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Burn Zombie Burn

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 3
Genre: Action
Publisher: Pinnacle Software
Developer: Doublesix
Release Date: March 26, 2009

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'Burn Zombie Burn' (PS3) Developer Interview

by Rainier on March 21, 2009 @ 6:48 a.m. PDT

Set across six classic American horror movie-inspired levels, Burn Zombie Burn is a third-person shoot-'em-up in the classic coin-op tradition featuring next-gen gameplay mechanics, and possessing that "one-more-go" addictiveness that defines all of the great shooters.

WP: Who has the honor to speak with us? State your name, rank, and occupation!

I'm Jim Mummery, and I'm the creative director at Double Six, but more specifically, I was lead designer on Burn Zombie Burn.

WP: Can you tell us how long Burn Zombie Burn has been in development, and how big is the dev team?

JM: It was roughly about eight months in development, and the team averaged about eight guys. It was mostly developed last year. We had another publisher, Pinnacle, who are great to work with but went under at the end of last year, so we've since been sorting out the legal wrangles and are now self-publishing.

WP: Why is this only on the PlayStation 3 and not multiplatform?

JM: Sony asked us to make Burn Zombie Burn exclusive, so that's why. Last GDC, we had a talk with Sony about it. They're quite keen to make certain things exclusive to the platform, and it benefits the developers who did that. They're just starting it up, and we got into that program quite early.

WP: Although you said that there's not a lot of backstory to the game, can you tell us what it's about?

JM: In narrative terms, Bruno basically wanted some quality time with Daisy, and they're just going to go out on a date and then zombies invade and Bruce (Bruno's brother), gets pissed and decides to take some revenge.

WP: Apparently there's a downloadable comic book, so how does that fit into the narrative?

JM: It sort of fleshes things out. With this kind of game, we didn't want to hold it up with narrative. We didn't want to stop people jumping in and out of the arenas to give a narrative lead-in. But we did provide a downloadable comic that gives you the lead-in to what the story is and makes a few inside jokes about horror movies and tells you a little bit about Bruno and Daisy's personalities.

WP: So Burn Zombie Burn does refer to a lot of horror movies?

JM: Yeah, the comic and the game both reference, just off the top of my head, "Dawn of the Dead," "Shaun of the Dead," "Braindead," which was "Dead Alive" in the U.S., and a whole host of others.

WP: How did you come about making Burn Zombie Burn?

JM: We had just rebranded to Double Six, and it was quite important for our first game out represented the studio and what we wanted to do. We're currently doing Geometry Wars Galaxies on Wii and DS, and we had some experience doing shooters on digital download. We wanted to take what we learned and add a whole lot of stuff we hadn't seen. The whole point about Burn Zombie Burn is to create that core, arcade retro gameplay and give it a whole lot of personality and sense of humor and make it more fun. All those aspects about zombies and zombie movies, we're just feeding into that, so the bats, the chainsaws, the lawnmower, the explosives — everything was just about how to get a sense of fun.

WP: Recently, there's been a "revival" of sorts with zombies, with Left 4 Dead, Resident Evil 5 and House of the Dead. What sparked you to make a zombie title? Why specifically zombies?

JM: Well obviously we started making this game before everything else came out, but I think what's different is that we're coming from the position of wanting to make a game with a whole sense of fun. If you start calling them zombies, then you're already not taking yourself seriously and you've already got all these things you can exploit — classic movies, weapons, and doing ridiculous things that people haven't seen, like zombies in tutus. It's just good, cheap laughs. The games that have come out have been fantastic, and [House of the Dead] Overkill and Left 4 Dead are just amazing games, but they all take themselves seriously. We didn't want to do that, and just the word "zombie" allowed us to go to a place that's completely silly.

WP: Burn Zombie Burn will be on PSN, so it's already a downloadable title as it is, so are there any post-launch plans, such as extra arenas or extra challenges?

JM: We're very proud of Burn Zombie Burn, and it's certainly a labor of love. We'd love to expand on it, but that'll depend on how things go. If it's successful enough, we'd love to put out some patches to add some more arenas and modes.

WP: Variety is the spice of life. Tell us a bit about the different locations, different characters and different weapons that you have in the game.

