Zombies Indie House is an Indian game development team formed in 2013 initially by three students – Diptoman Mukherjee, Pranjal Bisht, and Rahul Salim Narayanan who met while playing Duel Masters, an online trading card game. Since then, they’ve created some jam games together, and are currently working on their second major title, with Meanwhile In A Parallel Universe being their first. Casual Connect Asia 2014 was when the team members first met each other in person – until then, all communication has been online only. Diptoman, one of the company’s founders, tells the story.
Casual Connect Asia 2014 Presentation:
Nothing to Do on Summer Holidays? Make a game!
Meanwhile In A Parallel Universe started late in May 2013, when I had my summer holidays at university and nothing much to do at hand. I found out that Yoyogames (the creators of GM:Studio) was hosting a competition for developers to create a game for the Windows Store, with pretty awesome cash prizes. It was worth a shot, and also looked like a good chance to expand our portfolios. So I called Pranjal, who I had worked with on a few game jams before, and, since he was free for the summer as well, we decided to go for it. I also got in contact with Rahul, who, although busy with his internship, said he’d help us with background art.
Castle Defense for the Zombies Against People
In the beginning, we didn’t have any fixed idea of what we were going to create. But the goal was clear: make something that stands out somehow. After a lot of brainstorming, we chose a pretty rare genre to build stuff on – castle defense.
Zombie invasion seemed like a very cliche topic, and we decided to build our game based on just that – except reversing the roles of zombies and humans this time. I wasn’t aware of any existing games like this, so we thought it was a pretty decent idea to enter a competition with.
Since it’s hard to have a game which would give direct control over the protagonist character on touch devices, (and we really wanted to avoid virtual DPads), we chose not to let users control the battlefield at all (the initial idea was based on Caveman Craig, where, in addition to managing resources, you had to control one main character). Instead, the player’s duties are to maintain the conditions of the battlefield – gather resources, build the armies of the type they want, and use the defense that suits them.
How to Test a Mobile Game Without the Necessary Device
Our biggest challenge about controls was giving the player a full view of what was happening on the battlefield while offering a load of options: building/upgrading/creating etc. The only proper way looked like having the GUI buttons on a transparent surface, which we eventually ended up with. We didn’t have the correct device to test the game on, as none of us had a Windows smartphone. So we performed it on our laptops (with a mouse) and hoped that the ported game would work on touch devices.
Touch-specific controls like swiping haven’t been used in the game for the same reason – because they’re hard to test with a mouse. Instead, there’s tapping for everything, which was sure to work on Windows mobile devices.
We had around 15 days to playtest, balance, and create all the levels for our competition game. At this point, I asked my friend Anirban Gorai to help with the level design, since Rahul and Pranjal were busy finalizing the menu. This was obviously very little time to get all balancing right, so there were in-game strategies which, in the end, which worked much better than the others. For example, using ranged attackers with a few basic melee units to protect them, and also as a bait, was a pretty foolproof plan for any level.
A Game That Isn’t Completely Ready Can Become a Competition Winner
Meanwhile, our summer holidays were over, and we had even less time to work on the game. Nevertheless, we somehow managed to submit the game in time, albeit with a lot of rough edges: only six levels with a lot of new things crammed into each, and the player couldn’t get properly used to those.
Infinite Mode didn’t (and still doesn’t) have a proper scoring system – it just counts score on the basis of maximum number of waves survived. The UI had a lot of blank spaces since we didn’t get time to implement all the features we planned during that time. As for now, they have been redone. It was a free game in the Windows Store, and we had absolutely no plans to expand it further or to monetize it in any way.
Going the Tizen way
We got 2nd place in the competition, winning a cash prize of $5000. This changed many things for us – including the game’s future. Now our team had the money to invest in the full version of the software (which would mean we could port to other platforms), and that’s what we did. Shortly after, The Tizen Project announced its App Challenge, and we decided to join with the newly acquired opportunity of Tizen export. The game was updated with new content – more levels, enemies, zombies, and buildings. We balanced it up more and submitted for the challenge, as well the Tizen Game Drive – another competition hosted by Yoyogames. To our surprise, we received an honorable mention in the App Challenge, as well as 3rd place in the Game Drive – which gave us a lot of momentum to continue as a team.
One huge difficulty for the team was that none of us had actually met the others in person at that time. Collaborating online is rather hard when you can’t even Skype due to low internet speed. That aside, we didn’t pay much attention to memory management and handling different resolutions, since we didn’t originally have any plans for the game aside from making it for Windows. And this is something that we heavily regret now. Huge texture pages mean the game can’t run on low-end devices, and, since we made the GUI for a 16:9 resolution specifically without proper planning, we currently have to alter it in some places to make it handle different aspect ratios.
Another issue was that our friend who made all the soundtracks for my previous projects couldn’t find time for this one. So we had to search for a composer halfway through development, and were eventually lucky to meet James (of Refinery Audio) to fill that role.
Developing specifically for Tizen, though, had only one major problem – again, we didn’t have any mobile device to test on initially. So there were a lot of assumptions involved. Just like in the original competition, we only believed that stuff would work on the device.
The Zombies Indie House team is currently working on an Android port of the game which is still in beta stage, and have already planned iOS versions – but still without any monetization. While doing their best to complete all this as soon as possible, they also have another yet unnamed infinite-action game for mobile devices in the works. This one is to be monetized: the young developers want to see how far they can go with a well-planned project being made with no rush.