We had the chance to sit down and chat with former NIS America marketing manager Ryan Phillips and former NIS America localization editor Nick Doerr, at this year’s E3.
They’ve formed their own indie studio, Mr. Tired Media, and they’re also working on an adorable and promising new game, titled Undead Darlings: No Cure for Love. The game is a post-apocalyptic dungeon RPG / visual novel, rife with comedy and dialogue their fans are sure to love.
The game is up on Kickstarter, and they’re looking to raise $50,000 to make the game on PC, followed by $100,000 and $225,000 stretch goals for PlayStation 4 and PS Vita ports, respectively. If funded, Ryan and Nick are targeting a May 2016 release date for the game.
Without spoiling too much, you can enjoy our interview, below:
Brandon: So we’re here with the gentlemen from Mr. Tired Media, and we’re discussing their new game, which is possibly planned on being released for Vita?
Nick: Well, we were originally planning on a PS4 release, but there will definitely be stretch goals to get the game out on PS Vita and PC as well.
The game is called Undead Darlings ~No Cure for Love~. We put a lot of little tildes in there because a lot of Japanese visual novel titles have those.
Cody: Yeah, it’s a potato chip. It’s wavy. (Laughs) So what can you tell us about your game? Why don’t you give us a brief summary?
Nick: Okay, a little elevator pitch. Players take on the role of a man named Reginald P. Happenstahnce, who we call Reggie for short. The story opens with him coming out of a coma that his dad put him in, via drugs. The world has gone through a zombie apocalypse, or―in our terms―a Funpocalypse. We’re really striving to put the fun and the moe and the humor back in the zombie horror survival genre.
He’s woken up by his childhood friend Pearl, who is the first half-zombie he meets. All of the girls are zombies, by the way. Physically they’re dead, but their hearts are human. (Laughs) We love cheese, by the way. We’re pretty much hamming it up with this game.
The game’s key art.
The premise of the story is that his father is a scientist, and he’s developed the cure to the zombie outbreak. Reggie is in possession of the one known cure, and he’s trying to figure out how he can mass produce it, because he’s not a scientist―he doesn’t know if you’re supposed to drink it, inject it, or how much you’re even supposed to use.
Essentially, that’s the meat of the story though. He and these half-zombie girls are looking for a safe haven where they can figure out the cure. As you play, you learn about these girls, and if you get close enough to one of them, she’ll offer to be the initial guinea pig for testing out the cure. So essentially she’s your zombie waifu.
Ryan: So yeah, basically, it’ll be these visual novel-esque bust-up scenes, where you can interact and make choices. It was originally going to be just that, but we decided to put some RPG elements into the mix. We’ve created our own level editor inside Unity 5, and the game will play out as a first-person dungeon crawler with RPG elements as well.
That was when we decided to push for it to be on the Playstation 4, when we decided it wasn’t gonna be just a VN. It’s pretty ambitious, and we understand that, but our visual novel engine has already been built in Unity, we’ve got the level editor set up, and the programming for the battle system is underway as well.
Examples of environments in-game.
Nick: What I feel kind of seperates it from other first-person dungeon crawlers―which are starting to become a big mainstay on Vita, thank the mighty―is that it’s post-apocalypse. There’s no currency, there are no shops. All your loot is found, and everything has a durability level. We’re just trying to squeeze some survival horror elements in where we can.
Cody: Oh, so there are going to be tank controls too, huh? (Laughs)
Nick: Oh yeah, there will also be pre-rendered typewriters in the background, but you can’t press the keys. It’s good you mention that, as Undead Darlings is going to be that sort of satirical experience. We’re lampshading a lot of tropes from games like Resident Evil, Silent Hill, Dead Rising, even The Walking Dead. Anime, games, movies―it’s all fair game.
Brandon: Sounds awesome. How long have you guys been working on the game?
Ryan: Well, we’ve had the idea since we were working at NIS America, and we started talking to the artist in 2013. Our artist is from Anime Expo, and she’s been going for years. She’s just really talented and awesome.
A lot of the characters do fall into certain archetypes, but we tend to break the mold. The tsundere isn’t self-conscious about her body. The sporty girl has very feminine elements to her.
Cody: Let’s be real, though. The real waifu is the himedere.
Nick: Ahh, well, we have a character in the game that’s somewhat like that. She’s more of a chuunibyou, but that’s in the same realm anyway. She calls herself the world’s new immortal undead queen. She communes with the cosmic ones to give her inspiration.
Ryan: We’re also leaning toward having the enemies be inspired by classic horror icons. Like the mummy, swamp thing, etc. We’re really big on the whole East meets West kind of thing.
Brandon: Coming back to the whole design elements thing, it seems like a lot of visual novels from Japan have those sort of ecchi CGs when you’ve reached a certain amount of favor with a girl. Are you planning on including these?
How dialogue unfolds in Undead Darlings.
Nick: We have about 26 unlockable full-screen CGs, we’re not exactly going down the ecchi route with this one, since we didn’t really want to touch on them being, well, dead. The most fanservice will likely come when you’ve reached a specific girl’s ending.
Ryan: Even then, we’re going to try shooting for T for Teen, because as a company going into their first title, we want to have the widest audience possible. We do love our fanservice though, so it’s definitely more of a possibility in later titles.
Cody: So there’s no, “Stick it in,” option?
Ryan: (Laughs) No, no. For a game made by two guys, it’s gonna be a pretty cute experience overall.
Brandon: That’s great. So, why did you guys decide to go indie? If you had nice cushy jobs at NIS America.
