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For the last few years artist Jason Chan’s infamous painting of kids on a playground fighting off zombies has made the internet rounds on tumblr, twitter, reddit and just about every other social network you can imagine. Now, Jason Chan, animator Chris Hatala and an all-star team of developers are looking to bring to life the zombie playground beat-down in an all new third-person survival team-based game. The guys behind the project (Massive Black) known for amazing animation and conceptual art were kind enough to sit with us and talk Zombie Playground.
Where did the idea of a zombie game featuring kids come from? From the art it reminds us more than a little bit of some of the classic adventure movies of the 80s like The Goonies and ET; where you have kids going up against impossible odds in some pretty surreal situations. Obviously horror was an influence, but was there a little bit of that magic that permeated some of the more popular films of the 80s in mind when you guys set out to make Zombie Playground?
JASON: You hit the nail on the head. The idea came from what it was like as a kid playing with your friends and imagining yourself in crazy adventures. For those of us who were kids in the 80s and early 90s, movies like Goonies, Never Ending Story, and ET go hand and hand with childhood and playing with your friends. Zombie Playground just takes that idea and sets it in a Zombie Apocalypse.
Jason Chan’s Zombie Playground piece has been making the rounds on the internet for a while now. Almost everyone’s first reaction is, "that looks f*cking badass!". How did Jason and the rest of the team get together the idea that Zombie Playground should be a video game — instead of say an animated short or many of the other various routes you guys could have gone with it?
JASON: I’m just a huge video game fan. A film or animated short would be great, but a game brings you into the action. What better vehicle for the idea of kids playing with their friends fighting monsters, than people playing with their friends AS kids fighting monsters?
Zombie Playground sounds incredibly ambitious. How long has it been in development before you guys decided to Kickstart it?
HATALA: We’ve currently put about 4 months production on ZPG in our off time, from concept art to in-game asset. We were finding that we just couldn’t dedicate the time needed to get this where we wanted it, unless we somehow secured additional funding. Brian Fargo and Tim Schaefer’s Kickstarters gave us hope. Those guys are such legends, so we certainly didn’t expect to get the response they did. But the hope was that their Kickstarters may pave the way for us getting more eyes and more support for our own project.
With more and more game developers hopping on the Kickstarter trend, do you see it becoming the standard for frustrated developers looking to make their dream projects come true, or do you still feel there’s room within the more traditional publisher/developer relationship for developers to keep their independent spirit, yet still see their projects through to their original vision?
HATALA: Our perspective here is pretty much that any way you can complete your project and get it out to the world is a viable route. Obviously, having creative freedom is extremely important to any developer, so that’s definitely something to consider when going the traditional route. As long as that can happen, I think both ways are valid. Even with a successful Kickstarter, it’s probably a good idea to continue exploring alternate ways of funding. There’s no guarantee either way will work out, so it’s never a good idea to neglect possible solutions.
Zombie games have been huge this generation, making a comeback like vampires and ninjas did in the early 90s in gaming? What is it about zombies do you think that audiences find so endearing that they keep wanting more of the undead?
JASON: The cool thing about zombies and zombie outbreak stories is that it is about normal people fighting to survive in normal locations against people that used to be normal. All it takes is a killer virus, evil curse, hell’s gates opening, or whatever and suddenly everything that you are used to gets turned upside down. The best part is that the main characters are people you know: the local school teacher, the sheriff, a store clerk. It’s not about an action hero or a chosen one. It’s about you, your friends, and your family. Everyone is equal in the Zombie Apocalypse.
You guys managed to net Shawn Lee, who did a fantastic job composing music on Bully and The Getaway. What was the mindset behind choosing Shawn, and what is the atmosphere that he’s looking to bring musically to the project?
JASON: Shawn’s work in Bully was what got us on his trail. We think his funky style and ability to create tracks that can be childlike, fun, and moody all at once will be a great fit to Zombie Playgrounds feel.
