★ TouchArcade needs your help. Click here to support us on Patreon.

Interview with Stephen McVicker - The Developer of ZENFORMS!

08-02-2012, 08:58 AM
Joined: Oct 2010
Location: North Carolina
Posts: 482
Interview with Stephen McVicker - The Developer of ZENFORMS!

Interview with Stephen McVicker - The Developer of ZENFORMS!

Let's get the ball rolling! Let the readers know who you are. How long have you been in the gaming development scene? What have you worked on previously?

I'm Stephen McVicker. I'm from Dublin, Ireland. I've been into game development for a long time. I used to make fan games when I was younger. The first game I made, and showed off online, was a game called Pokemon: Silk. Looks pretty crappy if you check it out. I do like the custom main character though, ha.
I used to a tool called RPG Maker 2003. I love that tool and based a lot of my modern code on the functions in the style of that...

After I released a demo of that game, I moved onto other games, such as it's sequel Pokemon Silk 2:TakeOver (a lot of original ideas for the time such as playing as the bad guy and making decisions that impacted the story), and Pokemon Digital Network - a game set in a weird future style world. I ended up becoming a mod of the Game developer section for Pokecommunity and stayed a mod for over a year (got annoyed with the community so I needed to step away from a mod role). As you can see, I was always in love - not with the pokemon franchise - but with the experience they offered, the lore of their characters, and their world. So I used to make fan games but with my own spin on them. I went to college to study game development. In the summer of my first year there I worked with a start up making some small iOS apps. Mid way through my second year, I end up getting really annoyed with the course, so I decided to drop out, and turn a fan game I was working on at the time, Pokemon Protectors, into it's own original game for iPhone. Still working on it as I do this interview haha.... It became ZENFORMS: Protectors.....

What are ZENFORMS?

ZENFORMS are little creatures created from this powerful, but mysterious-unharnessed by humans, energy that comes from the core of the planet Gaia. All ZENFORMS come from one of three "Newborns" - baby ZENFORMS. From here, these ZENFORMS branch evolve based on their stats into various other ZENFORMS.

They have several evolutionary stages, but cannot reach their last stage, the Grand stage, without humans. Although it has been very rare for a human to evolve a ZENFORM into a Grand ZENFORM (the final stage of evolution), ZENFORMS understand they need a symbiotic relationship with humans if they want to become this stage. Protectors, a group of people only allowed to raise ZENFORMS, capture, and train ZENFORMS. Their goal is to look after the world they live in, bring peace, but also to raise the ZENFORMS' stats correctly and help them evolve into the best ZENFORMS they can.

What pricing model are you going with for your game?

I haven't announced a final price yet, but I have said it will be about $3 / €2.59. Or less even. I'm still not sure.

I plan to offer the game in a small chunk for Version 1.0 but update the game for FREE. There will be no IAP at launch (and for a while), but if I do add them, I'll never charge for storyline content, gameplay features, or new ZENFORMS (if I ever add any :P). I tell people- think of how Minecraft was released for PC. It was released, but the developer made BIG changes along the way - for a long time, for free. This is what I'll be doing.

What made you decide that you wanted to make your own Pokemon style game?

I was working on a game called Pokemon Protectors for about a year. Here is a concept video from 2008. There is another demo video there too.

When I dropped out of college, I said to myself "Right, I better work on a game that I can sell" - that game was to be a re-imagined Pokemon Protectors. That game was already full of original concepts such as gaining a reputation, becoming famous, making choices, and even how I handled Pokemon and their stats (only used 3 stats). Not to make a funny pun, but ZENFORMS evolved several times into the project it is now. Originally it was more like the other knock-offs. The creatures were just like Pokemon. The game was called Protectors when it started. Then when I decided to work with a girl called Sherry Ivanna, the ZENFORMS were born. We came up with the idea of this evolution system that was like real life. If they have good speed, they'd evolve to creatures that looked quick. If they used a lot of fire attacks or ate food that would boost their fire element stat. When it came time to evolve into an element stage (the adult stage), they'd evolve to a fire creature.

The project changed FULLY (complete remake/rethink) 3 times, haha.