Ryan: That’s a great question. We decided this awhile back, though. It was a big decision, yeah, but it was what we wanted to do. We wanted that creative control, and to strike out on our own with this game. And working at a publisher, you have almost zero creative control. The only thing we controlled in games was the text. I myself was working with assets from Japan constantly, and I couldn’t really even crop or invert images without getting in trouble.
Nick and I are really creative guys, and we just felt like there wasn’t much we could do there to express that. And no matter how much freedom they gave their western employees, we were still the white guys i
n the company. It’s just the culture, and we felt like our opportunities were finite working there. There was a ceiling, and we decided that we were young enough to just hit the ground running, and start working on our dreams.
We were doing contract work for awhile, just to hold ourselves over while working on Undead Darlings. But now we’re working on it full time, 100 percent. I do all the project management on the game for all the programmers and artists. Nick is doing the script, as well as the basic XML programming for the text to get everything going in the bust-up system. It’s actually an incredible amount of work.
The entire cast of half-zombie (and human) characters.
Nick: Yeah, whenever you see, “Editor,” in the credits, it doesn’t do justice to all the hats we have to wear. Yes, I was editing text, but it was translated before that. I also had to do ESRB submissions, voice directing submissions, QA management, etc. There are just so many roles you have to play, and then you’re only listed as one thing in the credits, and that’s all your business card says.
Cody: I can really vibe with that in a number of ways. Especially wanting to have creative freedom. We’re determined ourselves to never have someone overhead of us telling us what to do.
Brandon: Yeah, closest thing to that is my wife.
Ryan: Yeah, that’s the boss right there. Working at NIS and wearing all the hats I wore made me a lot more capable of running my own business, though. When you understand the ins and outs of a business, it does a lot for you personally.
Anyhow, more about the game. We’re not going to have negative points as far as interactions with the girls go. You may say things that don’t give you any points, but for the most part, you’re going to be able to hear more of the girl in question’s story if you accrue enough points with her. Any more, and the CGs start to unlock.
Nick: It’s a fun balance between the funny scenes and then really emotional stuff. Some of the girls have pretty tragic pasts, and they were turned into zombies, so there’s that too. There’s also a character who has a bear that resembles one from another popular series. It’s the chuunibyou character, and it’s funny because she says the bear talks, but she doesn’t even change her voice while talking for it, so everyone’s like, “We can see your lips moving.”
Brandon: Are you planning to do animated character portraits?
Ryan: That’s planned for the second game. Our artist professionally draws anime art, but to have her come on, or to hire someone else to do the animation rigging, would simply be cost-prohibitive. If Undead Darlings is a success, then it’ll definitely be a cool feature to add to our next game.
We haven’t paid ourselves in about 4 months, and I actually sold my car to be able to keep working on this game. We’re kind of dug in deep here to get this done, and we’re paying all of our programmers and everything still. We eventually want to have a game with 3D animated models, but we knew we had to start small for our first game.
Funny story, by the way. The reason we’re called Mr. Tired Media is because of the Japanese phrase otsukaresama. It basically means that you’re doing a great job, you look tired. Unfortunately, it’s really tough to directly translate that into English. They would say otsukaresama when they gave out all the paychecks to the Japanese folks working. Well, on my team, nobody was Japanese, and so I’d be handing them their paychecks saying, “Oh, thank you Mr. Tired, thank you Mrs. Tired.” And they’d roll their eyes because it sounded silly. But that name just stuck with us for some reason.
There’s a lot we can add to the visual novel engine, but at the present moment, there can be up to five characters on screen with no real issue. We actually paid to have the art inverted as well―there are characters with two different eye colors, and when you invert the pic in photoshop, it switches their features around. So essentially, we paid for the artist to draw each character twice.
What to expect when unlocking CGs in-game. [These are CGs that we can exclusively reveal]
Both Ryan and Nick talked up the CGs, and their artist, Hitsukuya.
During our lunch breaks at Anime Expo back in 2013 (while we were still at NISA), Nick and I perused Artist Alley at Anime Expo looking for an artist to help bring our characters to life, and that’s when we met Hitsukuya. She is the genius mind and talented hands behind the characters of Undead Darlings ~no cure for love~’s characters.
She has been a mainstay at Anime Expo’s artist alley for years, among the several other conventions she visits around the world. Her art instantly captured the attention (and moe-lovin’ hearts) of Mr. Tired, and we simply had to ask her if she would be interested in helping to design their characters. We were fortunate enough for her to say yes, and the results speak for themselves!
The three colored images are the final versions that will be placed into the game at key parts in the story, and then the other image depicts a few other concepts that are being worked on currently. We will have a total of 25 CGs, 26 if you count the main key art of the game.
It’s tough when you’re on a budget to decide which emotions to have drawn as well. We decided to go with neutral, happy, angry, sad, blush, but that was about it. In our future games, we’d like to have a whole range of faces for different scenarios though.
We will have to Kickstart for the rest of our funds. We need to hire the lead programmer, and we’d really like to get it on Playstation. We don’t want to turn away from PC though, as lately, visual novels have been killing it on that platform. All of those Sekai Project games have been stupidly popular.
With our Kickstarter, we’re really only trying to pay ourselves a small amount. Most of the money will go toward paying our programmer, and working toward our future as a company. We have a five year plan, and we’re really just trying to start small with Undead Darlings. We’ve learned a lot about game making and Unity as we’ve went, and you’ll see a bit of that in the video. We really just want to be able to pay our amazing, talented staff for all their hard work.
Brandon: Awesome. Well, that’s all we have time for now. We’re both definitely looking forward to seeing your game in its completed state, looks right up our alley. Thanks for taking the time to talk to us.
We’d like to thank both Ryan and Nick for spending time with us at E3 to chat about their game. Please make sure to check them out over on Kickstarter.
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