June 15, 2009 4:00 PM | Simon Carless
[Our own Brandon Sheffield managed to speak to UK developer Doublesix's Jim Mummery a while back about PSN title Burn Zombie Burn!, a really fun zombie-smashing downloadable console title, and the piece got a little lost in the shuffle (sorry Jim/Ollie!), but we're proud to debut it here on GSW.]
Burn Zombie Burn! is a recent PlayStation Network downloadable PS3 game from the Kuju studio Doublesix, which pits players in an arena against up to and including 120 zombies simultaneously. While the main mechanic is simply destroying zombies with various weapons, setting a number of them aflame with a torch or flamethrower increases the score multiplier, and zombies destroyed thereafter are worth a much higher point value.
This is Doublesix's first large-scale game since its rebranding, and Gamasutra recently had a chat with the studio's creative director Jim Mummery about the PSN exclusive. Discussed herein, the reasons for exclusivity, the appeal of zombies, and the game's various mechanics.
Can you explain a bit about Doublesix?
JM: Doublesix is a Kuju studio. About a year and a half ago, Kuji rebranded all of its studios, gave them their own titles and specific focus. Doublesix is specifically focused on digital download games, so PSN, XBLA. We also do iPhone and PC downloads. Burn Zombie Burn! is our first big game out, and it's PSN exclusive.
I was confused about why Kuju decided to rebrand all of those things considering... Well, it seems to be happening a lot in the UK specifically. Blitz is doing it, too.
JM: Yeah. Blitz, for example, they're a single place, single entity. And Rebellion is the same; they're all very, very focused. The Kuju strategy is to have separate entities working on completely separate focuses. Brighton, obviously, is huge in the casual space. And Headstrong has obviously just come out with Overkill and is trying to carve a niche for itself in action games.
But the brief was basically to stop the studios from almost competing for work, because we'd all be going after similar styles of game, and then just wind up not only competing for the same work, but also, if somebody wants to make a game on the Wii, they'd want to go with London because they made Battalion Wars, rather than say, Surrey. So, giving them their own name and their own focus just gave them their place in the market and a niche to carve out for themselves.
With Burn Zombie Burn!, it's Sony exclusive. What was the rationale behind that?
JM: We caught onto a Sony thing that's set up to encourage developers to work for PSN. There are a number of incentives basically to get us to keep it on PSN. And Sony has been pretty good to us, and we were very happy to make it for PSN. So, it sits nicely on the console.
NPD just came out with numbers talking about the number of consoles where people play online -- though I guess this is not actually played online, it still reflects the number of people who will download things, in some way. And PS3 had about 11 to 12 percent. Are you concerned at all about that?
JM: It's interesting as well with digital download titles... If you compare all digital download titles and the amount that they're played online compared to played locally, online content in a game just doesn't seem to make a whole lot of difference to the sales. Obviously, we're local, we have two guys on a couch drinking beer, killing zombies together, so it's not really our problem on this.
PR Man: Do you think a large part of that is Blu-ray? There's a percentage of PS3 sales to people that don't buy games. Because every time you're at Best Buy or something, you have people pitching a PS3 to people who are looking at Blu-ray players.
JM: Yeah, absolutely. It's much more of a concern say on Wii and WiiWare, where obviously you have this fantastic console out there, but nobody is buying World of Goo. It's this amazing game on WiiWare, and people just aren't picking it up. Whereas the numbers on PSN and Xbox 360, they're good for us.
Burn Zombie Burn! is a very score-based game - sot a lot of games are made that way anymore. What was the consideration there?
JM: I think when we first decided for our first game as a digital download studio, we wanted to actually pick a genre that had been proven and something that had been done successfully on digital download, but bring our own stamp to it.
And there's some great score-chasing games on XBLA and PSN. You've got Stardust, you've got Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved. And, you know, we worked with Geometry Wars Galaxies on Wii/DS. We had experience in this field. We knew how to make these games. But we wanted to make something that had much more of a sense of fun to it. We wanted addictive gameplay, but we wanted people to smile while they're playing. And Burn Zombie Burn!, that's all it's about.
The reason we call them zombies, so many zombie games out now, they're all taken very seriously. We don't. We wanted to cut zombies up with chainsaws and lawnmowers; we want people to pull their brains out, send them flying across the map, make them dance. The whole game is built around addictive gameplay and a sense of fun.
There's a lot humorous animation and in this. This may sound rude to say, but I feel like, to some degree, UK game development has lost a bit of its personal character, and I think that that is one of the things that still remains.
JM: Yeah, I think development companies have gotten pretty big and focused on various things. One advantage we have being Doublesix and with a focus on digital download is that we're a relatively small studio. And we have relatively small teams. This is something that always used to exist in development.