How long have you been working on the ZENFORMS? While you have been working on the game has there been any feature or set of code that you just can't seem, or couldn't seem to get right for quite some time?

I've been working on the game since March 2010. That includes the really old more knock-off style. It also includes me programming the engine basics. Loading the map, reading the map, setting up the player, the people, and more.

The one area I'm stuck on is the battle system. Out of my fully 3 remakes of the project, the battle system has changed four times- like fully changed. Two out of those four times, the battle system was fully playable. I want the battle system to be simple to kids, and to people just picking up the project, but I want it to be deep to players who like that in their RPGs. I feel the version I'm working on now has struck that balance. Still working on it though. It's my main sticking point with the project. The good thing is, the battle system will be done once it's done. Other than adding improvements, it will be fully playable even in updates without me needing to re-edit the code. That's why I want to get it right first go (with Version 1.0).

What sets your game apart from not only the traditional Pokemon games, but also the few other Pokemon style games that are in the works for iOS?

The ZENFORMS, for a start. They just are not these random creatures you train and "catch them all". In fact, I never tell the player which ZENFORMS they have already caught because it's not like that. Each ZENFORM can be very unique. All ZENFORMS under the Adult stage, can have 3 possible movesets - each moveset with about 10 moves. You can learn any move at any time as long as you have the Skill Points to buy it. This can be very interesting as you begin to really evolve a ZENFORM. You can have the same ZENFORM you see 50 times in the wild, but each time, that ZENFORM has different moves than your ZENFORM.

Skill Points, are a point system used to do anything with your ZENFORM, from increasing stats, learning attacks, and evolving. How you spend those Skill Points can really make your ZENFORM.... YOURS!

I've also been working on the game for 2 years. Clearly I'm not trying to cash in and rush to market like others. I've created an entire fake planet, with it's own history and lore, for me to showcase, and you to play and discover. When you play ZENFORMS:Protectors, it will make you see that while the other games might have HD graphics, ZENFORMS is the only one with charm, soul, and offer you a world you can invest your time in and not feel ripped off.

I see the question a lot, and I have asked it myself, so we might as well post in here as well. Are you looking for any Alpha/Beta testers? What is the reasoning behind your answer?

No I'm not. That's even a joke with my close friends. I don't let them play the game. I'll show them it sometimes, but I never let them play it, or look at it for too long. I want them to enjoy it. I made the game have a lot of references to them, myself, and various memes and videos we see online.

I also want new people who don't know me personally to enjoy this game.
I do everything. I didn't hire a writer, I wrote it myself. This is going to be a way for people to see my sense of humour, and to see the energy I put in just to make them smile and enjoy the game experience. I don't want testers for two main reasons. One is I want the game to feel fresh when it comes out. It's not fresh if I have beta testers for months and I keep delaying the game. The second reason leads from that and it's I don't want it to leak, be pirated, or anything of that nature.

I love that people even ask. It's kind of mind blowing to see people excited for the game. So just wait, you won't be disappointed!



Last edited by Varking; 08-02-2012 at 10:50 AM.
08-02-2012, 08:59 AM
Joined: Oct 2010
Location: North Carolina
Posts: 482
Interview with Stephen McVicker - The Developer of ZENFORMS!

While working on Zenforms, have you developed any sort of bond with your Zenforms? What I mean is, has there become one Zenform that you like more than all the others?

I love the Newborns. Those 3 little dudes are very special to me since they represent ZENFORMS in all the banners and stuff.
I'm a huge fan of a ZENFORM called Beats: on the first of this screen shot:

Another ZENFORM I love is Kross - he's on the right here:

If ZENFORMS were real and I was a Protector, I'd use them two all the time. I'd go to the shops on Kross' back, ha. I'd use Beats to be my "heavy" like this ZENFORM that is my body guard, haha.

What has been the most difficult part of creating Zenforms? Has anything crazy or funny happened during development?

Aside from the game getting re-imagined completely three times, the most difficult part is people just not helping out. People who worked on the project for about two months then left me. They really burned me to be honest, and left a sour taste in my mouth. I had fights with people over the project and leaving. It's a sad thing really.

