Sunday, 1 November 2009

WHY...Zombies and I are done. Professionally

“Where their pointy-toothed cousins are all about sex and bestial savagery, the zombie trumps all by personifying our deepest fear: death. Zombies are our destiny writ large. Slow and steady in their approach, weak, clumsy, often absurd, the zombie relentlessly closes in, unstoppable, intractable.”
- Simon Pegg

It seems, unlike the shambling rotten husks themselves, we can’t get away from zombies these days. Every game developer worth their salt is adding a green mouldering tinge to their wares in a bid to rake in the punters. Meanwhile, cinemas fill with the groans of the living dead, and authors lovingly detail the zombie on their blood-splattered pages. George Romero fanboys have never had it so good.
But for us gamers? (Admittedly they aren’t mutually exclusive) This is rapidly becoming a BAD THING


However much you dismiss pretentious study of pop culture, a very strong reason why certain monsters have become so famous is because they play on our most basic fears, beyond the physical danger they pose to us. It’s the reason the classics continue to evolve and grow, and the mutant hillbillies are left to skulk in the shadows.

The most obvious example is vampires. Back when Bram was a lad, vampires were a dreadful symbol of sexuality run amok and immigration. The vampire was the foreigner, stepping on our soil, not only staining our chaste women but perverting them to become wanton sexual creatures. It offered men the chilling face of a beast that rendered them comparatively and figuratively impotent, and toyed with the concept of a woman they could not satisfy.

Of course, things have changed since then…

You know he'd sort it out.

On the other skinless hand, Zombies obviously represent our death. But they are also a far more existential, atheistic take on death, instead of the faith-centric vamp. I believe a strong reason why they have risen to modern-day #1 monster status is because they are “living” proof of the absence of our specialness.

They frighten people on a core level because they expose us to be nothing more than meat, bits to be dissected and digested just like any other animal. And with their reanimation, they show the body to be devoid of consciousness, devoid of soul. As they shuffle towards us, they flaunt our own nothingness. Our concept of a “person” means nothing, because our personalities lie in a grey meat sack that will eventually be devoured – by worms, that last blessed bullet, or in the maw of a zombie. And if the line between life and death can be blurred, and our systems exposed as powered by electrical sparks and nothing more, well... No fighting back these things with religion, no siree. They’ll spit that cross out and laugh at your holy water as they feast on your hand.

Of course, you may have your own take on what they mean. And that’s the point. Zombies are a fantastic tool for social commentary. And slightly macabre greetings cards.

So as games sort of grow up, what has the zombie become? A moving shooting gallery target, a blood sack to explode for lulz – a joke.

“Complete with romance, heartbreak, swordfights, cannibalism, and thousands of rotting corpses, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies transforms a masterpiece of world literature into something you’d actually want to read.”
Seth Grahame-Smith.

Yes, the green of zombie skin has become a different sort of green in the eyes of publishers everywhere. Keen to get their hands on that fanboy money, everything’s gone ghoulish. And while the zombie starts to lose its punch in all mediums, games really expose their flaws.

When Dead Rising 2 can pack in a wheelchair with machine guns as a viable weapon, it really points out in luminous writing “ZOMBIES ARE USELESS IF YOU HAVE INFINITE RESOURCES AND ARE A SMALL DISTANCE AWAY”
So why keep using them in this manner? Why keep denigrating the good name of Mr and Mrs Braaaainnss for the sake of Smash TV ripoffs (Dead Nation, Zombie Apocalypse), red against blue shooters (Left 4 Dead) and tower defence games (Plants v Zombies)?

Buy this game now. Compulsive isn't the word.

This is not a knock on the games quality, but in a day and age where you can almost smell the decay in glorious HD, why waste a chance to create a genuine survival horror? Small city, foraging for any crudely improvised weapon, sneaking through desolation and the death of any shred of life you once had…there’s a lot of potential, but instead it’s being wasted to reskin game types we already have in abundance. And in a post-Bioshock world, why can’t we have a mature social commentary?

So it’s time to stand up for our zombie brethren. Stop spending your money at the first sign of them, and instead demand something better. They can’t fight for their rights like us, but our biological future selves need our support. Otherwise we’ll get pig sick of it all, and it’ll be back to Nazis again.

- Paperboy


The Faux Bot said...

More of this, please. Even though you've told me of that game idea several times now, I never get tired of hearing it. When I start hob-nobbing and big-wigging, I'll mention it to more impressionable game developers.

