🔊 Picking Brains: Episode 04
The Official Zombie Battleground Podcast
The Rank Buff System is one of the most important mechanics in Zombie Battleground, and one that makes this game truly unique in its gameplay.
Listen as Game Director Roy Shapira tells us where the inspiration for zombie ranks and the Rank Buff System came from — part personal experience and part pop culture reference. Such an interesting story!
In this episode:
- Where inspiration for the types, ranks, and Rank Buff System came from
- How the rank buffs may get rebalanced to become more, well… balanced
- The physical size and stature of zombies according to their ranks
Audio Interview (19 min.)
We are Picking Brains: the Zombie Battleground podcast, brought to you by Loom Network.
I’m Robert guy, your Content & Community Manager. And here are your hosts: Zombie Battleground Game Director Roy Shapira and Content Creator Extranji.
Peter: Hey there. Welcome back to Picking Brains. My name’s Peter — some of you might know me as Extranji — and we’re here with game director Roy Shapira from the Zombie Battleground team. Welcome back, Roy.
Roy: Hi, how you doing? Good to be here!
Peter: Doing all right. Good to see you again… or hear from you.
All right, so today, I think I’d like to go in depth on some of the mechanics that make Zombie Battleground unique. I come from some other card came backgrounds. I played a lot of Hearthstone, I’ve played a few other digital card games. So specifically I wanna talk about some of the stuff that makes Zombie Battleground different. For me, that’s rank buffs. How did you guys first come up with the idea of ranks actually impacting gameplay?
Roy: Well first of all, any mechanic that we have is inspired from somewhere. It’s either from a movie or from another game, or some kind of a notion. Basically, every time I think of a mechanic that I want to make the game unique, I first of all think about the standard of the genre in the game industry. There is a standard that Hearthstone and Gwent and all those big games have set. There’s kind of a standard that is moving forward with these huge games.
Our first goal was basically to create this standard, create all these features that people are used to, that card collection games should have. And then I thought, “Okay, how do I make this game unique? What is special about Zombie Battleground?” So I created the lore, created the zombies, created the theme, created the environment, and that’s fantastic. But we need at least a couple of features to make this game really stand out from anything else.
For me, as a designer of many years, this is the goal. When I think to create a game, any game that I make, I try to create the standard in the industry, and then add two, maybe three new features that make this game unique. Specifically the ranks, first of all, when I was younger, I was in the military, and I was in the special forces, I was a sniper, I was a Commander, then a drill sergeant. I had several tours in the military. It was fun.
So the whole idea of hierarchy and ranks and all that, that’s something that I grew up with, you could say, for many many years. Think about the movie 300, right? You have these Commanders that inspire. And then you see the Persian army, and they say their Commanders in the Persian army, it’s an army of slaves, right?
Roy: The Commanders are pushing them from the back. Anyone tries to retreat they kill them. The Commanders are in the back, opposite to normal militaries like the Spartans. And I think the ranks came from there. Any time you think of a zombie army — I’m doing the air quotes when I say “army” because, you know, It’s zombies — then it’s kind of instinctive. The zombies don’t really have intelligence, per se. They don’t have this cognitive ability.
So I had to invent a way for this army to be united and to go forward. Obviously we have the Overlords who have this, kind of like, telepathic connection to all their Minions and all that. But then I wanted something else to push the army forward. If you imagine games like Left 4 Dead, or even TV shows like The Walking Dead or all the other zombie shows, most of the zombies are regular Walkers, regular slow zombies.
But then every once in a while, you have these unique, different zombies. You can see them in every game, and every zombie game like Dying Light. So I thought it would be so awesome if we not only had Minions, but had different types of zombies. Let’s divide them into ranks.
As different ranks, they kind of not really inspire, but more like drive the other zombies forward. And it all came from there. And each one of the ranks is a little bit bigger, a little bit stronger. In the beginning, we only had Minions, and they were these cute little zombies with the big heads and the smaller bodies, and they’re kind of frail and all that.
That’s cute, but not really zombie intimidating. That’s not like, if you see an army of those munchers, you could say, you’d say “Oh! How cute!” but one of them starts biting your leg or something… And it’s like “Okay, yeah. Fine.”
Peter: Yeah, the scary part about the small zombies is that it means that the bigger zombies are not too far away.
