bullshit now. Okay? There’s things you can do with design to mitigate that. People are going to be dicks if they want to be dicks. People are going to be awesome if they want to be awesome. There’s no changing humans, but there are things you can do with design to make a newbie live.

GB: I had similar experiences with Ultima Online but fortunately had a friend who was a veteran player help me out. That seems like ages ago.
SW: That’s because it was. We just dated ourselves badly.

GB: Is there more State of Decay DLC in the works?
SW: Oh yeah. DLC number two is hard apace. I was just talking to the designer this morning because we’re planning to be at PAX East in April demoing it (Learn more about Lifeline at undeadlabs.com -Kris). I was talking with him about what we might like to see in our space. All that good stuff. It’s definitely going to be a thing. We don’t have a release date set because we’re not developed enough. That’s the nice thing about digital distribution. You don’t have to nail yourself down to a date. You can wait and see how it goes. He’s playing some of the encounters he’s designed right now.

GB: Can you talk about what the content will be or how much new DLC is planned?
SW: I can’t talk about anything specifically yet because Jeffrey and Jeff both will set me on fire. Jeffrey’s the designer who’s leading the charge on it. Both of them will kill me because we haven’t announced anything at all other than it exists. There were people who loved Breakdown and thought it was what the game was missing all along, but there were people who wanted something new to do. I think those people are going to freaking love DLC two. We definitely look at what the community is crying for, and we try to give it to them. I think people are going to be thrilled.

GB: State of Decay started on Xbox and then released on PC. A benefit of porting to PC has to be that there will always be PC gamers.
SW: That is true. Our PC guys have been terrific. We’ve got a core group that are just tireless. We’ll try to reproduce a bug, and we can’t do it. I’ll go to the forums to figure out what everyone who is experiencing it has in common. Those guys brainstorm like nobody’s business. They help each other like nobody’s business. We don’t have officially supported mods at all. We don’t have the toolset. We definitely don’t have the team to support modifications, but we’ve got a great little mod community kicking butt and walking each other through solving problems. We just could not have a good PC game without our PC players. They’re just the best.

GB: Does that mean that you encourage modding without providing the tools or development kit to do it?
SW: Yeah. We’re delighted to see what they come up with. I made a little subsection of the forum for them to hang out and post their mods. I went in the other day to tell them that if they mod the characters to add these three traits they’re going to break the game. Don’t do it. That’s the kind of thing. We noticed that something was not right, and we dug into it a little bit. If you add one of these traits to a character the game will say that it isn’t a valid character and something has been corrupted, and it’ll swap in what it considers a non-corrupted character. It doesn’t recognize it as modified. People were trying to build these super awesome characters, and it wasn’t working. That’s the thing. The guys don’t get frustrated or angry. They’re so patient and so talented. There’s some really cool stuff going on in that corner of the internet.

GB: Is that interaction with your players a benefit of being and indie studio?
SW: Absolutely! I don’t have to consult a legal team. Half the time I don’t even talk about it with my boss. I just get excited and do things like, ‘You know what would be fun? A haiku contest!’ All of my players participate in the activities I come up with. I’m just not constrained. I’m just not tied down by having to jump through 300 hoops before I can do something fun for somebody. I had a really shitty day right before Christmas, and I went to Facebook and offered a free copy of the game to other people having a crappy day. Oh my god! Some people had really, really horrible days! ‘I’m going to miss Christmas because I just got deployed to Afghanistan.’ Or ‘I just got run over by a car.’ ‘I broke my ankle.’ ‘I lost my job.’ ‘I haven’t had a job in 36 weeks, and my unemployment is running out.’ I realized I needed to buck up and stop whining about my little problems. The launch of our DLC was a little frustrating. Our launch date was Black Friday. There was no promo budget. There was no ad budget. No one even knew the thing existed except for our players who spread the word. I was hoping it would sell a lot more than it did, but no one knew about it. You had to know it was there in order to get it. If it weren’t for word-of-mouth I might be eating cat food right now. I was feeling a little frustrated. Every time I came up with a plan something would go wrong. Talk about first world problems. It made me so happy to know that if I couldn’t solve their problems, at least I could give free games to everybody. I didn’t have to ask permission. I didn’t need to call a lawyer. That’s the great thing about startups. We have a cool idea, and we just jump on it. That goes for everything we do. We just do cool stuff. It’s the founding principle of the company. Do cool shit with other grownups. We featured prominently in a bunch of year-end reviews with some fun quotes. I need to post that to our site for everybody’s reading enjoyment.

GB: There’s a nice zombified picture of you up there too.
SW: Yeah. When you join the company our art director Doug takes a photo of you and zombifies it. So all of us have zombie faces, but not everybody posts. I took a cell phone snap and mailed it in. If I had known that it was going to by my icon for all of eternity, I might have taken a better picture.

