One of the most anticipated launch titles for the Xbox One, “Dead Rising 3” brings a new level of sophistication to the zombie franchise, employing an open-world approach that enables players to more deeply explore the game’s environments — thanks, in part, to the next-gen technology. After a well-received debut at last month’s Electronic Entertainment Expo, the Capcom title is getting a big push at Comic-Con International on Saturday with a panel titled “The Video Game Culture of Zombies: How ‘Dead Rising 3’ on Xbox One Kicks Off a New Generation of Mayhem.”
Capcom will bring gameplay footage and its creative team to describe what’s next as the popular series evolves for the new console, and the discussion will also include commentary from Max Brooks, whose zombie novel “World War Z” spawned one of the summer’s biggest movie hits.
Earlier this week, Hero Complex caught up with Brooks and “Dead Rising 3” executive producer Josh Bridge to talk about the enduring appeal of the zombie in popular culture, and we’re also excited to bring you a first look at a custom “Dead Rising 3” poster created by well-known DC Comics artist Jheremy Raapack.
HC: Max, you are on this panel as a zombie storytelling expert. Is that a title that you feel pretty comfortable wearing at this point?
MB: That and Jon Cryer lookalike.
HC: When did you first become fascinated by zombie stories?
MB: I was 13 and I was starting to get strange new feelings and at the same time there was an invention called cable TV. When my parents would go out to dinner, I would sneak around and try to find something to watch on HBO after hours and I accidentally stumbled onto my first zombie movie. They keep changing the titles, I think it’s “Night of the Zombies,” or “Revenge of the Zombies,” but basically it was an Italian cannibal zombie movie that had, I believe, real cannibal footage mixed in. Fun times. The reason it really sort of shocked me to my DNA as no monster ever did is because it broke the rules of horror. The first rule of horror is that you have to go find it. All horror movies are essentially punishment movies. They always begin with someone usually young making a decision to go looking for trouble. Zombies don’t do that. Zombie stories are the only stories where you’re just minding your own business and they come to you. They chomp the entire world. As I like to say, every other monster preys on humans, zombies prey on humanity, that, to me, was why it was so terrifying.
HC: To what do you attribute the increased interest in zombie-themed stories? There seems to be a fascination with the apocalypse at the moment.
MB: There is a huge fascination with the apocalypse. But just as we as humans are curious about what frightens us, there’s also a very human trait to shield our psyches from that horror. Too much horror, too much truth, can send you into the mouth of madness. Just as it’s our desire to look at the accident, it’s also our desire to look away. We are definitely living in apocalyptic anxiety-making times. Between terrorism and unpopular wars and global warming, global financial meltdown, plague upon plague upon plague, it’s almost like, “Come on, God. Give us a break here.”
HC: That’s the beauty of the genre, though, right? You can examine all of these themes and issues but from a safe distance?
MB: That’s exactly right. If I’m watching a movie where a father has to shield his son and they have to walk on a road, and it’s called “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy, I ain’t watching that. I’m a father. That’s too scary. That’s real. That could really happen. But if the catalyst of it is something fake, if it’s zombies, and everything else is real — it’s all the same stuff you saw in Katrina or the Rodney King riots, but the reason for it is fake, then you can go to sleep at night. You say, Ah, well, that would never happen.
HC: Josh, with the new game, were you trying to build on the success of the previous games, and what did you want to achieve with this installment in the franchise in terms of storytelling?
JB: Obviously we wanted to appeal to core fans of the series. We’ve managed to get this opportunity to make a third installment because of all their excitement, but the other thing we really wanted to tap into was opening up the world and giving the player the freedom to survive in that outbreak and really push the intensity and the amount of zombies and what that gameplay experience is within that. From a storytelling point of view, with the “Dead Rising” series, we’ve always commented on the true monster is humanity itself, not the zombies per se, they’re the symptom. It’s not like we’ve been renowned for having incredibly poignant and deep storytelling, but we’ve always sort of embraced a classic horror experience with some really over-the-top characters and going almost exaggerated. We kind of communicate that through the game play as well — we allow you to play with a whole bunch of different weapons, let you dress up how you want, just be in control of this world.
HC: Is that the thing that differentiates this particular franchise from other zombie-themed games?
JB: It’s the sheer freedom that you have within to play how you want, experience it how you want — that is one of the things that we really wanted to drive home. The past installments were relatively regimented and you were kind of forced along at a particular rate of time. Now we’ve unlocked that to really let you explore this world. We went deeper with more stuff to interact with, more areas to explore, it just feels like a much richer world as a result.
MB: He’s missing the best part! He’s missing the reason he hooked me, which is, there’s something called the ZDC in the world of the game. And the ZDC will send you updates and information on your smartphone that you can hook up to the console. That’s amazing!
JB: We have a feature in the game that essentially interweaves through the story and tells its own story with its own character. It’s as though the game kind of comes out of the screen and you’re literally holding it in your hand. You’ll get calls from this character, text messages and just additional game play from this device, which is kind of cool. We geeked out on it because it was cool just to have our phones be part of the game. It’s something we were surprised by, how many folks were really excited by that. It’s new for us as developers to have this opportunity that we haven’t had before, and now going onto Xbox One we had this. We tried to really run with it and tried to give it its own character, essentially.
MB: You know what it reminded me of? It reminded me of when I was a kid and I used to play “Silent Service” on my Apple IIgs. Whenever the sub got hit, I’d turn off all the lights in my room and run into the bathroom and turn on the shower to make it look like I’d been hit. It brought the game out of the console and into the world, and that’s what this reminded me of. I was like, now it gives it an element of reality.
HC: How much longer do you think the current level of interest in zombie stories can continue?
MB: I think it’s going to be tied to how long our national sense of anxiety lasts. This is not the birth of the zombie genre, this is the renaissance. The first time zombies were big were the 1970s, where we had the exact same problems we have today. People were really feeling that the system was breaking down. People were really scared, and they needed a place to put their anxieties. Coincidentally zombie movies were off the charts. Then, when we got back to normal, so to speak, when things started to have a sense of normalcy and there was a sense of, “Oh, the system isn’t breaking down, it’s actually just resetting” — zombie movies totally fell off the radar. I think that’s going to happen again. I think when things get back to normal, when people have a sense of optimism and confidence, I think that people are not going to want to explore the apocalypse anymore. You have to remember, the ’90s started with Kurt Cobain and ended with Britney Spears.
HC: With the mainstream success of something like “The Walking Dead,” do you find that you have different audiences coming to the work that you do than perhaps you might have had in the past?
JB: I think for us on the game end, yeah, I think there’s folks that maybe weren’t really into games but started geeking out on the series and then kind of started seeing that as something they’d maybe want to try as an interactive experience, not necessarily hardcore gamers. I think there is some synergy there.
MB: I think that the zombie genre is so large and so versatile, it lends itself to many different possibilities…. You don’t have to necessarily be into zombie first-person shooters to be into zombies. You don’t have to necessarily be into zombies to be into zombie video games.
– Gina McIntyre | @LATherocomplex
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