Hey PlayStation World!
Greetings from Konami and Nihilistic. My name is Jon Slavin, one of Nihilistic’s game designers on Zombie Apocalypse, the downloadable title from Konami coming to the PlayStation Network next month. I wanted to drop in and show some Zombie love to the PlayStation community and give you some previews to what you can expect to see!
So what is Zombie Apocalypse about?
Zombie Apocalypse is pure and gory wish fulfillment. We wanted to strip off the woes of increasingly complex modern mega-games, and retreat back into the world of dank arcades and late-night movie rentals that was our childhood in the 80’s and 90’s. This was not a game in search of a hook, beyond perhaps one to skewer a zombie on. Our goal was to produce a pure arcade shooter, rooted in dual-stick classics such as Robotron: 2084 and Smash TV. We knew it had to be pick-up-and-play, gory party-game fun, but still deep enough and tense enough to stand among its forbearers. We knew multiplayer was a key feature in a game of this type, so we pushed hard to get four-player online co-op integrated from the start. With core values in place, we set out to fill that savage coffer with all the classic zombie lore we loved.
There was never any argument over style when it came time to design the aesthetics. We are all huge fans of classic zombie films, from Romero, to Fulci, to Danny Boyle, we love it all. We wanted to pay homage to the classic “big box” horror films–the true exploitation flicks that proudly exclaimed how many countries they had been banned in on their garish posters (Zombie Apocalypse has already been denied by Cero in Japan!). There would be no cell-shading or cartoon ghouls. This was to be a real stomach-turner, steeped in zombie history with little nods to the masters of the genre sprinkled throughout.
In the best zombie films, the environment is as much a character as any of the victims, and we weren’t content to let our backdrops be only set-dressing. To begin, we wanted to find locales that would reflect the best moments in zombie film history. We have a graveyard with a crematorium that spews green gas, in a nod to Return of the Living Dead. Then there’s the woods surrounding the lonely cabin of a certain Dead turned Evil. After our seven locations were cemented, we began to work in a series of deadly hazards. There are spinning rotors and a jet turbine in the Airport, car crushers and grinders in the Junkyard, and an out-of-control garbage compactor in the Town Square. For Zombie Apocalypse, the environment is as much a weapon as your guns or chainsaw, and we really want to challenge the player to get creative with their kills. Sure, you can plug that zombie with your M-16, but can you lure him into the wood chipper along with a half-dozen of his shambling friends for big score bonuses?
Four Unlikely Heroes
For our heroes, we knew that bald-headed bad-asses just wouldn’t do. The Zombie Apocalypse is a plague that has stripped mankind of its place atop the food-chain, and the ones who were left were all unlikely survivors. We started with Harlan Woods, heavily inspired by the lead character in George Romero’s original Night of the Living Dead film. We then added Natalie Flores, our tough but mentally-unstable female lead. A bartender with no customers left alive to serve double shots to, she’s content to serve up plenty of double-ought shots to zombies. To round out the roster we added Ed Fragsen, the lonely and broken security guard with nothing left to lose, and Jimmy86, the arcade-rat geek who’s really a reflection of the designers themselves set loose on the zombie hoards as though it were a game come to life.
With our theme, our environments, and our heroes in place it was time to refine the gameplay. We didn’t want the player to ever feel like they didn’t have the tools necessary to deal with the undead masses coming at them. This is why there is always a chainsaw strapped to your back, ready to go, as well as your default M-16 that never runs out of ammo. With their trusty chainsaw the player has the option to either just slice-and-dice or to put themselves at risk and go for a grisly “Chainsaw Execution” move (more on that later). Also at the player’s disposal is “zombie bait” which takes the form of a cute and talkative teddy bear strapped to the gills with C-4 and counting down to his “big surprise.” The zombies find his chatter irresistible, and will follow him to their death. There is also an entire arsenal of weapon drops the player will come across, ranging from a flamethrower, to a chaingun, to dual smg’s and a shotgun (10 in total).
Racking Up the Score
Wrapped around these instruments of death are a score multiplier system and an intricate series of bonuses the player can earn. Each stage of the game represents a Day in the life of the survivors, with the ultimate goal to survive all 55 Days of terror. Each day, the multiplier begins to climb the longer the player can stay alive and keep killing zombies, boosting the value of each kill as they go. The score system is designed to be layered, so that each positive action by the player feeds into the next. For example, by rescuing survivors the player earns a score bonus for the rescue as well as a fresh zombie bait to replenish their supply. The bait is great for luring zombies into environmental hazards, which yield score bonuses for each kill. Bonuses are affected by the score multiplier, which is given an extra boost when players put themselves at risk and use their “Chainsaw Execution” move. It’s all about giving the player as many zombie-killing options as possible, and then finding a way to give each action meaning within a larger context.
55 Days of Terror
Finally, our goal was to give the player a great value. There’s a lot of competition in the downloadable arena, and we wanted to make sure picking up Zombie Apocalypse was a no-brainer (pun intended I suppose). We have 55 increasingly intense levels across seven unique environments in the main game, unlockable modes including the punishing “7 Days of Hell” and “Hardcore” modes. We also have full 4-player local and online multiplayer support in all modes, as well as full trophy support for the PS3. Our hope is to have created something that arcade fans, zombie fans, and even the casual player looking for a quick fix or some bloody multiplayer fun will enjoy and keep coming back to. This is a game we had a lot of fun making, and we hope will be as much fun to play once it is unleashed upon the PlayStation Network.