N3V Games has been carving out a niche for itself over on PC and (more recently) mobile thanks to its Trainz simulation software, so the company's recent announcement that its next title will be a zombie survival-shooter, Dead on Arrival, was a bit out of the blue.

In anticipation for the game's launch on Xperia Play later this month, we spoke to Paul Olsen, studio head of N3V Games, about what new ideas are being brought to the table, what the benefits are to a free-to-play business model, and why he thinks the Xperia Play is a good platform for development.

Pocket Gamer: How is development coming along for Dead on Arrival?

Paul Olsen: Fairly quickly. We are using the Unity Engine to develop this title instead of our internal engine and it has been surprisingly quick and painless to get the development finished.

As we have a few other projects on the go we needed to make sure we could balance the load of development between everything and Unity has definitely been the best choice for rapid development with the tools we needed to achieve our goals with DOA.

We are finalising everything for a 17th November release on Xperia Play, followed by a 17th December release on all other platforms.

The zombie survival shooter is a bit of a crowded genre these days. What have you done to spice things up?

Dead on Arrival started out 12 months ago as a zombie survival-shooter much like the traditional survival-shooters on the mobile platform you see today, but over the months we have evolved it to play much like the Nazi Zombies [Call of Duty] gameplay.

We have locked most of the weapons in the game so that gamers need to work hard to earn something we call ‘Z-Bucks’ to unlock them.

There's also a random box floating around the level which allows players to purchase a random gun for a medium amount of cash.

The random box is like a lucky dip - you could get a machine gun which ends up being double the price or you might end up with a crossbow for half the price. The random box is something you want to keep a lookout for!

We have a nice small tutorial level to help gamers get introduced to the game and see how everything works.

Was the decision to develop for the Xperia Play an obvious one? Do you think this device has any advantages or limitations when it comes to games?

The Xperia Play is an excellent choice for DOA due to the dual thumbsticks that the gameplay is built on and the screen space the Xperia Play frees up due to having the slide-out control system.

The performance of the Xperia Play for DOA is A-grade also - it has allowed us to include a lot of additional visual options that many other mobile devices just don’t have the capacity to achieve.

Reflective surfaces with specular and normal mapping added so much to the visuals when we put them in and the Xperia Play handled this with very little effort, but this did mean some of our other planned mobile platforms needed a medium and low graphics setting to tone this down and turn this off completely.

The Xperia Play was definitely built for gamers so we are very excited to have DOA fully supporting it.

From the trailer it looks like you’ve gone down the slow-Romero-zombie route, which is a little unusual for this type of game. What made you decide against the quicker zombie? Or are there some of those too later in the game?

The zombie speed and attacks start off at a nice easy pace and weak damage at wave one, but increase fairly fast as you advance through each wave. Players will definitely find it a challenge if not before but definitely past double figure waves.

They will need to find something more than a pistol to bring down the zombie horde, that’s for sure!

We found this option gave the gamer enough time to ramp up their arsenal and think about their strategy on how they would take on the more advanced levels, which doors to open, which way to advance through the level, which weapons to purchase at what times, and which secondary weapon to hold onto as it complements the primary weapon.

This transition starting from easy to the next level of difficulty each wave suited both the casual and hardcore gamer too.

You’ve also gone with a free-to-play business model. How do you think this benefits you as a studio over a traditional sales model?

The mobile market is a very tough market to get noticed in. There are many games released every day and we wanted to make sure that everyone could help spread the word about Dead on Arrival by having the opportunity to play and enjoy the game.

We obviously have costs involved in development so we need to – hopefully – recover these also, so the free-to-play model helps us gain greater exposure for DOA and the micro-transactions will allow us to keep developing the game.

It’s also quite a departure from other types of games you’ve done in the past. What made you want to develop something like Dead on Arrival?

Yes, this is very true. We have a world-leading simulator called Trainz which has been developed for PC for over ten years now, and over the last two years has been ported to Mac, iPad, and Android tablets and very soon iPhone and Android Phones.

This is still one of our main focuses and will always be but we don’t plan on having all our eggs just in one basket. We have a few baskets on the go actually.

We have a massive amount of talent in our company and this talent has made many different games over the years. They are passionate designers, artists, and developers who have a love for all types of games.

As the mobile market is steaming ahead and the costs of development are relativity low compared to console – or a fully functional Simulator – we have the opportunity to put some focus in these areas and hopefully create something great that mobile gamers will find highly enjoyable.

Thanks to Paul for his time.

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