Playable Zombie Legacy made its first public appearance a few days ago at the Pacificon Protospiel and it won Best Prototype!
We got some awesome feedback and great criticism too, which will help us direct and craft the legacy experience.
Thanks again to all the play testers and the organizers of Pacificon Protospiel #LukeLaurieGames! It was a fantastic event and I recommend it to all gamers and designers.
Legacy games bring board games a step closer to the immersion we can experience in video games and role playing games:
All of these factors work together to pull you into the game narrative and enhance the game experience.
Although legacy games have always fascinated us, we didn't originally set out to design Zombie Rising to be a legacy game, that evolved during our development. Our inspiration for the game theme came from the zombie novel genre as well as TV/Film so working with a meaningful narrative felt like a natural evolution. And so Zombie Rising became Zombie Legacy.
With this change in direction, I wanted to discuss a couple of the factors that are really important to us as we've been developing the legacy aspects of the game and share some related player feedback on those aspects.
The original Zombie Rising cast of characters were named, and were represented by preset colors as backgrounds on player mats, standees and plastic stands for the standees. We noticed that players wanted to choose who they played based on the character rather than the background color. We started off with the idea that we could have neutral colored backgrounds for the player mats and standees, and then players could chose their character and the color of plastic stand for their standee.
During Zombie Rising playtesting, our players were engaging with their characters and wanted a more interactive experience with those characters. We then started looking at character personalization as a sort of Legacy Light aspect. But as we continued to develop the game, we kept coming back to the RPG elements in the game and the notion that the game narrative could drive meaningful choices for the player. This comes both from Andrew's experience in designing and playing RPG games and my own in game narrative research. (About ten years ago we ran a government funded online games research program).
When we were playtesting Zombie Legacy, the highest ranked feature enjoyed by testers was character creation and development - choosing an image, naming their character, and selecting character back stories. Players enjoyed choosing something they identified with, and enjoyed the act of placing stickers on their player mats, and discussing with their friends who they were choosing and why.
During one memorable playtest, two players created the characters "Gunner" and "Slicer", chose their back stories and then extended their narrative to say that they were siblings. They then proceeded to engage with each other during the game as those characters, and it was interesting to see that they had in fact chosen character narratives that suited their gameplay style.
Branching character based story lines with meaningful choices and character progression
At its heart, Zombie Legacy is a co-operative survival game - we want you to care about your character and how they develop and what impacts them in their struggle. We want them to be more than a collection of numbers and counters on a mat.
At the start of Zombie Legacy, you are instructed to pick 4 elements of back story that you personally feel comfortable with and identify with. This forms the base of integration with the narrative of the game. Each of these background components will map to a gameplay impact at some point in the game, either in terms of abilities they can access, their motivations based upon game events, or what happens in a particular episode. As more choices are made about how the group chooses to survive, this influences and changes each character in a meaningful way so they evolve continuously with the game. We want you to care deeply about these choices and agonize over them - as they will materially matter in the game.
This was a little tricky during one of our playtesting session for Episode 1 when some players immediately received gameplay effects based on what choices they had made. Some others didn't and they felt there should be effects for every character on every episode, but realistically not every episode will impact every single player in that way. It will take time for a choice you made to have a visible impact - but it will happen.
We've played legacy games where you may be able to choose upgrades for your character, but there's generally no sense of character arc. Without giving away any spoilers we feel we have some new mechanisms that drive this experience. In Zombie Legacy the choices you make will impact your story arc and your character and their personality will change over time, so that you can find your own path and have a unique experience with your character.
Emotional engagement is the core of legacy play
Rob Daviau openly discusses how he uses elements of legacy play to manipulate the emotions of the players and how he deliberately designed in pacing with upbeats and downbeats to drive the players' connection to the game story. For me, this is the true genius of legacy games (and Daviau). It is not purely about the persistence from game to game, it's about how the permanent changes affect the emotions and experience of the player from game to game.
Emotions in gaming are fundamental to the enjoyment of a game. Nicole Lazzaro is a well known expert on the emotional keys for fun in gaming. If playing the game doesn't illicit a strong emotion, then it's probably not going to be fun. Reconsider games you played that you felt you should have enjoyed because it was from a top notch company with triple A components but it left you cold. Do you recall the game triggering emotion for you?
Zombie Legacy creates moments of tension and fear through the play, actions and narrative. For example:
Our testers really enjoyed these features and challenges. During one of my favorite play test sessions, we were playing the most difficult setting and our testers had lost 2 games and when they won the 3rd - one of our testers yelled in glee, that moment of victory, of accomplishment, what Lazaro refers to as fiero. Winning has to be earned or players feel cheated.
As designers we are trying to make you care about your character and also think about the choices you made with joy and regret. These emotional spaces throughout the gameplay are what add to the impact of fun on gamers, even for those gamers who don't care about a narrative when playing games.
Without giving away any spoilers it's kind of difficult to discuss more but we're really excited to add this type of gameplay to the Zombie game genre. If you would like to test Zombie Legacy then please sign up as as a tester as we will be conducting blind play tests and play throughs in September and October and you may be able to participate!
As a side note for those of you who are less interested in Legacy, or want to be able to play both versions, when we Kickstart the game we plan to feature stretch goals to allow play as the original non-legacy game at 4 different difficulty settings, and some other cool options. Sign up for Kickstarter news and to stay in touch with Zombie Legacy.