Imagine that you’ve spent several years working for a company that sees you only as a cog in the machine, another tool wearing a white collar shirt and choking tie. You spend your days filling out reports and taking the occasional break to step into the adjoining cubicle and crack a half-hearted joke with your kinda-sorta-not really friend and office-mate, Norm, as co-workers around you continue drearily going through the day in, day out motions of the workplace like the corporate walking dead.
Well, in indie developer bignic’s isometric action game Zombies. (yes, the period is intentional), the metaphorical becomes literal…and poor Norm is devoured by a buzzword-spouting zombie. (“Synergy,” the reanimated corpse groans before sinking his teeth into poor Norm’s eyeball.) You play as a sarcastic — often intelligent, sometimes dim-witted — everyman simply known as “Dude,” who tries to escape from his office, now overrun with zombies. During his bloody journey, he’ll encounter a hilarious assortment of characters, including the ever-entertaining Sergeant Westwood, a John McClane type who has serious anxiety issues over his Canadian nationality. Dude will also go head-to-head with all the supervisors he’s ever suffered under and his undead co-workers. Zombies. features the usual arsenal of weapons for zombiecide: bats, chainsaws, uzis, shotguns, and, of course, fisticuffs.
Zombies. is a surprisingly nostalgic and charming game. Anyone who’s ever played the 1993 classic Zombies Ate My Neighbors will feel right at home booting this up for the first time. The game’s isometric rampage gameplay offers a unique perspective on what’s rapidly become a dreadfully dull genre in gaming. The game’s clever humor, a blend of dry English wit and the slacker comedies of the 90s, also adds mightily to the entertainment factor. Simply said, Zombies. is a fun, silly game that knows what it is and offers an extremely amusing experience backed by a fantastic soundtrack.
bignic was kind enough to devote some of his time to an email interview about his experiences as a developer and composer.
WC: How did Zombies. come about? What was the catalyst for the game and how long did it take you from conception to the wacky, bloody isometric action game we can play today?
I had a friend who was working on an iOS app and I thought “if he can do it, I can do it.” So after deciding that I would write “a game,” it was basically the first idea that entered my head while I was in a dreadfully boring meeting. I was doodling on my agenda, and without thinking about it I had created what would become “Dude” as a box with legs, chainsawing another box that was wearing a suit. It only took a few hours to put together the basic premise of the game – that anyone in a position of power is essentially useless meat and one can only tolerate their buzzwords for so long.
So I brushed off my C++ and learned how to code again…about 6 months later the PC version was in beta testing and I decided to get a Macintosh, iPhone, and iPad to see if I could do a port. I gave myself 6 months to finish the port but it was done in about two weeks. From conception to full release on PC and iOS was about 8 months.
WC: There’s obviously a great deal of inspiration taken from English humor here, like Shaun of the Dead and The Office, but what about other influences? Some of the characters in the game seem to reference The Simpsons and Die Hard. In my review, I mentioned the protagonist seems like an office version of Guybrush Threepwood (Monkey Island) in that he’s an intelligent character who picks up on the stupidity of those he’s surrounded by while still suffering from bouts of idiocy himself. Was that series an influence?
Yeah, there are a lot of references to pop culture icons…IT Crowd, Highlander, a whole lot of Monty Python. Monkey Island actually isn’t one of them. My gaming history is fairly naïve which is unfortunate, especially when I think I’m being clever and innovative only to find that someone else has “been there and done that”. But the game doesn’t take itself very seriously. I just wanted it to be entertaining.
WC: One of the most interesting qualities of Zombies. is its beefy chiptunes soundtrack. According to your band camp site, you’ve been releasing music since 2003. What was it like writing music for a game you also developed?
Most of the music already existed before the game, so in a sense, I cheated. I guess the benefit of having it available was that I didn’t have to worry about anyone else creating the mood or style I wanted. I had some early feedback that the tone of the music was too different from the violent tone of the game – that it didn’t ‘fit’. But I kept thinking about the first level in Super Mario Bros…what is it “supposed” to sound like when you’re in the mood to step on mushrooms and shoot fire out of your hands? Everyone has their own idea, but in the end, I decided “I’ll sound however I want it to sound – it’s my art.” As an artistic expression, it wouldn’t have been complete without my own inner theme music playing. So I kept it, and it’s been the most successful aspect of the game so far. Somewhere along the way I also realized that it’s cheaper to produce a video game with 25 levels than to produce 25 music videos.
WC: Is there any chance of announcements for new games in the near future, perhaps a Kickstarter project?
I’m working on a few ideas. “Zombies.” was, in a large part, just a way to prove that I could do something. The project that I’m working on now is more of an art piece with the focus on the feel and style of the game. I want to focus on what its like to exist in the environment, to create a sense of actually being there. In stark contrast to “Zombies.” this next project is deeply spiritual and relaxed. I think I’ve proven that I can write “a game” and now I want to prove that I can write “a very good game.”
WC: One last question: the period in the title. Is it meant to be an eye-catching thing or just sort of a statement, as in, “ZOMBIES. That’s all you need to know!”
I’m not even sure…I was surprised that I couldn’t find a zombies game just called zombies. So it’s like the final word in zombies games. If you take into account that the game isn’t about actual zombies (it’s about humans – the joke is that the corporate environment makes them act like zombies, so much so that…), it’s both ironic and awesome that the final word in zombie games would be a zombie game that’s not about zombies. It’s like we’ve wrapped around the spectrum from critical zombies mass to something else. I dunno…quite frankly I was sick of zombies before I even started the game. I don’t watch zombie shows or movies. I don’t play zombie games. And while I thought the title would be fun and ironic, it turns out that it just makes the game impossible to find. I might just rename it “Office Co-Worker Smash Face” and relaunch it next year…
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