Thursday, October 14, 2010

In full Zombie Mode

A lot of game designers and players have been telling me lately they are suffering from zombie burn-out. I can understand this feeling as zombies are in A LOT of games (close to 250 by my last count!) however, there's no denying that zombies are popular and there's a reason why they are so popular (at least to us video game designers):

Zombies are the perfect video game enemy.

Why don't you ruminate, while I illuminate with these ten reasons:

1) Zombies are creepy! Well, duh, but as a former video game artist, I can tell you that zombies are fun to draw. Go ahead. Draw one. RIGHT NOW!

Hey, that turned out pretty good! Are you sure you haven't done this before?

The truth is no matter how gross they are, rotting, skeletal, bloated, grotesque, humanoids just look cool. They are horrifying and they evoke a response of fear and revolution from a player. Which is good, 'cause they're suppose to be scary and that's plenty of motivation to get a player to run or blast 'em!

2) Zombies 'plode real good! They show off effects and gibbing particle systems and make the players go "ooooh!"

3) Zombies work in a variety of genres: They work in horror, they work in sci-fi, they work in action, they work in fantasy. They work in shooters, platformers, brawlers, action games, adventure games, fighting games... even puzzle games! See that image above? It's from "Rock of the Dead" a music/zombie game. THEY WORK IN EVERY-THING.

4) Zombies can be scary... and funny! Put a funny bear head on a zombie in Dead Rising? Hil-larious. The ones in Plants vs. Zombies with the traffic cones on their heads? Comedy gold.

5) Zombies come back. A zombie is shot and falls to the floor. But if it gets back up, no player is going to yell "CHEAP!" The player expects it. (Heck, I'm a little disappointed if it doesn't) And as a game designer, any enemy that can provide "double-duty" is one worth having in a game.

6) Zombies (turtle) are in Mario games. As I always say, if they're good enough for Miyamoto, they're good enough for me.

7) Zombies travel in packs. The best basic enemy is one that can be replicated when it makes sense. This means ninjas, masked terrorists and zombies. Pirates? Not so much.

And with new technology that allows you to swap parts and decorations, you can push 100's of them on the screen with no two looking exactly alike!

8) Zombies eat players. If you were to ask anyone what the worst way to go is, I'm sure "being eaten by something else" would rate pretty high up on the list. And that's just creepy (see point #1) Fortunately, because zombies have to get up close to eat you, this allows the player some time to blast them with a shotgun or chop their heads off with a katana or simply run away. That's gameplay, folks.

9) Zombies inspire interesting gameplay - sure, shooting zombies in the head is always fun, but creating barricades to keep the zombies out, protecting helpless (hapless) NPCs, the constantly advancing waves of undead work great for shooters to brawlers to tower defense type games.

10) Anything can be zombified. OMG is that a ZOMBIE BEAR?!!! (I just want to go on the record as saying we had zombie crocodiles in Maximo back in 2001)

As a result, Zombie Mode" has become all of the rage in gaming. Every major game has one. Here are some of the better ones...

Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare - Cowboys? Zombies? Count me in. Low-tech weapons like reloadable six-shooters, bowie knives and lassos are not as effective as a chain-gun or flamethrower and therefore zombies become a much greater threat to the player.

Call of Duty: World at War Zombie Mode - two words. Nazi Zombie. Add the word "jetpack" onto that and you have the perfect video game enemy. The CoD zombies are particularly cool as they have glowing eyes. I don't know what it is about glowing eyes, but they're almost as cool as jetpack. Zombie mode is nothing new to the CoD franchise, but my personal favorite is in Black Ops where you battle zombies as President John F. Kennedy.

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World - To play this you need the zombie code. On the game's title screen, simply input down, up, right, down, up, right, down, up, right, right, right -- that's "DUR DUR DURRR", presumably the sound a zombie makes. It doesn't add too much to the game other than some enemy graphics, but c'mon Scott Pilgrim vs. Zombies!

So maybe the next time you see a zombie in your favorite game... be a little more sympathetic to the game designer and then blow those zombies away!!

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