Ben Cousins on DeNA’s upcoming core FPS The Drowning

By Scott Reyburn Comment

Developer Scattered Entertainment’s Ben Cousins recently gave Inside Mobile Apps an in-depth look at the developer’s upcoming horror first-person shooter (FPS) The Drowning. Cousins, the general manager of the studio, filled us in on the title’s innovative controls, monetization hooks and social features.The Drowning logo

The Stockholm-based studio, which is a subsidiary of DeNA, consists of team members that had previously worked on multiple console FPS franchises including Halo, Crysis, Far Cry and Battlefield. Industry veteran Cousins is the man leading the ship at Scattered Entertainment, who had previously worked at Acclaim Entertainment, Lionhead Studios, Sony Computer Entertainment, and most recently at Electronic Arts. He joined DeNA because he wanted to work at a company where free-to-play and digital were the primary focus in terms of revenue.

“We didn’t feel like core gamers needs were being served particularly well,” he says. “Not in terms of giving them enormous single-player games that they sit down and play for eight hours, but more creating games that have the adult tone, violence, excitement, drama, and high-end visuals that they would expect from a console game.”

The Drowning’s core gameplay loops and controls

The free-to-play game, which runs on the Unity3D engine, is aimed at the core audience and places the user as survivor of the apocalypse who’s stranded on a series of islands in the pacific northwest of the U.S. The user starts with just a pistol and is soon attacked by zombie-like creatures. The player is then rescued by another survivor named Charlotte, who turns out to be a gunsmith that operates a workshop. Users are then tasked with going out to various locations nearby to clear out baddies and scavenge for parts to craft weapons and upgrade existing weapons.The Drowning screenshot 1

There are two core gameplay loops in The Drowning. First, users go to these various island environments and play a two-minute long round where they have to kill as many zombies as possible in as violent of a way as possible via head shots, chaining kills, knocking out baddies, and more, to rack up the highest score possible. The score represents how long zombies will retreat from an environment before they return. Second, while the baddies are away, this gives the user the opportunity to scavenge the environment for parts and broken weapons. The scavenge mode, Cousins says, plays like a slots game where the user presses a button and then receives a random part — such as a broken AK-47, grease, duct tape or a battery. The higher the score in the game round, the higher likelihood the player will nab a rarer part. None of these parts are useful alone, but the parts can crafted together to create a functional Ak-47, for example.

The Drowning’s control scheme is one of the bigger selling points for the game. The controls are not designed around virtual joysticks. Rather, the game is controlled using common touch interface gestures like taps, swipes and pinches. Users can tap the screen with two fingers to shoot, and the bullet is fired to the center point of the two fingers, resulting in the ability to track moving target or multiple baddies without moving the camera. Players can also tap to walk, swipe to look and pinch to zoom.

Scattered Entertainment’s lessons from DeNA’s Japanese games

Cousins told Inside Mobile Apps that when breaking down The Drowning, the game has an awful lot in common with DeNA’s RPG Blood Brothers. He says The Drowning uses a lot of monetization mechanics seen in Japanese games.

One of the monetization techniques in the game is the ability to spend real money to get extra turns in the scavenge mode. For example, if a player gets a low score from the game round, they can spend real money to get extra turns in scavenge mode for the opportunity to acquire more and rarer parts.

“You never spend money and get a powerful weapon that changes the game balance, there’s always gameplay involved,” Cousins says.

The other monetization mechanic revolves around the gunsmith Charlotte. She has a courted off scavenging area behind her workshop. Within that environment are broken versions of some of the more rarer weapons. Users can pay real money for the opportunity to scavenge that environment for a chance to find the rare weapons.

“We keep people engaged in the game loop by not allowing them to buy their way to success,” Cousins says.The Drowning screenshot 2

Another thing The Drowning has in common with Blood Brothers is its social features. There’s a raid boss mechanic in The Drowning that’s similar to the same cooperative multiplayer mechanic seen in Final Fantasy Airborne Brigade and Blood Brothers. In the course of the game, users will occasionally come across a powerful zombie boss. These baddies can’t be taken down in a single round. Users can call for help with taking down a raid boss from random people or friends. Players can then, in an asynchronous manner, kill a raid boss. Every player who was involved with taking down a raid boss is awarded a prize of some sort, which can be some score, in-game currency or something of cash value like a broken version of a rare weapon.

“We are close in our social features to a game like Blood Brothers or Rage of Bahamut,” Cousins adds. “But we’ve wrapped it up in a core game world, with 3D skill-based mechanics as well.”

The Drowning, which will be a part of the Mobage platform, will launch in March for iOS and later in the year for Android. It should be noted that the Android version is being developed by another team in Holland that’s part of DeNA.