Groovy Games

Groovy Games
Great Zombie Depression

Joe Blancato | 21 Feb 2006 07:00
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For the next few hours, hilarity ensues, as Stubbs romps through Punchbowl, turning its citizens into a zombie horde that takes on the U.S. Army in the game's final stages. Somewhere in the middle, Stubbs gets into a dance off with the chief of police, and later develops a love interest with one of Punchbowl's celebrities. Throughout his journey, he encounters every 1950s stereotype you can imagine; it puts Back to the Future to shame. Stubbs did what so few games can: It let its content shine right next to its gameplay. But the retro/parody content didn't just shine, it said something.

"One of the underlying themes in Stubbs - which I lifted from Poe's 'Masque of the Red Death' - is the idea that you can't build a wall big enough to keep entropy out," Soell says. "Andrew Monday doesn't like poverty and decrepitude and unpleasantness, so he builds a city where luxury is a birthright and everyone can relax because bad things only happen to lesser people in lesser cities. Then Stubbs shows up, and he's not just poor and decrepit and unpleasant ... he's undead. He stands in direct opposition to everything Punchbowl is about. And he wears a really ugly tie."

A man with hubris meeting his nemesis isn't a new theme. Now, mash that into a zombie a movie where the zombie isn't a conformist and you're treading on unfamiliar territory. "There are a lot of games about zombies attacking humanity, but in our game, the zombie is the hero," Soell says. If no examples come to mind, think about the original Dawn of the Dead, where everyday mall-goers turned into brain-eating zombies. In Stubbs, the only non-conformist is a zombie; imagine James Dean with green skin. However, for a reanimated noggin-chomper to be the least zombie-like person in the world, Soell had to create a city full of '50s automatons. "Having made that one crucial inversion, it seemed natural to make a few more. Instead of setting our grisly antihero in a gritty modern-day city, we put him in a gleaming, sterile environment - the sort of city that never really existed except in flights of fancy."

But Punchbowl was just one of the elements Wideload created when they brought Stubbs to life. The game's soundtrack features a myriad of modern-day bands covering tunes from the '50s. Cake covers "Strangers in the Night," The Raveonettes cover "My Boyfriend's Back." Soell says, "Because it's a city of the future, we figured there might be some very forward-thinking bands interpreting the songs. Pop music from that era had a lot of low-hanging fruit for the story we were telling - there's an intensity of emotion, but also an innocence that provides a pleasant frisson when placed into the context of an over-the-top zombie game. 'Earth Angel' and 'My Boyfriend's Back' certainly took on some new undertones." But it wasn't a simple task to compile an original soundtrack when "a lot of publishers would hear the words 'zombie game' and slap together a bunch of throwaway tracks from nu-metal bands with misspelled names," he tells me. If it weren't for the Herculean efforts of Zach and Chad at Aspyr Media, Stubbs' publisher, all of Wideload's hard work to create a pseudo-period piece might've been disrupted by Mudvayne.

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