After a portion of a lifetime spent playing role-playing games and years working for a publisher that has localized some of Japan’s best efforts, it’s not surprising that Nick Doerr understands turn-based battles. But what is remarkable is the transition toward full creative control with the developer taking the helm for Undead Darlings ~no cure for love~!!, a title that combines playful plotline, dungeon-crawling and classic party-based conflicts. We were able to talk to Mr. Doerr about Undead’s progress, design inspiration, otsukaresamadesu, and where exactly the Patron money is going.
Tech-Gaming: From the last Patreon stream, it looks like Undead Darlings has some tangible progress, with environments that flaunt abandoned classrooms and lockers left ajar. What other visual developments have been made?
Nick Doerr: You’re right, a lot of progress has been made, much of it in the visuals arena. The Patreon stream you mention is where I work on a specific dungeon “scene” in Unity so patrons can watch the development process as well as listen to me ramble on about assets or what it is that I’m doing/thinking. So, while the stream showcases the “Stereotypical Japanese High School” dungeon, we’ve received all of the 3D assets for the other dungeons in the game as well.
For the high school, we have probably 25 unique 3D assets that we can prefab or tweak into as many unique instances as we want—you note lockers left ajar, but we can change the angle of its ajar-ness, or what can be viewed within the locker itself. It changes one asset into countless variations, which I think will be appreciated in the end product. We have just as many unique 3D assets for every dungeon, so as far as dungeon crawler visuals are concerned, I think we’ve got a pretty significant edge over the competition.
T-G: What was the architectural process like? Did you utilize reference photos or were locations just built from imagination?
ND: A bit of both, really. Since our dungeons aren’t mystical in nature, we can’t rely on completely arbitrary maze designs or gimmicks like invisible walls. However, based on architectural blueprints we looked at for each dungeon, following those to the letter would result in rather boring and predictable designs.
We ended up using the reference photos/blueprints as a macro-level design cue; that is, the overall structure or interior design aesthetics. 3D assets were created based on what we found within reference photos, but with the high school, we used more of what is typically shown in Japanese “high school-centric” anime. The hospital dungeon’s overall structure is based on the hospital I was born in, and the shopping mall dungeon is based on a mall where the food court is at the center of the structure. Another dungeon, your standard Resident Evil-style secret government lab, is entirely fabricated and, when looked at from above, the structure would resemble the biohazard symbol.
Moving on to the details, rather than using just walls to block your path ahead in dungeons, we use actual items found in each area to act in place of walls. Most dungeon crawlers don’t have much beyond walls; maybe the random chair placed in the middle of a room like in Operation Abyss, or cool 3D assets set against a wall like in Persona Q. Ours, we use a mess of desks in the school to create miniature “desk mazes,” or clothing racks and shelving to obscure your way in the shopping mall. It meshes dungeon crawling with actual elements present in these areas, so I think it gives a unique experience for the genre. Plus we get to lampshade these things in sub-events scattered throughout each dungeon.
T-G: Let’s talk about enemy design. You showed a Frankenstein-like creature with top-hat, with a (Sailor Moon) Moon Stick in one hand and a Kermit the Frog-like hand puppet in the other. I want to know what induced the manic fever-dream.
ND: That is the fever dream of our very talented enemy artist, Peter Hon. May I shamelessly plug him?
Anyway, how enemy design worked is that I would send him a list of enemy concept ideas per dungeon. I kept my ideas abstract because, like with the 3D assets, I really want the artists to get involved and make their own creative solutions with the presented concepts. I believe for that enemy, I simply wrote “some kind of creature coming out of a body bag.” The rest is the creator’s imagination! Everyone involved in the project really put parts of themselves in their work, and I think that love helps the final designs to stand out even more. It’s my personal belief that giving that creative freedom to the artists will result in more thoughtful and interesting outcomes. I hope that belief shines through in the final product.
T-G: Recently, you’ve announced PlayStation 4 iteration of the game. How difficult was the approval process?
ND: The approval process for the final game will come when we submit our master ROM to Sony. As far as getting the game concept approved for release on the PS4, I wouldn’t say it was painfully difficult. It involved setting up a developer account with Sony, which is mostly paperwork-related, and then setting up a meeting with our dedicated account manager. We wrote up a GDD (game design document) that outlines every facet of the game along with any/all concept art or working builds we had available, met with our AM and other Sony reps, pitched the idea, and they ultimately decided that it would be a fit for their platform.
I plan to get a PS4 demo build ready in the next several months, not just to get more eyes on the game, but to test how our engine runs on the PS4 (and PS4 Pro) as it currently stands. Call me optimistic, but I anticipate very little trouble in the porting process.
T-G: Combat can create distinction for dungeon-crawling role-playing. What innovations would Undead Darling bring to players?
ND: We’re drawing from several of my favorite games to create a battle system amalgamation unique to the genre.
In terms of basic gameplay mechanics, we’re going to allow for multiple simultaneous vulnerability exploitation. What that means, if I can use Persona Q as reference, is that if an enemy is weak to both “pierce” and “ice” affinities, using a skill that incorporates BOTH of those will deal exponentially greater damage than using one by itself. Such multiple affinity attacks will often be implemented via “Combo Skills,” a concept taken from games like Chrono Trigger.
Numerically speaking, using the above vulnerabilities: Non-vulnerability damage = 35; Ice damage = 50; Pierce damage = 50. The above deals 135 damage across three characters’ actions.
