Gree's strategy of mixing basic stat-and-class based RPG mechanics with touchscreen controls and social interactions has taken the company into multiple fictional realms like crime, modern warfare and fantasy.
The Japanese company's new game, Beyond the Dead is developed by its Vancouver studio. It is all about zombies.
Shown in playable form at a San Francisco preview event this week, it's an isometric exploration game that allows the player to pick fights with zombies and upgrade their own powers through loot drops and weapons. 16 zones are planned for launch, including the one demonstrated to Polygon, an amusement park. Players wander around, look for appropriately leveled enemies and engage them in combat.
Like an old Japanese RPG, the player-character itself is merely an avatar that represents the player's squad of five players, picked from a roster of 125 individuals who represent human survivors in the zombie world. This element of personification and story seeks to add a layer of depth to the game which, at its very center, is about stats and upgrades.
"There's definitely a creative and competitive aspect with creating your team and then battling with others," said Gree Canada's general manager Steve Lin. "It's about going into a world and exploring rather than just the more casual games where you are sliding things around."
There is a tactical element involved in which individual squad members are chosen, with each representing one of the three basic RPG classes, all with their own pros and cons. The game is designed to add personality to the business of finding and mixing the best cards, upgrading powers and weapons along the way.
Social games are all about personalization, usually in the form of clothing and accessories, but also in the groupings of characters. Just look at the popularity of EA Sports' Ultimate Teams.
"We definitely see that in the office when we are playing Beyond the Dead." said Lin. "The interesting thing is that each of us knows the stats behind the game so theoretically we should all have the exact same team because we all want to maximize, but it's not like that.
"Everybody has their own team make-up. Some teams are all hipster-types or all women or all military. It's giving us some insight into each of our personalities based on who we choose in the game."
Gree believes its gameplay and monetization models, which it is iterating across various themes, is a hit with the so-called "mid-core" gamer who is looking for an engaging experience that will last longer than a few moments, but is playing in an environment where $60 fees to play games, or any fees at all, are anathema.
"In the social gaming world we consider ourselves to be the experts in RPGs," said chief operating officer Anil Dharni. "We've looked at various genres based on an RPG model where there's a base and then you go out and do your missions and quests and then you build alliances and compete with other people. We know that players love zombies, and we have tested it well, using our RPG engine and overlaying it with these stories."
The game also has RTS elements in which players must upgrade multiple units while also souping up and modifying their home base, in which recruits are trained.
The stories and the characters that inhabit them range from deeply archetypal to profession-based to cheeky pop cultural. Although they draw heavily on extant influences, they look to be a reasonably varied bunch.
They also offer a large pot of stories and quests to draw upon. The stories link together to form a narrative about, of course, the source of this zombie outbreak. Gree games are generally updated often with new content and additional narratives so new characters and stories are expected.
"The way I explain it to my team is that it's like Star Trek TNG in which there is this overarching storyline and then they branch off and do certain character explorations," said Lin. "Unfortunately you have no control over that. If there is a Deanna Troi episode, oh well, this is not going to be any fun.
"But we can have all these different characters and their stories so it's about finding the right team for you. It's about going out and exploring the world."
Squad-based games like XCOM Enemy Unknown show that players become attached to their characters, even the ones who are less than super-powered.
"Your character might not be the most powerful one for certain situations," said Lin. "But if you have an affinity for them you will do everything you can to upgrade that character and continue to have them in your squad. After all, there's always the chance that something might happen down the road where that person turns out to be very useful."
Beyond the Dead is due to be released around Halloween for iOS.