Interview with Patrick Wolowicz, Creator of “Zen Wars!”

We know of at least three teams we have to thank for the fact that we’ll be playing the final version of Zen Wars on our iDevices soon:, Liv Games, and Panzer Flakes. What role did each of these play in bringing the project to fruition? software is actually just me (Patrick Wolowicz). Zen Wars started out as a free time project I was planning to do with two of my friends. Peter Szatmary was in charge of music and sound effects while Alioum Toure was in charge of art, and I was in charge of programming and design. We met up in our free time to discuss our ideas and progress, but as time progressed, my friends had to abandon the project to work on other things. Their influence can still be found in some of the design aspects of the game. I, however, had already made some progress, so I decided to slowly continue my work.

The game still needed a great look and I can’t draw to save my life, so I started looking for someone to help me with that. After some failed tries with other artists I got in contact with Panzer Flakes and explained what I needed. They drew me up some concept art and I loved it, so I hired them to do the complete Zen Wars graphics.

Liv Games jumped aboard in the final stretch and are helping me take care of publishing. They’ve done a tremendous job of getting Derek Laufman to create the Zen Wars trailer, getting the word out about Zen Wars and allowing me to run my ideas and game iterations past them, aiding me with their expertise, all while allowing me to maintain control of the project.

How did Liv Games end up working with – which team approached the other to suggest a collaboration, and how did working together on Zen Wars benefit each of you?

A year or so ago, Orian Livnat from Liv Games contacted me as he was looking for developers to work with him on Legendary Wars. He showed me the project and I was impressed; at the same time I was up to my neck in projects such as Zen Wars, and as such could not take up his offer. We did, however, stay in contact, offering each other expertise on a consultant level. Once I was close to completing Zen Wars I talked to Orian about publishing in general, and after a few long talks we decided it would be mutually beneficial if Liv Games published Zen Wars. Liv Games had established contacts within the media industry and had a community of passionate gamers asking for the next Liv Games product, and I was looking for someone to assist me in public relations and marketing so that I had time to code and complete Zen Wars. Liv Games has been a great partner.

I’m always curious about the order in which a game’s story and the game design itself take shape. Was Zen Wars’ story wrapped around its gameplay once the game design was set in stone, or did you have a story in mind first, and then explore gameplay options that would mesh well with it? And why the comic book style delivery for its plot?

When developing Zen Wars I established a few corner stones early on: I wanted to do a fun game with an Asian anime look that doesn’t take itself too seriously. I also had a few ideas on levels I wanted to include (such as a level where you’re overrun by warriors) and the order they’d be in. I had thought up The Advisor and Lord Evilz early on, too, as I always love games with epic battles between arch-rivals. That was all I had time for: I needed to code. I sent these corner stones to Jakub Riedel from Panzer Flakes, asking him and his team to fully develop the characters and story from there. From that point onwards the story, characters and game were developed in parallel, with the story and characters adapting to game changes as needed.

As for the comic book style of delivery, I wish I had an amazing story for why I picked comic books instead of movie cut scenes or the like, but it’s much simpler than that: Zen Wars is a self-financed project that I paid from savings made on other iOS projects. As such, I had to find an efficient way to tell a story but without having the money to pay lots of artists. Mimicking a comic book proved to be a great way of telling a good story and much cheaper than video cut scenes. Comics are a proven method of graphically telling a story, and by moving the comic page and adding a few animations on top of the comic, you can make the comic come alive.

The Rampart-style formula is definitely one of Zen Wars’ great strengths from our experience with it so far, but one could also argue that it’s a liability – people who well remember Rampart or one of its many ports might ask if there’s any innovation to be found here. What factors set Zen Wars apart from ye olde Rampart, or was the idea precisely to faithfully bring this style of game to a new audience that might not have experienced it before?

Yes, Zen Wars is definitely influenced by the surround & conquer genre, a genre made famous by Rampart. There have been a few attempts at bringing the genre to iDevices, but I found none really entertaining, and none had any multiplayer either. Zen Wars tries to add a more puzzling approach to the genre: while aiming and rebuilding are important as usual, later levels require you to think which weapons to use at what time; blindly firing and rebuilding won’t get you past these levels, all while adding humor, more weapons and enemies, and a great story.