GB: With Steam being the point-of-purchase on the PC do you expect the player population to shoot up?
SW: We did get a good rush over Christmas before some fucking loser attacked the Steam service. Okay. I’m a gamer. What am I going to do to show I’m angry being a gamer? I’m going to attack the best platform for gamers to come along since ever. Morons. So we were ticking along nicely. I haven’t got the numbers. There’s a crash error that isn’t our fault. You have to have the latest and greatest Steam client in order to play it, so if you hadn’t updated your Steam client in a while it looked like our launcher was crashing. Of course if you have a pirated copy of the game and didn’t fully uninstall it before you installed the legitimate copy, you’re legitimate copy will crash. So we had a rush of issues like that right around Christmas. So I think the Steam sale did some good. Once people know about it, you can’t beat Steam for accessibility. And our Steam forum is pretty great. People who aren’t used to the internet think it’s horrible. ‘Oh my god! They’re so angry!’ This is one of the happiest Steam forums ever. You need to judge it in context here, people. Our Steam guys are very good about helping each other and reading my stinky threads.

GB: Even before the DLC, State of Decay has a lot going on in terms of gameplay. So many elements of this game could have been games on their own.
SW: Before we launched we were doing demos at PAX. The way we set up is that the actual devs do the demos. There isn’t any marketing person at our company. I’m the closest facsimile thereof. There’s a guy who helped us at Microsoft with the original launch. There wasn’t any budget for the DLC, but with the original launch he was sweet as sugar. We almost didn’t have a trailer to sell the game. The thing that everybody has, we didn’t have that. We didn’t have the bandwidth, and there wasn’t any budget. The nice marketing guy at Microsoft, I don’t know if he bullied somebody or called in a favor or what. We found a guy internally who had experience pulling footage, and he found a guy at Microsoft who could stitch it all together and make a trailer. He did it, and he didn’t have to. He went way out of his way. Such a sweetheart. But we don’t have any marketing people running our booths. So our booths at these shows are the developers. The kind of demo you get depends on the developer you get. If you’re getting a demo from one of the programmers he’s going to show you a lot of the intricate little bits of AI underlying everything. If you get an artist he’s going to draw your attention to the way the light and shadow and other elements interact to improve stealth and climbing and how terrain works to your advantage. It’s really funny to see the differences in presentations. The only presentation that’s the same across the board is what I’m doing. I’m entertaining everybody waiting in the god awful line by trying to explain what the game’s about. Most people get in our line because the line for Halo looked too long. I find that odd. That’s not how I do shows, but that’s how people roll. I’ll sit there trying to explain it, describing the game as an FPS/RTS/RPG/sim. People would just blink. I’d be like, ‘Sounds like buzzwords, but it’s not! It’s all true!’ It was a good time.

GB: It seems like the game has inspired a lot of devotion from its players too.
SW: Every community reflects the company that they’re dealing with. If people feel like they’re screaming into a void, they just keep screaming. People don’t stop screaming when they think they’re screaming into a void. They scream louder hoping their sound will escape. I’m pretty clear on social media that the game’s not going to be for everyone. Everyone who tries it has my thanks, and I hope if you didn’t like it you might like another game that we do someday. If you did like it that’s fantastic! Thank you so much. We are a small, community-focused company. We can’t do all the things a big company can do, but we really appreciate what we do get. That’s valuable to us. Our community is a really valuable part of the process in every possible way. That’s a pretty big deal to us. I’ve worked at the big companies. I have always cared about my community no matter who is paying the bills. It’s just how much I’m allowed to express it and how I’m allowed to express it can vary pretty wildly. I wouldn’t want to suggest that a bigger company doesn’t care because the people who work there do care. They just might not be allowed to tell you, and they might not be allowed to act on your feedback either. The process at a large company is pretty crazy. Even so I can remember pushing some stuff through. I’d get some feedback from users, and six months later there’d be a patch. I wouldn’t be allowed to say, ‘This thing you suggested is the patch!’ I might not have been allowed to draw that connection because somebody somewhere would be afraid that it would create a sense of entitlement with the customer. Like, ‘If they do respond to our feedback, then they have to respond to our feedback.’ That’s of course nonsense. Like most slippery slope arguments, it’s specious. It sounds plausible, but it really isn’t. People who think that way are just wrong. I’m sorry. At the same time, one person can’t change a corporate policy. I don’t like to crap on bigger companies. I know they care. They just may not be allowed to show it. I’m allowed to show it, which is why I have the most awesome job in the world.

State of Decay’s newest DLC Lifeline should be available soon on Xbox 360 and on PC via Steam. Head to undeadlabs.com for more info, and while you’re there say hey to Sanya. She may look like a zombie in the picture up top, but she won’t bite.