303: How Games Get Zombies Wrong

Chuck Wendig

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Jun 24, 2010
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How Games Get Zombies Wrong

Oh, dear, game industry ... you seem to have failed your Zombie Aptitude Test. Let's review where you went wrong.

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Thaluikhain

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Ok, one or two decent points, but buried in far too much annoying filler to pad it out to 3 pages.

I strongly disagree that a zombie game "has" to be about this or that. There are elements common to zombie fiction, yes, but the genre is drowning in by the numbers regurgitations of them. Zombies are only interesting, IMHO, if you have an interesting twist, and I think that's the main problem.

I like the idea of zombies not being a problem as such, they are just there to make the other problems worse. Scrabbling round for resources while having to avoid zombies, for example. Also, way back when in the 1st doctor era story "Dalek invasion of Earth", the zombie-like robomen were moderately threatening, but if you killed one, the daleks would know and send reinforcements, possibly in the form of daleks themselves, and you'd be screwed.[footnote]Also, the robomen were made like that by alien technology...perpetual motion machine creatures that come back to life due to a virus and fucntion until you shoot them in the head are too ludicruous to be threatening[/footnote]
 

Amarok

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Does Dead Rising count as a game that shows other humans as the real threat?
 

Orloran

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Jan 17, 2010
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Good Article.

And regarding L4D, that game did had a great atmosphere partially because everything was in the dark and the survivors really sounded like they were frighten and disgusted by the creatures that were hunting them. That's mainly the reason why I prefer the original. I mean, 4 people having fun shooting zombies in broad day light? It's the fucking apocalypse not some day off work.
 

Yopaz

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Jun 3, 2009
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Orloran said:
Good Article.

And regarding L4D, that game did had a great atmosphere partially because everything was in the dark and the survivors really sounded like they were frighten and disgusted by the creatures that were hunting them. That's mainly the reason why I prefer the original. I mean, 4 people having fun shooting zombies in broad day light? It's the fucking apocalypse not some day off work.
Haven't you ever had a zombie day where you work? What a shame.

OT: there are some valid points in this article, but it's not true that death is the only way out. In Resident Evil Raccoon City was infected to due some accidents at the lab. The t-virus gt out and it spread from there infecting the whole city with time. They survived by escaping the city, and the city was then bombed. All those infected with the t-virus and g-virus were killed,
In Resident Evil 4 there was a completely different view way of infecting that required someone to actually infect it with a syringe each time.
There should be some games where you were to seek shelter and supplies and see how long you can survive though, it would make for an interesting game. Have features like looting from other humans for weapons, ammo and food. The only bad thing is that if it was meant to be realistic it should take days where you need to get rest and things like that. So I think it would be a bit hard to pull off, both because it would be hard, and a lot would get bored when they would die with time anyway.
 

ZippyDSMlee

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Not seen the new trend in Zombies that started around the newer dead flicks have you? These days Zombies are anything but slow.
 

Azuaron

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A note on "negative reinforcement":

You don't want to reinforce them. And you're certainly not doing it negatively. "Reinforce" means you are attempting to get them to continue that behavior. And what you're doing isn't "negative", it is "positive": you are applying something (instead of taking something away), in this case electricity to the brain.

What you're really doing is positive punishment. Punishment because you are trying to decrease the unwanted behavior. Positive because you are adding something to their experience (electricity to the brain). Let's whip out the grid so you get a full understanding of the ideas:


.decreases likelihood of behaviorincreases likelihood of behavior
presentedpositive punishmentpositive reinforcement
taken awaynegative punishmentnegative reinforcement


Any time you are attempting to decrease the likelihood of a behavior (such as make bad zombie games), what you're doing is punishment. Punishment takes two forms: positive (the addition of something undesirable; electroshock) and negative (removal of something desirable; money, i.e., a fine).

If you are trying to increase the likelihood of behavior, what you're doing is reinforcing a behavior. Reinforcement also takes two forms: positive (the addition of something desirable; have a candy bar) and negative (the removal of something undesirable; let's turn off that high-pitched whine).

/psychologist rant
 

Therumancer

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Nov 28, 2007
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I think the problem here is that you (the article writer) are missing some rather important points.

A lot of Zombie movies are designed as art pieces with zombies being a metaphor for something like consumerism. A point admitted by the people creating the movies. As such, common sense and a realistic reaction to the threat does not apply.

What's more being MOVIES the director has the option of things like scene transitions as a storytelling device. He doesn't have to worry about creating a constant play enviroment, and actually exploring the threat. He can find ways of moving from one relevent scene to another as well, or gloss over events like how certain people can remain totally oblivious to what should be the painfully obvious.

Then of course there is the issue of the player, you'll notice that among genere fans and nerds nobody's hypothetical "zombie survival plan" involves "hey, I think I'll go find the most obnoxious people possible, and then isolate myself with them".

The point being that in the terms of a video game, you both have differant tools and expectations, differant storytelling requirements, and of course an audience of nerds who are engaged in a sort of warped wish fulfillment fantasy.

The thing to understand is that "shoot zombies with guns" is a perfectly rational solution, and it's what real people would actually do. Most people not being the morons used to make an artistic point in a film. What's more, even those films tend to show that the characters being focused on *ARE* a group of idiots. You see scenes on the news or whatever of people engaged in more rational responses wiping zombies out, the Sheriff on TV talking about "twitchers" in day of the dead, or the posse that is involved at the end of "Night Of The Living Dead".