JM: We've got six arenas, not counting the tutorial level, which is a separate level that teaches the basics of the game. The six arenas have references to various movies, to a certain extent. We have the Cabin in the Woods, which is the first one. That leads to the Graveyard, and then we have Suburbia, Drive-In, the Military Base, and finally, the Secret Lab. Each of the levels has unique geometry that changes the way you need to play that level, and also a unique "red button" event is activated on that level.

We have 10 different weapon types. That's across primary and secondary weapon types, and we have 12 zombie types.

WP: What about the character types? Or do you always play as Bruce?

JM: You always play as Bruce in the single-player game. In co-op, the second player is Bruno, Bruce's brother. Daisy primarily exists as a defense object in Defend Daisy. She'll sit in a Cadillac in the middle of the map, quietly do her hair and her nails until the zombies reduce her health too much, and then she'll start screaming. Your job is to defend Daisy.

WP: It was Sony's policy that from January onward, every game needed Trophy support. I assume this is in there as well?

JM: Absolutely. Since we developed the game last year, we're actually quite early in on Trophies. We were very keen to get them in, and even though the concept of Trophies has been around for a while, getting them in the game was stupidly exciting. You're playing a game that you've developed, and you know it, but you're still really happy when you win Trophies. We had some fun with them. Obviously we've got standard Trophies that are connected to progression in the game, including, at the extreme level — the game rewards bronze, silver and gold medals, but beyond gold, we have the dev medal, which is the high score that the development team got during the dev process. There is a Trophy for beating all of those. In addition, we've got Trophies for maximum number of blood decals on the map, and kills with chainsaws.

WP: Does the dev Trophy unlock anything?

JM: No, the Trophies are all tied to the point scheme.

WP: So just the satisfaction that you beat the developers.

JM: Yeah, knowing you beat our score.

WP: Burn Zombie Burn is the first title since you've rebranded, so what was the most challenging aspect of the development? What achievement are you most proud of?

JM: I don't think there was an individual challenge in the game because, and this sounds like a cliché, but everyone was so excited about the project that they're just jumping in and trying it. What I would say is, the need for the team to get it right, and I think it's working against preconceptions.

When you're making an infinite play arena, something like the joystick controls are expected, and being confident enough to say that it's not right for our game and it doesn't give us what we want at doing something different. We had to be so sure about that. Reaching that point where we knew that we had the right control scheme, and it wasn't what people were expecting, but it works so much better. That was probably the biggest challenge, but we didn't see it as a challenge. It was part of the fun. What we're most proud of is that, just the fact that in the whole flood of zombie games that come out, and they're really good zombie games, ours stand out just simply because you laugh at it.

WP: Is there any difference between the single-player and the multiplayer? Are they specific maps, different maps, or mostly adaptations for multiplayer?

JM: The game's built around the concept that we have these arenas with little changes to them, so what we wanted to do was put that across to multiplayer, so it is all the same maps, but all the scripts for the weapon placement and zombies are unique to the multiplayer, as opposed to the single-player. They have been specifically adapted for two people to run around and kill a lot of zombies.

WP: Tell us a little bit about the multiplayer modes.

JM: You have the six levels in single-player, and there are three modes in single-player, and all of those carry across to co-op in multiplayer, so you can play all three modes on six maps as co-op, with both of you working together. That could be just trying to survive, playing the time map, or defending Daisy. You can play against each other, chasing to get the best score in versus mode on free play and timed. The whole regular game is co-op, and most of the regular game is available as versus. It's all local, split screen, so there's no online multiplayer.

WP: A big aspect of Burn Zombie Burn is putting zombies on fire. Can you elaborate a little on that?

JM: The whole point of Burn Zombie Burn is that you're running around killing zombies with the various weapons. The important thing is that the best way to score is to set fire to a large number of zombies. The number of zombies on fire is your score multiplier, so every zombie you kill will be multiplied by the number of zombies on fire.

In addition, there are two categories of zombies, non-burning and burning, drop different pick-ups. Normal, non-burning zombies will give you health, ammo, explosives — the basic requirements you need to stay alive on the map. Burning zombies will give you range upgrades, explosive type upgrades and speed-ups that allow you to score highly or quickly. In the timed and Daisy modes, the time extensions that you need to keep playing and the health that you'll need for Daisy in Defend Daisy, are all only available off burning zombies.

The result is that the player has to manage both normal zombies and burning zombies, and he also has the ability to alter the amount of burning zombies on the map. Burning zombies are faster and more dangerous than normal zombies, so that turns into some kind of dynamic, player-controlled difficulty setting. If you want to score fast, quickly, you set everything alight and start killing. If you want to take it easy, then you be careful with that torch and only light a few zombies at a time. That single burning mechanic is core to everything in Burn Zombie Burn.

