Interview: Traveling the Death Road to Canada with Rocketcat’s Kepa Auwae

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In our most recent Kickstart This! feature, the Sweet September Edition, we highlighted Rocketcat Games’ Death Road to Canada, a top-down “randomized permadeth road trip simulator” that pits you against mobs of undead hoardes while trying to survive the apocalypse. The game proved to be popular among Kickstarter backers, roaring across its $25,000 goal line and currently sitting at more than $40,000. With a few hours to go, we spoke with Kepa Auwae, the game’s Lead Designer, to discuss zombies, gaming inspirations, and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Andrew Rainnie, Warp Zoned UK Correspondent: Tell us more about the team at Rocketcat games, how you came to band together, and your background with video games.

Auwae: None of the team had any background with video games when we started. One night I just arbitrarily decided I wanted to make a game and sell it. I went on a private chat channel a friend and I made for a really old game called Asheron’s Call. This chat still had 15 people in it, despite us no longer playing the old game for at least a decade. I convinced Jeremy [Orlando], who was a programmer, to get into this with me. Some time later we got Brandon [Rhodes] to join us to make art, he knew how to draw but wasn’t a professional artist.

WZ – Andrew: Explain the concept of Death Road to Canada in the length of a tweet (140 characters).

Auwae: It’s a Road Trip Simulator where you manage randomly generated survivors. Make decisions, explore cities, find Elvis, die to undead hordes.

WZ – Andrew: The Kickstarter campaign for the game is already fully funded. How did it feel when you found out you had been successful? Were you constantly monitoring the progress, or casually checking in?

Auwae: Slightly relieved when we saw it make it. Though, the big thing now is still getting through Steam Greenlight. We were casually checking in, but mostly because we launched the campaign when we were busy at PAX.

WZ – Andrew: You make a joking reference to the original Total Recall throughout your campaign as to how many kids Paul has to feed. Do you think your sense of humour may have won you more fans and donations?

Auwae: I hope so. We wanted everything to go with the idea that Death Road to Canada is a comedy. There’s too much focus on making everything so dark and gritty. One of the things that made us get into the project more was the upcoming Dead Rising 3 apparently going for a big shift in tone. We could fill a niche as a zombie game that realizes the whole premise is pretty goofy.

WZ – Andrew: What’s your favourite Schwarzenegger line?

Auwae: BENNY, HERE! SCREEEEEW YOOOUUUUUU! GHHHHYAAAAA! … or maybe just the end scene of Total Recall where he has no oxygen so his head almost explodes. A powerful yet wordless scene… or maybe the “TWO WEEKS” malfunctioning scene from the same movie, though that really doesn’t count. Definitely something from Total Recall.

WZ – Andrew: Could you give any potential Kickstarter campaigners out there some advice? And is there anything you would do differently regarding your campaign?

Auwae: I’d recommend checking out the Indie Megabooth for showing your game at a convention at the same time as your Kickstarter. We got in the Minibooth section, and it was really helpful. I’d probably have waited another month so I could have started the campaign with a strong demo. The thing is I wanted to get the Kickstarter out in time for PAX/the Megabooth. We still made it, so no complaints, but I think a playable demo could have helped us a lot.

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WZ – Andrew: Death Road to Canada looks like a surreal, top-down, 16-bit version of recent games such as Dead Rising or Dead Island, with a healthy dose of Scott Pilgrim for good measure. Were these conscious in your minds when making the game? Was there any other influences while you created the game?

Auwae: Dead Rising was, but not the others. Also King of Dragon Pass, a really great Interactive Fiction style game. We think Interactive Fiction stuff is still underused in games, but it’s a great and cheap way to do meaningful choices. The game Rebuild was an early inspiration for us to come up with the idea, for a zombie game that focused more on management. Rogue Survivor, a zombie roguelike, was another early inspiration. Then there’s Wasteland Kings for inspiration on the characters having no arms. River City Ransom for city structure and some of the art style and humor. Oregon Trail for the basic “road trip” structure. There’s a bunch more too!

WZ – Andrew: What games do you like to play? What would you say are the games that have defined you as a gamer, and as a designer?

Auwae: I haven’t been playing much lately, too busy. I like difficult games, and used to be a big roguelike player. I’m really excited about more people using randomized content and permanent death ideas from roguelikes. I also like the more recent idea of keeping games down to an hour or two per victory, while also letting you replay them over and over. I grew up with NES and SNES, so early RPGs are a big inspiration for me too.

WZ – Andrew: How many people have you told to “Cool it!” since launching the campaign?

Auwae: Lots.

WZ – Andrew: You have rare characters called “Uniques” in the game, including a panda, a Mountie, Elvis, and a guy with a horse mask. What are your favourite Uniques? And was there any ideas for Uniques that did not make it into the final game?

Auwae: The last one we added was a kung fu master. He does little flip kicks instead of using weapons. My favorite so far is probably just Horse Mann. We’re still working on the game, and plan on adding tons of Uniques.

WZ – Andrew: Death Road to Canada is being built for iOS, Android, Mac, Linux and Windows 8. Would you look to push the game onto current or next-gen consoles? Was there ever a discussion about these platforms? And if so, why were they eventually excluded?

Auwae: We’re looking at consoles. Not sure yet though, it requires extra work. We’re also not familiar with them, so can’t promise anything. That said, I really want to get the game on Vita, personally.

WZ – Andrew: What lies beyond the Death Road to Canada for Rocketcat Games? Could you share any future game ideas? And will you tread the Kickstarter path once more?

Auwae: I am pretty sure we’ll use Kickstarter again. We have tons of ideas, I’ll pick one of them. We want to make a Harvest Moon or Zelda-style game that starts out normal, but then becomes a bizarre psychological horror game like halfway through. We would deny this in any marketing for the game. Just a massive prank. Though, not sure how the Kickstarter for such a thing would work. Do we give away the joke? Do we just not reveal the title until the game’s out? Will have to think about that one.

WZ – Andrew: Once again, thank you to Kepa Auwae and the team at Rocketcat Games. Good luck in the final hours of your Kickstarter.

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In addition to being Warp Zoned's UK Correspondent, Andrew Rainnie is a screenwriter and filmmaker. You can email him at andrew AT warpzoned DOT com or you can, if you're inclined, visit his personal website.

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