Roy: Exactly, exactly, exactly. So my initial goal also was to create a very fast-paced and fun game. Lots of loot, a lot of rewards. And to do that, lots of small zombies will not cut it. So I had to sprinkle in bigger zombies, and the idea kind of simmered for a while. Then I said, this eureka moment came to… “Oh my god, of course we’ll have ranks! We’ll have the regular zombie Minions that will be the most of them, and then we’ll have some Officers and Commanders that will be bigger zombies, and then we’ll have the Generals who are the biggest zombies.
The higher the rank, the more quote unquote ‘intelligence’ they will have, the more abilities they will have. And this will make our game unique because most other games you have, you have different rarity. You have the common cards, and rare cards, and so on. But with zombies, I wanted to make it a bit more.
Peter: Fundamental, yeah.
Roy: Yeah, just like, more profound. It’s not only rarity, but actually ranks. And these ranks will push the rest of the zombies forward, and give them some sort of another ability to become bigger, and it kind of became a fundamental part of Zombie Battleground. It grew from there, and obviously the idea evolved and changed, and it grew to become what it is today.
Peter: It sounds like, pretty much from the beginning, ranks were always tied in with the concept or rarity then?
Roy: Yeah. Most definitely.
Peter: Okay, cool. Well, that was really interesting to hear about. How fundamental do you think it is that lower rank zombies are usually smaller thank higher ranking zombies? Because right now in the game, most of the Minions are 1/1s or 1/2s, and a lot of the Generals are just the super big piles of stats like Z-virus or Goo-Zilla. A lot of the Generals also have the big splashy effects, but they still come with a big body. How fundamental is it that lower rank zombies are small, and Generals are large?
Roy: That’s a pretty intricate question, so I’ll break it down. First of all, you have the part about the sizes. What I wanted or what I imagined is the Minions are gonna be a 12-year-old boy type of body, if you think of a body type. The smaller, scrawny body, and the bigger head, and they would be a bit weaker. Then you have the Officers who are like a 16-year-old boy. Also scrawny, obviously, because they’re zombies, and the head proportionally is a little bit smaller, they’re little bit taller, and will play according to the different types.
For example, a Feral will be smaller but more agile. A Heavy will be wider and so on. A Walker would be kind of a normal size of a 16-year-old. Then we have the Commanders, who are around 25- 30-year-old men. He’s bigger, he’s more massive. And then you have the Generals who are like these grizzly, huge veterans who you don’t mess with.
Now in the future, we are already planning more variety in how they look like, and that will make their abilities be more profound, rather than their brute strength. For example, you could see, we have a card, one of the Generals right now: Mind Flayer. His abilities are basically to go in and mind control one of the enemy zombies, and take them to your ranks, or if the enemy is using it, he will take on of your zombies over.
He is not that big, but he does have this aura of a mind control magic thing to him. He has this octopus mouth thingy that he wraps around the other zombies to control them, and the glowing eyes and all that. We are going to have more, say, smaller but powerful zombies in the works. But you could also say that about ZeuZ, for example. He’s the ZeuZ zombie type of zombie. So he has this entire controlling electricity, he’s basically dropping down electrical…
Peter: Lightning bolts.
Roy: Yeah, exactly. Lightning bolts from the heavens, and he’s super powerful, and his body’s fairly scrawny. He’s not big and muscular, but then again, because of the lightning bolts, they are so strong, his abilities… his stats are pretty high.
So yeah, soon in the next batch, we’re gonna have smaller, less stats and more ability on Generals and Commanders. We’re gonna have more variety, and we are gonna have a few more Slab that are higher stats, but no ability. So we’re gonna have both directions, because Slab has a fairly large stature. he has pretty high stats, but he is a lower ranking zombie.
Peter: Yeah. I think, of all the Minions, he and probably Wazte are the two largest Minion zombies in terms of stats?
Roy: Right, exactly. We’ll have more of that. Right now we had to concentrate on the core of the zombies, and we are working on batch two, which is another 150 cards or so, which are gonna be the entire collection for version one. It’s gonna balance out quote unquote the holes in each one of the factions.
Peter: That makes sense. You told me last time that there was this next set coming in development, so it makes sense that you would focus on the core concepts in the first one, and then maybe iterate a little on the second. Cool.
Roy: Yeah, exactly. I think it’s pretty cool as well.
Peter: All right, so next I was thinking about… right now, focusing on ranks still. About half the factions grant bonus attack on the Commanders and Generals when they enter the field with their rank buff, while the other half grant bonus defense. So when I’ve been talking to some of the community members, I’ve heard the general sentiment that the attack buffs feel stronger than the defense buffs. Outside of actual balance per se, how much have you tested out different benefits from rank buffs?
