Zigfrak isn’t your everyday space flight sim. It has gone out into the reaches of space and charts its own course through the distant quadrants of gaming—bringing some of the great elements of RPGs (loot, freedom to explore, and leveling) to the deep-space combat we’ve come to love from the genre.
The game takes place in the midst of a deep-space civil war, and sets players against enemies both human and alien in a massive galaxy filled with strange encounters that reward exploration. The game is currently in its beta stage, and is available on Desura.
We had the pleasure of speaking with developer Alex Ayars about Zigfrak and what players can expect.
[box_light]TechZwn:[/box_light] The game has a really large map, and the open world approach it interesting—allowing players to break from the main story and go off to explore the galaxy. What experience do you want to create with this?
[box_light]Ayars:[/box_light] Freedom to roam is very important to me, and I tend to really enjoy games with an open world. The mission tracks are linear for the most part, but if someone wants to take a detour, this is welcomed and encouraged. Players should wonder about the things they see, hang out, delve deeper, and make an area their own. There are some hidden areas to discover just for the sake of discovery, and new backdrops that can be chosen for a serious session of shoot-and-loot. There are many possible combinations of enemies and friendlies, depending on the player’s chosen location. If the player wants to find a nice quiet area to hang out and mine resources, that’s cool too, and I actually find doing so to be oddly satisfying.
I also wanted to create that “oh crap” moment when you realize you are somewhere bad, and jumping out is your only plausible means of defense. There are some areas like that.
[box_light]TechZwn:[/box_light] Zigfrak has an interesting approach to the space flight sim genre, leaning closer to an RPG with leveling, loot, and hotkey combat. Why did you choose this approach?
Hard to say, other than Zigfrak is the game that I saw in my head while playing other games.
I am a big fan of loot in general, and believe that RPG elements are a good match for a space shooter. Early proof of concept builds for Zigfrak did not have levels or loot. It was more like a screen saver than an actual game, and the player didn’t have a lot of control. There was only so much I could do with that—it had a fun arcade vibe, but was missing a reason to keep playing. It didn’t quite match my original mental picture.
Implementing the inventory and item systems added a much-needed dimension of gameplay, and opened up a lot of possibilities. All of a sudden, it started to resemble a real game, and one that I would personally enjoy sinking time into.
The leveling system really only serves to initiate the player and pace their access to new stuff. There are a lot of items in Zigfrak, and throwing them all at the player from the start would be too overwhelming, and possibly overpowered.
While it’s true that the game includes “hotkey combat,” I think this undersells how combat works. Every projectile in Zigfrak is a physical body with mass, inertia, and a chance to collide with other projectiles. The auto-aiming turrets are important, because it’s frustratingly difficult to hit an accelerating target from an accelerating platform—but nothing is predetermined. The game’s beating heart is still the physical simulation of ships and bullets. An exception to this formula is the beam weapon, which functions more like a “spell” you might encounter in a traditional RPG.
[box_light]TechZwn:[/box_light] There have been some great space flight sims (i.e. Wing Commander), that have tried and true models. I’m curious why you chose to take such a different approach. What do you hope to bring to the genre?
[box_light]Ayars:[/box_light] This question has popped up frequently, and I’m getting better at answering it without sounding negative. If I hope to bring anything at all to the genre, I guess it’s the idea that not all space games need to be clones of all previous space games. There is room for tradition, of course, but there is also room for experimentation. There is little to be lost, and much to be gained by deviating from the formula.
Many players see a 3D ship on a screen, and immediately assume the developer is trying to make the next Freelancer or Eve, but that is not what is happening in Zigfrak at all. The goal of the project was not to copy Wing Commander. There are plenty of developers working hard on that problem already!
I wanted to create something unique, and there are significant differences on purpose. I had imagined that adding RPG systems to a physics-based combat layer would yield something interesting. After seeing it in action for the first time, it just felt right, and I knew that my initial concept had some meat to it after all.
Zigfrak’s light-heartedness also defines its approach. I try to insert humor and silliness anywhere it can fit, whether it’s in the form of an easter egg or part of a mission. This improves my quality of life as a developer, and hopefully at least one player will be able to share in the joke. If they can, as they say, it was worth it.
[box_light]TechZwn:[/box_light] So, the story is there’s a deep-space civil war between humans, they’re attacked by aliens, but they keep fighting anyway. I saw you mention this was showing that humans would likely still fight one-another even with a more advanced threat. This is an interesting take, could you talk about this theme a bit more, and how you weave it into the story?
[box_light]Ayars:[/box_light] It’s less of a story, and more of an excuse to shoot at things. I try to be as honest about that as possible… but who doesn’t love a good space opera?
As Zigfrak’s story goes, the galaxy that humans call home is falling apart around them on an atomic level, and they’re still obsessed with blowing each other up. Without trying to sound too political or philosophical here, this is a reflection of current events and world history. Populations suffer from rectal-cranial inversion today, just like they did yesterday, and there’s no reason to think that this will be different in the distant future or in some fictional galaxy. Rather than lash out against these human tendencies, I choose to poke fun at them and embrace the irony, because I think it’s less harmful to my soul. And, yeah, it’s an awesome excuse to shoot at things, not that we really need one.
[box_light]TechZwn:[/box_light] You’ve mentioned before you saw things you liked and didn’t like in other games, which made you decide to sit down and develop your own. What are the gaps in modern gaming you hope to fill with Zigfrak?
[box_light]Ayars:[/box_light] I don’t think that Zigfrak will revolutionize the industry or reinvent sliced cheese. Presumably, games do what they do for a reason; I just differ on things that usually boil down to design decisions, such as how a class system is implemented, or how items which a player worked hard to obtain become quickly trivialized… or other small details like item cooldowns, which probably amounts to nitpicking on my part. I also don’t like it when games are stingy with the loot! Let the loot rain down on us, I say.
Games should respect the intelligence of their players, and not attempt to exploit them at every turn. I believe that a game can still be successful while adhering to these ideals. I’m by no means raking in the cash (yet?), but am not disappointed by Zigfrak’s pre-sales, and the game currently enjoys a decent community rating on Desura. I think I’m doing something right, and hopefully will be able to continue, well after the game’s official release.