The only part I disagree with is what you had to say on Left 4 Dead. Simplistic though it may be, the beauty of it lies in how well it articulates Romero's golden rules for zombie survival. You only die if you get stupid, greedy or heroic. Just work as a team and keep moving.

Also, kudos on the Zombie post trifecta guys!

cr0nt said...

A quick note - Romero has rebuffed the modern zombies that populate so many of the modern games (Res, L4D, WaW, Halo [the flood]). So the Romero fanboys will boycott them anyways.

I'm inclined to agree that generally zombies being added to games are bad, I hate the flood in ALL Halo games and I think is the source of much fanboyism and what makes a large number of publishers put zombies into the games having seen the success of the aforementioned, I particularly did not enjoy WaW:NZ and Res5 but there are some diamonds in the rough, the RvB that is left 4 dead wouldn't be the same without them. It'd be another CS:S or Team Fortress (both of which I personally would love, but they are nowhere near as intense as left 4 dead and that is the reason the zombies are in there).

Plants vs. Zombies is the perfect example of your point, there is no fear, there is no immediacy and it would be exactly the same (albeit maybe a bit more historical) if you had Huns and Chinese and you are trying to defend the wall (although the historical slant may put people off), and I am fed up of games where having zombies do not add to the dynamic - but for each of these games there are at least as many where they do add.
I wouldn't mind seeing the Romero dynamic applied in some games, maybe an amalgam of the two where initially the zombies are as fast as they are in life but as they get older they degrade. It'll never happen, it involves such horrible things as #include "time.h" in the C code (or #include "ctime" if its in C++). Heaven forbid.

My point (too long, drawn out, badly [stream of conscious typing] written) is that you should never bid adieu to zombies entirely, just be more picky.

I am looking forward to Left 4 Dead 2, because I've played it and enjoy it, and the DLC for borderlands that has undead in it [although maybe more like The Island of Dr. Moreau - medic performing operations on the inhabitants to keep them alive, and for those in the know there should be plenty of skag and rakk to splice]. I'll let you decide on Modern Warfare 2 Terrorist Zombies - but you already know I'm giving it a miss..

Also, your game idea has already been taken up and is in development by a French Canadian software company - I think they are calling it I Am Alive, it goes something like: there is an earthquake and you are a normal person that has to pull themselves together and try to get out of the city, maybe helping other people along the way. It's going to be published by Ubisoft, take of that what you will.

cr0nt said...

I agree with The Faux Bot's argument for Left 4 Dead - except for the previously mentioned disagreement Romero has with speedy zombies.

vandalworks said...

I've never had much love for zombies, or horror survival games as a whole, but there is one game i still love that includes these mindless little beasties.

zombies (ate my neighbours)

this game, while not as great as other 16bit games at the time critically still plays well today, top down shooting and had copious amounts of other b-movie delights.

i personally think of zombies as slow brain dead humans, much like being out on a saturday night after 1am, which doesnt really fiull me with fear. the way zombies are portrayed now as having speed and some level of intelligence doesnt really work... at least not in my own mind, they move with just as much agility as a vampire for instance.

i think a better idea is to leave zombies as they traditionally are, instead of the common trend of reinventing something and inventing something new. perhaps imginations are not as strong as they once were?

cr0nt said...

Why leave them as they are, the point of zombies is that they are dead people. They should at least for a short amount of time be as quick/intelligent as they are in life (although all the standard infected in left 4 dead are maybe SLIGHTLY quicker - the special infected having various speeds). There should be some (older) zombies who are slower, the mixture is vital and will add in an element into gaming where you have to take into account - on sight! - how decomposed the zombies are and so how much of an immediate threat they pose.
Society is changing, so as a social commentary they should change, people's fears are changing, so the zombies should change. Watch Attack of the 50ft Crabs. Scared? Some people were in the 50s...

Zombies (ate my neighbours) is also awesome though.

vandalworks said...

perhaps, but i prefer the way dead rising has been done, where the zombies arent always the main threat and how it shows that even the a modern society can still forget what really threatens us because we threaten each other. i'd have preferred less speedy zombies, poor AI but an absolute shitload of zombies. a horde to put horde (gow) to shame. bullets will take down the first 100... but what about the other 500?

THATS what i'd want in a zombie game. final boss? no. just 12,000 zombies stumbling towards you, 3 friends, and a proper struggle where people MUST put aside any differences and work together, which is one thing L4D does have down pretty well.

they're rarely as quick as us, the players, they're generally quicker, and how can a braindead creature be quicker? i know theres story about infections and etc... but again, i'd prefer to fight something that isnt a zombie. maybe i'm a bit of a traditionalist, i am storming toward oap-dom soon!


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