RTS, as a genre, isn’t really known for a huge variety of gameplay. Gather resources, construct buildings, train units, overwhelm enemy, insert some level of tactics depending on the skill level of the developer. This is the basic recipe for a huge swathe of the genre, and those who break away from the formula, while sometimes pretty fun, don’t achieve the same notoriety of the likes of StarCraft. Michael Carroll of Forbidden Film Studios wants to change all that with a unique take on the genre, both in how the game will play and how it will look, and he’s pretty excited about it. Nick joined me and made some poor taste jokes while we found out what will make Cannibal Fever something to keep an eye on.
First and foremost, I was reading the story behind the game and I have to ask: How does Chicken tie into a zombie apocalypse?
Michael: Okay, so, obviously the world that we’re creating is our interpretation of America. Now, if we were to start using the real brands, like if we were to start using KFC and stuff like that, I’d have to pay a lot for the licensing, or I’d get sued. So, we started creating everything from scratch. We created our own cities, like San Franco and Basin City. Then we had to start coming up with brands, so we’ve got Churchill’s Chicken which is our equivalent of a take-away chicken place. We’ve got KT’s convenience which is like a 7-11 style convenience store, we’ve got T-Rex gas – love the logo of that; it’s a T-Rex that’s biting it’s own tail and the tip of it’s tail is a fuel bowser.
We went through and started making our own energy drinks, we’ve got menergy and femergy energy drinks, we’ve got 365 and a quarter cola. We’ve got a whole bunch, I could keep listing them. One thing we wanted to do is, for our Kickstarter, is you can actually pledge enough to create a fake brand in our game and to have your likeness used in the game, but stuff like the chicken is about making our game more immersive, so that the player can really insert themselves into the world.
In terms of story, what causes people to start becoming Zombies?
Michael: What’s causing people to become zombies is an illicit drug called ‘Deathamphetamine’. It’s a chemically altered version of a popular illicit drug – I’m sure you can come up with a name, I can’t really say because of ratings reasons – basically, and an American department called the Department of Advanced Research and Progress, or DARP, created a drug as a “final solution.” They were sick of having to fork out money for blue lights and other drug prevention methods, so they decided to just create something that would get rid of all the junkies and addicts so they could use all that money for the “betterment” of society, with betterment being in quotes there.
The drug was created as something that the junkies would take themselves and everything seemed to be going well at first, so it got shipped out in huge amounts, just this huge distribution across America, before clinical testing had been done and they realised it had side effects. People would end up taking the drug, thinking it was a normal drug, and turn into Zombies. The people who took the drug are our fast Zombies, our runners, they’re called ‘conduits.’ They’re the badass, more powerful Zombies, and then people who get bitten are your average slow, shuffling Zombies. So, we have a bit of both worlds there for the zombies.
Where did the inspiration for the game come from?
Michael: I actually had this idea when I was in year eleven, which was, like, seven years ago now? And, at the time, I wanted to create something for my year twelve art project. So, I started to create the world when I was in year eleven for this project, I started watching all these different zombie movies, finding out what kind of zombies I wanted, whether they were slow or fast, if they were chemically created or if they rose from the dead, that kind of thing. While I was trying to do all that, though, my year twelve year was just the worst year you could possibly have.
I had back surgery – these x-rays we’re using for promotion are real, these pictures here are a dude operating on my spine. Authenticity right there. I had kidney failure, then my dad had a cardiac arrest later that year. It’s okay, he’s alive, he got a defib in his chest, he can’t die now.
So… He’s a machine zombie?
Michael: Well, he was dead for a bit so yeah (laughs). The important part was that when I got that film done, it was a relief from the year. I actually cried when I finished it, because it looked exactly as I pictured it in my head, and that had never happened before. So, I went to uni and studied film and television, all the time I had this idea of Cannibal Fever. I had the fever, I contracted the fever, I couldn’t get rid of it. A few years ago I came up with the idea, “why don’t we make it an RTS?” I had to think of a lot of ways to alter the standard genre, there would be so many issues that present themselves using a traditional RTS approach.
Firstly, Zombies don’t build anything and don’t collect resources, you don’t have Zombies going “We need more gold!” “Sure! URRRGGGHH” (mimes mining). They just don’t do it. So, if we cut off the resources, then we’d have the world all already available for players. Buildings would be to sterilize or capture by the humans or Zombie factions. From there, we came up with the idea that units would be built on a time basis; the better the unit you have in that building, the faster units would be created. We also thought we could add in territory ownership percentages, so owning more of the map will bring overall production times down.
You guys announced on your Kickstarter page that you’ve got some pretty big name voice actors, like John DiMaggio and Jim Cummings. How did you manage to get them on board?
Michael: I’m really happy to have them on board, as you’d expect. The way we did it, we sent them the idea to their talent agents, we wanted them to play certain kinds of characters and some of them responded back really positively. Jim Cummings was excited because he got to play scary voices instead of his normal sort of Disney character voices. I put as much about the story into a single page blurb as we could and almost everyone came back really excited. We’ve got some people who’re interested but we can’t use their names yet. I can’t give hints, but if they’re successful, they’re going to be some huge names. That’s why our budget is pretty high for our first game, but we’re trying to go for the very tippy-top of what we can achieve.