What's funny is the best commission artist, his name is Yoel, I used to fight with him when I was younger in my fan game days. I'd forget how young he was back then, and when he'd post screenshots just to boost his ego, it would really annoy me. But at the time he was like 13 or 14. What person that age doesn't want some validation? Haha. I love him now, so it's pretty weird to think about the old Calis Projects days, back in the fan game days, and how we'd fight really bad.

I found about three artists I now get everything from. Very solid guys. They are also people I've never met in person which is weird in itself. They are from all over Europe like Italy and Denmark. I've learned so much about how to do business in game development because of them!

How difficult is it to toe the line of "I know there is a lot of interest in my game so I want to release it, but the realist in me knows I need more time"? At the time of this question, there are 637 posts in your thread and 100,378 views. That number of views is the 20th largest, and still growing, thread ever at TouchArcade in the Upcoming Games section.

It's the worst feeling ever! Honestly. Let me clear it up, one of the best feelings I have in life right now is knowing that ZENFORMS has fans. As I said earlier, it blows my mind to think any one cares this much. I have people so smart on the project that they call me out if I make a mistake with some information I give them. They will say "Neo, but didn't you say this before...." and correct me.

The worst feeling is knowing how I'm letting them down with how lazy I am.
I like to think of myself of this smart guy, and smart about games, but I'm so lazy. I find it hard to stay motivated. My personal friends tell me all the time to keep working. I get really positive comments saying "stick with it Neo", and I get this cool feeling and ego boost, but I still can't focus on the project.

I don't really use visual game tools, I use Xcode. It's just walls and walls of programming text lol. It's hard to enjoy it sometimes. I love the project, I enjoy playing it myself honestly, but it's hard to focus on my game when I'm coding in my bedroom. It's hard to stay motivated on the project solely in this place haha.

Trust me, I know it's August and I said a March release back in February , haha. I know that more than any one, ha!

If the game explodes onto the App Store what is your plan then? Will you start working on new games? Take a vacation? Start hiring people for your team to work on new stuff?

If the game explodes, this will make my creativity and drive explode. Not only will the release boost me to keep working, but I'll get more and more people giving feedback. I've asked people to give me good feedback. This means, aside from doing the easy part in saying "oh I hated this part" - tell me what you liked so I know what I'm doing right. That way I can design more of that think you like, add more of it even.

With the income of the project, I'd spend it on the commission artists - lucky dudes. I have a few ideas, but I need the cash to get it. I'd also invest in a new Macbook. I have a 2009 model and it lags when I close a bracket in the code, ha.

I'll just take the experience as it comes. If it does well, I'll adapt. If not, I'll adapt. I plan to keep working on the game and bringing those free big, big, big content updates quickly and not months apart. Ideally, no more than two months between big content updates.

I also have a few ideas for other projects, non ZENFORMS games, I'd like to try. Games with smaller development times. That type of thing. If ZENFORMS doesn't take off, it doesn't mean I will. I'll still make games, I'm not going any where for a while!

Any secrets you want to share about the game, or anything you want to hint at for those that read the interview?

Okay, I'll give you an exclusive. I will be adding more ZENFORMS in one of the big content updates.... Not in Version 1.1, but I will.

In fact, here is the exclusive part that no one knows (my friends know lol), I even have them designed and sprited :P

Also, I have the whole Grand ZENFORMS, which are the last stage of ZENFORM evolution, that I have blocked in the game. So they will be getting unlocked aside from adding the new, secret ZENFORMS. You might be wondering how do I add new ZENFORMS since every ZENFORM comes from one of the three Newborns, but I have ideas.... Trust me.

So if you are concerned about the number of ZENFORMS, remember, more is coming!

Everyone always wants to know what influences there were behind the idea of any game, I would like to know what games you are playing right now. Besides what you are playing at the moment, what has been your favorite iOS game of all time?

My favourite games are RPGs. Single player RPGs really get to me since they are my experience. I don't share that, and sometimes I don't want to share my experience. It's mine. I play shooters and stuff like COD and Halo, but RPGs are special to me.

