Interview with Cold Comfort Devs
Cold Comfort is an asymmetrical competitive 5v5 PvP horror survival game that is set in the immediate aftermath of the zombie apocalypse, where you can play as either a Survivor or Gamma Prime. We spoke with J.J. Costello about it!
Pixel Issue: Great to speak to you J.J. – can you introduce yourself, tell us a bit and about your background?
J.J. Costello: Thanks for taking the time to sit down and chat with me! Well, I don’t have a traditional game development pedigree; truth be told, I’m kind of a jack-of-all-trades. I studied acting, and film making and my “day job” is that of a voice over artist. I ran a game localization studio for a number of years, where I was the casting and voice director, so I’ve probably done the voice direction on over 150 games.
I was heavily involved the game industry through my position as a service provider, and more often than not, I was in the position to cut deals with either publishers or developers to localize their game under somewhat dubious conditions.
“Alright, we’ve been working on this game for the last two years, and we have 2 million words of dialogue that need to be translated into 4 languages, and recorded by 30 actors. Oh and by the way we need it done next week”. (slight exaggeration here) So more often than not, we needed to concentrate more on quantity rather and quality, and as you can imagine the end product suffers from such a constellation. Over the years, it kind of got to me, and quite frankly, it pissed me off. Here were teams of game developers that have put their heart and souls into a game, only to skimp on the localization. Often, localization is an afterthought to a lot of developers and publishers. They only see it as a means to and end, potentially allowing their sales to increase due to different market shares. Additionally, there is somewhat of a disconnect in the game localization business, where a lot of devs almost see game localizers as bottom feeders, and probably ask themselves why they shouldn’t just use machine translations. I was often in the position where I had to justify standard and humane rates for not only translators but for voice actors as well. “Why can’t we just pay the actor $20?! I mean, he’s only gonna be in the studio for an hour, right?”
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had the opportunity to work on a lot of amazing and quality titles, but not all geese lay golden eggs, sometimes you get a gooey mess. There’s also a lot of crap being made, and having to dissect a voice over script and direct actors based on lore that quite frankly is shoddy at best, takes its toll on you.
I think what it boils down to is this: the story to a lot of games is irrelevant. Perhaps it’s a sign of the times, where our attention spans tend to wane and the average consumer is more interested in mechanics and the “wow factor”. Or maybe game developers simply put together a concept for a game, and then figure they should probably put somewhat of a story over it like a cheap party dress, to doll it up.
Anyways, it got me thinking. If the story, lore and world building aspects of a lot of games are secondary, or even tertiary in importance in games that I feel are substandard; does that imply that if you concentrate on the story and lore first and foremost that the game will be good? Obviously I’m simplifying it extremely, and there are of course games outs there where the story IS in fact irrelevant, and the game is still amazing.
Now I can only talk from personal experience, but games that have rich and well thought out lore are the ones that really suck me in.
Pixel Issue: So, tell us a little bit about Cold Comfort, and the team.
J.J. Costello: After my disheartening stint in the games industry, I went back to just doing voice over work, and directing. It’s a good gig, I can’t complain- but I still had this nagging feeling, that I needed to somehow utilize all of the experience I had racked up while working on games. Whether it was on a whim, or an attempt to distract myself from other things going on in my life at the time, I started to tinker a bit with the idea of making a game of my own.
I started back in January of 2016, and I haven’t looked back! Initially I wasn’t quite sure where it would all go, but I knew that if my game had a chance at all, then I needed to really flesh it out, and not having a team in place at the time, or funding was in fact a godsend. I was able to really break it all down and design the game from the ground up (all in theory mind you).
At this point though I needed to be brutally honest with myself. What was the goal? Obviously I had an idea, and I wanted to make it a reality, but I didn’t know how to make 3D models, or code or any of that mumbo-jumbo fancy development stuff!
I think my saving grace was that I really hammered out the concept before I became proactive in looking for potential collaborators. “Idea Guys” are a dime a dozen, and unless you have something that is really going to impress, and get people all hot and bothered, and you’ve done a lot of the leg work yourself, it will be hard to convince someone else to be a “punk rock dev” and see where it all leads.
That was my initial take on the whole thing, more of a zen approach to game development. I knew that “normally” you start a company, get a rough concept, apply for funding or find an investor and THEN you make a game, but at that point, I honestly wasn’t ready to take that risk, and commit to it 100%.
Having a GDD, and flow charts and mechanics all mapped out, and sitting down and refining them over and over again, knowing full well that your ideas are not subject to scrutiny is somewhat freeing. Oh and of course, I was petrified that once I showed the concept to someone that they would tear it apart. So that was a major incentive for me to wait as long as I did.
Don’t get me wrong, feedback is a good thing, but second guessing yourself isn’t. I had to believe in Cold Comfort before I asked anyone else to.
Once I was confident that my concept was solid, or at least as solid enough, I started working with a concept artist to get some of the ideas I had to make some nice eye-candy. I also hired a 3D artist to make some props for me. Regretfully, due to a personal tragedy, I took a big economic hit, and I was no longer in a position to give the artists more work.
I was bummed, I’ll be honest. Here I was with a half baked idea, I had hired some artists to work on some stuff for me, it was just getting off the ground and then BAM – it seemed Cold Comfort was dead in the water.
The 3D artist that i had hired called me up one day, and was really strapped for cash, and I was like, yeah, you and me both brother. I told him that the project was gonna have to be put on ice for a bit, and that I’d get back in touch with him when I had some funds.
