I snagged an interview with Wideload designer, Doug Zartman. We talk about working at Wideload, the next generation of gaming, and a bit about Stubbs the Zombie.
Bold - Questions (Evan Volmering)
Normal - Answers (Doug Zartman)
Explain your role at Wideload.
I'm a designer, which covers a lot of different roles. In the early stages of a game's development, pre-production, I come up with ideas for game levels, for different game types and rules, and ideas for characters. Later in the process, I'll work with artists to build a level in 3D, then place characters in it, write scripts to control them, and test the gameplay. I also help out with writing stories and dialogue, and editing text for packaging, ads, and other writing tasks.
How long have you been with this company?
I joined up in June of 2004, when we were in pre-production on Stubbs.
What has been your favorite aspect of working for them?
This is by far the leanest, most versatile, most unified organization I've worked for. Nearly every person who works here is a gamer (you'd be surprised how rare that can be at game companies) and there is an incredibly creative, playful atmosphere here, as well as a strong feeling of common purpose.
What is/was your least?
Our office is in a converted turn-of-the-century warehouse in downtown Chicago, and there’s a massive, ancient steel door in the brick wall near my desk. It never opens, but sometimes strange odors and noises emanate from it. I figure the other side is either the bathroom of one of our neighboring offices, or perhaps it's a portal to Hell. It isn’t easy concentrating with that looming over me, but I manage.
Where exactly did the idea of "Stubbs the Zombie: Rebel Without a Pulse" come from?
Making original, new types of games is a big part of Wideload’s identity and mission. The guys were looking for genres that needed a kick in the pants, and survival horror seemed a good candidate. The reason no one had made a game where you play the zombie is the obvious zombie limitations of slow movement, no weapons and no dialogue. If we could solve those problems, we would have something really new to offer gamers, at once familiar and novel. So that’s what we did.
I read in an older interview that Wideload has considered doing a sequel. Has a decision been made? If so, can you give some details? (If you can't, that's perfectly understandable)
It isn't time to announce anything, but it's safe to say we've done some planning for where to go next with Stubbs. But first there will be news about other titles.
Were you surprised by how well the game did in sales?
Why yes, I was. I think game buyers realized how much hardcore cred they get from owning a copy of Stubbs the Zombie, though I guess there are still a few who haven’t picked up a copy yet (you know who you are!)
How much of Halo/Halo 2 influenced the making of "Stubbs the Zombie?"
In terms of technology, a great deal, since Stubbs was built with the original Halo engine. The Halo lineage is most apparent in things like the vehicle physics and the excellent AI. Thanks to that AI, fights can play out in many different ways and encounters like the police station or the cornfields around the farm gain a lot of replay value. In terms of the content of Stubbs, there was less influence, obviously, though there are a couple of winks in the game to our pals and former co-workers at Bungie, like the character "Chief Masters."
Do you have any titles currently in development?
We have a few different titles in development. It won't be too long before we'll be able to announce a couple of them - I expect people will be surprised and intrigued.
What next-generation console will you be working for? Have any exclusive deals been made?
No exclusives as yet - our general preference is to have the widest possible audience, so we're interested in all platforms: next-gen, PC, handhelds, etc.
What's your opinion of the next-generation consoles overall? Do you favor any?
I think Microsoft has done a great job with Xbox Live, as a vehicle not only for multiplayer gaming, but as an easy way to get demos, low-cost arcade games and other content.
Last but not least, would you give some advice for someone thinking about a job in the game industry?
I’ll start with a bit of practical advice - experienced programmers can take a look at the Jobs page at http://www.wideload.com. Otherwise, an easily-accessible way to build experience in game design is to make a mod for a popular game, and get it out there so people can play it. That will add a lot to a resume. Beyond that, learn to write, learn to draw, learn to program. There’s an artist at Wideload who had no experience with computers when he got into the industry, but he sure could draw – that was enough.
Thanks so much for doing this interview!