From Dusk Till Dawn', now there was a bloody strange film. I went in expecting another typical Tarantino tale of gangsters and hoodlums and ended up faced with an orgy of vampires, zombies and classic B-movie parody. Anyhow, I mention it because thanks to trendsetters like the boy Quentin, style gurus who insist on knowing what's Cin' and people like Jonathan Ross, the world of the shlocky horror B-movie is back in vogue and Psygnosis are bringing it to our computer screens with Zombieville.
The tale is set in one of those small American townships that only seem to exist for the purpose of having some supernatural horror befall them. You are a local newspaper reporter who gets an anonymous tip about strange goings on at a military base 50 miles outside the town. Remembering previous reports of unexplained disappearances, secret military research and sinister government cover-ups all based in the area, you set off hoping to put two and two together to make a headline.
The real story is one of supernatural battles with the forces of evil, an ancient spirit set free to seek revenge and an entire population of locals and army personnel that have been turned into flesh-eating zombies. I can't give away too many story details as they make up the plot of the game and I don't want to be accused of spoiling the game before it's even finished. I might not get invited on the next Psygnosis freebie to some foreign clime.
It's the way you tell 'em
The hero of the game is a down-at-heel reporter who bears as much resemblance to the action stars of Hollywood as I do (ie. not a lot). He's grizzled, sozzled, balding, somewhat bloated and in a piece of typecasting that's not likely to put them on his Christmas card list, Psygnosis have hired the acting talents of comedian Greg Proops to provide his voice. This helps the game create the kind of tongue-in-cheek atmosphere that it's looking for. Zombieville isn't meant to scare the pants off you but to make you laugh. Cleverly realising that the only adventure games that seem to capture the audience these days are comedies, the creative team behind Zombieville have done extensive research into the more bizarre zombie films available. They even held a massive zombie-thon in which dozens of the very worst B-movies (and C-movies and D-movies) ever made were watched in one long session.
How to save the world
The game engine itself is a cross between the Alone in the Dark series and the traditional point-and-click adventure game. You have full directional control over your character as you wander through the dimly-lit town, with the camera angles all being lifted straight out of the films. Adding to the player's feeling of freedom is the fact that the characters and locations aren't constrained by the necessities of the plot. If you wanted to, you could take out a shotgun and blow away a main character at any time you feel like it (when they start emitting low groans, have eyes that are blazing red and are nibbling on your forearm is usually a good time) and the game can continue. You might miss some important information, but the game will always be completable. It'll just take you longer.
It's gone green..
One of the more interesting twists to the whole story is straight out of B-movie lore. At some point in the game, you become infected by the zombie curse yourself and before long you're also going as green as Kermit the Frog and having to use sellotape to keep your body parts from falling off. You can still continue the game as normaldish) for a while, but should the zombiefication process (as indicated by a picture of your face getting ever worse) reach its final stages, then that's all folks. Luckily, there is a way to avoid this, but I've been sworn to secrecy and nothing but large bundles of cash sent to me care of address will make me talk.
So (have you noticed how many of these Blueprints start their final paragraph with the words, CSo' or, CAnyway'? Still, who am I to buck a trend?), anyway, Zombieville is still in the earlier stages of development. Most of the graphics are having the finishing touches applied, and the coders are frantically working at tying all the different stages together in time for the current release date of February 1997. Until then, just heed these words of warning: Don't trust anyone with red eyes, never agree to be sacrificed in the name of a demon and stay clear of people with the words Bushell and Gary in their name. There's no real link between that last one and Zombieville, but I thought it a point worth making anyway.
During the initial stages of Zombieville's development, the producers of the game ran into the old bugaboos of the censorship police. It seems the early drafts of Mary Gentle's script contained far more in the way of expletives and the graphics were being pitched with a much higher blood and gore content. Unfortunately, to sell the game in overseas markets, numerous conditions had to be met. In Germany you're not allowed to show blood, so out went the gore. In America you have to pander to the family side of the audience, so out went the nastier words. Everywhere they turned, Psygnosis ran into a different set of cultural taboos. They even had to shelve a scene involving a priest being ripped to shreds in case it upset Deep South Fundamentalists. The only country that didn't throw up any restrictions was, you guessed it, us. The UK. Blighty. Ahh, Great Britain, the last bastion for gratuitous swearing and violence in entertainment media. Makes you proud.
As regular readers of PC will know, one of the things I'm always campaigning for in adventure games is a well-written story. It's all well and good having top-name actors giving it their all in front of a large blue screen (or in Origin's case, on a multi-million dollar Cset' that looks like it came out of TV's futuristic game-show CScavengers'), but without a decent plot you might as well not bother. Fortunately, Psygnosis have brought in the talents of prominent sci-fi/fantasy author Mary Gentle, best known for her CWhite Crow' series, which includes CScholars And Soldiers', CRats And Gargoyles', CThe Architecture Of Desire' and CLeft To His Own Devices'.
Of course, no serious author would be complete without an eccentricity or two and Mary is no exception. As a protest to the practices of the Conservative government, she vowed always to wear black for as long as they were in office. Fortunately for her wardrobe, this trend doesn't look like it will have to continue for much longer.
Fleshing it out so to speak
Here you can see how each scene is first created as a basic framework based on the initial hand-drawn artwork, and is then fleshed out with colour, detail, texturemapping and light-sourcing. Each of these backgrounds is then combined with a Z-mask to provide the three-dimensional movement information specific to that screen. Events can be triggered by the player manipulating marked scenery or by simply remaining in a particular place while something moves around him. All of the character movement is determined by something called a Cglobal mapping system' which helps the computer determine the most appropriate route for a character to take to get from point A to point B - eliminating the usual detours through points C to Q that other games have trouble with.
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