Whether it be DLC, arcade games or full retails releases zombies have returned from a mild mid 90′s drop off the pop culture radar to come back with amazing rambling force. Many aspiring film makers see their first films as being zombie comedy horrors as for some reason in the world of horror it’s ok to be obviously low budget. Literature has seen such examples as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and World War Z both reach best seller status, and have impending film adaptations coming in. Musically I struggle to think of examples unless people will let me get away with Gwar or Lordi…
When it comes to games there have been many examples in the past 5 years of games using the shuffling masses as their main enemies. Dead Rising 1 and 2, Call of Duty DLC and even a game I reviewed on this very site Dead Block. All of them novel in their own way, but with copycats-a-plenty and rehashing of the same principles and genres I decided to try and do the developer’s jobs for them and try to think of some genres that have been lacking on the walking dead front.
Side-Scrolling Beat Em’up
So my first thought was to try and break away from the whole 1st and 3rd person games that litter the zombie gaming landscape like corpses in Raccoon City. The obvious option was 2D/2.5D side-scrollers, now when I asked around to see if anyone knew of any games that were remotely like this I got pointed to a game on the Dreamcast (which was 3rd person) and a homebrew game on the PSP, neither of which have quite the scope or the aesthetic charm of the beat-em’ups of old.
I want to be able to play as Haggar, or some other moustached mayor with a missing daughter. The fun in games like Left 4 Dead and Dead Rising for me personally comes from the weapons and the sense of danger. With the classic 2D games you would be able to pick up pipes, bottles, knives and guns and use them against the enemies with degrading weapon damage. All things seen in other zombie games. Admittedly this wouldn’t be a valuable full retail release, but with the inclusion of 4 player co-op or even six player (as shown by X-men arcade) this could be the way forward with both zombies and to finally pull away from the top down shooters and tower defence games that are infecting XBLA and PSN like the T-Virus.
In this market releasing an MMO is a risk, in-fact it could be said that it would be a stupid mistake (take heed Old Republic). With many games turning to Free-to-play within their first year, like DC Universe and Star Trek, to release a subscription based service to even attempt to rival Warcraft is a big brassy balls move. To try to bring the nerd-core in to your new MMO you need something different, and I think fear and attachment is the key.
One of the best game I played last year only last 10 minutes but had more tension and more empathy towards its lead character than any other game in a long while, One Single Life on the Iphone. The concept was simple, you were a man on top of a building, there’s a second building you need to jump to, one tap on the screen starts you running, and a second tap lets you leap with all your might. If you land, then huzzah! However, if you should happen to miss time the jump then you will be met with death, a death there is no coming back from because as the title suggests, you only have one life, not one life and retry, you have one life full stop. Obviously this is slightly reductive when it comes to replay value but if you were to transfer this to MMO’s you would love and look after your character with all the care of a single parent.
Pen and paper role play games have been doing this ever since they began, but computer games where you pay real money obvious can’t do this to the same degree. My vision for a zombie MMO would be built around this principle. You create a character in a post apocalyptic world, trying to survive travel from one fortress city to another, trading goods and building a party of survivors to go around in your Mad Max pimped out car. However no matter what the level of your character, if they die, that’s it. To add further insult to injury if you die you can’t create a new character for 24 hours. Sure you could add elements like meds that revive people if used within a minute of death etc, but the principle of creating a character and truly caring about their state, gear and health to that extreme would create a hardened core of players, each of which wearing their player level like a badge of honour. Plus if nothing else this would be a fun way of griefing the depressing underpaid Korean gold farmers.
My final suggestion for a game that would be improved with zombies is the Sim-City series. The building of the city and the maintaining of the electricity pylons might not be the most interesting part of the game, but playing the game as a government official could provide some excellent gameplay. Having to dictate where quarantine zones go, the quelling of zombies and mobs with strategically placed road blocks. The arming and the placement of military forces and management of rescuing survivors from the tops of buildings. This isn’t a tower defence game, to be honest there is no end of the game, all you can do is survive, much like how it will be when the really zombie apocalypse comes along.
The point of this piece wasn’t to just hand over free ideas to Capcom/ Treyach and or lazy indie developers but to show that rehashing the same old genres with the same old styles of games isn’t working. The tide is turning on the popularity of zombie games and soon self aware games like Red Dead Redemption and Saints Row The Third aren’t going to be able to rely on this area as a source for getting a few more bucks out of gamers. Very few zombie films actually get major releases, and the same will come for games, originality or quality is what’s required from the studios these days not just some green flesh and groans.