Massive Black has a long history producing jaw dropping art within the gaming industry, but correct me if I’m wrong, this is the studios first full in-house game development project. What was the impetus to throw your ring into the world of internal game development and can you possibly see Zombie Playground finding life not just in gaming but also in fashion wear, animation and comics? Its a concept that looks like it could reach further than just one medium.
HATALA: Actually, Zombie Playground will be our second internal game project. The first was based on our “Mothhead” universe, and was completed in collaboration with Unity Technologies. Mothhead is essentially a tech demo to demonstrate Unity 3D as a viable engine for AAA quality games. It should be coming out free to play in the next couple months from Unity Technologies, and we plan to enhance it a bit with more gameplay and release a Massive Black version at some point (also free to play).
As Chan mentioned, most of us are avid gamers having grown up in the generation when video games first appeared. Personally, games always fascinated me. But the days of Doom and Quake blew my mind and literally led me on this path, as I’m sure other games did for the guys here. Once we started talking about Zombie Playground, everything was so fluid and organic we just couldn’t deny the excitement and possibilities. Considering this for transmedia (across multiple media) is an awesome idea and one that we usually try to do in one way or another. If ZPG were to take off, we’ve already talked about some of the fun ‘real-world’ things that we’d like to make, like lunchboxes, a few of the hats the girls are wearing, etc. This would be too cool.
You guys are aiming to launch Zombie Playground on PC and MAC ? What forms of DD do you guys expect to support out the gate?
HATALA: Yes, we’re planning a PC/Mac simultaneous release. We are currently working with Valve to make Zombie Playground available on Steam. If/when that is finalized, we’ll make a big announcement. They are great folks there and we would be thrilled to be on Steam. It’s just fantastic to have their support for ZPG.
A game this colorful and frenzied looks like it would be a natural fit as a digital title on PSN and XBLA. Is that a prospect you guys have considered in the future for the title?
HATALA: Sure! Our only challenge is getting through the approval process. We’ve already pitched it to one of the consoles and have actually gotten a really good response, even though there is still an approval process. We’ll see how it goes, but we’re very open to this idea.
Why a third-person shooter instead of an FPS? Personally speaking, It’s nice to see a project going the third-person route but what was the design decision behind it?
JASON: We want you to see your kid character! The kids are the stars here and we want to offer a lot of outfit options so that players can make their character their own. That and melee combat is almost always better third person.
You guys have managed to gather up a hell of a team, even wrangling in Diablo and Torchlight designer Erich Schaefer. Clearly, you guys are on the ball when it comes to trying to bring to life a quality and fun experience, one that /looks /charming and visually instantly connects with audiences. Where do you hope to see Zombie Playground in the future if you guys get this project Kickstarted.
HATALA: Wow thank you! We are so excited about this project, it’s hard not to get our hopes up. If Zombie Playground does get successfully Kickstarted, we are ready to deliver. We’ve laid out our plan and are prepared to execute if the community is behind our vision. Even with our minimum goal amount, we are confident the end product will persuade others to join in the fun. Then we will continue to build on that initial release, in a sense, episodically. We would absolutely love to give the community our full vision right from the get go, but realize that is a lofty goal to shoot for from a monetary perspective. We can still dream right?
Is there anything you’d like to say to gamers out there interested in the project?
HATALA: Ultimately we’d like the chance to share something we are passionate about. From my experience, if a person is passionate about something, not only do they have fun working on it, they try harder, strive for perfection, and achieve an end result that is much more satisfying. If we are given the chance to make this game, we intend to get the community more involved, similarly to the Steam Workshop. If the community builds a cool model or has a kickass idea, to hell if we’re not going to incorporate that into the game, with full credit to the artist. Already on our forum are some super creative and amazingly thought through ideas that are directly in line with the Zombie Playground universe. This is just so amazing to see, I can’t even tell you. Simply knowing there is someone out there that shares our passion for this vision and is excited about it really feels good.
Thank you so much for giving us the opportunity of this interview. You guys are so awesome for supporting us and this project. We really can’t thank you enough…