It’s not your average RTS style game, so what else are you doing that departs from the genre’s standards?
Michael: We’ve got a few things we do a little bit different. Obviously, you’ve got the no collection of resources and constant, timed production of units. Pre-existing buildings and stuff like that. We’re also adding in some very zombie-like features, like an infection rate, so if an infected unit kills a non-infected unit, that unit has a chance of becoming a zombie. You can then alter the infection rates on both sides, like ‘Potent Strains’ on the zombie side, which will make it more likely to infect killed units. Each zombie will have it’s own level of infection, with conduits being the most powerful.
On the other side, you’ll have vaccinations which make it less likely for you to be infected. You’ll also have hero units, which will stop allied human units from turning, so he’ll sit there and shoot anyone who’s been killed so that they don’t become zombies. They’re expensive to build but worth it to stop the enemy from getting too overwhelming, and on the Predator side, you’ll want to kill them as quickly as possible. We’re also adding live action content. We’ll have a picture-in-picture system, so basically a video feed which appears in the corner of the screen while you’re playing, and a ticker tape which runs across the bottom of the screen which tells you about things that happen around the map.
We’ve also got the motion capture, which I think will revolutionise how RTS’ look and feel. Each unit will have several skins, each of those skins will have multiple idle, death and attack animations. Those will all be motion capture because normal animation would be too expensive. The bandit unit is an example: his idle animation might include a cycle of smoking a cigarette, putting it out, pacing an area, relieving himself against a wall. Another unit might be sharpening a knife, another might be reading a book. Each of the skins has something different that it does, so you might have ten different units of the same type, but they’ll all appear to be doing different things.
Michael: So, when you zoom in, you’ll be able to see them acting exactly as you’d expect them to be acting. Then when they get into combat, they’ll all do different things again based on the situation. They might pull a pistol on their target or go for a melee attack, take a knee with a rifle, that sort of stuff. We want it to be that when these battles happen, you almost forget to play because it feels and looks so realistic. From where I’ve come from, doing video production for the last five years, we wanted that cinematic feel in our gameplay. We’ve got cinematic quality videos, motion captured animations, and a bunch of other stuff to make it stand out from the rest of the genre.
Things have been a bit dry for RTS’ lately, aside from a few notable games, it’s either a lot of free-to-play or pay-to-win stuff. I’m not a big fan of them because there’s always someone who has more money than I do, so we wanted the game to hearken back to games like Age of Empires, Red Alert, Company of Heroes and those sorts of games. We wanted it to be more about strategy and how you play the game more than anything else. We even got the idea of the territory control from an old RTS game called “Z”.
Did you expect the voice talent to get back to you?
Michael: We contacted a lot of talent agents, and we got a surprising amount back. They’re always trying to get their clients work, but obviously we had some that came back and said “We’re not interested.” We also had some who came back and said, “We’re interested, unfortunately we can’t allow you to use our name until we’ve been paid,” and they were too expensive, and we were totally happy to accept that. We had some people who got back to us and said they loved it and really wanted the game to happen, so I was really happy to have those back.
We got back some really ridiculous prices; like, I think Sir Patrick Stewart was one-hundred and fifty thousand dollars per recording session. To be fair, he’d be worth it. I just don’t think Kickstater would be able to achieve that. It’d be nice, but the people we do have on board are going to be awesome.
You mentioned a newsfeed that appeared during gameplay. Will it appear for both sides so that zombies can see it as well?
Michael: Ooo, I hadn’t thought of that. I’d planned for it to be a traditional RTS, where you’d just have your own information being relayed to you.
So would there be a zombie news reader, being all “Uuurrrgghh, we took over the south building. In other news: BRAAAAAIIIINNSSS!”?
Michael: (laughs) Well, we want to keep things as realistic as possible. It would be great to have that feature, but in terms of gameplay, we’re still working things out. There’ll be no fog of war in the game, so you’ll be able to scroll around the map and see what the enemy is doing. So, if you’re playing the Predator team, and you spawn a particular enemy from a bank, your opponent is going to know when you’re heading there and if they can try and prevent it or not.
So how serious are you going to be with the narrative, with the kind of ‘serious’ zombie horror along the lines of movies like REC.? Or more like a B-Movie grindhouse style atmosphere?
Michael: We want it to be serious, but we’ll have ways of injecting humor in subtle ways. People love the brands like Churchill’s Chicken and stuff like that. The Biohazard film, in the game, is a big part of that. The movie is released just before the outbreak takes place, it’s on every billboard everywhere, stuff like that. We’ll especially be using trophies for humor, and Easter eggs, because that’s what I love. So, you’ll be able to find an NFL team running around somewhere, a Zombie bride, and we’ll even have an Easter bunny, like a zombie in an Easter bunny costume, hiding in one of the maps. Very serious on the top level, but when you go into detail, you’ll find the jokes and stuff.
Drugs leading to zombies which you then mow down with overwhelming firepower? Ol’ Ronnie Regan would be proud. You can back Cannibal Fever’s brain-fueled campaign from their Kickstarter page. Starting kicks not enough to sate your blood-and-or-brain-lust? Check out Cannibal Fever’s many social media flavors on Facebook, Twitter, Youtube or Forbidden Film Studios’ official website.