Browser of the Living Dead

Zombies in popular culture will not die. Like victims of the contagion of undeath, the zombie meme has been spreading and muitiplying since the first mass-media seed was planted, in 1968. Only in the past ten years has it begun to achieve the critical mass necessary to its inevitable triumph. Zombie movies, video games, and books like the great oral history World War Z are eating our brains at a greater rate than ever before.

Although there has been no shortage of attempts, my idea of the perfect zombie video game — one that captures what I consider the essential elements of the genre* — has yet to be made. Last year the boardgame world was blessed/damned with the publication of Last Night on Earth, which pretty much nailed it (or shot it in the head, if you prefer), but from where I sit behind my barricade, a truly satisfying digital interpretation remains unmade. There are a lot of fun, well-made zombie video games lining the shelves of looted Gamestops in abandoned shopping malls across the country, but none of them has dragged me to my doom in quite the way I really want to go (though I have high hopes for Left4Dead).

That being said, if you’re a fan of the genre, there are a few cool browser-based zombie games and widgets out there. Kevan Davis’ Zombie Infection Simulation is a neat little bit of code that makes the undead holocaust seem almost cute; he’s also responsible for Urban Dead, a graphically primitive MMO wherein you can be human or zombie trying to survive/cannibalize in the fictional town of Malton. While Mr. Davis’ work may be as tasty as gray matter, the tender, delicious cerebellum of browzombie games to date is The Last Stand 2, an oxymoron of a sequel to The Last Stand. One of the great improvements in the sequel is that the survivors must gather supplies to move from town to town in their quest for salvation, adding a little bit of a meta-game.

*Among my must-have bullet points are randomized locales, the gradual gathering of a motley crew of survivors, and game mechanics that reinforce the group’s social dynamics.

10 Responses to “Browser of the Living Dead”

  1. Jonathan Pekin Says:

    Jason, when I leave the school and Left4Dead comes out I think I might have to harass you over XBox Live.

  2. Ben Towle Says:

    Not related to video games, but both to zombies and teaching (two out of three ain’t bad), U of Alabama is offering a Special Topics in Literature class focusing on zombies:

    http://www.as.ua.edu/english/02_undergraduate/courses/undergrad_summer_08.pdf

    (about half way down in the PDF)

  3. Chris Duffy Says:

    thanks for the “last night on earth” tip.

    Also: who knew you were such a zombie lover!

  4. K. Thor Jensen Says:

    You’re gonna dig Left 4 Dead, but it still ain’t gonna nail everything you want. Randomized environments are just a straight up curse for game design.

  5. jlutes Says:

    “You’re gonna dig Left 4 Dead, but it still ain’t gonna nail everything you want. Randomized environments are just a straight up curse for game design.”

    Hey Thor! Nice to read you again.

    Do you have an inside line on this one? Yeah, I know Left4Dead won’t make me coffee and toast in the morning, but I’m looking forward to what they come up with. The only thing I don’t like about what I’ve read so far is that dead PCs respawn at scenario checkpoints. They better include a hardcore death difficulty option, or their zombie survival cred will take a hit in my book…

    As far as randomization goes, I recognize there can be complications, but there are plenty of games that use it effectively, both on the screen and tabletop (X-Com, Civ, etc.). The mechanics of the Zombies! boardgame kind of suck, but the way you build the map as you go works really well. Modular randomization can work if you keep it simple, dammit!

  6. Nick Holt Says:

    Hi, Jason.

    When Rae and I were in Ireland, we got hold of a game called Zombies! or Zombies!!!, I can’t recall which.

    It was close enough to a decent board game to really disappoint. It took way too long to play, many of the weapons and special cards could only be used in specific locales which might or (more likely) might not pop up on the board.

    Also, I object to having routine manipulation of zombies by players.

    To give it credit, when my little guy with a shot gun was surrounded by dozens of zombies, it did creep me out.

    However, I do advise folks to steer clear.

    Hope all is well in Vermont.

  7. jlutes Says:

    Nick! Great to hear from you, sir.

    The game in question has three exclamation points, and it is indeed a great disappointment to anyone in search of zombie goodness. The only thing I liked about it is that you get to build the town tile by tile. That and the big pile of zombie figures that come in the box.

  8. kooneiform Says:

    hey Jason,

    there is indeed another zombie game:

    http://www.zombiemaster.org/

    with a decent impartial review here:

    http://playthisthing.com/zombie-master

    I’ve heard good things (however, the maps are hand-built).

    best, GO

  9. ERIC STANWAY Says:

    Nice to see the genre alive and well. Waaaay back in the early 90s I worked on a four-issue mini-series of the original NOTLD. Must have watched the movie several hundred times, in two or three minute bits. Then I collaborated with Clive Barker on a sequel NOTLD: London. Now THAT was fun.

  10. Paul Bizzaro Says:

    I found this site from searching on Google and just wanted to say thanks for this informative entry on lottery games. Thanks again!

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