Roy: That’s a fantastic question. Rank buffs, part of their reason as I said before, is to push the Minions forward. With that said, the whole idea of the rank buffs is to push the game forward. The idea is to make the game faster. Faster-paced, more impactful, and more intricate. So you kind of build a strategy, and if you use the ranks correctly, then you drop some Minions at the start, and then you drop some Officer making the Minions stronger, and then you drop some Commanders and making everyone stronger. And then you drop a General, and you basically smash the enemy.
If you don’t do that, then you’re in a disadvantage. So the rank buffs were pretty fundamental to push everything forward. The first idea was that Earth and some of the other factions like Life were more of a defensive type, and other factions were more offensive types. Back then, I was imagining most of the decks will be hybrids. You’ll choose one of the more aggressive types, and you’ll choose one of the more defensive types, and you will have best of both worlds.
What’s evolving now in the meta is most people are centering their entire deck into one direction, either attack or defense, and most defense decks are getting a bit weaker. So right now, in the next rebalancing round, I will basically look into that, into the rank buffs, and we might change it into something else. It might change to just the faction abilities as a bonus. It might remove the plus one attack, or the plus one defense, might remove the stats completely. Or I would balance it in such a way that all the factions give the same type of buff. So it’s either all of them will give defense, or all of them will give attack. But there wouldn’t be any differences between them. That’s right now in the balancing. Next balance round will be very shortly, probably right after the beta, after we get some of the initial input in.
Peter: Yeah, okay. That makes sense. When I’ve been thinking about rank buffs, I thought it was interesting that Commanders and Generals have the stat buff whereas Officers don’t. And it made it a little bit hard when I was writing the Wiki to describe it concisely. So standardizing that would make sense to me. I’m sure there are lots of different ways this could end up.
Roy: Definitely. Definitely. The idea in creating games is that it’s not a one-and-done. It’s like an evolving process. You create something, and then you see how it works, and then you change it to the better, and you see how it works, and you change it. It’s kind of like an iterative cycle that you always design new features and design new cards, and improve existing stuff, and then test it and evaluate it. Everything that is good stays, everything that needs to be changed and improved gets changed and improved, and the cycle continues forever.
Peter: Mm-hmm. Iteration.
Peter: Very nice. So yeah, you were talking earlier a little bit about how you wanted the rank buffs to push the game forward and add on to what power you’ve got existing, and really push that advantage. What that sounds like to me, from a card game perspective, is sort of a snowball mechanic. Usually if you have zombies on the field at the start of your turn, that’s an indication that you’re doing all right, because most of the time if your opponent can clear your zombies efficiently, they’re going to. So rank buffs allow you to push that advantage in a big way. Do you think there are enough comeback mechanics in the game, to allow players to turn around a match that’s started going against them?
Roy: Well, it really depends on the type of player, and the type of strategy created with the deck. Most deck have some type of answers for most other decks. For example, if you have a Fire faction deck, and you’re super aggressive, and you’re utilizing the Blitz mechanic, and you’re just ramming everything into your opponent, that’s fantastic until you’re hit with the wall from the Earth faction, who’s like, “Yeah, no, I don’t think so.”
They have a much higher defense, and the have these Heavies, and basically most of the Fire faction Ferals have lower defense, so they would smash against these wall zombies and destroy themselves fairly quickly without too much effect. With that said, then comes Toxic guys, and they have the Destroy ability, and it’s like “Ah, yeah. So you have a Heavy, so what.” Poison, and goodbye. And you move forward.
So each one of these have some sort of a comeback, and you need to build your deck thinking about what’s going to be with your opponent. Don’t limit yourselves for one thing. If you have only a Fire deck, what do you do if you have Heavies? So you need a solution for that. You need to mix and match cards that have comebacks for that.
On the flip side, if you do have an opponent with an aggressive deck and you have a more defensive deck, you also need to think, “How can I defend against it and do it quickly?” And that’s where higher strategy comes in. That’s where you need to think a little bit forward before you create your deck. What other comebacks can I have? That’s why we created, by the way, the Molotov and the Nail Bomb, and all those clearing cards, so you’ll have some answers in case you’re getting swarmed by other cards and so on.
Peter: Right, for sure. Molotov, Nail Bomb, and Boomstick all give you some really powerful options to stabilize the board if you do get behind a little.
Roy: Or you can use Bulldozer and just equal the playing field.
Peter: Mm-hmm. All right, so that’s all I’ve got, Roy. Thanks again for talking with me.
Roy: No problem, that was my pleasure.
Peter: Thanks for listening, everybody.
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