by Meg Stivison1
Not Just Another Zombie Apocalypse
An Interview with Sarah Northway of Northway Games
After playing and loving the blend of solid strategy and post-apocalyptic narrative in Rebuild 2, I was thrilled to hear about Sarah Northway’s plans for Rebuild 3. Major differences, Sarah says, will overlay more levels of strategic number crunching and a longer, more detailed narrative of zombie survival. Other factions existed as storyline events in Rebuild 2, but players of Rebuild 3 will be able to see and interact with factions’ in new ways. “You’ll actually see them out there in the city,” Sarah Northway says, “and might even be able to intercept them before they raid you, or take the fight back to them.” I’m looking forward to finding where the Last Judgement bikers are holed up, and taking the fight to them, although Sarah adds that the new factions are “not all about attacking and being attacked, you can also form alliances and trade with the other factions” for more story-based gameplay. “Some of them will have sort of secrets that you can uncover by interacting with them, including a faction called The Government, which is made up of bureaucrats and soldiers from the old world, who may or may not be communicating with higher government powers who survived back east.”
The current version of Rebuild offers a mix of turn-based strategy and story, ending in the possibility of multiple endings, as a result of choices made by the player. The additional factions seem to add the same gameplay and story consequences over the basic strategy of survival. “I’m going to add a lot more events that force you to make choices.” Sarah says “and, yes, what choices you make when dealing with factions could cause them to ultimately be torn apart, or overthrown, or join your survivors.”
The new game will also feature a system of “ordinances”, as found in SimCity or NationStates. Decisions made by the players, like determining how much food people are allowed to eat, will affect everything in the game, from resources and mission danger to morale. “I’m splitting morale up into individual happiness, so one guy might be made happier by your decision, while another guy might be upset by it. You might choose to, say, distribute any liquor you find to the best soldiers, rather than evenly through the fort. Your best soldiers will be happier and more productive on missions. Everyone else will grumble…” New resources, new unlockable story events, an overland map with multiple cities, and “a plot that evolves slowly as you play all the individual cities” are some of the upcoming features is Rebuild 3.
The expected release date is the end of 2013 or beginning of 2014. Hardcore Droid readers will be happy to see the game available on Android, as well as iOS, BlackBerry, Nook, and a PC download. Northway Games will also release a simpler, limited version for free play in a browser. This monetization model allows interested players to try the game before purchasing, without slipping into murky freemium territory. Rebuild 2 and Rebuild Mobile offered a free PC version for players to sample, “but people were still excited to pay $3 to play on their phones.” Sarah says. At Hardcore Droid, we all strongly prefer a paying a clear price upfront than discovering a surprise paywall or forced in-app purchases.
Northway Games consists of Sarah Northway and her husband Colin, both indie game developers. Colin has recently released Incredipede, a physics-based puzzle game. Since Rovio’s amazing success, one can usually read “physics puzzler” as “Angry Birds clone”, but Incredipede is a rare exception. Players help a strange creature called Quozzle grow new limbs in order to solve puzzles, overcome obstacles or just create a crazy looking creature. Colin developed the basic game and worked on the design for over a year before Sarah and artist Thomas Shaha joined the project.
The all-ages word puzzle, Word Up Dog, seems like a major departure from both Rebuild and Northway Games’ physics puzzle Incredipede. “I basically wrote the game for my mother-in-law and aunt,” Sarah says, “and on those fronts it was a success.” Sarah also considered a free, ad-supported version for her word puzzle game, Word Up Dog, with a $2 unlock to remove the ads, instead of the free demo monetization model used in Rebuild.
I asked Sarah about the growing freemium trend. “I’ve been hearing some real cautionary tales of indie games releasing only a free version with IAP.” Sarah says, “Free-to-play is territory best left to unscrupulous optimizers like Zynga.” Zynga, the producers behind scores of derivative freemum social games, is unfortunately why most of us shudder when a game ends in -Ville. Although she sees a potential for a well-balanced free-to-play MMORPG to actually be free to play, Sarah plans to steer clear of designing for freemium and “making people pay because they don’t want to wait all day for some plant to grow or because they’re out of “energy” and not allowed to play the game anymore. That’s the worst.” (We couldn’t agree more.)
Northway Games is an inspiring indie development success story, and so I asked Sarah what she’d say to any other would-be indie developers. Sarah suggests that aspiring game designers “pick a game idea that’s small enough to actually complete. Beware, beware the feature creep. And don’t expect much from your first few game releases. It’s really a crapshoot out there. Rebuild might be a good game, but there was a lot of luck involved in its success. Oh, and don’t target a single platform for release, develop in Flash, Haxe or Unity and compile for everything.”
“There’s a lot of prototypes floating around this house,” Sarah says of life at Northway Games. And we’re looking forward to seeing what Northway Games comes up with next.