Zombi 2), and not just from the perspective of a horror video game writer (because I don't really consider myself that) - but mostly because for any kind of writer it's a premise overloaded with potential for character exploration.
Unlike World War 2 or modern combat or comic books or Westerns, Zombie fiction in both cinematic and interactive entertainment is a stayer. This is why.
The image above - beyond any excuse to picture Milla - represents everything that people get wrong about developing a zombie fiction. Sci-fi environs, super ninja bitches, mad scientists... Resident Evil (by turn both the games and the films) misses the point.
I've never particularly had any desire to write horror as a profession. Before the Penumbra games it's not something I'd ever even attempted. It's always been a genre close to my heart, though, for one reason: it puts human nature under the microscope. To some degree, perhaps, that's what all good fiction does. But the reason that stories like Alien, The Thing and Dead Ringers are truly great horrors is that they take real, everyday characters - even when those characters are in fantastic circumstances - and put them under pressure. In GCSE chemistry, if you want to learn about a particular substance you put it to extremes: you heat it, or you cool it, or you spin it around really really really fast until it's all dizzy. Then you wait and see what happens.
Good horror - particularly zombie horror - works the same way. You take ordinary people, expose them to extreme pressure, and see if they wind up killing one another. Alien argues that everyone has different potential: that the cute blonde tomboy hides cowardice that will overrule even self-preservation; and that the hero of the story might actually have tits. The Thing shows us that rational human doubt can overpower anything; even a strong friendship.
Sometimes film - and often games - get this wrong. Games are great at developing tension and fear. Better, I'd argue, than any other medium. But how often does a zombie game use this to explore themes within its characters? We all know Dead State is heading in the right direction, and we're probably familiar with Dead Rising's blatant Romero-esque critique of consumerism, but how often do we go beyond that?
As a genre, zombies have only been around for a few decades. The concept originated with Voodoo-related catatonia, and Romero and his ilk imported it to Hollywood in the 60s. This means that the five year fad that began with Stubbs the Zombie and L4D (a game which captures the rumour mill and camaraderie, but none of the suspicion or character progression) really marks the first time that zombies have truly been road-tested on an interactive level. What zombies allow us to do as writers is to introduce a whole host of useful mechanics - mechanics zombie games often exclude - and to have these feedback in unique ways on the story:
- Where did the outbreak come from (room for government conspiracy and social critique)?
- What do you do when you / someone else gets infected?
- How do you treat other survivors when they might be your best survival tool or your greatest threat?
- What happens to morality in a world where violence is around every corner?
- How quickly and in what ways do society's rules break down?
- What is there to pursue beyond survival in a world beyond the brink of revival?
- What rights do the zombies themselves have?
- Without a social structure to tell you what to do, what happens when people have to think for themselves for the first time in their lives?
- Where is your god now?
- Is a katana really the best weapon?
Zombies are uniquely interesting for precisely these topics. You'd be hard pressed to find a good Z fiction that didn't centre on at least one of these ideas.
As both a writer and a consumer, I'm fascinated more than anything else by humanity and by honest (even when scary) appraisals of it. I'd argue that zombie games provide us that opportunity and much more beside; any time someone says to me that zombies are just the latest fad, I figure they've been playing too much Resident Evil.
Unlike WW2, or Tolkien, or Vietnam, zombies always have new places to go; but what they tell us about ourselves should always be a little too close to home.