World Zombination by Proletariat
Published: May 30. 2014
Proletariat’s upcoming strategy game World Zombination
World Zombination is not your run-of-the-mill zombie title. Currently in development for tablets, phones, Mac and PC, the game allows players to choose different classes of characters within factions, with gameplay that varies depending on which side you’re fighting on. Control the zombies and your missions will consist mainly of RTS gameplay, where you control hordes of zombies and decide which humans to mutate. Play on the human side, however, and you’ll be playing something more akin to a tower defense game, deploying units and deciding on squad formations to defend against the hordes of undead.
“It has something for everyone and it’s scalable,” says Seth Sivak, Proletariat CEO, of his studio’s first title. “If you’re a casual gamer, you’ll be able to pick it up right away. If you’ve played games like World of Warcraft or XCOM, you’ll see some influences there too. You can get the feeling of going on a massive raid, but also have the opportunity to put down the game and check on dinner.”
Not that the concept came easily. Starting a company with five founders with five different personalities and trying to come up with one concept that worked for everyone, Sivak admits, was an “interesting” journey. “We quickly settled on using a zombie theme as a jumping-off point, but I’m not a fan of horror games, which is part of the reason why World Zombination is bright and has a sense of humor,” he says. “There’s a lot going on in this game: multiple styles of gameplay and influences from MMOs, card games, strategy games, tower defense… but it really works, and it’s a result of having a lot of cooks in the kitchen.”
Much of Proletariat’s team of twelve hails from various large development studios, including the likes of Harmonix, Turbine and Insomniac. In order to hit the high quality bar it envisioned with limited resources, Proletariat went to great lengths to make sure they had the right team. “Our team is able to move a lot of the process out of the way and leave more time for iteration, which is vital to us,” says Sivak. “No matter how good you are at making games, you’re never gonna get it right the first time.”
According to its creators, World Zombination’s rather bright art style is heavily influenced by the Ghostbusters cartoon from the 1980s, which the team grew up watching. It’s the zombie apocalypse, sure but it's not grim or violent; rather, World Zombination takes a much more comic, cartoonish approach. “More than anything else, we get noticed for our characters,” says Sivak. “We had a lot of fun coming up with all of the different concepts and stories for them as a team. Our art director and co-founder Damon [Iannuzzelli] is really responsible for the look of the game. He’s a very talented guy with a strong point of view.”
The team decided to use Unity very early on, primarily because they wanted a mature tool chain, and the ability to support multiple platforms. “Unity was a great way to get something up and running quickly, and it has a great workflow that allows for quick iteration when trying out new gameplay ideas,” says CTO Dan Ogles. “We also built a Haxe library that allows you to write Unity code, which we are using to make World Zombination, and released it for free on our blog.”
In the beginning, the team spent roughly four weeks prototyping and iterating together, with the goal of creating a totally new type of gameplay for the zombie genre. “It was important to spend that time up front, and it was worth it to prove to ourselves that it would be an interesting game,” says Sivak. “The quick iteration time allows us to improve the game constantly. And of course it helps that with Unity, we didn’t have to build our own engine.”
Indeed, various plug-ins have helped things along as well. “The Unity Asset Store has been incredibly helpful to us, especially when making our first trailer,” says Sivak, who recalls that two artists were able to make the trailer in less than three weeks, in order to hit the team’s deadline for PAX Prime. “We wanted to grab attention and show that you can play as zombies too by making a Rocky-esque training montage, and were able to utilize shaders, materials, and tools like Mega-Fiers to get this done quickly.”
According to director of engineering Joe Mukai, the team looked at a number of different options for a UI framework, and settled on NGUI because it was quick to implement, and easy for the small team to work with given its tight resources— without hurting performance.
Hearing from fans is the best form of motivation the team gets, and has helped get them through the long development process. “It’s amazing, showing World Zombination to people, even in its rough, unfinished state, and hearing them talk about how they can’t wait until it comes out or having them come back to play again…it really never gets old,” says chief creative officer Jesse Kurlancheek. But the motivation must know some boundaries, and this has been a challenge unto itself. “The most difficult part is figuring out where to stop. We have so many ideas for new features and ways to make this game better, but at some point we have to call it ready to release.”
World Zombination will be released on iOS, Android, Mac, and PC later in 2014. In the meantime, Proletariat is currently taking signups for the beta on their website.
Somebody to Lean On
Based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, developer Proletariat has had the luxury of being surrounded by talented, likeminded folk. “The indie environment in Boston is incredibly supportive, and has been a big reason why we’ve been able to have great opportunities and meet great people,” says Seth Sivak, Proletariat CEO. This was decidedly the case with the Boston-based Indie MEGABOOTH, a collection of developers that have banded together to create a presence for themselves at huge, often overwhelming game expos. World Zombination was included in the Minibooth for its first big event, PAX Prime, and has since been in the Megabooth at PAX East.
“One of the most memorable gameplay experiences in our game, the zombie horde, wasn’t there to begin with,” recalls Proletariat CEO Seth Sivak of the early days of World Zombination. “There were only eight or so zombies on screen at a time, until our CTO Dan [Ogles] decided to make a massive horde of zombies and it changed everything. People love to grow their horde to hundreds of zombies, and our game can do that!”