Burn Zombie Burn! – Interview with Creative Director Jim Mummery
It’s therefore no surprise that they’ve become a great source of material for books, films and video games. Now “Best New UK/European Studio of 2008” winner, Doublesix Games, are the latest to dabble in the black art of video game necromancy.
We sat down with Jim Mummery, Creative Director at Doublesix, to talk about his new game, his thoughts on digital distribution, and what the future holds for Doublesix and the PS3.
[PS3 Attiude] Doublesix prides itself on arcade styled “one more go” type games. From a design process perspective, how does a game such as Burn Zombie Burn! begin its development at Doublesix?
[Jim Mummery] From a design perspective, Burn Zombie Burn was defined by a few things; what kind of games we loved, what kind of games had proven success in the marketplaceÂ and what we could bring that was fresh to that space.
When we started, infinite play shooters had a proven audience on digital download with Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved kicking the whole thing off back on XBLA.Â We love those games (Doublesix produced Geometry Wars: Galaxies) but we felt nobody had managed to successfully bring a sense of humour to the genre.Â Whatâ€™s more, at the time there were no zombie games on the horizon and doing a shooter with zombies seemed obvious.Â As it turned out it was all too obvious!
However, even with the rush of zombie games that have come out since then, and those that are yet to come out, we feel that what we did is still pretty different. None of the other zombie games weâ€™ve seen have a sense of humour, something we think is important if you are going to have the word â€˜zombieâ€™ in your title.Â We wanted to make a game that was both fun and funny â€“ a game with a sense of personality.
Burn Zombie Burn was all about giving players that addictive â€œone more goâ€ sensibility but getting them to laugh at the experience at the same time.Â Once we decided that this was the direction â€“ everything else became subservient to that goal.
[PS3A] Fire plays an integral part of the game’s strategy. Players need fire to rank up big multipliers with burning zombies dropping better perks. There’s a drawback however as, obviously, flaming undead move faster and cause more damage! How does the balance work between risk versus safety? Is it possible to engulf everything in flame in the quest for a really high score only for it to become your downfall?
[JM] Itâ€™s an important point. For the most part, fire works like a user-controlled difficulty setting â€“ the more fire there is, the harder the game is â€“ and you can set all 120 zombies on fire. However that has downsides.
If you set fire to everything, you lose your ability to farm health and ammo since those pickups are dropped by non-burning zombies. So for optimum play, you need to farm both burning and non-burning zombies.
On the flip side, if you want to score high quickly you need a lot of burning zombies, and higher scores means more lives which means longer playâ€¦
[PS3A] Doublesix develops games across multiple downloadable networks from XBLA to the iPhone. How has your experience been with the PSN? What are the pros and cons with this particular medium?
[JM] We have had a great experience with PSN and have found Sony, both SCEE and SCEA, to be very supportive.Â As for the platform itself, itâ€™s been great.Â Whatâ€™s more weâ€™re very happy with the company weâ€™re keeping.Â The kind of games that are on PSN â€“ games like Flower and Pixel Junk Eden â€“ are an inspiration.
[PS3A] The tongue-in-cheek aspect of the game hasn’t been lost on us with along with multiple references to some of the more seminal movies in the horror genre. We can’t help but notice that the protagonist of the piece, Bruce, not only shares his name but also the chisel-jawed appearance of Bruce Campbell from Evil Dead fame. Did you have to dabble with any licensing issues or are the similarities with other properties seen as a fitting homage to the horror genre?
[JM] We are big fans of Mr. Campbell but we like to think that our Bruce has a bigger jaw.Â To answer your question, Burn Zombie Burn was never intended as a licensed game; the references and the humour all just came from that sense of fun that we started out with. The Evil Dead Trilogy, Shawn of the Dead, Braindead (Dead Alive in the US) â€“ all these movies have a sense of humour at their core, however dark that may be.Â Â We wanted to pay our respects to great films like those and capture the sense of fun they had.
