[Mike Rose catches up with Zombie Cow's Dan Marshall, to discuss his new educational sex-related game Privates (commissioned by the UK's Channel 4) and his move into full-time indie game creation.]
Privates is a rather unique title for Zombie Cow Studios in more ways than one - for Dan Marshall, Zombie Cow's founder, this is mainly because the platforming shooter game is his first full-time project.
Dan released his first game, comic fighter Gibbage, back in 2006 and gathered interest due to a series of features he wrote for UK-based games magazine PC Zone, describing his experiences of creating an indie game. In 2008, Zombie Cow Studios was founded, and Dan's past work was put under the name. Since then, he's created games in his spare time as a hobby, including the wonderful Ben and Dan adventure series, which consists of Ben There, Dan That! and Time Gentlemen, Please.
Earlier this year, Dan quit his job to start making games full-time. He's currently being commisioned by Channel 4 to create an educational game called Privates. We caught up with Dan to discuss the controversy surrounding the title, how the arrangement with Channel 4 came about, and what the future holds for Ben and Dan.
Who does the Zombie Cow team consist of, and who does the most work?
I do all the really hard work, obviously. As writer/ designer/ producer and 'owner of the company' I'm working my socks off like never before.
Chris Simpson is our brillo coder, tirelessly putting absolutely everything together a€“ from building the engine and level editor from scratch, to implementing the sound effects and gameplay bits-and-bobs. I'd say he probably works hardest.
Andy Hodgetts is the brillo artist. He's insanely talented, and completely ruined by the horrific source material I've been sending him for Privates. He does the most work.
That's three, then. Three of us. I do the counting, too.
Your just-released platformer Privates is really quite different from anything you've created before. How did the idea come about?
Really genuinely can't remember. I was doing my day job, tossing ideas around for how to make some sort of educational game for Channel 4, and the idea of a platformer Gears of War game with these little condom-hatted marines popped into my head. I started typing and 20 minutes later had a rough outline for Privates.
I guess it's just how my mind works, sadly.
Privates has caused quite a stir due to its rather lewd content. Was part of the reason you chose this setting to shock the audience into spreading the news?
Nope. Channel 4 were after sex education games, and the thing about sexual infections is that they tend to pretty much 100% live in-and-around peoples' rude bits. It's all very much nature of the beast with two backs, you might say.
That's arguably the most wry joke I've ever made, I'm pretty proud of it.
You've received funding from British television station Channel 4. How exactly did that happen, and who approached who?
Alice Taylor's one of the commissioning editors at Channel 4, and as a reader of her blog, I'd unknowingly pestered her in an attempt to get some coverage for Ben There, Dan That! She sent me an email telling me what her job description is, and we had a little meeting. Everything snowballed from there.
The game is meant to be a little educational, while still providing fun times. On a scale of immature to educational, which way does Privates bend?
Haha, I honestly don't think it's 'immature' at all a€“ the humour is obviously aimed at a younger target audience, but I'm not the sort of guy who's going to start belittling and patronising 14-19 year olds with a giggling-at-nipples script. When I was that age, some of my favourite comedies were pretty highbrow, and the Privates script necessarily strikes a fairly happy balance.
Alright, so it's set in some odd locations- yes, namely someone's bottom- and there are obviously going to be some jokes as a result of that. But hey, bottoms is where some people choose to have sex, so again we've got to go there.
But I don't think there's anything I consider to be horrendously immature- my favourite jokes are the Left 4 Dead and Gears of War references, or the swipes at the absurdity of End of Level baddies, that sort of thing.
Your games are always packed with very British humour, which is something we simply do not see enough of in the gaming world. Do you think this has helped you pick up extra support in the UK?
We're all British round here, so I guess that's what comes out naturally. We all grew up with all these wonderful very-British sitcoms, like Red Dwarf, The Young Ones and Blackadder. It's in our blood.
We sometimes play on the British aspect of it all, I suppose it's island mentality a€“ Us vs. Them. Some of my favourite bits of Privates, for example, are where it's very definitely a British Gears of War, with tweed uniforms and stiff upper lips in place of armour and arm muscles as big as your face.
Quite whether or not all that's helped get extra UK fans, I don't know. Probably a bit, yes.
Your Ben and Dan adventure series is set to continue with Revenge of the Balloon-Headed Mexican. When can we expect to see the next installment released?
Privates has obviously taken up an awful lot of my time lately... We'll be discussing Dan, Ben, Balloon Head, and everything the future holds for them once we've emerged out the other side, as it were.
Actual Answer: there is a plan, but I have no idea right now, sorry.