White Pond Games (Urban Strife) – Interview

The isometric turn-based tactical game, Urban Strife, is one of my most anticipated upcoming games this year. It’s basically Jagged Alliance 2, with updated 3D graphics, set in the zombie apocalypse. So, what’s not to like? It’s made by the Romanian studio White Pond Games, and I managed to score an interview with the crew over e-mail. Down below, you can read some hopefully interesting tidbits about this upcoming title!

Tell me a little about yourself. What is your computer/gaming related background?
Razvan – ex-Ubisoft, engine & render programmer, reads Jagged Alliance 2 source code to himself as a bedtime story. Loves to play XCOM on Ironman Impossible.
Ciprian – journalist & writer, about 20 years of JA2 modding, never finished Dead State because one cannot leave so much loot behind and run away.
Alex – ex-Ubisoft, 3d/level artist.

What is your role in the studio?
Razvan Radu – game architect & programmer, gameplay designer, started the project.
Ciprian Dudau – story & campaign designer, community manager.
Alexandru Trutescu – 2D/3D artist, level designer.

Just your regular zombie-apocalypse town meeting

Part time:
Gabriel Vasile – 3D artist, set the tech behind materials, fxes, etc.
Virgiliu Ionescu – programmer.
Bogdan Petrica – 2D artist.
Marian Rotaru – 3D/2D artist.
Valentin Oana – character artist.
Mihai Daranga – character artist.
Cosmin Mirza – sound designer.
Valentin Nadolu – level designer, 3D artist.
Tony Neacsu – level artist.
Cristian Cotofana – scripting.
Alexandru Doiciu – trailer artist.

Is this the studio’s first project?

How come you started to work on this game/idea?
If you take a lot of craving for a new Jagged Alliance inspired game and combine that with a true love for The Walking Dead series, you’ll notice there’s not much to play in that niche, except Dead State. And it’s about time that changes.

Is this a project you would still work on with unlimited finances, or had dreams to be reined in because of budget?
Unlimited budget would’ve been nice, of course, but we did have to prioritize our plans. At the end of the day we’re still an indie studio with an indie budget.

What is your relationship with MicroProse Software beyond publishing? Do they own your studio/rights to the game?
MicroProse put forward cash, know-how & marketing. They didn’t ask for anything else but for us to make a great game.

What kind of engine does the game run on?
Unreal Engine.

How come you picked this engine? Any particular reason?
Razvan had a lot of expertise with Unreal Engine from his time at Ubisoft. UE also has a similar architecture with proprietary Ubisoft engines he worked with so the choice was natural.

Has it turned out to be a good choice?
It’s the best modern engine for the job, if you have the know-how.

Any specific difficulties related to the engine?
We had to build the whole turn-based, tile movement support from scratch. It’s a very powerful tool, but also with a quite steep learning curve so recruiting programmers is harder than on Unity or other engines.

Have you guys considered what kind of ports you will make, or will the game strictly be PC?
Unreal Engine is multi-platform so porting the game should be reasonably easy in that respect. But some changes will be required.

Does modern game design make it easier to port stuff to different systems?
Depends on engine and interface controls.

How do complex PC controls translate to a gamepad?
Interfaces usually need to be designed or redesigned for gamepad controls.

What’s the inspiration for your game?
Jagged Alliance 2, Dead State and The Walking Dead series.

Why the zombie apocalypse setting, instead of something more “Jagged Alliance” like?
What is more actual than a pandemic virus? Let’s hope the game story doesn’t turn out to be even more realistic than it is.

What are your general thoughts about interface and UI? It almost seems like a long-lost knowledge to me, making good ones that is.
It is a very tough job, we still have a long way to go until we will be happy with the end result.

UI wise, what is most important – function or immersion?
Function comes first but the holy grail is a good blend of both.

That’s a good looking inventory

How come you went with action points, instead of the more popular style of the modern Xcom games, aka more abstract board-game rules?We had to represent in a granular fashion a very large range of actions (running, crouching, using various tools and weapons, drones, etc) and we would’ve hated to simplify these as simple push-a-button skills.