[PS3A] PS3 Attitude recently published its Top 10 Most Wanted games of 2009. After sitting down and actually ranking over 200 games in terms of anticipation, what surprised us most was just how much we were looking forward to games that are not your traditional big budget, big name franchises.
There appears to be a surge in popularity with respect to games available through digital distribution that offer an instant hit of fun. Doublesix are a big proponent of the digital distribution model and obviously have a finger on this new and exciting pulse. How do you see the industry changing as the digital distribution model evolves over the next five years for example?
[JM] Thereâ€™s a lot of talk that digital distribution is the future and that one day everything will be available on download.Â Many people are staking everything on it whereas some are keeping their distance to see how things play out.
Currently, the joy of digital distribution is that the low cost and low pricing made possible by the space allow for risk and creativity that isnâ€™t always possible on a box product.Â Thereâ€™s room to experiment with new things or focus on a simple but effective mechanic that doesnâ€™t have to justify 10+ hours of playtime.Â The pressure put on a boxed game to be a success and make its budget back can restrict how much fun it is possible to have with the game.Â Smaller games on PSN can be far more experimental, be far more fun and far more exciting.Â Titles like those just wouldn’t exist on a commercial console without the digital distribution model.
However, sales for digital download games are nowhere near boxed product yet and, as a result, the retail market has a long life in it yet.Â We see that as a good thing because the longer that bigger commercial games stay out of digital download, the freer we are and the more fun we can have.
Eventually all games will be sold this way, and when that happens, when we are competing with the big name franchises. We will have to make games that are even more immediate, even more exciting, even more experimental, even more fun so that they can stand out when they are being sold on a virtual shelf next to the giants of our industry.
[PS3A] It’s been mentioned in the past that DLC for Burn Zombie Burn! is something Doublesix are interested in. So far weâ€™ve heard about Survive the Zombies, Beat the Clock and Protect Daisy. Can we expect new game modes via DLC? New weapons perhaps? Will there be an online co-op mode?
[JM] We will see. Most likely what youâ€™ll see first is new maps and new challenges; possibly some new modes but no online co-op any time soon I am afraid, although you will see that in our future games.
[PS3A] Your game is a Geometry Wars styled infinite score based shoot â€˜em up. Pretty soon people will be getting their hands on Burn Zombie Burn! themselves with its release today (ed: as you can tell, this interview was conducted before the game launched). Whatâ€™s a good score to aim for? Whatâ€™s ‘respectable’ and whoâ€™s the best over at Doublesix?
[JM] The medals will give you a good idea.Â Bronze is the lowest medal and unlocks the various aspects of the game such as arenas, modes and challenges.Â The silver medal is a respectable level of play that will net you extras like vision modes (check out Zombie Vision).Â Gold is heading toward a more hardcore play level but beyond that we have our Dev medals.
If you play the game and beat the gold medal, youâ€™ll unlock the Dev score medal. These represent the best scores the development team got during production.Â They are real scores, not nicely rounded target scores.
Most of these scores were achieved by two guys on the team: James â€˜Chewieâ€™ Chew and Ollie Barder.Â Between them they hold almost all the Dev scores in the game.Â All except one that is held by Jon Hobson, Lead Coder on the team.
So the Dev medals are the scores to beat and if you beat all the Dev scores thereâ€™s a trophy waiting there especially for you.
[PS3A] What’s next for Doublesix on the PS3? Is there anything you can reveal about future projects?
[JM] Sadly, we canâ€™t reveal anything yet, but we do intend to follow up on the success of BZB. We have a lot of plans to do with BZB in the future and we have a lot of game concepts that are far more ‘out there’, far more experimental, than BZB, but always with that same sense of fun and that same â€˜have another goâ€™ mentality.
We want to thank Jim for taking the time to speak to PS3 Attitude especially considering he was extremely busy with just coming back from GDC and with the launch of Burn Zombie Burn!
We’ll be publishing our review of the game tomorrow but if you’re looking for a one-word sneak preview: ‘awesome’.