The upcoming Wii title "Zombie Massacre" doesn't even have a publisher yet, but it's already being made into a movie -- a movie directed by Uwe Boll.
Approximately three weeks ago, news about the unpublished Wii game made its way around the Internet, and before anyone even really knew what the game was about, the German filmmaker, infamous for critically panned video game movies like "Alone in the Dark," "Bloodrayne" and like-minded zombie flick "House of the Dead," picked up the rights to make a film based on it.
A completely unknown developer with a movie optioned for an unpublished, out-of-nowhere Wii game? It sounds too good to be true. Last week, due to sheer curiosity, I called up "Zombie Massacre" creator 1988 Games and film director Uwe Boll to find out the details for myself.
Image: Exclusive “Zombie Massacre” concept art the developers have been showing to potential publishers, courtesy of 1988 Games
If you haven't heard about "Zombie Massacre" yet, the game's premise revolves around three punk rockers and a police officer as they drive and fight their way to the center of an undead-laden city to detonate a nuclear warhead. The game promises local, four player co-op and creative use of Wii motion-sensing controls for driving and gunning, as well as compatibility with the yet-to-be-released Wii Zapper and Wii Wheel. It mixes the on-rails arcade shooting of "House of the Dead" and the frenetic driving of "Crazy Taxi," with a little bit of "Blast Corps" thrown in (you've got 45 minutes to get to your destination and get out).
Although "Zombie Massacre" has just been announced with no developers or publishers at the moment, the concept and design have already been laid out by fledgling game company 1988 Games. But who the hell are they? (Their website wasn’t much help.)
Here's what I found out: The Hollywood, California-based company was established in early 2005 by President and Lead Game Designer Benjamin Krotin. Krotin claims that due to private contracts with various companies, the design house has been discreet about all its projects until now. It's concurrently working on three separate titles, and the only one announced so far is "Zombie Massacre." A game developer himself, Krotin's past employers include Black Ops Entertainment and Realtime Associates, and the 25 year-old is the youngest member of the company (the oldest is 28). Though he didn't want to disclose names, Krotin assured me that all five employees of 1988 Games (named after their love of retro games) have had past game industry experience.
So why start off making an M-rated zombie game for the Wii? At this point, Krotin thinks that it's a no-brainer. "Right now, [the Wii and DS] are the consoles we feel comfortable with, and those are the consoles that are obviously succeeding in the marketplace," he explained. Right now the company's focus is strictly on the Nintendo systems because Krotin said Nintendo has been the most receptive and painless to work with, and the Wii is an affordable and easy console to develop for. "We have always had a nice relationship with Nintendo ever since before 1988 Games because I knew a lot of the people there when I was still a developer," Krotin explained.
1988 Games had actually begun by working on PSP titles, but stopped in their tracks after dwindling publisher support and dodgy developer relations. "We found out about the Wii and the general ideas behind it, and we knew the Wii was going to be the next hot ticket, so we completely abandoned everything Sony," Krotin said. "We refocused whatever we were doing for PSP and started focusing all of our designing for the Wii, and we've been actively supporting that since mid-2005." The 1988 Games studio doesn't have a Wii dev kit, but they do have a DS one. "We don't maintain a Wii dev kit because the way we develop games at 1988 Games, we use proprietary technology; we develop everything on the PC first and then we bring it over to the consoles," he said. "We absolutely don't intend on bringing ["Zombie Massacre"] over to the Wii until we have a publisher on board who wants us to because we're all about not making unnecessary moves … but we're very familiar with Wii hardware."
While everything sounds great on paper (and on the phone), we've all heard about innovative ideas for Wii games that never panned out, like the ill-fated "Sadness" and "Bob Ross" Wii games. Will "Zombie Massacre" end up in the great-but-canceled Wii game dustbin? "I think that you have to look at the details of the scenarios behind all of those titles before any realistic comparisons can be made," Krotin contended. "If we look at the 'Bob Ross' title, you'll see that you have a situation where a developer is working with an IP license-holder, and this complicates the development process because now the developer has to stay within spec of whatever the license-holder expects, in addition to mostly being at the mercy of the license-holder's terms. … We're automatically better off, simply because we own all of our IP. In our case, the publishers only deal with us."
