In Dead State, zombies aren't the real story

Brian Mitsoda has had years of experience in the gaming industry, best known for his writing on Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines. He has recently left Obsidian Entertainment (along with his wife, Annie) to create an indie studio called DoubleBear Productions. Their first project, Dead State, has piqued the interest of fans. The game's Kickstarter has raised more than $150,000, far surpassing its original goal.

After leaving Obsidian, the Mitsodas moved out to Seattle to launch their new venture. They talked with Iron Tower Studio (Age of Decadence) about a potential project, which got the couple thinking about what they wanted to do first. Brian came up with the idea for Dead State, a zombie RPG mainly about humans. After announcing the game on the Iron Tower message boards, other developers began to jump on board, giving the Mitsodas plenty of talent to work with.


After discussing the studio's origins, Brian Mitsoda elaborated on the idea for Dead State. "While we're all RPG fans, we didn't just want to make another generic fantasy RPG or a standard 'go here, finish this quest, beat the big bad guy' RPG," he said. "We wanted to do something we couldn't at big studios. And the concept for Dead State has always been about humans trying to survive. How do you keep a group of strangers together when there's no law and order and the foundation of society is gone? You run the shelter, you've got to keep people fed and upbeat about their chances--what do you do? There's so much you can do with that in a branching narrative."

Of course, some people might feel that the zombie game (and, to some extent, the zombie phenomena) has worn out its welcome. However, Mitsoda points to Dead State's fresh angle--the human element. "We barely mention the zombies in our game – we don't even use the word 'zombie' in our game. The dead coming back to life set this series of events into motion, but it's the humans that are really dangerous in our game. The zombies are predictable, the humans aren't. Our zombies are only dangerous in large groups, but a single skilled human enemy can turn your scavenging outing into a really bad day."

Those familiar with Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines likely remember the game's ambitious narrative and story. Dead State will feature as much dialogue as Bloodlines, with each character reacting to player decisions, dialogue choices, and other events that have affected them.

"For example, you might run into some allies who come in pairs," explains Brian Mitsoda. "They might both ask you not to take the other out of the shelter, but their skills are good enough that it's hard to keep them behind. If you make a promise not to take them out and you do, the other will call you on it and will lose respect for you. If you take them out and they get killed, the other one will resent you and will lose faith in the shelter's ability to keep them safe. Most allies have a lot of little decisions they force you to make. Then we have major shelter events that force you to choose a course of action that will affect the whole shelter – those decisions have a lot more weight and can cause major ripples throughout your personal story."

With many different elements that can affect individual characters and the overarching story, Dead State will feature multiple endings. These endings are based the player's actions, allies, reputation, and skills. Mitsoda notes that dialogue choices make a difference, but can be influenced by the player's negotiation and leadership skills. "We've set up the game to respond to a lot of different scenarios," he said. "Run out of food? Think you can take on another group? Think someone is planning a coup? There's all sorts of stories set to unfold. Additionally, make too many mistakes and you may get an ending earlier than you hoped."

The weight of such an elaborate, non-linear, multi-dimensional narrative would crush a number of developers. Mitsoda hopes that his prior experience with large-scale RPGs will make Dead State's development smoother. "There's a reason that most developers don't do big RPGs, and that's because there's just so much content and so much can go wrong," he said. "Annie and I have put together multiple game projects and we've structured huge branching dialogues, so we had the basics laid down pretty quickly."

The Kickstarter campaign still has seven days to go and DoubleBear has a few more stretch goals it hopes to reach before the end. It aims to have Dead State ready by the end of 2013 on PC, with a possible Mac release. Mitsoda also assures fans that there will be post-release support, saying, "We're in this for the long haul."