Kickin’ it with Ragtag Studios – Ray’s the Dead

by Antonio Garcia

Zombies have had a lot of exposure in gaming, but it’s been a while since they were the main stars of a game. Ray’s the Dead is trying to change that, and it’s coming to PS4, PC, Mac and Linux

4cr: Welcome Chris! Time to get this Kickin’ it with started. Can you give our readers an intro to Ragtag Studios and to your role there?

Thanks! Glad to be here. There are only three of us at Ragtag Studio – Myself, Matt and Shawn. All three of us have been making games for about 15 years a piece, having worked at bigger companies like Activision, Ion Storm, Disney, etc.

Matt and I have worked together at a few of those companies for about 12 years before we started having serious talks about leaving the AAA world and starting our studio. At first it seemed like something that was just fun to talk about – something that OTHER people did. But the more we spoke about it the more real it became. Until the point that we HAD to do it.

In April of 2012 we finally took the plunge. We quit our comfortable and lucrative jobs for a life of no pay and total freedom. We had already made a couple of iPhone games before quitting (shhh, don’t tell Disney!) but Ray’s the Dead was to be our first REAL game.

Ragtag Studios

A couple of months after we started pre production, we managed to talk Matt’s friend Shawn into making the same crazy leap we did, and join us as our programmer.

Earlier this month Matt and I picked up our families and relocated from Chicago to Dallas, so we could work together in person with Shawn.

As for our roles, we all contribute to all aspects of the game, but primarily Shawn is the programmer, Matt is the lead artist, and I handle design, production, bizdev, and PR. We are all taking on so many new challenges that we never even touched in any of our previous roles. This has been a scary and liberating experience to say the least!

4cr: Ragtag Studios ran a Kickstarter campaign last year to fund Ray’s the Dead, but things didn’t work out that time. Now you’re back doing a second campaign to bring the game to PS4, PC, Mac and Linux. Other than the lower goal, what is different this time around?

Quite a bit is different. The game has seen another year worth of development, which means we have quite a lot more to show. Our new trailer shows new environments, new enemies, new types of gameplay, new bosses, etc. We have also been Greenlit for Steam, and announced that Ray’s the Dead will be released on the PlayStation 4. So we are able to offer those as reward tiers, which (I hope) demonstrates to our backers that we are not only very serious about making a good game, but that others already believe in us.

One of the other big differences in this campaign is the emphasis on the story of Ray’s the Dead. While the game hasn’t actually changed, we noticed in all of our dealings with fans and the press that the most compelling aspect of the game is the fact that you play as both Zombie Ray AND human Ray in these fully interactive flashbacks. These flashbacks not only let you experience Ray’s backstory first hand, but also serve as the mechanic by which Ray learns (remembers) his abilities.

Whenever we would talk about that aspect of the game, eyes would light up. So we knew we had to make that he focus this time around. The new piece of art with Ray seeing his human reflection in the ground has been a very successful interpretation of that.

Rays the Dead - What Is

4cr: For our readers who might not be familiar with the game, what is Ray’s the Dead about and what will the gameplay be like?

Ray’s the Dead is a game focused on our main character Ray. Ray starts the game as a zombie who digs himself out of his own grave. You quickly realize that Ray has a few noticeable characteristics that make him unlike any other zombie. One is the giant bulb sticking out of his head, and the second is the idea that there is still of a glimmer of life remaining when you look into his eyes. Its almost like there is a little bit of the human Ray still alive inside that decaying brain.

Ray beings to experience visions in the present, and flashbacks to the past that provide clues as to the kind of man he was, who his friends and enemies were, and what his path in his undead life should be.

Additionally, he discovers that this bulb in his brain gives him the ability to resurrect and control the dead. With this power and growing awareness of his past, he gets himself wrapped up in quite the epic predicament! But I will just leave it at that.

As for the gameplay, its quite an unusual mix of some of our favorite genres. The controls are similar to Pikmin. If you aren’t familiar with that, its a game in which you directly control a single avatar, who in turn is able to control many minions. So while Ray is able to run around and fight on his own, he will need to build up a group of helpers and use them in a variety of ways. Both for combat and puzzle solving.

