Retro eventually gives way to parody. Think about it. The latest '80s movement is about to fall flat on its face because no one can pop his pink polo shirt's collar for much longer than a year before realizing how stupid it looks. The words "disco is back!" are a punch line, but 15 years ago, they sent people in search of designer bell bottoms. The transition from serious high fashion to giggle-inducing is just part of the underlying cultural understanding that you can't go home again. Despite the cyclical nature of western culture, entropy finds a home in too many hearts to let us repeat ourselves verbatim, and no throwback in the world evades a comic gaze for very long.
But what about when someone creates a throwback complemented by a wink and a nudge? How can you make fun of retro when it's already making fun of itself? Stubbs the Zombie: Rebel without a Pulse dared me to answer that very question when I put on my fedora and popped the CD into my Xbox last October.
I was able to get in touch with Wideload's Matt Soell, Stubbs' creator, and talk game design, specifically retro gaming. Of course, the first thing I ask him is when Stubbs the Zombie was born.
"Wideload began life in early 2003," he tells me. "The initial incarnation consisted of three people - Alexander Seropian, Mark Bernal and myself. We had a lot of conference calls because we didn't have office space yet, and Alex was still spending a lot of time at home tending to his just-born first child. We'd been kicking a bunch of ideas around but we hadn't come up with anything we really liked yet. After one conference call on a Saturday morning, during which we all shot down each other's ideas, I was pacing around trying to will a good idea into existence. Nothing was coming, so I gave up and took a shower. That's when the raw idea for Stubbs came to me. I seem to have most of my good ideas in the shower or in the car. Aspiring writers should drive and bathe often."
If you're unfamiliar with Stubbs, here's some perspective. It's 1959. All of the outlandish advances promised in those corny "the future is now!" type videos have been delivered by Andrew Monday, and they're all available for everyone to enjoy in his newly created future city, Punchbowl. Robots take on menial tasks usually performed by the working class, the police force's numbers rival that of a fascist state, and the elite special ops team charged with protecting Andrew Monday and his mother doubles as a profane barbershop quartet - it's Joseph McCarthy's wet dream. But there's a problem. Punchbowl is built on the shallow grave of Stubbs, a newly undead insurance agent from the Depression era, and he's tired of being trod upon.
"The Roaring Twenties were basically a big party to which Stubbs was not invited, and the Great Depression was the aftermath in which Stubbs somehow got stuck with the bill," Soell says. "Just when he thinks his life is finally turning around, someone blows a basketball-sized hole in his gut and buries him in the middle of nowhere. Twenty-odd years later, he wakes up in the middle of a rich man's city to discover that he's still dead and some whiny little punks are eating hot dogs on his grave. It's a pivotal moment for Stubbs, the point where he realizes that he's doesn't have to let people walk all over him anymore."