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Crossfire: Gusmanak and DeadzoneZack Talk Game Design

April 06, 2013

by JacksSmirkingRevenge


Creativity and sharing are two qualities that fuel ROBLOX, and it’s in that spirit that we introduce Crossfire, a new series where we chat with ROBLOX game developers about their design choices and other ROBLOX topics. For our very first segment, we talked with developers Gusmanak and DeadzoneZackZak, both of whom have created go-to games for ROBLOX zombie survivalists–Apocalypse Rising and Deadzone. Combined, the two uber-popular titles have been played nearly 10 million times. The games have stood the test of time because they are constantly being enhanced and upgraded by their creators.

ROBLOX: Apocalypse Rising seems to be the more open game. You can wander around for quite some time without seeing anybody. In Deadzone it’s much easier to find people. Was this a conscious decision on your end?

Gusmanak: Apoc is a very flat map, because we really want people to have a more expansive area to explore. You’ll run into fewer people, because there are a lot fewer restrictions. Deadzone is more maze-like; it’s a lot more closed in and there are choke-points leading to other parts of the map. Players have to sort of funnel through certain smaller portions to explore the map.

Holding down the evac point in Deadzone

DeadzoneZackZak: With my new map, I’ve done some location changes that are designed specifically to draw players towards them. These environmental points help direct players towards places I want them to go, and they can also find certain places, like elevated places, where they have a technical advantage. Climbing up high makes it easier for people to spot snipers and other enemies.

ROBLOX: What’s the average player lifespan like in your games?

Gusmanak: It really depends. You can last hours in Apoc, or just 10 minutes, depending on which part of the map you choose to explore. Some areas are more dangerous than others.

DeadzoneZackZak: Players in Deadzone tend to die very quickly. 10 minutes is a really solid run without dying. You can survive longer, but usually by ten minutes users end up falling victim to the perils of the environment, or bandits.

ROBLOX: In Deadzone players can’t save their progress, right? But they can stash weapons? Is that why you can’t actually save your game in Deadzone?

DeadzoneZackZak: Saving wouldn’t be necessary because the life spans are so short. The game does save all your stats, your inventory, and your bank information. I wanted to add the stashing ability in order to stimulate the in-game economy.

ROBLOX: Let’s talk a bit about map verticality–the idea of a flat map versus maps with more environmental impassables. Deadzone sort of builds up, while Apocalypse Rising sort of builds out. Do you think there’s such a thing as too much verticality in a map?

Gusmanak: I personally don’t like restricting people to certain parts of a map. I like to compare Apoc to Skyrim, because in a game like Skyrim there are large areas with cliffs that you’re just not supposed to climb. The cliffs are designed to keep players on the path. The first thing a lot of players do is try to climb those cliffs to get over them, instead of taking the long way around. When you try to restrict players, they feel the need to break the boundaries. I think having impassable structures in Apoc would intimidate people.

Map of Apocalypse Rising

DeadzoneZackZak: I originally designed Deadzone as a large open space, but added mountains and passages and decided to keep them–they obstruct your view-line, but in a good way. It helps make the map feel bigger and encourages people to explore more. Allowing people to move higher can actually increase the time it takes to travel from one location to another. Sure, you could walk there on the ground, or you could see if there’s a quicker path higher in the level.

Map of Deadzone

ROBLOX: You guys have both obviously played DayZ. When we were at GDC we saw a talk by Dean Hall, the guy who created the mod. In his talk he was saying that, having been in the military, the most important part of his mod was authenticity–that playing the game really felt like his experience in the military. Which is more important: authenticity or fun-factor?

Gusmanak: When we started Apoc, we thought it would be arcade-like and kind of unrealistic. Keep in mind, the player base we’re dealing with–8 to 16-year-olds–is a large spectrum of gamers. As it stands now, I think Apoc is a healthy blend of both. It’s realistic in that, if a gun has a certain bullet caliber, then that caliber bullet will do the same amount of damage when used in other guns. It’s consistent. But it’s not like you’ll become infected if a zombie bites you or anything like that. The gameplay structure is basic.

DeadzoneZackZak: When I first started Deadzone I was going for a super-realistic game, but that didn’t draw a large audience. Over time, I shifted towards making it more of a game focused on fun. With the weapons example, I mean, there are different muzzle velocities for weapons, so the bullets wouldn’t always have to do the same amount of damage. There’s a very fine line between realism and fun. Some players mentioned that I should make it so that your gun jams periodically and I thought, “no, that’s way too much.”


ROBLOX: Is there one certain thing that players did that totally surprised you? How did watching people play your games influence the design?

DeadzoneZackZak: I thought the towns would be a much more popular destination in my game, because that’s where the food and water was. Turns out, most players really don’t care if they die in my game. They basically just get as many weapons as they can before they die, though getting certain items really requires that you eat and drink.

Gusmanak: I had 18 smaller towns to fill space and offer people areas to explore, and then realized that players really don’t care about those areas. They’re never visited. People usually just go straight to the forest because that’s where the loot is. It never occurred to me that if the towns don’t have the most important items, they’ll just be totally ignored. With the new map we’re working on, we want to make sure there are interesting things to find throughout the entire map. It was wrong to assume that people would just check out small towns because they’re there. There’s got to be incentive.

ROBLOX: What is the most awesome thing that’s ever happened in your respective games?

Gusmanak: Manhunts, for sure. When we first started Apoc nobody killed one another; every one teamed up to fight the zombies. A friend of mine who was around when the game launched was actually the first Apoc bandit, and he started killing other players. That lead to a big-time change, where everyone started killing each other. Now, we’ve seen entire teams go out to hunt a human. We’ve seen an entire server looking for one person! We didn’t see that coming.

