Spanish developers Akaoni Studio are hard at work on their WiiWare debut Zombie Panic in Wonderland, a promising shooter that couldn't possibly have a more self-explanatory name. We caught up with Jose Manuel of Akaoni to see how the game is shaping up, if zombies can love and whether fast zombies are just a load of shenanigans, among other things. Also, zombies.
Zombie Panic has been picked up by Marvelous Entertainment as a part of their World Game Parade for Japan. How did that come about?
At iDeame 2009, thanks to Nintendo, we were able to be present with Yoshiro Kimura of Marvelous Entertainment.
Before the conference, we showed the public a beta version of Zombie Panic in Wonderland. The beta, although quite preliminary, was very successful among the attendees. At the dinner on that day, Kimura told me that he paid attention to the quality of our game and also to the constant line of people waiting to play it. I showed him more videos and concepts with unreleased materials and explained to him more details about the development.
In the same week, we started preparing the project to launch it in Japan, which eventually evolved into the World Game Parade.
You were originally set to release back in December, but Wonderland escaped a frosty undead attack. Why the delay, and what window are you shooting for now?
The delay is basically due to our inexperience with the publication process for WiiWare. We didn’t calculate correctly the time required from the end of the project to publication. We’d like to release the game in the US, Europe and Japan during the month of March.
What are you doing with the extra time? Are you adding content, polishing up what's there or just waiting to launch?
To compensate for the delay, we’ve added extra characters and better graphics. We’ve also further polished the gameplay.
Wonderland has been infested with "amorous zombies," a type of zombie that, quite frankly, sounds even more terrifying than usual. Does this mean they're more interested in hugging than eating brains?
Yes, I think these zombies are really dangerous. To avoid revealing the plot details, I’d rather not clarify them for when you play the story mode, but yes, it is the love that drives these zombies, not the hunger for brains. It’s really uneasy...
You've included seven playable characters lifted from fairytales and folklore, including Snow White, Dorothy and Momotaro. Do these characters play noticeably different, e.g. special abilities or weapons?
The differences are mainly aesthetic. All game characters can use any weapon and destroy everything that gets in their way.
Members of Akaoni were also behind the DS game Little Red Riding Hood's Zombie BBQ, which Wonderland appears to be shaping up as very similar to. It's almost like a sequel of sorts. Is it?
Prior to founding Akaoni Studio, many of the current members were producers and development team of the game production company Gammick Entertainment. Within Gammick, I myself designed Little Red Riding Hood's Zombie BBQ, and coordinated the artistic side together with the team of illustrators at Ikari Studio. The technical side of the development was commissioned to Enjoyup Games from Barcelona. Zombie Panic in Wonderland is not a sequel to the DS title. It’s the game of zombies and famous folklore characters that I’ve always wanted to create and finally had the opportunity to carry out in my studio.
Except me, the entire development team of Zombie Panic in Wonderland, including illustrators and musicians, are new, and the result is something quite different from the previous title.
How did your experiences creating that game influence the development of Wonderland?
Although both are action games, the game experience that I wanted to convey in Zombie Panic in Wonderland was different. In the previous game, I had no control over the technical and playable side, but this time, in Zombie Panic in Wonderland I’ve placed special emphasis on it.
How did you take to the adjustment from working on the DS to the Wii?
The game is completely different. The design and the technical side have been made especially for the occasion. It was our first project for Wii, and we’ve had to devote much time to the creation of technology and development tools.
Besides platform, what sets the two games apart?
Although the subject is similar, they are two different games. In Zombie Panic in Wonderland, you can destroy the stage completely and use its elements to take out the zombies. For example, you can knock down a telephone pole on a group of zombies to crush them, or blow up a train to kill the enemies around it.
Having worked on Zombie BBQ and Wonderland, you seem to have a fascination with mixing the fairy tale world with the living dead. What is it about this contrast that you find so appealing?
As I've said on other occasions, folk tales and zombies are two themes that I’ve always particularly liked. When I was a child, my mother used to tell me stories before I went to sleep, and it was something I loved. Moreover, I've felt fascination for horror movies since I was very little. I think it all started when one night I got up while my parents were sleeping and turned the television on. It was past midnight, and The Night of the Living Dead was being broadcast. It was the first horror movie, and the first zombie movie I saw. I was really scared [laughs], but I loved it. Since then, every Tuesday I got up at the same time to see the horror movie of the week.
The idea of mixing the two genres (zombies and fairy tales) occurred to me for the first time when I was still a student in the HAL College of Technology in Japan. Now many people take interest in this mixture when they see the game. However, when I first mentioned it to other people, nobody showed particular interest. Such a mixture seemed for them too strange for making a video game. The same thing happened when I presented the project at my previous company. When I first proposed the mix of the themes, the idea wasn’t received warmly until the project progressed very far. For me it is to combine two of my favorite subjects to enjoy both at the same time. Also, I think that when you succeed in blending two things which in principle would never go together, the energy they emit is very powerful, and no one can escape from its charm [laughs].
Speaking of BBQ, the full game was released in Europe on DSiWare last year. Are you aware of any plans on rolling it out onto the service in other regions?
BBQ is owned by Gammick Entertainment. I don’t know what plans they have for the game.
Zombies have experienced something of a resurgence in popular culture in recent years, although it seems now that vampires are taking over that role. What zombie stories had the biggest influence on you?
With a vampire you could get to speak, even convince him not to kill you. If you get bitten by him, you could become one of them. Eternal youth, flying, biting girls on the neck... should be great, shouldn’t it? But the zombies are another thing. They have only one goal, to go for you, and won’t stop until they succeed. You cannot communicate with them, and it’s impossible to ask for mercy. They are disgusting without feeling, and nobody would want to become one of them. They are the worst enemy.
I like all zombie movies, but the one that really impressed me was Night of the Living Dead. Also the first Resident Evil on the PlayStation left me terrified.
Alright, the million-dollar question: based on your personal ideas and feelings about zombies, what's your take on fast ones? Should they be able to sprint like in 28 Days Later or stick to ambling around like in George Romero's Dead series?
Although I also like fast zombies, I prefer the slow ones. When zombies move fast, it’s scary. But it's a natural fear and not the claustrophobic fear of the slow zombies. In Zombie Panic in Wonderland we prepared the two types (^ v ^).
With Zombie Panic nearing release, what does Akaoni have planned for the future? Are there any projects you could tell us about?
Currently we have several projects on the table and haven’t decided which one to pursue, but for now the most likely is that it will be an action game with online options.
Thank you very much for your time. Is there anything you'd like to say to our readers in closing?
Thank you for reading the interview and for your interest in Zombie Panic in Wonderland. In this first project, we’ve put in all our effort and enthusiasm to try to make ourselves a space on your SD cards. I sincerely hope you enjoy the game.