Check out our interview with the team behind “Generation Zero

Welcome! - Can you do a quick introduction for viewers?

I'm Ash McAllan and I'm the lead game designer for the Generation Zero live ops team. I’m originally from South Australia and now I’m here in Stockholm with Avalanche.

How long have you been working in the games industry?

I started a tiny studio in 2014 but we ran out of money after our first game. After that I went back to making things in my spare time until I picked up some work with Failbetter Games in 2018. So either 9 years or 5 years depending on how you count it.

What’s the story behind your game?

Swedish teens in the 80s return from a camping trip to discover that the country has been invaded by an army of machines.

What inspired the design of this game? Where’d the idea come from? Other games/content that helped inspire it?

I wasn't around for the original development but looking through my archaeology you can see the way the team looked at the systems from The Hunter: Call Of The Wild around avoiding detection, targeting specific points, and manipulating quarry through interacting with the environment, and then combined that with Avalanche's experience making huge open worlds filled with action and explosions, and ended up with this tense gritty experience where you, the player, are now the one being hunted by the machines.

What was your role in this game?

I've joined the team as a lead designer specifically during live ops where we continue to develop new content for the game as well as paid DLCs. While we're doing that my role is to provide direction for what we're going to develop, making sure that those updates improve the game experience and meet our business needs. Then I manage, guide, and mentor the design team to help make sure what we're designing and building meets those goals.

Why this game - what made your team want to make this game versus games in other genres, styles, etc?

I think the best way I can answer that is to talk about why I wanted to join the Generation Zero team specifically. Ultimately I'm a tinkerer at heart so I love robots and I love the gathering, crafting, trap building elements of Generation Zero, and I love a scrappy underdog like a bunch of teens fighting against an army of machines.

What has the reception of this game been like?

Avalanche has had a bunch of games with rocky initial releases that then become success stories either through the live ops update cycle or just the passage of time where the audience looks back at a game and appreciates it for what it is and that's definitely true for Generation Zero. When we launched, our marketing focused a lot on the action and explosions elements of Generation Zero so when people played it a lot of them were surprised by the stealth and suspense elements but the ones who've stuck around and the audience we've built since really appreciate the balance we've built between the action elements and the suspense elements that make the game unique.

Any important lessons learned in the game since release?

I think we're constantly learning what is achievable scope for our team especially as people join and leave over time. We're constantly toeing the line of what is good enough for us to feel like we're properly serving the community, vs how much is too much which leaves us with lots of bugs and and struggling to keep up. That's a thing that I think you're always learning in games because it's always changing.

Work Life

What’s it like working at the studio? - What does your day-to-day look like?

As a lead designer it's mostly a lot of meetings and planning. I work with the product owner and lead producer to plan our roadmaps for future development, I set out goals and requirements for our design team whose designs we then develop, I support and guide that design team with clarification, mentorship, and providing input into discussions, and I am responsible for scope so I have to make the decisions about what is most important to the player experience and what gets cut when we run out of time.

A lot of viewers also want to work in games, what advice do you have for those wanting to work in gaming? Especially for your role?

The answer to this question isn't fair. The most important thing for getting into the games industry is to make games. Build things in your spare time either alone or with friends with complementary skills. Game jams are great for this and so is being an active part of any game developer communities you have access to. If your skillset or speciality is narrow, look for novel ways to use it or expand it. Writers can tell amazing stories with tools like Twine or Bitsy. Designers can make boardgames or tabletop roleplaying games or physical games without even touching a computer. If you're in games education your biggest goal should be to use that time and knowledge learned to build your portfolio. Unfortunately that takes time, which is a resource that a lot of people from marginalized backgrounds simply don’t have. If we want to continue to make diverse, creative, inclusive games we as an industry need to find ways we can provide time and opportunity for people from marginalized backgrounds to learn, cut their teeth, and show us what they can do.

For people unfamiliar with this genre, what should they know about the game?

I think Generation Zero is “come for the suspenseful retro setting and stay for the machine fights”. We're a really unique blend of action and immersion that I think is the reason we've found a really dedicated audience.

Is it accessible for new players?

We actually revamped our onboarding the game last year with new intro missions to introduce the player to the mechanics and world of Generation Zero. That said, I do play on the easiest difficulty because I'm not a “hardcore gamer” and I find it stressful when there's too many machines shooting at me.

What’s the best way to learn/master the game? In-game? Community resources?

I like to think our missions give you a fairly nice structure for progressing through the game and getting better until you're taking down our toughest machines by the end, but I also think our community is awesome and it's worth checking out videos on YouTube or asking questions about stuff in our discord.

Any cool community stories to share?

I think my favorite community experience is when members of the community ask for things that we’re already working on and I get to feel like a sneaky Santa Claus waiting to give the presents out at Christmas.

How do you balance implementing community suggestions/feedback with following your own design/vision choices?

Generally my advice for feedback is to listen to what your testers or community say their problems are but ignore their suggested solutions. The problems your audience reports are always valuable feedback even if you have to interpret it to work out what the real underlying problem is, but solution suggestions from feedback never have all the important context you have as a designer or developer. Sometimes the solution you arrive at might be the same as the audience suggestion but you need to arrive there yourself.

Anything you can share about future plans for your studio? - Upcoming games, updates, etc?

Obviously I’m pretty hyped for the stuff we’re building for Generation Zero but I can’t say much about that. I’m also looking forward to seeing Ravenbound evolve now that it’s out in the wild and obviously as an Australian I’m excited about the Emerald Coast DLC for Call Of The Wild.

Anything you want to plug before we sign off?

Socials, Steam, etc If you want to hear more from the Generation Zero team we’re on Twitter and Systemic Reaction is on YouTube and our Discord is super friendly. But if you haven’t played it, Generation Zero is also on Gamepass, Steam, and the Playstation Store.

Bonus Questions!

Favorite game of all time?

I struggle with favourites but I think Abe's Oddysee on the PSX was probably one of the greatest games ever made and always stands out as something that has inspired me ever since.

First real game you ever played?

I played a bunch of things when I was super young but I will never forget loading up Demo Disk One for the PSX and just being blown away by all the possibilities it revealed. That changed my life forever. Abe's Oddysee was on there. And a Dinosaur.

Games you’re playing the most right now, when you have time?

Tchia. I'm playing it on the PS5 and I alternate between being in love with it and its setting and then being angry at how easy they make it look to execute simple, brave, joyful game design. That elegance of design takes so much experience and work and they just make it look effortless.

One underrated game that you think more people should play?

Caves Of Qud. Its community absolutely loves it but a lot of people don’t give it a chance because of its retro art style. If you love elaborate stories, deep lore, complex systems, crazy character customization you’re missing out if you skip it.

What element matters most to you in a game?

Focus. Does the game know what it is about and what it is saying and does it deliver on that competently and clearly. The biggest frustration to me when a game is trying to do too much and doesn't know where its heart is.

  • Great interview, nice to have an insider behind the scene look

  • Great interview, nice to have an insider behind the scene look

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