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Zombiephiles

Zombies are everywhere in video games these days. Off the top of my head I can probably rattle off half a dozen games or franchises that feature zombies as their main enemy and can probably dig up two dozen more I’m not familiar with via the Internet. So what’s with the fascination with the shambling undead? Why are there so many zombies games out there?

I’m sure many game designers have a fascination (or at least enjoy) B horror movies many of which feature some kind of zombie or another. I’m sure they have all seen “Night of the Living Dead” or reveled in the hilarity that is “Shaun of the Dead“. Either way I’m sure they have all wondered if they could survive a zombie apocalypse and what better way to prove that than to make a video game about doing just that?

Another reason zombies could be so prevalent in video games is how many different kinds there are. Everything from slow to fast to intelligent zombies have been featured in video games and film. Zombies can be super strong, wield chainsaws, or be dressed up as long dead Nazi soldiers. Got a game where you need to shoot something? You can probably fit a zombie in there somewhere.

Where there’s one zombie there are more. Seriously, have you ever seen just one zombie? I didn’t think so. This mans that as a game designer you have a large number of enemies to throw at the player without having to get too creative. Dead Rising was all about killing zombies in interesting ways and gamers loved it.

Finally, there is the almost human aspect of zombies. Zombies are on the good edge of that uncanny valley where we can get the satisfaction of splattering them all over the walls without feeling too guilty about it. I’m sure there is also some genius marketing in making the enemies of a game zombies so activists don’t cry wolf because gamers are shooting at other people.

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So I think I’ve finally come to the conclusion that I’m mindie. No, this doesn’t mean I’ve decided to start dressing in drag or that I’m a girl trapped in a mans body or anything like that. I’m referring to being somewhere in between mainstream and indie (mindie).

The made up title comes from an article written by Alister Doulin that sums up some of the things I’ve been thinking about lately concerning the differences between mainstream and indie development. Doulin breaks down what being mindie is by addressing how mainstream and indie view profits, competition, publishers/investors, project size and art and then presents the middle ground where mindie fall in between.

Having been developing games for nearly two years now and co-running a studio for a little more than half a year I think the mindie label fits our philosophy on both business and game design well. Since we work the company as a hobby project and are lucky enough to have received our capital from an angel investor we don’t have to worry about creating a successful game (although that isn’t stopping us from trying). Our current market focus, iPhone and iPad, are markets that move fairly fast so there isn’t time to worry about competition. We simply look at what others are doing and try to incorporate what is successful into our own game designs. We keep costs low by working in our free time and spending money only when we need to and we make games that we hope are more than just “fun” but also appeal to a large audience of people.

I think we are very mindie minded.

What I find more interesting than this article, however, are the critics of the article. Many of their comments bring up good points, even Doulin admits he stereotypes mainstream (and even indie!) a bit, but I feel like they’re ultimately misguided on what the article is saying. Many of the comments bring up how continuing the mainstream versus indie discussion isn’t helping the industry (which I think they are wrong about). Even Johnathan Blow chimed in (rather pretentiously I feel) on the Gamasutra posting of the article to comment on how he believes talking and thinking about “petty things” such as this wastes a designers energy that should be spent making their games.

I want to come to Doulin’s defense on this because I feel that this article is very helpful for someone like me who felt a bit lost in where exactly they fit in this industry. Yes, I will agree that it probably doesn’t matter much to the industry what I label myself as, be it mainstream or indie or anything in between. I also agree that arguing about who is what and what it means to be this, that or the other isn’t going to get us anywhere. I do think that a conversation like this is important for those looking in from the outside who want to understand the differences between design and business philosophies. Talking about things like this also helps designers like me put things into perspective and realize there are others out there who share the same thoughts and feelings. That may expose some of my own insecurities about my position in the industry at the moment, and I’ll admit I have them, but I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels a bit more comfortable knowing there are others out there who share the same ideas and principles.

I also don’t think Doulin’s article meant to paint the industry as black and white and gray. I see it more as a gradient where the extremes of mainstream (all money) and indie (all art) sit on the ends. There’s plenty of room in between to organize this company and that studio into the spectrum. Doulin uses extremes on both ends (although he is a little kinder to indies) to illustrate his point so don’t expect them to work with everything (although some recent rumblings over comments made by Mark Rein of Epic might help prove Doulin’s point).

As for Jonathan Blow’s comment, I think that anyone who spends 100% of their time making nothing but games is going to miss out on a lot of great opportunities. The quote from Jordan Mechner that I like to use as my mantra speaks to this point in a sense. If someone wants to devote themselves solely to their craft and ignore the discussions going on around them they are going to miss out on chances to  impact the community in meaningful ways. If Blow wants to focus on letting his products do his talking that’s great, but he’s only going to get so far before his product fails to make the impact that his participation might have created.

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