As for "Sadness," Krotin could only speculate, but he thinks that the problem may have been that the publishers were too small to handle the scope of the project. "That is why it is always important to look for publishers selectively," he said. "Not so much for being picky, but really for trying to determine which company is the right fit and is going to be capable of bringing your product to market. This means that you have to look at each company's previous catalog of titles, their current schedules, their management and finally, their potential cash flow. You can bet that we've always kept all of these factors in mind when talking to publishers."
When it comes down to it, Krotin reasons that 1988 Games fully understands what it takes to make a game concept come to fruition. "The most important thing to remember is that a game is not just all design and concept -- there is also a business end to the equation that has to be factored into what makes a game go through development," Krotin said. "I can’t speak for ["Sadness" and "Bob Ross"], but I can tell you that at 1988 Games, we know how to handle this aspect of the equation at least as competently as we handle our game design. ... With a little bit of luck and a lot of business acumen, we're confident that we won't be next on that dreaded list."
In fact, Krotin asserts that "it's only a matter of time" before a publisher picks up "Zombie Massacre." "We are not at all far off from signing; our only real delay now is in choosing the right publisher, and possibly developer, to work with, in addition to the other common delays found in the business end of getting a game into development," he said. "Regardless, we expect the game to go into production before the end of this year, and with that we should be on track to deliver it by late 2008 or early 2009; we do expect the game to be completed before Uwe begins shooting the movie."
And what about the movie? Several weeks ago, 1988 Games approached the veteran video game filmmaker. Even though Boll had already done a zombie film with "House of the Dead," he really liked the concept of "Zombie Massacre" and plans to shoot it in 2009. I was able to reach Boll by phone in Vancouver, Canada while working on the post-production of his upcoming adaptation of "Far Cry." "I wanted to do a zombie movie at one point where we don't have the typical set-up like with young people in a house or young people on an island or young people at a party ... but a little more like '28 Days Later' with really fast-moving zombies," Boll told me.
The director also conceded that "House of the Dead" lacked a solid story and was a bit "cheesy," but he wants to do it in a more "classical way," akin to George Romero's "Dawn of the Dead." It didn't concern him in the least that "Zombie Massacre" didn't have a publisher yet; he actually prefers to be involved in the early stages. "Now we have a lot of options to sell the movie and game together … If you have an Atari with 'Alone in the Dark' for example, or Sega with 'House of the Dead,' they didn't actively do something to support the movies," he said of his past video game adaptations. "This is different if you develop something from the beginning altogether, like 'Zombie Massacre.'"
As far as the script and story development, Boll promises that 1988 Games will be involved. He said he likes working closely with game developers, as he did with Running With Scissors for "Postal" and CryTek for "Far Cry." "I think [working with the game developers] is very important, and I think it makes the movie better to bring ideas from the game creators and the spirit of the game," he said. "It's very important to get the creative input, and it is also important to have something you can work with. For example, 'Far Cry' had a great story -- from the beginning it was already very close to a movie -- but on 'House of the Dead,' you had almost nothing you could work with."
Krotin agrees. When I asked if he had seen any of Boll's work, he blames the stories of the games -- not the director -- for the poor critical reception: "From a technical standpoint, there was nothing wrong with those movies. And when you really think about it, it's the stories, and whose fault is that? It's not his fault, because he's interested in putting out a movie and profiting from it. I mean, 'House of the Dead' is an arcade game. [laughs] A game which I love by the way, a game which we are closely mimicking with "Zombie Massacre," but you can't really make a great movie out of that because there's no story to begin with. At least with 'Zombie Massacre,' we do have some story."
"At the end of the day, we're looking forward to just making a great game and a good movie while we're at it -- something that'll give the fans a lot of fun," Krotin added. "And if [a movie] can help us develop a game in the background, that's great for everybody. Everybody wins."