How much of an RPG can we expect from the game? Will it have hard hitting decisions?
It is one of the core three layers: combat, survival and role-playing. Your decisions will shape your entire campaign.

Does the game allow for failure & death, like for example the classic X-com games, and Battle Brothers?
Yes, it does.

So you can continue playing after losing half your crew?
Yes you can, but it will be very hard, because you won’t have unlimited recruits. Also if the main hero (player avatar) dies, you lose the game.

Will all recruits have a personality of their own? Will decisions affect how they feel about you? Can they turn on you and leave?
Yes, all have different personalities, but because you have a limited roster having such dramatic penalties (leaving) would not have made sense. They will react to events and tell you how bad you disappointed them, but their interest in keeping you close is stronger than animosity (no spoilers).

Will there be a limit on how many characters you can bring to a mission?
Hero + 4 (+1 slot is reserved for temporary escort guests).

Will damage be realistic, or allow you and your enemies to soak up damage?
Absolutely no bullet sponges, everything about damage and combat is designed to be as realistic as possible in a TBS game.

Will there be ways of protecting your crew from damage?
If you mean body armor, yes, there will be armor with various degrees of protection.

What kind of weapons can we expect, will gun-porn enthusiasts be pleased?
Default arsenal is representative for all types of damage, but it will leave enough room for modders to add variations later.

How will loot be distributed? Will it be rare, or will there be plenty of loot to be had?
Loot will be much better controlled and distributed in the full game than in the NextFest demo. It will fit the story of a post-apoc society.

Is all loot useful?
Not all loot is directly usable by the player party, but everything has an use back at home. After the initial hauls, you’ll have access to your own scavenger parties and they will haul the basic resources home, while you can cherry pick stuff whatever you need to push on.

Will there be quests?
Quests, missions, sidequests, minor quests, optional quests, personal quests, the whole deal.

Is the game open-ended story-wise, or does it follow a strict narrative path?
It is a strategic game with different paths you can choose so your gameplay experience will vary. The path will lead ultimately to the end game battle against the undead horde, but what happens before and after that is of your own choosing.

Do you have a dedicated writer for the story on the team?
Yes, we have, Ciprian has written everything (story/campaign, backstory/bios, dialogues, lore etc).

Can we pick and choose where to go and in what order?
Yes, it’s the core concept of the campaign, the freedom to choose allies, enemies and the routes to explore.

Will explosions send characters flying through the air?
Depending on blast strength, any dying character gets controlled by a ragdoll (instead of a special animation). There will be no exaggerations though, we are fans of realism without compromising fun.

That is one HOT car!

How will fire work? Will it spread if it can? Can it end up with a whole map being consumed in a raging fire?
Each object in the game has an internal “fuel” value and the fire will expand as long as it finds fuel to burn. In theory a whole map can be consumed, but it would need to be packed with flammable objects.

How much gore can we expect, lots I hope?
Our only limit is the budget, so I guess a “normal” amount? We’re not skittish about blood or guts or some exploding brains, but all that requires time and budget expenses. If those are available, why not?

Can your own character or part of your crew turn if bitten?
Becoming infected is part of the game, but can’t spoil what exactly happens yet.

Will there be a level up system for your crew? If so, is it skill/talent based, or pure stat related?
It’s based on perks and attributes/stats.

Will the game be hard? Will it punish you for mistakes in the short and long term?
We aim for a hard but fair difficulty. Also there are difficulty levels to choose from. Some mistakes will be very punishing, such as attacking an ally.

And at last, how long will the game be on average do you think?
We aim for a minimum of 20 hours (if you’re an expert and you play just for the objectives) with a lot of replayability for those who enjoy taking their time.

That’s all. I want to thank the team for answering my questions. I do recognize that I could have gone deeper on some questions, but since this is my first interview, it will have to do. Once again, thanks to White Pond games for answering!


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