When ZombiU was first created as Killer Freaks, I wondered whether it was perhaps targeted towards hardcore gamers. How did the overall balancing work out in the end?
Generally speaking, when a new console is being released, a lot of games are designed for the kind of people who would be the first to get the new console. As such, our principal motivation was to create a game that would be difficult to complete.
We think that if you want to get players really hooked on a game, one way is to ensure they always have something to lose. If we back away from this new challenge and go in the direction of creating games that are overly simple with no skill requirement, players will only get bored and put it down.
The most fundamental aspect of video games is that compulsion every time you slip up to give it just one more go. Once it gets to the point where it seems utterly impossible, players begin to lose enthusiasm; if it’s done right though, players will want to keep retrying despite the difficulty.
That’s absolutely right.
If it’s your fault you were beaten, not the fault of the game, and you can understand that, then you’re more willing to try again and try to get further in the game. If you’re presented with a challenge, then it feels more worthwhile to try and overcome it. Ultimately, it becomes a battle against yourself.
That’s right. That’s why we didn’t want to make it difficult to complete just for the sake of it. When people first start playing with the Wii U GamePad on ZombiU, for example, many of them may be put off at first or find it difficult. After all, it’s a completely new experience for them. However, I think that the reward they get from learning to use and eventually mastering these controls is worth it, because this new experience is unlike any they’ve encountered so far.
That said, in ZombiU, we’ve actually created an ultra-high-difficulty mode called Survival mode where you only get once chance, one life. When you die, the staff credits play and it’s ‘game over’. You get no continues, there’s no saving, nothing like that! (Laughs) However, in my opinion that’s how this game should be played. If you know that when you die you lose everything, then each and every zombie becomes the biggest threat.
So it’s targeting true hardcore gamers. It must be so tense playing like that. (Laughs)
The enemies aren’t any stronger in this mode, but there were lots of times when the staff working on the development of the game were killed because they let their concentration slip for just a split second. On the other hand, we made fine adjustments to ensure it was fair to you, so if a player loses a life, they only have themselves to blame. So, as we just discussed, they end up feeling inspired to do better next time.
From that perspective, the game is very demanding on the player. However, everything necessary for survival is contained within the Wii U GamePad, so it’s vital that players learn how to use it properly.
In a way, they're increasing their skill level by gaining knowledge and hands-on experience.
Exactly. Although, I should add that up to a few days before work on the game was finished, we still didn’t know whether it was possible to complete Survival mode to begin with.
What? Are you serious? (Laughs)
I think it must have been only two or three days before we finished work on the game before anyone made it all the way to the end. In the bug database for Survival mode, someone had reported the funniest bug that I’d ever seen in all my life as a developer, saying that the game is too hard and can’t be finished. (Laughs)
To all the gamers in the world reading this, Ubisoft has thrown down the gauntlet!
Actually, the leaderboards will show when the first person completes the game Survival mode, so we’ll know about it. I wonder how many people are up to the challenge…
Not to mention how many people will be sacrificed along the way! (Laughs)
For the record, we’re only talking about Survival mode here. Normal Mode plays out in the normal way, just in case anyone was getting the wrong impression.
But clearing Survival mode gives you bragging rights, I guess.
While we’re on the subject of modes, could I get you to say a few words about the multiplayer mode?
Certainly. Multiplayer is a battle between a survivor and a character we call King Boris.You play as either the survivor or King Boris and battle it out in the arena.
So this arena is the battlefield for multiplayer?
That’s right. It’s like a Roman circus. The person playing as King Boris uses the Wii U GamePad with a top-down view and strategically places various types of zombies in an attempt to kill the survivor. In contrast, the survivor has a firstperson view and is fighting a battle for survival against the zombies as they close in.
Having players battle it out in real time, sharing the same physical space butwith completely different control styles, seems very unique.
To spice things up a bit, bonus items appear on the battlefield that can swing the battle one way or the other. Actually, these items take inspiration from the Nintendo classics – for example, one item increases the speed of the survivor. It introduces an element of randomness that can change the outcome. On the other hand, you can purchase the items if you're a strategic player.
I can imagine the players’ screams! (Laughs) Introducing just the right level of randomness into this kind of multiplayer mode can give newcomers a fighting chance against seasoned players. This leads to battles where everyone is on the edge of their seats.
Also, it’s designed so that players are encouraged to swap roles at the end of each game. Most people who lose when playing for the first time think that their opponent had an unfair advantage. However, by putting them in their opponent’s shoes, it quickly becomes clear how balanced things are.
It means that you can win with the Wii U GamePad just as easily as you can lose with it.
Even people who have limited experience with FPS games can play this mode with relative ease.
During play testing, I saw a female player who didn’t even know how to switch on the Wii U GamePad eventually become immersed for hours.
At first glance, ZombiU seems like a difficult game aimed towards seasoned gamers, but at the same time, you’ve made it accessible to players with no experience whatsoever.
Yes. Despite the multiplayer being competitive, different skillsets are necessary, so the gameplay ends up feeling really innovative.
I suppose you could call it ‘friendly couch competition’. The mode is designed to create social experiences in the sofa or living room, building on the ideas behind the original Wii.
Personally, I would say this is Ubisoft’s own interpretation of the Bridge Strategy33 Mr Iwata has been talking about. 33 Bridge Strategy: An ideology advocating software development that consciously aims for accessibility to newcomers, by emphasising the danger that any form of entertainment will become obsolete unless a new layer of consumers is able to enter.
I get the feeling that ZombiU will become the focus of attention, not just in Europe, but around the world including Japan. I look forward to ZombiU becoming a seminal title, complimenting Nintendo’s own efforts to showcase the reason why Wii U had to have the Wii U GamePad as its controller by demonstrating yet another way of doing things.
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