Zombie games, the world is filled with them. From Left 4 Dead to The Last of Us, gamers have been obsessed with the tension, teamwork and atmosphere that come with the ongoing battle against the forces of the undead for years now. But where did this start? What was the first instance that zombies appeared in a video game? Were they at all representative of the zombies we see today? What was the inspiration for the introduction of the zombie to the video gaming industry? Well, it began on the ZX Spectrum in 1984, and believe it or not…it all started with a little game called Ant Attack.
Ant Attack was developed by Sandy White for the ZX Spectrum in 1983 and was coded by hand to develop an isometric projection of lines. The game featured a city infested with giant ants. The player had to breach the walls of the city and free a prisoner in the centre while throwing grenades at the ants to keep them away. The concept was simple but it warranted a sequel and that’s where the zombies jump in.
Zombie Zombie was designed by Sandy White in 1984, again for the ZX Spectrum, and featured a similar B-Movie plot line as Ant Attack. In the past, Man had travelled to the black land and had discovered ancient relics which brought the dead back to life. This door to the other land was shut and guarded until its guardians forgot why. When the player returns to this door he finds himself unlocking its door and releasing it’s curse onto the world again.
From the game’s manual,
“Words were spoken at the setting of time. Words, which put together, told a terrifying tale, a prophecy of doom. Man had crossed into the black land and returned diseased. Evil had found a door into another Kingdom. Somehow it had to be kept shut. Prehistoric man kept vigil until it was forgotten why. Of course they thought you were crazy, but you insisted on returning to that ancient place, just to make sure. You had a feeling about these relics, a feeling of death. Unwittingly you had sprung an invisible lock of an invisible door. A prophecy is about to be fulfilled. The Dead will rise again to eat the flesh of the living.”
The primary objective of Zombie Zombie was simply to kill as many zombies as possible as fast as possible. The game featured the same combat system as Ant Attack; grenades could be used to keep the zombie horde back from you and to cull large groups at a time. To aid you in the fight against the horde the game also included a helicopter that players were able to use to push the zombies of nearby cliffs in the game. You had to lead the zombies toward the cliff in the helicopter in order for them to fall off, similar to Lemmings. Zombie Zombie also provided innovation in the way of sound, being the first game to ever use both left and right speaker outputs for its sound effects.
The Zombies featured in the title are fairly similar to the standard modern zombie and were most likely influenced by the classic Romero Zombie. Firstly, they are reanimated dead that eat flesh and secondly they follow blindly and appear to have no self-motivation or driven thought. Much like the modern zombie they appear in tattered clothing and seem to have not much fat or muscle and are mostly skin stretched over bone. There are however some obvious distinctions to be made between the gaming zombie of the 80’s and that of the current generation. For instance, the zombies in Zombie Zombie originate from some darker magic or otherworldly spirit and though nowadays this can still be seen in the occasional game, most zombies originate from some sort of disease or faulty medication. This is most likely down to the expansion in video game graphics and narrative. There simply wasn’t enough scope in the gameplay or graphics to feature any kind of medicinal or biological alterations on the zombies and the harsh classification boards of the 1980’s would have had a much easier time accepting magic and curses than the biological warfare of Resident Evil.
So there you have it, a quick magnified look at histories very first zombie featured in a video game. Without which the culture that thrives today would not exist or at least not be at the stage it is. The influence of nerd and geek culture surrounding zombies cannot be understated when considering the growth of the zombie. That culture and its success owe its roots to the 1984 classic, Zombie Zombie.