You’re also [probably] the only thing left alive. Hordes of the enemy spawn all around and made a beeline for you, multiplying all the while. Individually, they’re crap in the face of you’re cannon / Beretta / .40 minigun, but the horde overwhelms . . . .
All with standard stuff – weak, stupid enemies advancing en masse ; you, the player, as the sole defender. No plot to speak of; you’re thrown into the action from the first.
The XBLIG [that’s where indies made for the Xbox360 are found, for those who don’t know], is packed practically wall-to-wall with zombie shooters like these. Zombie defense, zombie offense [check out the links below]. I admit, they’re often pretty fun. Blowing the brains out of one stupid zombie after another can give one hell of a thrill at times.
But the description also matches a far older, earlier game, something from the Golden ’70s; Space Invaders, and all it’s clones and successors. Replace zombies with wiggly aliens, take out the moody apocalyptic-horrific track and poke in the awful beeps and chiptunes of the early versions, and viola. We’re almost there.
From a design perspective, the two games are almost identical at their hearts. They both subscribe to the feeling of blowing the holy
s*** out of endless hordes of lesser creatures. Be they aliens or zombies. They play out the terror of last stands, slick killin’ on the user’s part [headshots for zombies; perfectly timed one-bullet kills for the Invaders]. It’s the same design taken out again, wrapped up in a bit of flesh and blood.
It’s interesting to see such an old formula alive today [it’s been forty years now]. Games have changed vastly over the ages in every other genre – RPGs are unrecognizable; RTSs have gone all over the board: and yet oddly enough, this design persists. Why? Is this one of the rare “true classics” that never die out? A core formula that will always inspire the human heart and provide entertainment? I believe it is.It’s essentially the same thing being cycled over and over again.
It’s not a case of history repeating itself, since almost every other game design has vastly deviated from the original crop of games. Of particular interest is when you consider that Space Invaders was incredibly successful back in it’s day, and so are zombie shooters now. Many people, it seems, subscribe to simple pick-up-and play action. Mindless destruction, facing off against hordes of lesser enemies, simple action, and enduring in the face of seemingly pointless odds – it gives the player a feeling of immense power while providing a clear challenge at the same time. Clearly the hallmarks of a great design. It’s proven pretty timeless so far.
So next time you’re making an action game, have a good, long look at these facts and see if you can’t integrate some of them into your own project. Things can only get better. 🙂
Until next time.
- Defend Against the Zombie Horde in Dead Block for Xbox Live Arcade and PSN this July (dreadcentral.com)
- Contract Killer: Zombies – Glu Games Inc. (itunes.apple.com)
- Rockstar: Make Good Games and the Money Will Follow (escapistmagazine.com)
- Zombie Apocalypse: Never Die Alone launches this fall on XBLA, PSN (joystiq.com)