Breath of Death VII Preview + Interview

A WDesm exclusive for XBoxHornet

Less than a week after our intensely awesome Flotilla preview, we’ve been lucky enough to find another XBLIG dev waiting in the wings to release their game, and Robert Boyd of Zeboyd Games is here today to talk about Breath of Death VII, their upcoming ‘parody RPG.’  Read more about it, and then watch the trailer below!

WD: How did you get started in video game creation, and what XBLIG titles have you already released?

RB: As a teenager over 10 years ago, I started work on a RPG called Rainbow Despair (so named because I felt it followed the traditional Japanese RPG naming convention of having 2 words that had absolutely nothing to do with each other) using an RPG toolkit called Verge. Various things came up in my life and I never finished, but I always intended to go back and make a full fledged RPG. Flash forward many years. Microsoft announced XBox Live Indie Games and I knew this was my chance to pursue game making for real.
The first game I made for XBLIG was Molly the Were-Zompire, an e-book akin to the old Choose Your Own Adventure book series, however due to some last minute bugs, I didn’t actually release it first. While I was cleaning up the code and getting it ready to resubmit, I decided to write a second e-book called Epiphany in Spaaace! and that turned out to be the first game I actually released on XBLIG.

WD: How is Breath of Death VII similar to your previous games?  Were you able to work from previous code, or was it all from the ground up?

RB: Breath of Death VII stars a bunch of undead heroes so in that aspect, it’s very similar to Molly the Were-Zompire. It also has a heavy emphasis on humor and parody which echo my previous games. As far as gameplay goes, they’re completely different.
Molly the Were-Zompire was originally intended to be a full fledged RPG before I turned it into more of a novel so I had a bunch of half-finished RPG code from the early version that I was able to adapt for use in Breath of Death VII. A lot of the code for formatting and displaying text in textboxes I was able to use almost completely unchanged from my earlier games.

WD: What have you learnt to improve upon from your previous games?

RB: In the past, many of my designs for RPGs I’ve come up for games have been overly complicated, to the point where even I have a hard time figuring out how best to play them! Battles that take place on both the physical and astral plane simultaneously, battles that need to be fought in a certain order to obtain the correct power-up to beat the next battle, stuff like that. Ideas like this might sound good on paper, but when you actually prototype them, they end up being more difficult than enjoyable. With Breath of Death VII, we’ve really pushed towards making the game highly accessible to player right from the beginning. Easy to grasp, hard to master, that sort of idea.

WD: As shown in your trailer, Breath of Death VII definitely harkens back to the NES/SNES era of JRPGs, but are there any specific games that inspired you?  Are there any games that you couldn’t help but parodying?

RB: The RPG Guadia Quest in Retro Game Challenge was probably our biggest influence. Other than that, some of our favorite RPGs include Final Fantasy, Dragon Warrior/Quest, Chrono Trigger, Lunar, and Shin Megami Tensei, so don’t be surprised to find references to any of those. Also, there will be references to a few non-RPGs as well, like the RE4 Merchant joke shown in the trailer.

WD: Likewise in your trailer, we are shown a few snippets of video game geek in-jokes.  Is the entire game parodical, or will non-geeks be able to get enjoyment from the humour?  Is the storyline serious?

RB: There will be a good bit of geek in-joke humor in the game, but not all of the humor will require previous knowledge of games to understand. As for the storyline, the overarching plot is serious, but the execution most definitely is not.

WD: What about the hardcore gamers, who couldn’t care if there’s a story or not?  Can they expect to dredge up hidden gear, invisible walls, and unstoppable secret bosses? Can you unlock hidden characters, merits, badges, or new game+?

RB: The game has some optional dungeons & enemies in it for the hardcore gamers. Also, after beating the game, the player will unlock a Score Attack Mode where random encounters are turned off (although they can still be initiated intentionally). In this mode, the lower your character LVs are when you beat bosses, the more points you gain. We felt this would be a good way to add extra depth for those gamers who really want to master the game.

WD: The combat, though familiar, seems to have a few quirks and twists in it: What makes Breath of Death VII memorable/enjoyable to play?

RB: Breath of Death VII uses the traditional turn-based RPG format that was popular in the 8-bit & 16-bit era, but there are a few additions. For example, there’s a combo system where you rack up combo points with each hit. High combo values result in enhanced powers on certain skills as well as additional MP regained at the close of battle. However, using certain skills (such as most healing abilities) or having a character die can result in the combo count resetting so that’s something that has to be taken into account.
Another change that we’re proud of is the LV-Up system. With each LV-Up, the character has to make a choice between two different enhancements (like new spells or stat boosts) depending on the character and their LV. It’s a very simple and easy to understand system, but provides a lot of depth.

WD: Regardless of playstyle though, all games must come to an end (unless it’s an MMO, I suppose).  Roughly how long is Breath of Death VII, and can we expect any replayability or branching experiences?

RB: We’re aiming for around 4-6 hours for a thorough playthrough, plus like I mentioned earlier, there will be at least 1 new mode unlocked after beating the game. The game is mostly linear, but there will be some optional stuff scattered throughout the game that the player can choose to do or skip.

WD: The graphics in the game are definitely old-school RPG, but the music also sounds cranked out through an SNES synthesizer – do you moonlight as a chiptunes composer?

RB: I love good chiptunes, but I didn’t actually write any of the music for Breath of Death VII. All of the music was licensed from various musicians on

WD: What was the most difficult part of completing Breath of Death VII?

RB: Well, the game isn’t quite finished yet, so maybe you should ask in a few weeks! So far, I’d definitely say the battle system – it’s a robust system that we’ll be able to modify for use in future games, but it took substantially longer to program than I expected. Also, getting a save/load system to work on the XBox 360 is a major pain.

WD: What advice do you have for other XNA / Indie game developers trying to find their own?

RB: First, I’d say just get started making something. All the great ideas in the world don’t do a whole lot of good if you don’t sit down and actually turn them into a game. Consider your abilities and make something that’s not beyond you, but will still push you to your limit. Then use that as a stepping stone for future games.
To use myself as an example, my first two XBox Live Indie Games are very simple technically, but the experience I gained making them gave me the foundation in programming necessary to make our current game. Not only that, but they attracted the attention of my current partner, William Stiernberg, without whom, I would never have been able to make this game (among other things, he’s responsible for the visuals & level design of Breath of Death VII).
Finally, I would recommend looking closely at the market before starting a project. Try to find a niche that’s not being served and fill it. Much as I like dual stick shmups, I don’t think I’d ever make one just because there’s so much competition in that arena right now – unless you’ve got the most amazing shmup ever (and maybe, even if you do), you’re just going to be overlooked.

WD: Breath of Death VII certainly sounds like a huge step forward for Zeboyd Games, but if it’s only a few weeks from finish, what can we expect next from your studio?  Care to spill the beans just a tad on where your mind is heading next?

RB: We have a few ideas that we’re tossing around but we haven’t decided for sure what our next game will be. At this point we’re primarily focused on making Breath of Death VII as good as possible and getting it finished and released. We hope everyone enjoys it when it comes out this April!

I know I will, thanks Zeboyd Games!

Learn more about Zeboyd Games here.

View the trailer here.

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