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Summoning Cthulhu: Natter with Zeboyd

Zeboyd Games have made a name for themselves over on the digital mega-network of the Xbox three hundred and sixty, having two of the highest rated XBLIGS on the service. Off the back of that success, they are now breaking out onto the mighty PC. I caught up with designer Robert Boyd, who you might also know as the bloke behind the winter uprising, to welcome them into the PC fold.

RPS: Who are Zeboyd games?

Robert Boyd: Zeboyd Games is a 3 man game development team that specializes in RPGs. There's me, who does design, story, and programming. There's Bill Stiernberg who does graphics, art, and level designs. And there's Gordon McNeil who does our music. So far, we've released two games - Breath of Death VII: The Beginning and Cthulhu Saves the World.

RPS: CSTW was originally released as an XBLIG late last year, what has prompted you to port it to the PC?

Robert Boyd: Two reasons. First, we've received many emails from people who want to play our games but don't have an Xbox 360 or they live in a part of the world without XBLIG support. Second, based on what I've seen, indie games tend to be more successful on the PC than they are on XBLIG.

RPS: Do you think part of that indie success might be down to pricing? It seems like there is more space for games that are bigger than flash games, but not as big as XBLA games in the PC market.

Robert Boyd: Definitely. Sales for Cthulhu Saves the World have dropped a lot faster than the sales for Breath of Death VII did and I think a big part of the reason is price. On XBLIG, it's really hard to sell games at anything above the 80 MS point price tag, but on the PC, you can find success at a variety of price points.

RPS: How has the porting process been going? Are there any hurdles that you hadn't anticipated?

Robert Boyd: It's been simultaneously easier than I expected and harder than I expected. Just getting the game to run on my own computer was surprisingly easy, however getting it to run on someone else's computer is a whole other issue. On the PC, you have a number of things like installers, drivers, and varying hardware configurations that you never have to deal with when developing on a standardized platform like the Xbox 360.

RPS: After playing both of your RPGs, I feel disatisfied with most other JRPGs these days. Did you intend to make Final Fantasy obsolete?

Robert Boyd: As an indie developer, we can't really take on the big companies and franchises like Final Fantasy head-on. They're always going to have more money and time to work on a game than we do. However, being a small group has its advantages - we don't have to design by committee or get approval from the management to do something. As a result, we have a lot more freedom to do things like working with unusual premises or focusing on core gameplay instead of being distracted by non-essentials like elaborate animation and cutscenes.

RPS: One of my favourite mechanics in your games is the random battle count, where after a certain number of battles in one area, you no longer get random encounters. It is sort of exploitable, but I think it's a very nice alternative to grinding. Did you ever worry it could unbalance dungeons?

Robert Boyd: Yes, at one point, I did worry that it could possilby unbalance dungeons. In the end, I decided the benefits were more than worth the possible unbalancing. Besides, if you're playing Score Attack mode and trying to get the best score, you're going to want to fight less than the limit anyway.

RPS: The branching level up system means that there are wide variety of strategies available to players. How much scope is there for min-maxing, or accidentally making poor strategic choices?

Robert Boyd: I tried to make most of the branches worthwhile to at least some strategies, however, there are some choices that are almost always better than the alternative. Min-maxers can definitely work the system to their advantage, but more casual players should never get completely stuck since they can always do a little extra grinding.

RPS: CSTW has already recieved a lot of praise, but you've been making plans to add additional features for the PC release, what kind of things are you adding?

Robert Boyd: The big new feature we're adding is a new game mode called Cthulhu's Angels. Although the overall structure of the game is still mostly the same, this mode changes a number of things - new dialogue, new playable characters, new monsters, etc. We're also adding a number of other improvements to the game (some of which were suggested by fans). Some of the other improvements we're thinking of adding include a monster bestiary, designer notes, a new harder difficulty, a super-hard optional dungeon, bromides (art of various characters), and various new options.

You get to see inside the head of BoD7's silent protagonist.

RPS: You've used Kickstarted to raise funds for the PC version. How did that go?

Robert Boyd: The Kickstarter fundraiser still has 5 more days to go, but it's already raised nearly $6,000. Considering our goal was $3,000, we're very pleased.

RPS: When can we expect to see CSWT for sale on the PC, where will we need to go to buy it, and how many coins will we need to bring with us?

Robert Boyd: The good people at Valve are currently evaluating Cthulhu Saves the World for inclusion on Steam so hopefully I'll have some good news for everyone on that front soon. We've also been investigating other digital distribution portals like Impulse. Our release date goal is currently late March/early April, and the price tag will be the same as the XBLIG version - $3 USD.

RPS: What've you got up your sleeves for the rest of 2011?

Robert Boyd: Later this month, I'll be speaking at GDC which I'm very excited about. I'm hoping that later this year, I'll be able to get the entire Zeboyd group together at PAX Prime to do a panel or a booth. As for our next game, I can't reveal the specifics at this time, other than to say that it will be another comedy RPG, that it will be available for both the PC & XBLIG, and it will come out in the second half of the year. I think people will be very excited when we do reveal it though.

RPS: Brilliant, anything else you'd like to say before I go?

Robert Boyd: I'd just like to express gratitude to our fans. We've received a lot of wonderful support and suggestions since releasing Breath of Death VII that has helped us to grow as a development team. I think 2011 will be our best year yet!

RPS: Thanks for your time

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