Final Fantasy X is one of my favorite games ever. I remember getting a demo with my PS2 for it, it was the first ever PS2 game I'd seen. I remember watching that pre-rendered intro for the first time- with Tidus playing Blitz ball and that heavy music, it was amazing! I thought games never looked so good, ha.

I'm inspired by Final Fantasy series in general. I got the term Gaia (name of the planet in ZENFORMS) from their games and not from any where else as some have suggested. Another game I really enjoyed recently was Deus Ex. That gave me a few ideas too!

In terms of iOS games, I haven't been inspired by any at all. I play a lot of Plants Versus Zombies and I really enjoyed the Dead Space and Mass Effect games for iOS.

If fans want to reach your for further questions, share ideas, or contact you for any reason, where can I direct them?

I've very active on the Calis Projects forum. I check it all the time.

The Facebook page is great for reaching out to people as well. It's my fav. place to interact since I can put a face to the person asking the quest most of the time.

Is there anything you would like to say to all the fans of your game so far, or anything to the skeptics as well?

To the fans, thank you so much! I hope some day to be at a convention and meet you. That is my dream. I can't wait for the day to shake your hand, and start a photo album on my facebook for "ZENFORMS fans". Remember always that I read your posts, I listen to your ideas and consider them (even if I reject them in the end), this game is my artistic expression for you.

To the skeptics, please don't call the game a clone until you read up on the project. If you are not "feeling" the project that is fine. If you'd like me to add something into the game to get you interested, sure tell me, if not, there is no point interacting with me. This game isn't for you, so don't even comment at me about the game.

And to you, I'd like to thank you for the interview. I hope you get to use this and show people so you can write for a site or magazine some day!


End of the interview! Thank you so much for participating and allowing me to ask you questions. I appreciate all of the detail you put into your answers and I look forward to playing your game once it releases. For those looking for the ZENFORMS thread on TouchArcade, it can be located here. Thank you for your time everyone!

Last edited by Varking; 08-02-2012 at 10:49 AM.

08-02-2012, 09:00 AM
Joined: Oct 2010
Location: North Carolina
Posts: 482
Placeholder post to edit and add more of the interview.
08-02-2012, 10:24 AM
Joined: Jan 2012
Posts: 194
I enjoyed the interview, was fun to do.
It was nice to do it and break up the day.

Oh and use this titlescreen - that one is out of date with the old sprites:
08-02-2012, 10:50 AM
Joined: Oct 2010
Location: North Carolina
Posts: 482
Originally Posted by Neo-Dragon View Post
I enjoyed the interview, was fun to do.
It was nice to do it and break up the day.

Oh and use this titlescreen - that one is out of date with the old sprites:
Updated and thank you. It would be nice to reach back out to you, post-release and see how things are going.
08-02-2012, 12:02 PM
Joined: May 2011
Location: Finland
Posts: 8,364
Nice review Didn't read all, but the parts I did were very informative

Gameloft Live: IDontKiIIPpl (idontkiippl without capital letters)

I make EDM music No I'm not some pro who's signed to some major lable.http://YouTube.com/okayyymc3
08-02-2012, 12:16 PM
Joined: Oct 2010
Location: North Carolina
Posts: 482
Originally Posted by LOLavi View Post
Nice review Didn't read all, but the parts I did were very informative
Thank you kindly!
08-03-2012, 01:23 PM
Joined: Dec 2009
Posts: 1,443
Very good job to both of you. Even though I've been following the project for a really long time, I learned some new stuff myself. I like how Neo is adding some of his own personality/humor into the game.

I find it awesome that he released secret information at the end of the interview xP I feel special.

GC:SunScape | Plus+:MysticSun | Other:MystikSun
Youtube: SunScapeUPSB | PSN: mudkiprulz|
08-03-2012, 04:00 PM
Joined: Oct 2010
Location: North Carolina
Posts: 482
Originally Posted by MystikSun View Post
Very good job to both of you. Even though I've been following the project for a really long time, I learned some new stuff myself. I like how Neo is adding some of his own personality/humor into the game.

I find it awesome that he released secret information at the end of the interview xP I feel special.
Thank you and yeah I was a bit surprised he gave us a secret!