What's more it's also important to note that reasonable people are also going to note that zombies are by their nature finite. They are not going to be an inexorable tide of nature. in the overall scheme of things. Humans reproduce sexually, zombies rely on infectiong people. Assuming people can avoid getting infected once they know the threat, every zombie they take down is one that is permanantly gone. What's more there are finite numbers of people in any given area. In say a town of 2,000 people that seems like quite the horde, but four dudes with guns could actually clear that out pretty quickly given the capabilities of zombies, assuming they had enough ammo.

The bottom line here is that your pretty much argueing for a complete lack of common sense, and also not considering the differances between movie storytelling, and game storytelling, as well as the audience. Not to mention actually playing the game. Watching a bunch of morons get what's coming to them in a movie can be darkly entertaining, a lot of horror movies, especially Zombie movies, being morality plays of a sort. The thing is though that in a video game people need to interact with the enviroment, and simply walking around talking to obnoxious people isn't really going to be more than a bad interactive movie to begin with, and really that's what 99% of a game trying to recapture the feel of a zombie movie would actually do, and it would kin dof suck because people would figure "why am I playing this game, I could be watching a zombie movie for a lot less money, and have it done better!".


Now, to be honest there is one bit that works for video games to some extent, and that is if you isolate the protaganist. A scenario with a character stuck out in a cabin in the woods that limits resources and such works better for this kind of genere, because at least as far as that character is concerned resources are very limited, and what solutions might apply to people elsewhere do not nessicarly apply to him or her. Removing the factors one can use to make a movie interesting, things with people being in urban areas, shopping malls, and similar things where common sense dictates there are TONS of resources that can be used to radically alter the situation with a minimum of ingenuity, can create a degree of tension, but then again it can also be argued this doesn't fulfill the zombie survival vision of the person who is likely to buy a game like this.

Overall the upcoming "Dead Island" game seems to be a good compromise on the idea, because it is an action game by all accounts, but it used the isolation idea by putting the character(s) on a resort island. Resort islands by their nature not having actual weapons lying around, and of course if sa 99% of the people get turned by surprise, that remaining 1% is in trouble no matter what they do. The option of "well, I'll load up on guns and start thinning them out" doesn't apply even if the numbers of zombies are fairly limited. It's not like you can go salvage the local hunting shop, or a department store gun counter. Even if you personally collect guns or have a sidearm, chances are you weren't allowed to bring that on your vacation, the guys on the cruise ship/plane won't let you carry it, nor would the people on the island.
 

TheCakeisALie87

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Jun 7, 2010
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I liked the article, but I think you should have pushed the survival part a bit. One thing I have not seen (granted I am a little under experienced with the genre) is a game that allows you to experience the zombie apocalypse. I don't mean in an artistic or metaphorical sense I mean watch the fabric of society unwind around you. Come home and listen to the news about outbreaks in I don't know New York and watch wild speculation erupt as to whether this is the apocalypse. I would love to go into the streets of a game and see a crazy man with a sign saying he warned me, not scribbled on the wall somewhere. I would love a game that you can't win, but the goal is to survive by gathering supplies and allies and moving to a safe place. Sort of like an Oregon trail where dysentery is a zombie pulling out your guts.
 

fulano

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I'll still take my "shoot-zombies-with-guns" over cowering in fear and pondering about the human condition, thank you very much.
 

Tax_Document

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Zombie Plan.

1. Watch News.
2. Go to Middle of Australia (On the Nullabor) (Can see an oncoming Hoard from one hundred kilometers a way).
3. Watch Zombies blow up from excessive heat.
4. Stay for a year with some chickens/cows/water from the underground springs.
5. Gleefully return victorious, as the zombies have either.

1. Starved.
2. Been torn to parts by insects.
3. Froze.
4. Exploded from excessive heat.
5. Stumbled off Cliffs.

Just go read the article of Cracked.com

http://www.cracked.com/article_18683_7-scientific-reasons-zombie-outbreak-would-fail-quickly.html
 

Chocolate Source

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Jul 17, 2008
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THANK GOD someone wrote this. While shooting zombies with guns is fun - why else do we do it, I can't wait for the game that is based on surviving and staying away from the zombies and most importantly - other humans.
 
Zombies are fictional creatures used as a plot device. From the original night of the living dead, to shawn of the dead, zombies only exist as an unusual circumstance for character interaction. In games that interaction is usually combat. Solving the world's problems by shooting zombies is a fun excuse to shoot something. If you want a psudo-realistic zombi game, go play rebuild on Kongregate.

http://www.kongregate.com/games/sarahnorthway/rebuild?acomplete=rebuild
 

Ilikemilkshake

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This is why i liked Red Dead Redemptions take on the zombie apocalypse. It was a game that already had characterisation, so when the zombies start knockin' on your door and munch on your wife, THAT's your motivation for playing, you're trying to find a cure.
Plus:
In the Epilogue you become a zombie, so that's pretty cool... Zombie Cowboys...
 

czarevilsam

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I believe that the in-development game Project Zomboid (http://www.projectzomboid.com/) will be more to the author's tastes.
 

Cali0602

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Aug 3, 2008
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So...Shoot humans with guns, take their stuff, then run from zombies?

It certainly would be nice to play a zombie game that focused on the human dimension. But that stuff takes a lot of effort to compose and sell to a publisher. We can dream about the ideal zombie game, but the chance of that coming to life is about the same as the zombies themselves.