There will be a total of 5 unique types of zombies that you’ll come across. Each has a unique combat style, as well as a distinctive method of traversing the environment. So, when you encounter a specific type of enemy, you’ll need to decide which of your zombie types are best suited to take him down. Similarly, you’ll encounter a variety of environment based puzzles that will require you to know your zombies strengths in order to figure them out.

It is worth mentioning that a game I worked on called Stubbs the Zombie is a huge influence for Ray’s the Dead. I hope anyone that was a fan of Stubbs gives Ray’s the Dead a shot. I think they will find it fits into a similar place in their heart.

Rays The Dead Walking

4cr: With the goal in the bag now, are you guys considering any stretch goals to improve on the game or to bring it to other platforms?

Certainly. While the majority of the game is planned and settled on, there are a few additional features that are hinging on us receiving a certain amount of funding. The most important stretch goal for me is at 60k we will be able to hire another team member for at least a few months. This will be a huge help to us and give us the confidence that we can not only add these few remaining features, but we can also tackle a few new platforms.

In general, our stretch goals are not going to be things like ‘additional levels’ or ‘additional zombie types’. While I know those are the types of stretch goals people like to see, my opinion is that you should come to Kickstarter with your game already mapped out, and not have critically important aspects of the game hinging on you hitting your stretch goals.

In fact, where many stretch goals actually increase the development time of a project, we are hoping ours will speed us up. This is why the additional help is so important, and listed on the stretch goal chart.

Anyway, we really want to bring Ray’s The Dead to as many platforms as we can. We have announced a WiiU tier, and would love to add more should the backers demand it!

Rays the Dead - Sound

4cr: Audio is an important part of your game. Who will be working on the soundtrack and sound effects for Ray’s the Dead and will there be a theme for the soundtrack?

Ray’s the Dead takes place in the 80’s. When we went looking for musicians, I came across the Double Dragon Neon soundtrack by Jake Kaufman. After listening to that with Matt, we knew we had found our guy. Fortunately Jake was really excited about what we were up to, and agreed to headline our soundtrack. He has done a few tracks for us already and he is really nailing it.

Jake has been on fire of late, most recently having completed the much loved Shovel Knight soundtrack. Your fans should notice that the Shovel Knight soundtrack includes something like 40+ tracks! We are hoping he goes that crazy for our soundtrack. If so, everyone is in for a huge treat!

We also have a gentleman from New Zealand named Luke Rowell who performs under the name Disasterradio. His music sets a great mood that also fits very nicely in Ray’s world.

As for sound effects, we’re super lucky to have the one and only Ben Crossbones doing our SFX. He is another industry vet that has worked on games like Tony Hawk Pro Skater, and Organ Trail. He is currently working on Killer Instinct Season Two for the Xbox One at the same time he’s working on Ray’s the Dead.

Our audio will be killer!

4cr: The Kickstarter campaign shows that the game will not be released until May 2015. Isn’t the game pretty much done already?

It is not – far from it if I’m honest. Considering how long we’ve been working on it, it really should be nearly done. But Ray’s the Dead is a hugely ambitious game, and there are only the three of us working on it, so it has taken quite a bit longer than we originally planned.

The bright side is now that all the systems are in place, we are nearly to the point where we can start cranking out a lot of content. That coupled with the fact that we are all now working in the same physical space has us optimistic that things are going to speed up as we near the finish line.

And again, that extra team member would really help us out!

4cr: Thank you for your time. Is there anything else you want to say before we go?

I just want to say that all three of us are putting it all on the line to make Ray’s the Dead the best it can be. We have all been working without pay for over two years now, and none of the money we are trying to get from Kickstarter is going in our pockets. We want the money to hire additional people to help us get the game at the quality level we want it to be, as fast as possible.

Also, I want to thank everyone that has expressed interest in our game. It is an unusual beast and requires a bit of investment to really understand what it is we are going for. I believe when the final game is done and people get a chance to try it they will be very pleasantly surprised. But it is a very hard game to describe and pitch properly, so we appreciate anyone that devotes the time to understand what Ray’s the Dead is all about.

Thank YOU for your time!