May 8, 2013 at 3:27 PM ET
Zombies have invaded pretty much every nook and cranny of popular culture today, with acclaimed video games like "Call of Duty" and "Plants vs. Zombies" leaving hordes of insatiable gamers hungry for more brain-gobbling action. But how many of the zombie stories we all know and love actually put us in the position of the living dead themselves?
That's the idea behind "Ray's the Dead," a zombie strategy game being made by two of the creators of the cult favorite "Stubbs the Zombie in Rebel Without a Pulse." Following the positive buzz that indie developer Ragtag Studio received from showing the game at industry conventions and trade shows like PAX East, the three-person team behind this ambitious zombie adventure posted their passion project on Kickstarter today.
"Ray's the Dead" came from a mutual longing to see more zombie games that were actually about zombies, Chris Cobb told NBC News. Cobb co-founded Ragtag with his friend and colleague Matt Carter after they left "Stubbs the Zombie" creator Wideload Games.
"There's no doubt that there is a tremendous amount of not only zombie games but just zombie everything these days," Cobb said. "But, in my opinion, there aren't really many zombie games out there at all. I mean, there are plenty of games where you just shoot the zombies. But there are very few games where you play a zombie and get to do zombie things."
Some of these elements were incorporated into "Stubbs the Zombie," which was first released in 2005 for the Xbox and PC. The protagonist "Stubbs" was a zombie, after all. And Cobb joked that "Stubbs" was the first game he could think of that let players control a zombie and turn other characters into zombies. But a combination of factors such as timing and "a slight difference in preference" kept him from making the strategy game he always wanted to.
"Stubbs was, at its core, an action game," Cobb said. When he infected some hapless survivor, the resulting zombie just would just "find another guy and kill them. You didn't really have to do anything else" with the ensuing horde of zombies.
Instead, Ragtag found inspiration in the markedly non-zombie-infested Nintendo classic "Pikmin," a series of real-time strategy games that have players control hordes of plant-like creatures to collect items and fight bad guys. The titular protagonist of "Ray's the Dead," therefore, is "a notch above the rest of the zombies. He's kind of calling the shots." While Cobb admitted that the developers "are still figuring out what aspects of the zombies are automated," he said that players will have to strategically position their zombies to prepare for ambushes and other types of tactical gameplay to outwit stronger human opponents.
"We want to actually let the player recreate some of those classic zombie moments, if there was someone smarter helping them [the zombies] out," Cobb said.
But, of course, there's still the matter of funding — which is where Kickstarter comes in. At the time of this writing, "Ray's the Dead" has already collected nearly $11,000 of its $75,000 goal from more than 200 backers.
Cobb isn't shy about how nerve-wracking the experience of posting a passion project like his "weird, crazy game" on a public crowd-funding site, saying that some of the early momentum for the game came from close friends and family. He also admitted that some of the features he was most excited about, such as a handful of multiplayer modes, had to postponed if not abandoned to keep the game's budget in check.
But anxiety aside, Cobb also said that he's keeping "Ray's the Dead" open to other opportunities. While the game is being made for the PC and Mac to start, Ragtag is "designing the game as if it will be on tablets eventually." And despite despite Ragtag's small size and shoestring budget, "Ray's the Dead" has already attracted "a number of publishers interested in working on the game."
While the studio is "intrigued by those options," Cobb said that they've "been a little bit on the back-burner" as they try to carry the game through to completion on their own. This is their zombie-fueled vision, after all. And they're still savoring the freedom of finally being able to create the zombies they've also wanted to.
"Honestly, no," is all Cobb had to say when I asked if there were any other zombie games he found particularly inspiring for "Ray's the Dead."
"And I'm ok saying that," he added. "That's part of the reason we're making this!"
Yannick LeJacq is a contributing writer for NBC News who has also covered games for Kill Screen, The Wall Street Journal and The Atlantic. You can follow him on Twitter at @YannickLeJacq and reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.