Development Blog–Zombie Exodus: Safe Haven

People who follow my games have been suggesting I blog to provide updates on ZE: Safe Haven’s development, to delve into ChoiceScript tips and tricks, and to discuss my other projects (A Wise Use of Time, Zombie Exodus, the ZE novel). I will try to keep this on a weekly schedule.

ZE: Safe Haven Development

This week was productive with numerous bugs fixed and approximately 5800 new words of content. I have also started hashing out profiles of several new NPCs not yet introduced but coming in chapter 4.

I decided to stop the public playtesting at the next update. To focus on development, it is far more efficient to work with a small team of testers. While I truly appreciate all feedback, handling it can be time-consuming. The number of requests for new features sometimes takes my time away from squashing bugs or fixing continuity errors. My goal is to spend this summer finishing Part 1, and limiting my tester pool will help.

Replayability vs. Game Length

Today, I read a comment I made on the Choice of Games forum from January, 2015:

People felt Part 4 was short because it’s not linear, so I received criticism. From my experience, people want a long playthrough. Replayability is not as important as playthrough.

I remember this comment came at a time when several reviews of my game were calling it too short while other games at the time had far less word count but linear gameplay with more perceived length. Out of frustration, I made this comment. Now, I disagree with it.

I enjoy games with replay value and a chance to explore multiple plots, characters, and playstyles. If I read through a game a second time and find little has changed aside from flavor text and an ending, I wonder why it was made as a choice game. I want to try out multiple types of characters and have the game respond. Can I survive as a pragmatic teenager, a snarky coward, or stoic badass? What will happen if I let Candace die in Part 4 but save Crone at the summer camp? If a game is too linear and gives only the illusion of choice, I can’t feel immersed in the story.

While creating such games can be complicated, ChoiceScript empowers its users to add depth through branching narrative. My suggestion to choice-game developers is to create meaningful stats and change them routinely. My rule is to change 1-3 stats with every choice.

For example:

As the reverend leans in his car, the exterminator reaches in 
his van and pulls out a crowbar. He clenches it in his hands and 
strides toward the unaware man. From the yard of the house across 
the street comes movement behind a row of trees.

You…
*choice
  #Rush outside to warn the reverend before he's attacked.
    *set morality %+15
    *set impulse %+10
  #Rush outside and yell for the exterminator to stop.
    *set morality %+10
    *set honor %+15
  #Rush outside and threaten the exterminator to stop.
    *set morality %+10
    *set impulse %+15
  #Walk outside to be in position to take advantage of this situation.
    *set honor %-15
  #Call the police. They need to handle this altercation.
      *set impulse %-15
  #Watch and wait. I'll only get involved if it benefits me.
    *set morality %-10

In the code above, the player is presented with an option for dealing with an imminent fight outside his or her home. Each option modifies a stat or two which helps build the profile of the character. As the game progresses, stats will be changed more and more, and we start to see how different the main character becomes: paranoid loner, impulsive vigilante, heroic cynic, psychopath, and many other profiles.

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4 Responses to Development Blog–Zombie Exodus: Safe Haven

  1. BastTheCat says:

    So, I figured I’d throw a comment down. Maybe because I’m tired, maybe because I felt like throwing a comment down would be fun. Who knows?

    Anyway – I just wanted to say that, honestly, I can barely contain my anticipation for Safe Haven. I’ve absolutely adored ZE and A Wise Use of Time and have played them for an altogether an embarrassing amount of time. When I see what you’re doing with Safe Haven, and when I see what it could become, it truly lights a fire for me.

    So, I guess without getting mushy and overly poetic about it, I just want to say that I absolutely love what you’re doing. I can’t wait for more, and you can rest assured that whatever beta or demo content you put out will be a small salve for my growing addiction.

    Cheers.

  2. LEON Ang says:

    I hope this ZE safe heaven will have many chapter,more characters.This game give me me a first impression is wonderful.After playing this game,I realised that some of the places or plots that need to improve,such as 1) the prologue ,I think the ending of prologue are always same, drive our car back.I hope it will add such as accident on the way back,(depends on driving skill or occupation).If adding in some 2)sound effect and pictures ,like ZE1,it will be awesome.Lastly,I hope that a 3)organisation will come to evacuate the city such as (NABSTF),(National Anti Bioterriorist Special Task Force) with National Guard. Thats all my comment!

    Thank you for lending me your ears!

    • BastTheCat says:

      If I recall correctly from the demo, at least two of your concerns have already been addressed. The character background you choose heavily influences the people you can interact with. Starting as a teenager for example, you run into two other high school students who ask for your help that I didn’t run into with any other start. Also, you run into the National Guard fairly near the beginning of everything. I don’t know about any specific anti-bioterrorism unit, but government forces were definitely involved. I don’t recall much in the way of pictures – maybe at the beginning of the chapters? – and certainly no sound effects from the first one, and I doubt that will change overly much. A lot of the point of these sorts of games is that they let your imagination fill in the blanks. It could be interesting throwing that sort of thing in here and there, but I admit having a preference for no sound effects. The last time I played a ChoiceScript game with sound effects it was a disaster. Regardless, to each their own.

  3. Abscheu says:

    Honestly I believe quality over quantity. If you can’t get replay I don’t think it’s worth it. If we have to pay let say 5 dollars for a game, I want to make it worth it. I thought ze was amazing regardless of length. Not brown nosing or anything. I want a game where I can play as A, B or C. Not play as AA, Ab, Ac. From what I’ve done of the demo of zesh. Your on the right track. Granted I want the game out already but I prefer you to take the time to perfect it. These aren’t just books, they are games. If someone wants a long story, why not just read a regular book? Your mind set is correct. Even thought this blog post was months ago, I do hope, regardless of being late, this helps you.

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