Now, should those latter two skills combine to form a Combo Skill, let’s say Ice Arrow, then your damage output may shift to the following: Non-vulnerability damage = 35; Ice Arrow damage = 150
The results should speak for themselves!
A second innovation is similar to the multiplier seen in Moero Chronicle. Each time you strike an enemy’s vulnerable point, a multiplier value will stack and be stocked. We call this the Exponential Exploitation Multiplier. This multiplier is going to be key to succeed in battle, and here’s why: it resets if you do not strike at an enemy’s vulnerability. You might have to keep one character on defense or healing duty to attain a higher multiplier. This multiplier can be applied at-will to one character’s action (or Combo Skill via the Macro system—more on that below) at the player’s discretion, dealing tremendous damage in a pinch.
For illustrative purposes, you whack an enemy until your EEM is 2.75x and decide to apply it to your next strike. If that strike happens to be Ice Arrow, as mentioned above, it will dish out a one-time damage value of ~412. And this is the key to surviving more challenging encounters.
I mentioned the Macro system above; this is taken from games like Phantasy Star IV. In brief, it allows you to customize pre-set party commands. Facing enemies weak to Pierce and Ice? Set up a Macro that incorporates those types of attacks to quickly auto-battle your way to victory while also pumping up your EEM. Macros are great for activating Combo Skills as well, since those rely on two characters taking their actions one after the other. Outside of Macros, an enemy may get in between the two characters in the turn order, but if that Combo Skill has been discovered, it can be set as a single command in the Macro setup to ensure its activation.
ND: I’m estimating a single playthrough to take approximately 35 hours, but we haven’t balanced the encounter rate or enemy difficulty yet, so this may increase. The game is built with New Game + in mind, and to achieve all the endings, I plan for two playthroughs if players are precise with their decisions, but a third speedrun would ensure every ending has been unlocked. Total playtime should exceed 50 hours, and this is in large part to the script size.
The script size is over 300,000 words—however, in a single playthrough, you may only experience 150,000. Every choice you make in each conversation scene redirects a large portion of the remainder of that scene’s discussion; in essence, every scene has three versions. Sub-events in particular vary wildly in content based on the player’s choice, and every choice has the chance to award “affection points” toward each of the female characters (necessary to achieve their unique character arc scenes and unlock their ending).
There are seven unique dungeons with twenty floors to explore, and there are plans to create a post-game dungeon that will just be for fun. It might have to be released later as free DLC, but I definitely want it to exist, no matter what. Some dungeons are huge, with map sizes double that seen in similar titles. So while 20 floors may not sound gigantic compared to others, when you count every “grid space,” the difference is apparent.
T-G: Has the game’s script been finalized are any changes/additions being made?
ND: It has not. The initial draft is ready, but as 3D assets have trickled in, there are plenty of adjustments and additions to be made. Sub-events in particular will play off visual cues found in dungeons, which were not available until recently. This means rebalancing some of the affection point gains and eliminating portions of the main story that grow redundant because of a topic covered in these newer sub-events, so I think there’s still a lot of story tweaking to be done, and will continue until we get every dungeon level and music track complete.
ND: Over the course of the title’s development, we’ve had around 14 people working on the game. Three programmers, two musicians, four 3D asset designers, UI/battle animation designer, two enemy designers, myself, and my business partner (who had to leave the company; it was amicable and mutually agreed-upon). Nobody is a full-time employee, and nobody is on salary. Everyone involved in this project is a freelancer or on temporary contracts, and they agree to do this because they love the idea and think it has a fantastic chance to succeed; truly a passion project for everyone involved and not just myself. I couldn’t have done it without them, so I want to do everything I can to make sure Undead Darlings becomes a success for their sakes, too.
T-G: What is Darlings’ targeted release date?
ND: All I can say at this time is 2017. I’d hate to pigeonhole myself for a delay by saying Q3, so all I can do right now is estimate 2017 as our target.
T-G: One thing we’ve never discussed is the name of your company, Mr. Tired Media. How did this moniker emerge?
ND: Basically, when my friend and I worked at a Japanese game publisher, they would say お疲れ様です (otsukaresamadesu) when handing out paychecks. Loosely translated, it means “you’re doing a great job/you’re tired/please keep it up”…it depends on the translation, I guess. We turned this phrase, in English, to “you’re doing a great job, Mr. Tired” (or Ms. Tired, depending). It stuck, and when we went to make a company of our own, we wanted to keep that connection and our love to Japanese culture present, so we took the moniker of Mr. Tired as our company name.
T-G: Currently, Mr. Tired Media is earning about $500 USD a month from Patron. How is the meager amount of money being utilized?
ND: You say meager, but I say it’s an incredible act of selfless devotion from our fans. I can’t believe we have a fanbase this supportive before we’ve even released a product, but I’m touched by them. A good touch. Never did I expect that amount; this is apparent in the tiers and goals I set on the Patreon page. The money is utilized in tandem with my out-of-pocket contributions to the game’s development. Whatever costs we encounter each month, the Patreon money goes toward that. Every month, I write up an expense report for our patrons that I also make public; this is to show everyone that we’re a transparent company and that their money truly is going toward the title’s development. I’ve seen enough crowdfunding dollars get flushed down a poor product management toilet, or squandered on personal lifestyle extravagances. It’s really disappointing and has negatively impacted the ability for other start-ups to acquire initial product funding, so I’m doing everything I can to instill trust in our donors that we’re not like those entities.
If anyone’s curious, here are some links to the last few months’ expense reports:
Tech-Gaming would like to thank Nick Doerr and the
entire team at Mr. Tired Media for their participation.