“I just wanted to be the Chemical Brothers so bad,” is not something you would expect an accomplished indie developer to say when interviewing them about their game. However Nic Gorissen, aka thebignic, isn’t your typical game developer. Zombies. may be the most interesting game featuring the undead to be released this year, yet no one would guess it was the debut from a musician who has been creating music for over a decade.
I probably started about fifteen years ago. It was all very sample driven. I just wanted to be the Chemical Brothers so bad, that was the most amazing thing. I thought ‘oh my god, you can just take pieces of other people’s music and mix it together? Yes, I want that!’ The first couple of albums, my stuff was very sample driven. Then I started to learn how to make my own melodies and stuff, so it grew from there.
With such an eclectic background in the music industry, just how important was a strong musical connection when developing Zombies.?
I thought the only way I could sell it to people was if it had a good soundtrack. It seems to be that a lot of the indie stuff now that’s sort of the driving force behind it. It’s like a whole other thing that makes it popular, so I thought not only would that be cool, but it was kinda the lazy way to do it. Happened to have a lot of music sitting there, I could just use that, I wouldn’t have to hire anybody, so it was easy.
The last few albums from “biggie” had certainly taken a step towards Chiptune sounds. I asked whether he had provided the soundtrack for any other games before creating his own.
“I haven’t done a full soundtrack. I’ve lent out my tracks to a couple of other games, but I’ve never been able to do a full on soundtrack. It’s something I would like to do. I don’t know, my style doesn’t seem to fit well with anything but pixel art indie games.”
Enough about the music, more about the game. Zombies. is set against the backdrop of corporate office spaces. How did Nic end up making a game about middle managers who turn into the undead?
“It stems from the fact that I work in an office building with a lot of managers that are…” he begins to laugh. “The game is actually really real to life. It’s pretty much what I experience from a typical day, except for the violence. I hear my own songs in the back of my head, there’s people who just throw buzz words and they don’t know what they’re doing, they just sort of bumble around. I don’t know, it’s just been brewing for a while I guess. I tend to doodle during meetings and at one point I just drew it and I thought ‘yes, yes, this is happening’.
One thing that really stands out about Zombies. is the sharp wit. I asked where the inspiration for the writing came from.
“I think some of it is pretty obvious, things like IT Crowd references, there’s some Monty Python in there, Shaun of the Dead. I wanted to stay away from copying anything but there’s a lot of little nods I think, towards British humour. British humour is sad, it’s dry and it’s real to life where as North American humour is just over the top and you don’t really get a lot of the suffering that goes along behind the scenes. That’s kinda what I wanted to convey – yeah it’s funny, it’s satire, but at the same time it’s dark. These are the lives these people have to tolerate, they’re just brain dead.”
Zombies. is currently available on Steam, but like so many indie developer, thebignic is trying to make it via Steam Greenlight. How has his experience been so far?
“Oh my god,” he laughs as if letting out a ball of tension. “Not really a fan of it at the moment. I think yesterday we reached 98% of the way to the top 100, so I’m kinda pyshced. I’m like ‘yeah, I’m in the top 100′ but it means nothing. You get to the top 100 and then what? Nothing. There’s no other metrics to say how well you’re progressing, you don’t really know what you’re doing there as a developer. You’re also competing with games that are in development, so there’s developers who have their daily or weekly updates saying ‘this is the new feature’, where I have a game that’s already done, I don’t have the announcements or updates to have people coming back, to keep them interested. It’s a great idea, and I think once they work out the bugs it will be a great thing, but I think in its current incarnations, it’s not really helpful for independent developers.”
Along with the PC version, Nic released Zombies. for iOS. I asked him about developing for Apple’s golden platform.
“iPhone was the primary thing that I wanted to do, I just thought it would be easier to develop on a PC first because that is my background. The PC version was done, I had a publisher who was interested who basically said ‘when can you have an iOS version ready?’ I gave myself six months to do it, the PC version was done and I didn’t even own an Apple at this stage, so I thought ‘I’ll give myself six months, that should be enough time to learn’. It was frustrating as hell, but once I got setup it took me a week and a half to get a working prototype. I thought ‘I think I underestimated my abilities here’ so I went back to the publisher and said ‘this is what I got’ and they ended up not being interested. I was bummed out, but at the same time if they didn’t light the fire under my butt it probably wouldn’t exist, because I thought there was too many hurdles to get something over from the PC to iOS. It was a miracle that it happened.”
Sales can often make or break a project. While Nic’s expectations weren’t too high, some people around him were building his expectations, almost to a point where he was disappointed about the results so far. I asked if he had any advice for other indies when releasing their games.
“Just keep you head down and do the work. If you’re doing it because you love doing it just stay true to that. There’s going to be people that hate it but there’s also going to be people who love it, that think you’re going to be the next Team Meat. It’s not likely, you’ll probably be somewhere in the middle. Just try to keep your head down and not pay attention to people who are inflating you or trying to tear you down. Just do it.”
So now the game is out, does thebignic plan to release future content?
“Nothing set in stone. I have a couple of forums I check out once in a while. People are usually throwing out ideas. A lot of people want multiplayer, but I don’t think they appreciate the level of difficulty implementing something like that would entail. I don’t want to release something that is tacked on as an afterthought, which it would be. So I’m trying to think of a way to do it where it’s seamless, but I’m just one guy and right now there’s two streams, the PC and the iOS version. To make multiplayer on each system would be completely different. It’s a lot of code, I still have a day job, so it’s not something I can commit to doing, but that’s pretty high on the list of requests. Nothing planned, nothing set in stone.
So now Zombies. is making waves, does thebignic have plans for the future?
“I have a lot of ideas of things I would like to do. Unfortunately, I think having done all of this on my own, it was way too much, I think I bit off more than I could chew. I’d like to have a team next time I do something – somebody for graphics, somebody for music, somebody for code, somebody for PR – because I can’t do that on my own. I have ideas, but I need money, I need people to back me up.”
Written by Stephen Heller