Interview: Painting the Town Red with OMG HD Zombies Developer Laughing Jackal
Posted by Sammy Barker
Redfield City's never been so dead
The original OMG-Z was a poorly named slice of corpse shuffling chaos; a masochistically moreish arcade puzzler that combined Chillingo’s cult mobile classic Sneezies with Silent Hill. Endowed with less ammo than a Survival run in The Last of Us, the title challenged you to dismantle as many of the undead as you could courtesy of increasingly stomach-churning chain reactions. Now back for a second spell in the crimson coloured spotlight, we caught up with developer Laughing Jackal’s community manager Ross Brierly in order to get the lowdown on the popular PlayStation Portable title’s full PlayStation Vita upgrade, OMG HD Zombies.
Push Square: OMG-Z is based on such a simple premise, but it’s devilishly addictive. Where did the idea for the original PlayStation Mini come from?
Ross Brierly: The inspiration for OMG-Z actually came from a lot of different places. I think it’s fair to say that the game’s setting actually came well after the gameplay idea itself.
Back when we were making PlayStation Minis, we all knew that we wanted to cast our net a little wider. We were looking ahead to supporting smartphones more and the as-yet-unreleased Vita, which all supported touch controls. We set ourselves the target of creating different game concepts that could be played using just a single touch input, which incidentally gave rise to Orbit and Hungry Giraffe as well as OMG-Z. After a lot of discussion and research, we quickly fixed our intentions on the addictive nature of chain-reaction style games, and quickly set about creating a robust upgrade system to suit the genre. From there, it was just a case of deciding upon the setting, and while we pondered killing bacteria and all sorts of other things, we all agreed that exploding zombies was far better. At the time, we didn’t really worry too much about why they exploded – and who cares when it’s such a cool idea, right?
In terms of the visual style of the game, Jake – one of our very prolific in-house artists – just happened to be a huge fan of zombies, and he was charged with the task of creating the look of the game. He drew a lot of influence from his vast knowledge of the genre, including series such as The Walking Dead comics.
PS: Clearing an entire screen of the undead with a single bullet is supremely satisfying. Why do you think that that is?
RB: It’s one of those special moments when the gameplay, sound effects, and art style all come together to provide that sense of satisfaction. The mix of luck and strategy mean that a perfect shot involves so many factors, such as: was the shot timed right? Did you get your distancing right? Did the zombies all walk the way you wanted them to?
When it all comes together it really is an amazing feeling, and if it doesn’t go your way you feel just the right level of frustration where you want just one more go to see if you can get that perfect shot. Then when you add in the brilliant sound effects of the exploding zombies punctuated by the sounds of gunfire, along with the game’s stark grey backgrounds contrasted with red blood splatters, it all works together to create ‘that moment’.
PS: For the Vita release, you’ve thrown in some new zombie types. Can you tell us a little more about them?
RB: Sure! We’ve actually added three new varieties of zombie into the mix. Two of these new zombie types, the Runner and Mortar zombies, are focused on spreading the chain reaction to more distant parts of the map. When the Runner zombie is hit, she’ll run forwards for a fixed distance before exploding. However, when you shoot the grotesque Mortar zombie, his head flies up off the screen before landing in a random position inside the play area and exploding. This means that chains can now move beyond walls and other obstructions, albeit in a random manner.
Third, we have the awesome Zapper zombie. As the name suggests, upon being hit the zombie shoots out a bolt of zapping energy. Should this hit another zombie, it will freeze the unfortunate blighter, and the bolt will continue to extend between them both for a limited time. Any zombie wandering into this bolt will remain trapped there as their energy is slowly chipped away. It’s kind of like a zombie tripwire.
Undoubtedly, the single best thing about the new zombies – outside of their inherent awesomeness – is that we’ve had the chance to go back and re-balance every single level in order to be able to feature the new zombies as much as possible. This has allowed us to iron out difficulty spikes, plus throw in some new challenges for OMG-Z veterans.
PS: How have the visuals improved? Can we still expect the same morbid colour palette?
RB: Every single zombie and background art item has been redone from scratch. It’s all been re-layered and drawn at native Vita resolution, plus we’ve added three more death animations for each zombie, to make it more varied when you see tons of them exploding simultaneously. Jake really went to town on some of the deaths, so we hope players won’t be too disturbed when they take a closer look.
While the art has been totally reworked, we’re continuing to use the same black/white/red colour palette, as we felt that that worked really well in the previous game. There’s nothing like literally painting the town red.
PS: There are over 100 upgrades in the game. What can we expect to be investing our finances into?
RB: Out of the 100 upgrades, 30 are brand new, and these are all focused on increasing the lethality of the new Mortar, Runner, and Zapper zombies. Some of the old zombies have also had their upgrades tweaked a little to make the game balancing even more challenging. The new zombies’ upgrades focus on increasing their population on each level, the damage that they do, and the radius of their effect.
PS: How are you grading players for the new leaderboards?
RB: Well, first up there’s a leaderboard focused purely on stat tracking that simply keeps tabs on all players’ total number of zombie kills. This rewards a player’s persistence. This leaderboard will track your all-time kills, even after you’ve ‘Prestiged’ the game. To define a points tally, we use a combination of kills, bullets remaining, and ‘Prestige’ level. Efficient players that reach the top level will be able to amass insane scores.
PS: Can you talk a little bit about the Prestige mode? What was the inspiration behind that?
RB: After the release of OMG-Z as a PlayStation Mini, one of the things that a lot of people told us was how after finishing the game they deleted their save so that they could start over from the beginning. That seemed a bit of a shame to us, as it meant that they had nothing to show for their dedication. Out of that came the idea of Prestige mode. Upon getting 100 per cent completion of the game (i.e. 100 Platinum medals), the player can now choose to reset their level and upgrade progress and Prestige the game. This means their Prestige level will increase and they’ll receive a multiplier for their score, allowing them to get some truly monstrous scores. Oh, and they’ll earn a very cool shiny icon for their efforts.
With 20 Prestige Levels available, we’ve added what we thought would be enough replay value to satisfy even the most hardcore and persistent of OMG-Z fans. If you do ever reach Prestige level 20, that would mean that you’d have to have won 2000 Platinum medals. Even if you manage that, you’ll still be able to Platinum the game at level 20 one last time, so that’s 2100 Platinum medals to collect. You’re talking about dozens of hours of work at least to get there. We figured that that was enough replay value.
PS: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us, Ross. The game sounds awesome, and we can’t wait to play it.
RB: Thank you. We’ve poured everything into it – the game ended up taking four times longer to make than the original OMG-Z. We hope that everyone loves it when it goes on sale on 19th June.
Are you looking forward to splattering some human shells in OMG HD Zombies? Let us know if you’re planning to pick up the title in the comments section below.