INTERVIEW – In Conversation With Liam O’Sullivan and Robert Wriedt (Walk Thru Walls Studios, Metal Dead)

By Marty Mulrooney

Wall Thru Walls Studios

Walk Thru Walls is an independent game studio based in Brisbane, Australia. Their debut title Metal Dead, the first in a planned series of comedic, heavy metal influenced, apocalyptic point-and-click adventure games, was recently reviewed by Alternative Magazine Online and described as “a hilarious indie adventure game that successfully embraces the recently oversaturated zombie genre without ever seeming redundant.” AMO is therefore proud to present an exclusive online interview with Liam O’Sullivan and Robert Wriedt, the two-man team that created the game!

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Hello Liam and Robert, thank you for your time and welcome to AMO! Can you tell our readers a little bit about yourselves please?

Thanks Marty! We love the site and appreciate the opportunity! We’re just a couple of regular guys who really love games and we have a passion for adventure games in particular. We’ve both always wanted to work in the industry in some capacity, and now is a better time than any with so many ways to get small games out there and in front of people. Robert handles the art and code and I do the writing. We’re lucky to have known each other since we were very young and between us have the skills to create a project like Metal Dead. The whole thing came together rather organically.

Walk Thru Walls was founded in 2010 – how did this come about?

Both Robert and I were going through a tough time. I’d endured the loss of a close family member, and Robert’s job at Krome Studios disappeared when the company closed down. In fact, over the last couple of years, the entire Australian games industry pretty much went spiralling down the toilet for a variety of reasons, chief of which being the strong Aussie dollar. Not too long ago the industry was thriving down here, but now all the big developers have moved their operations overseas leaving job prospects about as barren as our vast deserts. In their wake, they’ve paved the way for a lot of small indie start-ups, ourselves being one of them. In mid-2010, I suggested to Robert that we both start working on something, and a year and a half later, out came a baby point and click zombie adventure. It’s been somewhat therapeutic for both of us!

Do you both have other jobs besides making games or was creating Walk Thru Walls a full time career move?

We were both finishing up university for a big chunk of our development time, and in order to set up the business we turned to an Australian government funded initiative known as the New Enterprise Incentive Scheme. Basically, we received enough money to scrape by (and when I say scrape by, I mean SCRAPE by) while we set up our business. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like there’s enough money in it yet for us to do this full time, but it won’t stop us from continuing on and releasing more games!

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What are your respective roles within the company? Does anybody else help out externally?

Robert and I are definitely multitaskers. Aside from actual game development duties which are split between writing and art/code, we both handle the press and corporate stuff pretty much equally. When it came to providing music for the game, we turned to a friend who writes in his spare time and he put together some great stuff for us. At the moment we’re looking at bringing on some more help for our next projects, but for the time being it’s just us doing everything. Of course we couldn’t have done anything out without the help of friends who playtested like professionals!

Your first game, Metal Dead, was released at the end of 2011. How would you describe this game to a newcomer?

Comedy, zombies, heavy metal, blood, and point and click puzzling! That just about sums it up. It’s pretty much Maniac Mansion with a bunch of undead folks hanging around! The emphasis is on character and laughs.

Why did you decide to make Metal Dead a point-and-click adventure game? Could it have worked as a different genre of game?

It was our passion for the genre that drove us to make it a traditional point and click adventure game. For me personally, it helps that these games are at their core driven by writing, since it’s my forte and I’m next to useless when it comes to code and art! If Metal Dead wasn’t an adventure game, I could see it being something along the lines of a Brutal Legend style action title, allowing you to cut through hordes of zombies using your upgradeable guitar as a weapon. You could even throw Ronnie’s head at pesky human enemies and watch him nibble on their sensitive bits! Malcolm would enjoy that. Since we’re already working in a dead (or undead) genre, maybe we could have done it as an X-Com style turn based strategy game? That would be fun!

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Would you care to mention any other adventure games or other forms of entertainment that were influences whilst making Metal Dead?

Like everyone working in adventure games, we were absolutely influenced by Ron Gilbert and Tim Schafer’s classics. This creative debt also extends to the work of designer/writers like Al Lowe and Jane Jensen. As far as film goes, we both have an obsession with George A. Romero’s Dead films. They’re the pinnacle of zombie storytelling and really set the ground rules for everyone else. Then of course there’s Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead series, and Peter Jackson’s early gore flicks which really provided the DNA for Metal Dead’s mix of comedy and horror. Of course, modern classics made using AGS really showed us that a project like ours was possible to make on a low budget. That really spurred us on, so a big thanks goes out to our contemporary peers.

Heavy metal music is an obvious influence and inspiration throughout the game – what do you think makes heavy metal work so well with zombies?

By their nature, zombie stories are violent, theatrical and over the top – and in my opinion that goes hand in hand with heavy metal!

