ZombiU Creators Talk Game Origins And Permadeath

by Tim Turi on Mar 25, 2013 at 12:40 PM

Today at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, California, Ubisoft Montpellier team members delivered a post-mortem on Wii U launch title ZombiU. Story design writer Gabrielle Shrager and co-writer Antony Johnston discussed the game’s origins as Killer Freaks from Outer Space and what it was like creating a game without a main protagonist.

You may have heard that ZombiU started life as a darkly humorous shooter called Killer Freaks from Outer Space. Shrager explained that the game changed vision because the Raving Rabbids-esque alien monsters were too small and fast to work with the game’s multi-screen gameplay. Finding respite to use the GamePad’s touchscreen to pick a lock or organize your inventory in realtime required slower enemies.

The Ubisoft Montpellier representatives also explained the unique set of challenges that came with including permadeath and generic survivors. How would players become attached to their characters without a persistent hero? Despite the lack of a fleshed-out player character, Shrager offered examples of players who grew attached to their random survivors because of the stories that emerged out of the gameplay. Players tended to feel a bond with characters that lasted particularly long with a given survivor.

Johnston explains how the decision to have a silent protagonist limited the emotional bond between your character and NPCs. However, ZombiU aimed to “cut out the middleman” of a personable player character by making the player the protagonist. When your enigmatic overseer complains to you over the radio about how sloppy the previous survivor was, they’re really judging you. Ubisoft Montpellier was pleased with how this relationship between the player and the omnipresent Prepper transcended the need for a developed protagonist.

Despite not being impressed with the end result of ZombiU, the game has several great concepts going on, and it’s interesting hearing more about them from the developers. Read our review for ZombiU.