Ray’s the Dead wants to cure zombie fatigue with a dash of…Pikmin?
Hey look, it's another zombie game! The Walking Dead adventure game may have won nearly all the Game of the Year awards in 2012, but the genre feels saturated, stagnant, and tapped out. So what do we get from yet another entry into the world of zombie video games?
“Don't get me wrong, I am insecure about the fact we're making 'another zombie game,' but I think the combination of the fact that we're trying to do something genuinely unique with it and the fact that it's a tribute to the genre [helps alleviate that,]” said Chris Cobb of Ragtag Studios, the Chicago developers behind Ray's the Dead.
“There's no doubt there are lots of games with zombies in them, but in my opinion there are not that many zombie games. If you take away the games where you're just shooting zombies…there aren't that many left. In most cases you could switch them out with anything else and it would be the same game.”
In other words, Left 4 Dead isn't a zombie game any more than Duck Hunt is a duck game.
So what games are zombie games? “[Stubbs the Zombie in Rebel Without a Pulse]...and um…hmm.”
Cobb “ummed” and “uhhed” for a few seconds before conceding that it's difficult to come up with another game that's actually about zombies, and that's why they're so interested in making Ray's the Dead.
“With our game, it's so deeply entrenched in zombie lore and everything that we couldn't reskin it or swap them out with something else. It wouldn't make sense.”
Cobb mentioned Stubbs the Zombie for a reason, and he understands that game's unique comic brilliance as well as anybody. Both he and partner Matt Carter worked at Wideload Games which created Stubbs, and Cobb joined the development team about a third of the way into the game.
“I was really proud to be a part of it, but there were things about it that weren't full explored in the game, and so that planted the seed for Ray's the Dead.” Cobb referenced aspects of Stubbs, such the ability to convert enemies into allied zombies, but lamented the fact that you can't really do anything with them besides make them charge ahead.
“We wanted to make a game that was centered around creating many zombies and being fairly precise with your control over them, and Pikmin immediately jumped to mind as an ideal way to do that.”
Ray's the Dead takes inspiration from the Nintendo game Pikmin in its controls and game challenges. Cobb is hesitant to compare the two directly, but says that it's a really great way to explain the game briefly to uninitiated players.
I had the chance to try out an early demo of the game, and the system works quite well. You shamble about town as Ray, zombifying enemies and sucking corpses out of their graves to join your army and aid you. That might sound morose, but just like Stubbs and Pikmin before it, Ray's has an extremely light-hearted tone, and a surprising amount of heart. Not only does the game go into the story of Ray the undead killing machine, but it's also about past-Ray, the human man who hasn't yet been killed.
There seems to be a lot of trepidation when Cobb describes Ray's the Dead. He told me that he didn't want people to think they were just aping Stubbs and Pikmin. “I think if we were going to rip off popular games to get our game noticed then we would have picked more popular games,” he said.
Ray's the Dead is currently seeking funding on Kickstarter.