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Glasgow, United Kingdom
An illustrator and games artist living and working in Scotland. I have various hobbies: coding, travel, art and games; and I enjoy writing about them.

6 January 2013

Case Study: War Z

Zombies is not a new thing, the idea of the walking dead was around for as long as humanity existed. However fairly recently they exploded into the big screen and into AAA games with unrelentless force of an advancing horde. See what I did there?

In any case, I thought that a little distraction from all this coursework can be both constructive and helpful to my project. I chose War Z for its terrible reviews and that fact that most reviews pointed out that the game is bare and has absolutely no character.

From the point of view of finding a sense of "place" in games or films and looking deeper into making the experiences culturally authentic this game is a goldmine of how not to do things.

At the very beginning we are presented with a bare world of trees and paper cut out grass. Do not be mislead with pretty screenshots you find on the internet. On high settings the lighting is the only thing that changes. I'm not even going to mention the textures that are sometimes not stiched properly. It is perfectly possible to look through ruler straight gaps between rocks and grass.

All this aside, the buildings and characters is what, in my oppinion, sticks most painfully in one's mind. The problem is that all buildings are nothing more than hollow concrete blocks with minimal interior. It gives the game an empty feeling. As if the world is completely uninhabited.

Here is a quick comparison.

This is a screenshot from War Z

Compared to a screenshot of STALKER: Shadow of Chernobyl

Little details like overturned tables, cans of food, maps on walls, grafitti and so on breaks the blandness and creates that atmosphere that STALKER is famous for. Even though the room is essentially a very simple cube the small details give it authenticity and a feeling that people actually live or used to live there.

Let's also compare the development times. STALKER was developed over 6 years and the team had numerous photohunts in the area of the Chernobyl NPP and Pripyat. War Z was in development for 6 months and is supposed to be set in Colorado. But it doesn't feel like any place at all. Generic green grass, pines and mountains broken up with bland boxy cities that look like no city at all.

I know exactly what went wrong there. Little planning, no visual research and a mad rush to release the game as soon as possible.

It was a pleasant and productive distraction. Now back to coursework.