If you’re unfamiliar with video game designer American McGee, then you’ve missed out on some truly wicked gaming experiences. McGee darkened up Lewis Carroll’s Alice and Wonderland with American McGee’s Alice and Alice: Madness Returns, released in 2000 and 2011 respectively. He was also responsible for the episodic game series American McGee’s Grimm, in which the main character’s goal was to make lighthearted fairy tales less happy and more in tune with their original forms. The guy clearly has a knack for modernizing classic beloved stories for today’s audiences.
Since L. Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz tales are back in fashion — were they ever not? — with Sam Raimi’s Oz: The Great and Powerful and the upcoming 3D re-release of Victor Fleming’s original film, it seems only fitting that McGee would bring his story-morphing talents to that body of work. And wouldn’t you know it, he’s also throwing zombies into the mix for a project called Ozombie, which just recently began a Kickstarter campaign to get some funding assistance. Earlier this year, McGee ran another campaign for the Little Red Riding Hood-themed Japanese action game Akaneiro: Demon Hunters, which successfully reached its $200,000 goal.
Ozombies, meanwhile, has a much higher goal of $950,000, which makes sense given the popularity of the subject matter and the work that will go into what sounds like a clever and exciting project. This isn’t just zombies lurking around Emerald City while the usual suspects cross colored brick roads. This is an original take on Baum’s work.
The game will primarily be a single-player quest, though multiplayer options can be unlocked, and its gameplay focus will follow familiar role-playing and combat tactics, while hopefully telling a deep and satisfying story. In this case, Oz is a distant island set in the Pacific Ocean that Dorothy reaches by boat, fleeing from a world suffering from ecological and societal problems. The antagonist is the Scarecrow, who vows to destroy all the Immortals and gods that populate Baum’s stories, turning them into a horde of passionless, unimaginative brainless followers. And while stopping him may be necessary, it is far from Dorothy’s only challenge, as she’ll have to restore order and values to the increasingly conforming Oz. Or rather, you’ll be doing that, since you look so good in ruby slippers. Check out a few of the superb concept illustrations below.
As a kid I was a huge fan of Robert Heinlein’s stories. There are several ‘Heinlein themes’ that I like and want to explore: Individual liberty and self-reliance, the obligation individuals owe to their societies (and vice versa), the influence of organized religion on society — and the tendency of society to repress nonconformist thought. Hence, ‘zombies’ are destroying Oz in a mindless (heh) fashion, without thinking of the future consequences of their actions. The fact that they are ‘zombies’ or that their leader is obsessed with ‘brains’ is less about the traditional ‘brain eating’ concept of zombies and more about mindless conformist behavior.
Finally, some social relevancy that has been largely absent from the zombie genre since Romero’s classic films.
Take a look at the Kickstarter page to check out all the cool swag you can get for donating, to this Oztentatious-sounding project. The Walking Dead and Telltale gave us possibly the greatest example of a narrative-based zombie video game yet, and it’s up to McGee to up the ante. I’m (un)dead certain he can do it. Check out the promotional video below and spend some dead presidents, won’t you?