In the old days, when you were working on PS1 or whatever, you had a small team, and that means everybody gets to input, and you get that sense of personality and a sense of character to your game.
And that's kind of what we're about. Burn Zombie Burn! is not my game, it's not Doublesix's game; it's the team's game. Most of the humor comes from the animation or the way the levels are designed. It's just everybody put in a little bit of personality, and that gives you a game with a whole lot of personality.
Looking at the various modes, it struck me that ten minutes with one mechanic -- depending on which modes -- it can be kind of a long time. Do you want to speak to that at all?
JM: We've put the developer scores up there [scores to beat as set by the developers during playtests], so we play each of these maps for an hour and a half solid, and the scripts go way beyond the scores we have. We've got the ten zombie types, the eight weapons -- we mix those up. We've got the setting zombies on fire, keeping multiplayer up, the big red button, and weapon combos. We reckon we've got enough to keep you busy for the amount of time it will take you to beat our scores and beyond.
You watched the video put out on Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved and the amount of effort people put in trying to get those scores on Retro Evolved or Stardust or any of these things. There's enough gameplay and there's enough appeal for people to dip in and out, beat their own person score. If the people that get the game love the game, yeah, we think they're going to put hours into this.
I was watching you play, and I saw there's a lot of sort of walking in circles before you actually get to the bit where you're trying to blow up a bunch of guys, once you've got your multiplier up... It's not necessarily a bad thing. It's just kind of interesting that there's this circular...
JM: Basically, we've had people play the game without ever bringing out the torch, that's the secondary weapon. And people run around and kill zombies literally for an hour, just happily taking out zombies with a shotgun, chainsaw, or the lawnmower. But if you learn how to play the game, then the first thing you want to do is run around the map with your torch out and get the multiplier up. And that's what you're talking about, that's the quick loop around the map with the torch out.
And at that point early on in the game, nothing else is burning, and so the torch literally is a free pass all the way around the map. You can just run around, set light to all those zombies. And of course, once you've set light to them, you no longer have that free pass because if you run into a burning zombie, he's going to take you out. If you run into an exploding zombie, he's going to detonate, with that torch out.
So, yeah, early on, you can just run around with that torch out, and that's the first thing you want to be doing when you know how to play the game just to get your multiplier up, get your score up, go looking for those extra pick-ups.
It can get a bit chaotic on the screen there. How many zombies are you have displayed at any given time, do you think?
JM: I can tell you exactly. We have a maximum of a 120 that we've put on screen. This is an arena-based game. There's nowhere really to run except for within the arena. And a 120 is pretty much as much as you want to get. You set those guys on fire, they're going to be moving pretty fast, and you want to find any way you can to get rid of them as quickly as you can.
And we can respawn those zombies really fast. You can wipe out every single one of those 120 zombies, and we can completely replace them inside of a couple seconds.
How long do you think -- just your personal opinion -- the zombie fascination in video games will last?
JM: Well, this is it. I was thinking about this somewhere about the 1990s, I was thinking, you know, "There are no zombie movies." Somebody is going to make a zombie movie, and you plan your own zombie movie, and then pretty much, a few years later, you get into the 2000s, there's a whole renaissance in zombie films, right? And I think everybody is probably thinking the same thing.
I think in films, zombies are cyclical. They come around, they get reinvigorated. I think in games, they're a constant. In games, zombies just represent this thing around which you can construct a game. There's no morality to them. There's no worries about racism that games are having right now. If it's a zombie and it's a pure zombie, a stupid zombie like the ones we have, they're a game mechanic. They're fodder, they're whatever you want to put in a game, however you want to deal with it.
For us, they're an excuse for jokes, humor, references to films we love, and ways to find inventive new weapons. And I think that's why... I think great games like Left 4 Dead and the Resident Evil games work because zombies work well in games. I think they're much more of a constant. I think, like other things that stick around like pick-ups and lives and everything else, zombies are a great thing to build a game around.
Additionally, they're an easy way to... If your AI is not perfect, nobody is going to complain.
JM: They're a great way to hide stupid AI, absolutely. And I think that's okay. If you're building a game, like for example, in a shooter, a twitch shooter like this with so much happening so quickly, you can have the best AI in the world.
We know the guy that did... Richard Bull, who we used to work with. He used to be at Kuju Surrey. He did the AI for Creative Assembly. And it's amazing. And it just makes the new version of Total War: Empires fantastic. But if you don't have the time and the place for that AI to do its job, then it's useless. In a twitch game like this, the AI can't be too complex. The zombies just end up doing the wrong thing or going confused. So, absolutely, we're very happy with our stupid zombies.