Video games are the storytelling media of the future. They allow for a depth and nuance that no other medium can provide. Watching a movie, you can only see what’s happening to the characters. You see their emotions, hear their conversations (sometimes, even their thoughts); but your immersion ends there. You never truly become the character.
With a video game, however, you become the character. You are inserted into a whole new world and your actions matter. You not only see what’s happening to the character, you are the character. You feel the emotions, take part in the conversations.
And based on what we talked, that’s what Lateef Martin and his gaming studio Miscellaneum have in mind with their extremely cool-sounding cyclepunk tactical-RPG (role-playing game) Z’Isle.
There are a lot of things to unpack just from that last sentence, but don’t worry, we’ll get there.
In the world of Z’Isle, Something Really Bad™ has happened. I don’t know what it is yet, because the game isn’t out yet. And I didn’t ask, because I don’t like spoilers. All we know is that these undead creatures known as Feeders have taken over the world and we have to survive.
How do we survive? Well, you have to salvage for resources. The game takes place in Montreal (!!!) and in Lateef’s words “We’re not a city with a lot of guns.” So when the Feeder apocalypse starts, they blow up the bridges (not that they needed to use explosives to destroy Montreal’s awful infrastructure), and eventually run out of bullets.
“But bikes are everywhere and they are the most readily available resource for weapons and tools,” Lateef revealed to me.
If you’re a Montrealer, this makes perfect sense. Bikes are LITERALLY everywhere in this city. If people are not riding them, then they are rotting on the sidewalks. Corpses of bikes litter every corner of the city, locked to fences and light posts.
And that’s what cyclepunk means. “We might be familiar with the term steampunk, where technology is based on steam, and cyberpunk, [which is more futuristic. […] Cyclepunk – technology is based on bikes. Everything is bike based.”
Survive the Feeder hordes and stay human
So Z’Isle is going to be a game where you try to “fight the Feeder hordes” using bike-based weapons. Survival is going to be a huge element in the game. In that sense, Lateef says that the game was inspired by This War of Mine, which is a survival game that takes place in war-torn Sarajevo.
“It’s not so much about running around being a soldier, it’s more about you being a civilian trying to survive this horrible, horrible world that you have to deal with,” Lateef says.
This also is going to allow the game to focus more on the human element. “The best zombie stories are about the human experience – are about the people. The zombies are white noise. They could easily be a virus, vampires, pancakes with batwings. It really doesn’t matter what the threat is.”
Creating yourself within the game
One thing that I’m particularly excited about is the character creation aspect of the game. Most of your big-time AAA RPGs have that element. In the Dragon Age series for instance (particularly Inquisition, the latest addition), you can spend hours creating a digital version of yourself.
From what Lateef says, Z’Isle is going to let you do that and some more. “You can choose your gender, sexual preference, ethnicity, body type,” Lateef says. This is already beyond the mostly cosmetic changes you can make to your appearance in other games. Who you are will determine how the game turns out, because these choices will determine your partner.
“You have just broken up with your partner and they’re the last person in the world you wanna be with during the zombie apocalypse. But it’s the only person you’ve got and you know each other better than anyone else, so you stick with each other and try to survive,” Lateef says.
In addition to that, you will be put into situations where you will be interacting with other humans roaming the Feeder-infested streets of Montreal. How you deal with them will affect your reputation. Will you steal from other groups to make sure your own group survives or will you build a larger community through cooperation?
“What makes you human? You know, everyone has a line they won’t cross. What happens when you cross that line? How many more lines will you draw? And who are you when the chalk runs out?”
I am already very excited for this game. It’s great to hear amazing indie games coming out of Montreal. After all, this city is sort of a mecca for indie game developers, with support from the Quebec government as well as from the AAA game developers such as Ubisoft.
But we won’t be able to play the game until much later. And in fact, Miscellaneum Studios are currently crowdsourcing some funding for their project in order to make it a reality. If you want to help them out, you can click on this link to their Kickstarter campaign.