I’ve been extremely excited to announce that this week, ahead of my trip to the Play Expo in Manchester, I was given the opportunity to conduct a Q&A session with company CEO Klaus Lyngeled and the developers at Zoink Games. Zoink have been developing games for a good number of years now, but since the beginning of the eighth generation of gaming, they have garnished newfound acclaim with the release of indie hits such as Zombie Vikings and Stick It To the Man. I had quite a few questions for the up and coming game developing outlet from Sweden, and their answers made for some particularly interesting reading, as well as a close insight into the many things that influenced them as designers, and how their ideas came together to form the impressive titles they have worked on over the years.
How happy have you guys been with the critical reception Zombie Vikings has received so far?
To be honest, we had a bunch of issues with the game at release, mainly with bugs. This of course affected the reception of the game, and that was quite hard for us to see. But since then, we’ve made a huge effort to make everything flow smoother, and there’s also been a lot of very positive reviews as well as a lot of fun streams with people having a blast with the game – which is awesome to see! Now we’re working hard as hell to ensure the Steam version is released in the best possible state, and we’re really excited about it.
What was the most challenging and most exciting aspect of developing Zombie Vikings?
Zombie Vikings is quite different from our previous title Stick It to The Man. So taking a go at a whole new genre was definitely challenging, but also a lot of fun! Trying something out of the ordinary really gets your creativity flowing, but we also had to learn, step by step, what was doable and not in a brawler.
What projects do you have lined up for the future?
Well, we’ve already started the production of our next title, but I can’t tell you much about it yet since it’s still quite secret. If you keep your eyes open while playing Zombie Vikings you might catch a glimpse of it though!
How challenging was it to introduce a new conceptual design to the 2.5D art style you implemented in Stick It To the Man?
The art procedure for the levels was somewhat similar to how it was made in SITTM, mainly by sketching out an overview over the level and then zoom in closer and refine more important details. Then paint and put it all on 3D planes. However, a big difference from SITTM was that since the camera is able to move further back in ZV to make room for broader gameplay, we had to make sure that everything would look good both in close up and from far away. The main challenge with that was to find a balance so that the screen wouldn’t look too empty or too messy depending on if the camera was close or far from the players. When it comes to character design the main difference was that the characters in ZV have to be able to move in much more extreme ways which influenced the design.
What exactly was the influence behind the general art style of both Stick It To the Man and Zombie Vikings?
Partly there’s a practical reason why it looks the way it looks. Klaus had worked on some short movie tests where he tried to invent a style that’s quick to animate and also had a 2D look. When we started on SITTM we decided to try to implement that style into the game. We also had a wish that we would be able to play the game, pause it and paint whatever needed to be on-screen right in that moment. To be able to paint directly into the actual game. That’s of course not possible (yet) but we wanted to find a way to be able to work fast and be able to test crazy ideas without it taking too much time. For example, cutting the character’s faces in two is a way to get the animation done quicker, it’s a style, but it’s also a way to animate speech really fast.
What genre of games would you like to experiment with in the future that you haven’t already undertaken?
Not sure… maybe a horror-comedy 🙂
Were there any abandoned ideas that you considered for either Stick It to the Man or Zombie Vikings, or any of your other games for that matter, which never made it into the final products?
Lots! There are always so many ideas that have to be cut. Some of them great, but hard to do in a satisfying way, and some not so great. For Zombie Vikings we planned to make it possible to lose all of your different body parts, much like you can lose your head in the final version. Your friends could then pick up, say, your arm and use it as a weapon. You could even combine different parts of the Vikings and put them together. But in the end, it didn’t look aesthetically appealing, and we scrapped the whole idea.
Thankfully, it’s evident that there’s much more of a focus on gameplay in Zombie Vikings than story. I personally think there is, but do you think there is a danger of a story possibly taking priority over gameplay within the industry in general?
No, I don’t think so. But you need to understand why the story is there. Telling a story in-game is in a way totally stupid because playing a game should be an experience where you decide what to do, not someone else telling you what to do so it becomes a good story. But of course, giving total freedom can also create a quite boring story, so we have now ended up with this weird mix of story and gameplay; cutscenes and gameplay – which I don’t really think is a pretty solution. It’s funny because when you look at a game like ZV – here you don’t even need to understand the story to finish the game. But in SITTM it’s very important you understand the story and the characters (so you need to listen to the Cutscenes) to solve the quests. The story definitely fits better into SITTM as it’s part of the gameplay.
Zoink’s overall philosophy involves blending technology with storytelling, but what do you think is the most important aspect of a video game?
Wow, it’s some really hard questions you got! 60fps! Which we don’t even have in ZV… haha 🙂
Which kinds of games do the staff at Zoink play or have played regularly as gamers, and how have they influenced you all as developers?
We actually wrote a blog post about this last week! Of course, all Zoinksters have their own favorite games and inspiration sources, but some of the games mentioned were Super Metroid, FTL, Halo, and MDK. Most often, it’s games that managed to bring something new to the table!
What do you and the team think will happen with gaming in the future?
Not sure, but I don’t think VR will succeed, it’s too complicated and bulky and people don’t want to wear a giant headset, just like the 3D glasses this will also vanish. But don’t take my word, I didn’t believe in the Wii! 🙂
What is it that you and the team love most about gaming and developing games?
Seeing the magic when a game comes to life as you develop and then, in the end, seeing fans playing it on youtube or twitch. It’s an amazing journey.
Do you have any advice for aspiring developers?
Keep it simple.
Do you have anything else to add?
If you wanna know even more about Zoink, go ahead and follow us on Facebook and Twitter!”
I would like to take this opportunity to thanks Klaus, Alexandra Dahlberg, Mikael Forslind and the rest of the staff at Zoink Games to take time out of developing to answer what questions I had, and I wish the company the best of luck in the future.