He was like “fuck it. It’s a cool idea. I’ll do it for free”. I didn’t know what to say at first. It never dawned on me that someone would believe in the project enough to agree to forgo payment. Now “free” didn’t settle well with me, so we quickly came to a deferred payment arrangement.
Not ideal, but at least he had the assurance that IF Cold Comfort every amounted to anything, he would eventually get paid.
Fast forward a year, and now there are about 30 team members, who have all agreed to the same conditions.
Sure, it’s not the ideal situation, but it’s an organic one, and it allows us to go at our own pace (for better or for worse). It also gives me the opportunity to hone the concept more and more, and gives them an opportunity to work in a semi-professional environment and learn as they go along.
Pixel Issue: How many players will plan in each game session, and what are the pros and cons of each side?
J.J. Costello: Cold Comfort is a 5v5 game. So there are two teams of 5 each. Players can either play as a Survivor, or a Gamma Prime. Survivors, as the name suggestions are survivors of the Gamma Strain virus; ones that did not initially succumb to the pandemic. Gamma Primes on the other hand are genetically enhanced beings, for which the Gamma Strain transformed them on a cellular level.
Now, Cold Comfort is an asymmetrical game, on many levels. Not only in terms of team, classes, mechanics but also in goals. As a Survivor, your goal is to find as many Survivor AI as you can, and rescue them, all the while, making sure that you don’t get ganked by Zombie AI or Gamma Primes. Survivors have to gather ammo, building supplies, medical supplies and fuses. These elements are essential in assuring that they achieve their goal. Each of these supplies are found in POIs, which are randomized each time you play the game.
Cold Comfort is a class based game. So for instance if you play Holliday, you’re loadout is unique to her. Sure, you’ll have the option to pick and choose various weapons and gadgets, but all of these weapons and gadgets are specific to that particular class.
So Survivors have a plethora of weapons and gadgets at their disposal, whereas the Gamma Prime only have talents. They are more visceral in nature and rely on their genetically enhanced talents to achieve their goal; which is to infect all of the Survivors by any means necessary.
Pixel Issue: What do players have to do to get the rewards, and what kind of rewards are there?
J.J. Costello: Oh good question! Yeah the reward loop is definitely a big factor. There are 3 major “currencies” in Cold Comfort, DNA, GNA and GMCs. DNA is granted to players while playing Survivor classes, for doing Survivor “things” they can in turn use these points to upgrade their character, better weapons, attachments, gadgets and gear. Same goes for the GNA points for the Gamma Primes. If they do Gamma Prime “things”, whether it be bashing a barricade, or infecting a Survivor, they get GNA points, which they can use to upgrade their Gamma Primes, unlocking new talents, or improving ones that they already have.
GMC points are earned through normal gameplay, but also through social interaction on our Discord server as well as with our companion app, Eradiclicker.
These points are for purely cosmetic purposes, so you can use them to unlock weapon skins, clothing etc.
Pixel Issue: What are the challenges that you face as a developer?
J.J. Costello: It’s a long list! No, but honestly, I think the biggest challenge at the moment is attempting to maintain a professional atmosphere even though we’re not yet currently funded. For all intent and purposes, Cold Comfort is a hobby project, but only by definition. We strive to be as professional as possible under the circumstances.
As the project lead, it’s mind boggling sometimes to think of the man hours that are put into this project, on faith alone. I can’t imagine what it would be like once we’re actually funded!
Running a deferred payment project with 30 people is challenging in and of itself. But like I said before you gotta be flexible, and roll with the punches sometimes. You can make milestones, and delivery deadlines all you want, but if your coder has to prioritize a real job, so he can put food on his plate and buy diapers for his kids, yeah, it is what it is.
Pixel Issue: Tell us about the game engine and the target platforms – will this be PC only or also for console?
J.J. Costello: Initially we’ll be focusing on a PC release, however depending on our budget we are definitely interested in porting it nextgen consoles.
Pixel Issue: Tell us about Eradiclicker? How does that plug in to the game?
J.J. Costello: Eradiclicker is our companion app, which I briefly mentioned above. By playing Eradiclicker, you’ll be able to earn GMC points, which you can in turn use in Cold Comfort to unlock cosmetic items. From a lore perspective, Eradiclicker is the creation of vyal, a fictitious company in the world of Cold Comfort.
Pixel Issue: what kind of environments will the game be played in? Will there be exterior areas as well as interior areas?
J.J. Costello: Initially, Cold Comfort will be released with 5 maps, with a balanced mix of both interior and exterior locations.
Pixel Issue: Will there also be a progression story in the game or is it just a backstory and a focus on the action?
J.J. Costello: Glad that you brought that up! The first 5 maps must be played in sequence. For instance, you first have to play and unlock Seneca, before you can move on to the next map. All of the initially released maps take place within a span of 3 months (game time). When we release future DLC, the maps that we release will be chronological and follow our timeline.
Pixel Issue: What’s your roadmap for release?
J.J. Costello: Here’s our rough roadmap. So as you can see, we have a lot of goodies planned!
Please note that this list is aspirational, and intended to provide an overview of our intentions for the game as it evolves. It is not a promise or guarantee that these features will be added within the outlined intervals, or that they will be added at all.
Keep in mind that this is a living list, and as such will constantly change. Things will be added, moved, and removed. Also, this list is not meant to be all-encompassing — at any given time, we are likely working on things that are not on this list. And finally, we may also work on things in secret and exclude this from the list so that they are more of a surprise!
Pixel Issue: anything else we’ve missed?
J.J. Costello: We’ll cover that in a follow up interview in 6 months!