DeadzoneZackZak: Our game is very player-versus-player-centric, so it gets pretty chaotic. I’ve got a mega server, so there are usually about 20 people in a game. One day, I went to the evacuation center and it was just total insanity. There was an all-out war. People were driving vehicles in teams of fives, shooting at each other, building barricades and running for cover. That went on for hours.

ROBLOX: There’s a ton of videos out there on YouTube for both of your games. Do you think YouTube videos helped make your games popular?

Gusmanak: I don’t really pay attention to my YouTube channel, and I don’t think my channel has an influence an influence on Apoc. I don’t think other people’s channels have to do with it either. I know ROBLOX players seek out these videos, but very few come from outside of ROBLOX.

DeadzoneZackZak: I agree. Outside of ROBLOX users, the average person isn’t going to watch Deadzone videos. Though inside the community, a lot of people watch Deadzone videos just to see some of the rare weapons or see what strategies other users are using to survive.

ROBLOX: Then what’s the secret to making games as popular as yours?

Gusmanak: When we started Apoc, ZolarKeth and I weren’t really thinking ahead. We knew we wanted to recreate DayZ in ROBLOX, we knew we had a good idea. The idea of perma-death, where you lose everything you have when you die, was what really got the attention of players. We were really curious as to how the ROBLOX community would react to that, and it turned out that a lot of players liked the risk.

ROBLOX: That’s a hardcore game mechanic for a casual game.

Gusmanak: [Laughs] Yeah, tell me about it. We weren’t expecting it to just jump to fame and glory, but we knew we’d at least get a few plays because it was so different. We definitely weren’t expecting to still be working on it ten months later, but that’s partly why people keep coming back. We’ve been constantly adding new content. The last week before Christmas, we decided we’d upload version 1.0 (the one from 10 months ago). [Laughs] The nostalgia was insane. We were looking around going, “this is terrible. How did anyone play this?” We’re just blown away by how far we’ve come.

DeadzoneZackZak: I don’t think I’ve ever told anyone this, but Deadzone started as a ROBLOX recreation of Pay Day: The Heist. Back in October, when it started out, it was a small map where you could rob a building. Then I basically started listening to what people wanted. They wanted zombies. They wanted melee weapons. At the same time, I had just started playing War Z, and figured that was the kind of game I wanted to emulate. It took about 20 days to get to the front page.

ROBLOX: So you took a game that had some traffic, and kept adding what people wanted until it snowballed?

DeadzoneZackZak: [Laughs] Basically, yeah.

ROBLOX: How frequently do you guys update your maps?

Gusmanak: We try to release something new every two or three weeks. As far as bug fixes go, that’s never-ending. Whenever they pop up, we have to take care of them.

DeadzoneZackZak: Up until a few weeks ago, I was updating Deadzone every single day. Lately I’ve been working on a Java version of Deadzone, so that’s been taking up my time.

ROBLOX: We have very passionate users. Sometimes when we release something that seems like a small change and a vocal minority strongly opposes it. Do you guys ever make changes to your game that angered some of your fans? 

DeadzoneZackZak: Pretty much every change I make, there’s someone who doesn’t like it. When I re-added breaking legs, people got really mad because they kept breaking their bones. There was this huge demand for splints to fix broken legs, it was pretty funny.

Gusmanak: We angered a lot of people on April Fools’ day. We turned the game into a rainbow of colors, and threw in some My Little Pony decals. But I mean, people got that it was a joke, so it wasn’t a huge deal. We’re really careful with our updates and try our best to keep people informed so they know what’s coming. There are always nit-picks to be had, like “aiming down the site isn’t quick enough.” Stuff like that.

Headshots are particularly gratifying in Apocalypse Rising

ROBLOX: Both of your maps are so replayable because there’s so much secret stuff you can find. What do you guys think about strategy or hint guides? Is it better to just experience your games as you go along, or do you think guides should be written to help?

DeadzoneZackZak: I originally made a forum post that was kind of a guide, but realized that it really is best to just let the users write their own strategy guides and share them. I love reading user strategy guides because they think they’re right, and that makes them really fun to read. Some people have developed some really serious strategies in Deadzone.

Gusmanak: Apoc has a tutorial that goes overs all the basic functions and I think that’s all you need to know. I’ve never written a strategy guide, and never will. I agree that it’s interesting to see other users write strategy guides, just to get a fresh opinion on something.

ROBLOX: What’s the most difficult aspect of developing your game?

DeadzoneZackZak: The hardest thing to get right, the one thing you can never get right, is keeping everyone happy. People will always get angry for one reason or another. It’s impossible to meet everyone’s expectations.

Gusmanak: Bugs! Random bugs pop up that we just don’t know how to fix right away. A bug pops up, everyone goes crazy, and all of a sudden we’re finding ways to address issues that we don’t know how to solve immediately.

ROBLOX: All right, final question: You guys have played each other’s games. From a game development standpoint, what is the one thing you like most about the other guy’s game?

DeadzoneZackZak: The vehicles in Apocalypse Rising are really solid. My vehicles are always getting stuck in walls or in the floor. The vehicles have really cool sounds and they feel extremely realistic.

ROBLOX: Yeah, Gusmanak, where did you get the sounds for your vehicles?

Gusmanak: RC Tank gear item.

ROBLOX: Nice. What’s your favorite part of Deadzone?

Gusmanak: I like the animation in the game more than anything. We have essentially no virtual animations in Apoc and I’ve really learned to appreciate the smooth and fluid animation that’s present in Deadzone.

Characters move differently and have a different design aesthetic in Deadzone

ROBLOX: Guys, this has been awesome. Thanks so much for sharing your insights.

What developers would you like to see us feature in this series next? Let us know in the comments below!