Many would argue that the zombie genre has been done to death recently – pardon the pun! What makes Metal Dead stand out from the crowd?

To be honest, I stand right next to the people who argue against the proliferation of zombies in media. There’s just way too many of those rotten, shambling bastards! But of course, here we are adding to the problem! Thankfully, everyone who’s played Metal Dead so far has agreed that we’ve brought something new to the undead table. Zombies generally tend to be used as an easy way out for AI coders – it’s much easier to design a mindless enemy that just keeps coming at you in waves rather than one that strategizes and thinks like a human. As for us, Metal Dead isn’t an action game, so we had to adhere to the typically non-violent, laid back trappings of the adventure genre. Rather than being an easy way out, it provided the challenge of explaining why that ravenous horde of zombies wasn’t trying to eat your brains! Our reasoning for why the undead stayed back became one of the biggest plot elements and tied in with the heavy metal theme, so it ended up working in our favour!

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The game is comedic and silly throughout, yet still manages to have some emotional and tense scenes – how difficult was it to get this careful balance of comedy and drama right?

At its heart, Metal Dead is a story of friendship, so to write around that idea helped give the game an emotional backbone. I didn’t find the real theme of the story until about half way through development, so if I could do things over again I think I would have been more successful at bringing it all together in a neat package. Next time around, theme will be a much stronger focus from the beginning. There’s no point in writing if you don’t have anything to say, even if you’re working through the frame of a ridiculous zombie comedy!

Metal Dead is built with the hugely popular Adventure Game Studio – why did Walk Thru Walls choose this engine and what advantages did it offer?

For one, it’s free! Adventure Game Studio is an amazingly powerful piece of software, and not one day went by without us discovering another feature that helped us make our game a reality. As far as we’re concerned, Chris Jones is a living legend. Without AGS, we’d have nothing to show. The community is fantastic and helpful, too. Our experience with the engine has been nothing but positive.

LucasArts or Sierra? (Sorry to put you guys on the spot!)

That’s a tough call, but we’d have to say LucasArts is the overall winner when vying for our gaming affection! That said, I hold a special place in my heart for Leisure Suit Larry.

How would you describe Malcolm as a protagonist?

Malcolm is the straight man. He’s the one who has crazy crap happen all around him, and he just wants to get the hell out of there! He reacts to the situations in Metal Dead in a way I’d estimate most of us would – with great discomfort!

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How would you describe Malcolm’s relationship with Ronnie?

Where Malcolm is the more cerebral one, Ronnie is the more stereotypical, bat-head-biting heavy metal freak, and as such provides a good counterbalance to Malcolm. While Ronnie is somewhat grating and out of control, he still cares deeply about his best friend and can be down to earth when need be, even though there’s nothing left of him but a disembodied cranium. These two characters have a long history together (at least, in my head), so hopefully we’ll get to explore their relationship a little deeper in the future.

How have you found the critical reception of Metal Dead?

Overwhelmingly positive! Almost everyone who’s played it has understood what we were going for, and seen through the limitations we had in making the game. We were even nominated for a couple of awards, which blew us away. Criticism has been very helpful, and to be honest, we agree with almost every negative comment we’ve received, so hopefully that will help us improve on our next go around.

What benefits and drawbacks does digital distribution offer indie developers?

Unless you have something like Minecraft which sells itself, dealing with digital distributors is a must for indie developers. It helps your game be seen by more people than it would have otherwise.

Metal Dead seems perfectly suited to the iPhone and iPad – are ports to these devices planned for the future perhaps?

Unfortunately, the AGS engine is a Windows only beast for the time being, but if some intrepid coder out there manages to make it work on handheld devices, you can bet on us being first in line to port Metal Dead!

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Metal Dead has been mentioned as episode one of a planned episodic series. Will Malcolm and Ronnie return? How many episodes are planned?

We have a mostly fleshed out plan for a second outing in the Metal Dead series and we’ve already done some work on it, so hopefully we’ll see the characters back in action soon! I hesitate to call our games episodic though, because the word has taken on some negative connotations. Episodic usually means you don’t get the full story – that you have wait to find out how things come together. We wanted to make sure Metal Dead could stand alone, and if we make another one, we’ll make sure it’ll be satisfying for newcomers and previous players alike.

What’s next for Walk Thru Walls?

Work, work, and more work! We’re still doing our best to get Metal Dead out there in front of more people and that’s eating up a lot of our time at the moment. As I mentioned, we’re already working on a second Metal Dead, but we also have something a little more ambitious planned. We’re hoping to bring on some more hands to make it all a reality!

Thank you for your time! I thoroughly enjoyed playing and reviewing Metal Dead and greatly appreciate you both taking the time to discuss the game with me in further detail!

The pleasure is all ours!


GAME REVIEW – Metal Dead (PC)


Walk Thru Walls Official Website

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