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I had a chance to talk with Bob the PR Bot recently about his new game, Survivalist. He was a very nice and personable guy. At least I think he was a guy. He may have been a robot. I mean, “PR Bot” is part of his name. So for now, I’m going to assume he’s human. My sincere apologies to my robotic and artificial intelligence readers, just in case you actually exist.
Which I doubt.
Anywho. I like Bob. He seems like a down to earth guy who really loves designing and developing video games. Just look at the interface for his game, Survivalist. It’s very creative, unlike most other games out there. It has a wonderful visual interface that fives the player a lot of useful information and helping them get immersed into the survival story. Only someone who loves his craft would come up with something like that!
So without further adieu, let’s begin
Press Start To Begin: Hey there and thank you for agreeing to the interview. Let’s jump right in! Survivalist doesn’t look like your run-of-the-mill zombie survivor game. What makes this game so different? What makes it stand out from the rest?
Bob the PR Bot: It’s all about how the gameplay is integrated with the story, with the resource management, and with the long-term goals of building a base and a community. Individually you might find all these things in other games but together hopefully hey make more than the sum of their parts.
Also I don’t think there are many games that centre around a mechanic of doing increasingly heinous acts in order to find insulin to keep someone you care about alive.
Press Start To Begin: I don’t think there are… I really like what you have with Survivalist. The interface looks so unique. Do you have that for the rest of your games?
Bob the PR Bot: I decided on the outline-y look after I’d been working on it for a while. Originally I wanted to make the characters in the close-up window as realistic as possible but I kind of had to accept it was never going to be L.A.Noire. I hit upon the idea of doing outlines and it suddenly made all my art look a lot better.
Press Start To Begin: What was your thought process behind this game? What was it that inspired you?
Bob the PR Bot: Going way back, it was probably playing the original Command and Conquer. Sometimes you would have battles where a particular tank or soldier would just make it out alive, and in the next battle that tank would do something heroic again and after it happened a few times you’d grow attached to that unit, even though it was completely interchangeable with all the others. When they made Red Alert they made the maps bigger and increased the number of units you could have, lessening the potential for one unit to make a difference. I wanted to make a strategy game going in the other direction, where every unit was an individual with a name and a personality.
Another inspiration was Starcraft. They had a little window on the control panel where if you clicked on a unit you could see the face of the space marine or whatever inside their space suit and they would say something hilarious. That is where I got the idea to do the close-up window in the top right of the screen in Survivalist where you can see the characters faces and have them talk to you.
So I guess you could say the original inspiration was old RTS games I used to play, even though it ended up being more of an action-RPG.
Press Start To Begin: That explains the interface and gameplay. But why did you make a zombie game? What is it about zombies that interests you so much?
Bob the PR Bot: I think one thing I like about the zombie scenario is that it’s the real world and your characters can all be real, contemporary people instead of space marines or wizards or superheroes or whatever. But even though it’s the real world it’s still an outlandish situation with enemies to fight. So you can have your cake and eat it.
Computer games, unlike movies, say, have certain needs because they are skill that you get better at through repetition, fighting the same types of enemies again and again and improving each time. This is especially true of RPGs where your character levels up their skills. This means games tend to demand a story that can supply a steady stream of bad guys to fight. There are a few kinds of stories that do this well: war stories, fantasy stories where you fight monsters, sci fi stories where you fight aliens. And of course, zombie apocalypses! I think this helps explain their recent popularity in video games, it’s certainly a reason why I wanted to use them.
Plus I always liked the Romero zombie movies, and 28 Days Later. At the time I started Survivalist there were zombie games around but none of them seemed to capture what made those movies great. There’s that frontier mentality of having your own little group in your fortress against the world. And then there’s the dynamics of how it all breaks down and the group collapses due to ego and infighting and man’s inhumanity to man and so on :) There are now a lot of really great zombie games that do capture that very well, but they weren’t around when I started.
Press Start To Begin: I gotta ask this one, though among the zombie fans… this could be dicey…. What type of zombie do you prefer? Fast or slow?
Bob the PR Bot: I don’t think I really have a preference, they both serve different needs. I do think it’s a little unbelievable that such slow, lumbering creatures as the zombies in The Walking Dead or the Romero movies would be able to take over the world. They always have to contrive some way for people to be trapped in a corner with them in order for them to be deadly
Originally I did try using slow zombies in Survivalist, but when I got to the stage where I could walk into a town and get attacked I realized it was rather boring. So I switched to fast ones that jump at you. However if you shoot them in the legs they get crippled and can’t run any more, they have to just limp slowly towards you, so that’s kind of a nod to the slow zombie genre, as well as being a bit of strategy in the combat.
Press Start To Begin: That’s awesome! I tend to favor slow zombies, but yeah. It’s hard to imagine how they conquered anything more than a flowerpot. Let’s try something a little different. Why did you start making indie games?
Bob the PR Bot: Ever since I was a kid I always worked on some kind of creative project or other in my spare time. Usually game-related. It’s just something I do I suppose.
Press Start To Begin: Quick side question! What sort of games did you like playing as a kid?
Bob the PR Bot: Games I played a lot growing up: Sonic the Hedgehog, Doom, Command and Conquer, Half-Life. My favourite game would probably be Deus Ex, or Vampire: The Masquerade: Bloodlines (if it wasn’t so buggy!).
Press Start To Begin: Great! Okay, this’ll be the last question. You’ve been programming for quite a while and probably have some really great memories. What’s the most fun you had with this entire process of making games?
Bob the PR Bot: I don’t know that I could pick one moment as being The Most Fun… Releasing the game and seeing people’s reactions to it has been great, if stressful due to having to scramble to get a patch out to fix a memory leak bug. That seems to be sorted now, thankfully. Playtesting on the XNA forums was a lot of fun as you get to playtest other people’s games in return for them doing yours and it’s always really interesting to see other people’s creativity. And just generally making the thing, there are a lot of times where you just get in the zone with coding and listening to music.
Press Start To Begin: Thank you very much for your time!
Once again, thank you to Bob the PR Bot for agreeing to the interview. You can find his game, The Survivalist, on XBL for $2.99. You can find him on Twitter at @Bob_the_PR_bot. Or you can go to his blogsite here: http://www.survivalistgame.blogspot.com/