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Road to the IGF: Blendo Games'  Atom Zombie Smasher

Road to the IGF: Blendo Games' Atom Zombie Smasher Exclusive

February 2, 2012 | By Tom Curtis

Brendon Chung, the man behind Blendo Games, has established a bit of a reputation in the indie scene over the last few years with popular games such as Gravity Bone, Air Forte, and Flotilla, the latter of which was nominated for the IGF's Visual Art award in 2011.

Most recently, Chung has been recognized for his recently-released Atom Zombie Smasher, which is up for an Excellence in Design award at this year's IGF.

This top-down strategy title tasks players with protecting what's left of humanity from an unstoppable undead outbreak, allowing them to dispatch rescue vehicles, call in air strikes, and otherwise save the doomed population from becoming zombie fodder.

As part of our continuing Road to the IGF series, Gamasutra spoke with Chung to learn more about his latest game, and discover why he got started with indie development in the first place.

How did you get your start making games?

My first game was made on my family's 386 computer. It was a text adventure written in QBasic, and was incredibly painful to play. If I remember correctly, the game basically tried its damndest to kill the player at every possible moment. I remember being disheartened by the greatness of Nibbles.bas and Gorilla.bas, as compared to the awfulness of my own work.

I kept at it, and went on to make mods and maps for Doom, Quake, and Half-life. That led to a job working in the industry, and eventually I started Blendo Games. If I continue my current trajectory, I feel I can someday comfortably compare my own work to Gorilla.bas.

Why did you find games like Gorilla.bas (pictured below) so appealing?

At that young age -- I think this was fifth grade or so -- they were inspiring to me. They were powered by and made with QBasic -- and I had QBasic on my computer! I possessed all the tools to make a fun game like that! There weren't any external programs required, no mail-order parts, no breaking open my piggy bank. QBasic was the only thing needed, and there was something very empowering about having all the tools at my fingertips. At that point, it became completely up to my own abilities and patience to learn.


How long did you work on the game?

Early prototype work took a few months of on-and-off work. The final released version of the game took about seven months of full-time work.

How did you come up with the overall concept?

I wanted to put the player in the role of a hero who has to do terrible things for the greater good. While saving humanity is the ultimate goal, your path to that goal entails a lot of collateral damage and choosing the lesser-of-two-evils. A zombie outbreak scenario was a good fit for that -- civilians are what you need to rescue, but are simultaneously the crunchy kindle for the zombie wildfire.

Why did you choose to represent the game's survivors and zombies as abstract, colored dots?

I like to begin every project with an assessment of what resources I have and what I'm interested in tackling. For Atom Zombie Smasher, I was interested in taking a deep dive into procedural generation. I ended up basing a lot of game content on procedural generation -- the city layouts, the world map, monthly events, the mercenary squads.

On the other hand, modeling people characters was something I didn't have a lot of interest in, considering how zoomed-out the camera was. The abstract presentation ended up working out well -- when a dot suddenly starts moving quickly, the brain fills in the details and thinks "that guy just started running away from that zombie!"

Blendo Games has seen some pretty notable success with games like Flotilla, Air Forte, and now Atom Zombie Smasher. What do you think it is that makes the team's games so popular?

I try to make games I feel are under-represented. Flotilla was turn-based 3D space combat, and Atom Zombie Smasher takes a light simulation approach to a zombie RTS. That's one of the things I enjoy most about independent development -- getting to make games for niche genres. Secondly, I like to flavor my work with my personal interests, my own history, and I think anything with a personal nature is something people like to see.


What would you say was the most difficult part of developing Atom Zombie Smasher?

I'm a one-man team, so for me the most difficult thing to do was evaluating whether the game was working or not. I know every detail in the game, so despite my best efforts, I inevitably end up taking the path of least resistance, or playing "the ideal way" when I playtest the game myself.

So, I'm extremely fortunate to have great friends and family playtesters who are more than happy to tell me "Brendon, this part of the game is really awful. I can't believe how bad it is." Thank goodness for that, otherwise that awful part of the game would've been released into the wild.

Have you played any of the other IGF finalists? Any games you've particularly enjoyed?

I'm loving Frozen Synapse. And I was lucky enough to see Johann Sebastian Joust at IndieCade last year -- what an amazing game. I demand that Johann Sebastian Joust adopt Frozen Synapse's awesome spectator playback feature.

What do you think of the current state of the indie scene?

It's a good time to take a dip in the indie game pool. I didn't know what to expect when I started Blendo Games, and that was rather terrifying. But digital distribution is plentiful, development tools are plentiful, and it's wonderful how much support there is from other developers and the community.

Even if you have a full-time job, making a micro-sized game in your spare time is viable. It doesn't require much (or any) financial investment, nor special equipment or workshop space -- just download some development tools and start learning.

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