The following ideas started off as an email. However, after writing the email and thinking about them for a few weeks, I got attached to them. I’m posting them publicly on the off chance that someone else will stumble over them, and find them as compelling as I do.
The first thought that comes to mind is that a zombie game offers the chance for some really new npc and player verses player interaction. For example, if the player starts the game with a helpful, friendly npc that the player forms an attachment with, what happens when that npc is turned into a zombie, and the player is forced to chop them up into little bits to win the game? This kind of play on player emotions is something that could only take place in a largely text-based RPG. It requires good writing, instead of good graphics, because for the player to care enough about the NPC for the scene to mean anything, the NPC has to be really well written. But if it worked, it would be a much more powerful game event than the ordinary hack and slash.
What if the player is the leader of several npcs, that the player must direct in order to accomplish a set of game goals, and whenever the player makes some kind of mistake, one of the npcs will become a zombie that the player must put to death? This would be much more powerful than “you have five lives. You lost a life.” because instead of a number, each loss is a well developed character. Of course, for that to work, the player would need to spend some time with the npcs. Perhaps the player is in a world of zombies, searching for survivers. At first, the player is on her own. But after some searching, she finds an npc. Perhaps this npc knows where another surviver is, and they have to work together to find the next surviver. Each surviver, of course, has a skill or talent that the player might not have herself. If the npcs are introduced slowly, at the start of the game, the player can get attached to all five, and the game author can take some time to build a character for each surviver, and introduce the player to whatever skill that surviver has. Perhaps one of the puzzles for the player to solve would be learning a characters backstory and trying to figure out what they might be good at. Once all five survivers are found, the player discovers that someone has been working on a way to stop the zombie infection from spreading any more. The player, with the help of her npcs, must seak out the final steps to complete the work. But the player is the only one with the skill of leadership, or the knowledge of what needs to be done. So instead of taking risks herself, the player must direct the npcs in what to do. If the player makes a mistake, an npc will die, and come back as a zombie that the player would have to put down. This would mean killing a zombified npc the player might have been attached to, as well as losing whatever skill that npc had, and of course losing one of the five npcs; if the player loses all five before stopping the infection, then the game is lost.
If we want multiplay ability, maybe a team of players could work together to stop the infection over the internet. If one of the players does something wrong, the remaining players have to kill a zombied version of there former team mate. It could be interesting.
I also have an idea for a slightly simpler, though much darker, game. The player is in a world of mostly zombies, searching for survivers. But unfortunately, the player already has the zombie infection! The player gets constantly weaker and weaker, and slowly loses abilities as the game goes on. The player must try to help as many survivers into safety as she can, but, of course, she only has so much time before she becomes a ravening zombie monster. This requires judgement from the player, because if the player goes completely zombie when helping a surviver to safety, she will of course kill that surviver, go back to the place of safety, and kill all the other survivers she tried to save. So how many survivers can the player rescue, before she is forced to destroy herself, so she won’t become a zombie and kill everyone? That would be how the score is determined. But, of course, the player cannot win. No matter what happens, the player must either destroy herself, or kill all the survivers. I think this would make for a really neat twist on the idea of “winning” a game. A high score would mean the player saved lots of survivers, but of course the player can’t save herself. Losing would mean the player continues to exist as a zombie, but she would have to destroy everything she cared about as a human.
Those are just game outlines; I could flesh out situations and characters for either game more fully. I find the second game more interesting, but I don’t think it would sell; it’s way too depressing! The first game is more complicated to create, but at least if the player gets through all the obsticles it has a happy ending. To be effective, I think either game would need to be written in a sryth style system. If it was in tads or inform, it would be way too complex to program. Point and click with a limited number of choices would work better, I think. But maybe I’m wrong.