The other thing about fire is that normally, burning zombies are afraid of fire, so if you have zombies crowding you in, you pull out your torch, and they'll try to move away from you, giving you a chance to move straight through them. That's essentially a free pass through the map, but once they're lit, they're not afraid of fire, and you won't be able to run through with a torch anymore because they're not afraid of fire and will tear you to pieces.

There are some other ways. Because we have 120 zombies on the map, and these are arenas, it's very easy to get crowded. There are a few ways to move through the horde. One of them is just running through non-burning zombies with your torch out. We have bats in the game, a baseball bat and a cricket bat. If you quickly swing those bats, you can move through any crowd of zombies, burning or non-burning. Just swing the bat as fast as you can, and it'll take you through them. Swinging the bat does damage, won't easily kill them, but will allow you to move through the horde. Alternatively, you can charge the bats, and the zombies will fly out of the arena.

WP: If you pick up a gun, it'll eventually run out of ammo. What happens with the other weapons in the game?

JM: We have the default weapons — the torch, pistol and bat — they'll last until you replace them with something else that you pick up. Infinite uses. Every other weapon has a limited amount of ammo. You can replenish that ammo by killing normal zombies, but as you use that weapon, it'll deplete. The reason we've got that is that we wanted to tie into the sense of fun. We wanted to make the lawnmower this incredibly powerful weapon. We wanted to give you a gun that was bigger than you are to decimate the zombies on the map. Because we limit you ammo, we can do that without breaking the game.

Again, if you're careful with it, and you're careful with the weapon, you can continue to keep it going, but there can't be other pick-ups. If you run around on the map and keep firing that weapon, you'll kill a lot of zombies but will waste the occasional round. If you fire carefully at a group of zombies and focus, you'll use less ammo and you'll have more chance to pick up ammo from the zombies that you kill because your hit ratio will be higher.

WP: Can you tell us something about the replayability of the game and the unlockables?

JM: When you first get the game, in Arcade mode, you'll have one challenge and you'll have one of the arenas, which is the woods, available in three modes, which is free play, timed, and Defend Daisy. As you play those, both challenges and arenas, you reach a bronze medal score, you'll unlock the next one in the sequence, so in the challenges, challenge one unlocks challenge two, two unlocks three, and so on with the bronze medals.

In the Arcade arena section, free play bronze unlocks the next free play map, and timed bronze unlocks the next timed map, so the lowest-level medal unlocks the whole game. Bronze unlocks the whole game. Silver and gold unlock the rewards that we have in the game, so that's stuff like Vision mode, which changes the way the game looks, it's concept art, it's a little jukebox that plays the great tunes that we have in the game, and stuff like that. Beyond that, there are the dev scores, which we mentioned earlier.

As I've mentioned, Vision mode changes the way the game looks. The easiest to explain is Zombie Vision, which turns everything into black and white, except for red, which means that all the blood decals on the map glow like you wouldn't believe. You can cover the entire place with red and just have a good time. The other Vision modes are Sketch, which drops everything out to black and white, and all their edges are in a sketch line, but fire is still visible, so you'll get the orange flame against the black and white, which is quite stark, and then you've got Comic Book, which puts those edges over a slight flat-shaded element and is a richer version of the normal mode, and then we have Sepia, because the whole game starts in that sepia look, and Night Vision mode, because somebody on the dev team remembers seeing it in a movie, where they were killing zombies in night vision. (laughs)

Tutorials teach you the basic components of the gameplay. They all unlock each other, so as you pass each tutorial, you move on to the next tutorial. Once they're all unlocked, you'll get a trophy for that, and also, you can jump in and out of any of them to show your friend, "This is how you do that," so you can freely access any of the tutorials.

WP: Is there anything about the game that we haven't talked about that you wanted to add?

JM: Very probably. (laughs) There are a lot of references in the game to classic zombie movie weapons. We also got a lot of the original actors. There have been dance guns before, but not quite like ours, and we have the brain gun, which helps you create a diversion by sucking out a zombie's brain. You then drop the brain somewhere on the map for other zombies to feed on so you can either make a clean getaway or kill a large amount of them at the same time.

Burn Zombie Burn will be available on PlayStation Network March 29, 2009.

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