George Cameron Romero, the son of legendary horror filmmaker George A. Romero, has been busy of late. While in pre-production for Origins, the prequel to Night of the Living Dead, he spent time working with independent game developer Free Reign Entertainment on the free-to-play massively multiplayer online (MMO) zombie game, Romero’s Atermath, which is available in Open Beta on Steam and at www.willyousurvive.com/.
Romero, who’s a big gamer, explains why zombies remain so entrenched in pop culture today and what the challenges are in the freemium games space in this exclusive interview.
What did you learn about the video game business from your dad’s City of the Dead project that was canceled?
I learned that it just wasn’t the right time for that particular game.
How have you seen the game industry evolve with the rise of free-to-play games?
Anyone with a mid-spec PC can download and run most free-to-play games, no matter what their disposable income. There are no more big up-front costs to buy the latest console or get the Day One Edition of hit shooter franchise #7 — a game that you may or may not want to play a week from now, and which depreciates in value faster than a new car off the lot.
Fans have been waiting a long time for a Night of the Living Dead game. How have you incorporated concepts from that film franchise into this original game?
Fans should be pleasantly surprised by similar thematic elements as they continue to play the game. The zombies and survival aspects of Aftermath are very much rooted in classic horror cinema.
Why do you think zombies remain so popular in pop culture today?
They represent the corruption of the everyman, if you will — your neighbor, friends, family, employer, people you love, and of course, some people you’d just as soon want to see turn into zombies! They are the ultimate in what is scary because they are the embodiment of the familiar turned into a mindless killing machine.
What differentiates this survival horror game from the crowded field?
So much actually – from the complex survival mechanics to the representation of what the world would be like after an actual apocalypse. The “every man for himself” aspects of the gameplay are unlike anything I’ve ever played, and the mindset needed to survive and thrive make it very unique.
What are the challenges in standing out from the crowded free-to-play field?
You have to make sure that players want to stay invested. You have to make sure they want to keep on keeping on, no matter how hard the struggle. The “free to win” mentality Free Reign has implemented (versus the typical “pay to win” model of most free-to-play games) is very refreshing.
What type of gaming background do you have?
I’m “classically trained.” From the days of Intellivision, gaming has been a huge part of my life.
How has that background helped with designing Aftermath?
I approached my task as a storyteller and gamer first, not as a developer. I know what I’d like to see in the game and pushed for that.
What are your thoughts on the opportunities for indie developers in today’s gaming ecosystem?
It has the potential to be the Wild West all over again, like the old days of game making and indie filmmaking. There are fewer rules, and indie developers now have the ability to reach a much wider audience without the pressure and control of a publisher or financier.
What are your thoughts on what Treyarch has done with the COD Zombies games (which your dad made a cameo in)?
They’ve done a great job! I love playing the Zombie mode in the COD games.
What video game opportunities do you see with your new movie, Origins?
This is a tough one to answer at this point, as we have some things actively in development that are confidential, so I’ll just say they are vast.
We’re also seeing The Walking Dead get its own VR video game. What opportunities do you see in that space?
I would love the opportunity to get involved in the VR space. It’s finally the right time. After seeing some of the VR demos at Sundance this year, VR gaming could redefine the way we experience interactive entertainment and cinema.
360-degree video is also hot right now. What do you see that format opening up creatively for horror storytelling?
You mean like The Force Awakens 360 video that was recently released I love the concept. It’s incredibly immersive. It could add a lot to linear video experiences. The next time I watch this piece of 360 content I’m not going to watch the main action, I’m going to look over here and see what other details I might notice.