An exploration of Game Maker Zombie Top Down Shooter Games

on March 8, 2011 - 15081 Views

Zombies. Just that one word is enough to make most members of the Game Maker community roll their eyes and think of hoards of bland, boring and dull games. Is this just generalisation, are they better than that? Are there unique, fascinating games out there which people are missing, because they can’t get over their stereotypes? I want to find out, because I want to design my own zombie game.

In order to do this, I went to the YoYo Games site to find a cross section of zombie games to play, and hopefully find some good ones. As I visited the site, one thing hit me immediately – the sheer number of zombie games! A quick search for ‘zombies’ turned up 34 pages of results – compared with only 18 pages for ‘aliens’.

With all these zombie games there’s only one presented in the YoYo Games spotlight – designed to attract attention to great or unique games for people to play. Okay, onto the first game!

Zombies by Jimmynator


What better place to start than with the spotlight game? ‘Zombies’ is created by Jimmynator, and I was quite confident to see a quality game with some unique elements, befitting its spotlight position. The screenshots look decent and the game apparently supports 2 players, which sounds fun. From previous experience, multiplayer would be pretty cool and somewhat innovative for a Game Maker game.

As the introduction rolls I’m pretty impressed as it looks a bit professional and cool. However, that feeling is quickly dashed by a show_message popping up. It asks me for my name and I stare at it for a second. Usually spotlight games are of high quality, but using a show_message is commonly criticised for being lazy. It doesn’t even have a custom skin. Is this really the first experience you want your players to receive?

Moving on, I note the number of options on the main menu, seeing that it has trophies and statistics, which is good. I start up the game proper and am instantly somewhat deflated. The graphics are full of gradient usage and are very generic and dull. The room I’m standing in is massive and yet empty of pretty much anything. There are wooden blocks stationed about the place that zombies attempt to break into. Why they aren’t windows I have no idea. I am also presented with no help, which is a little annoying.

It takes a while to figure out two things: reload is space, for no reason, and that you can shoot through the wood blocks without damaging them. Both of these are pretty important but aren’t explained. There’s no way to change the key bindings, either. This is pretty frustrating.

But it doesn’t stop there – there’s a sound that loops every 4 seconds or so that is possibly the most annoying sound effect created by mankind. I assume it’s a zombie but I can only guess it’s ripped from something, as within it I can also hear a police siren. To reiterate: a police siren goes off every 4 seconds the game lasts for. Way to make your game playable.

With all that said, from a mechanics point of view, the difficulty is solid. I felt somewhat challenged and this gradually built up. The speed zombies are a little fast for what they are, however.

The biggest flaw in the game is how difficult some of the mechanics are to grasp – for example, there’s a turret you can place which greatly helps you in killing the zombies. But, there’s no on screen feedback that you can place it. You just have to dig into the help file (which very few players will do) to learn you can press ‘t’ for a turret. How about a symbol on the screen next to the ammo, which could show you had a turret to place down. Also, nowhere in the help file or games does it say how you can buy weapons. Want to know what bizarre key it is? It’s left control.

Remember earlier how I said the difficulty was OK? It’s broken by about the 5th level. You enter a room with a turret in, and you never have to leave. In fact opening more doors is worse, because it lets more enemies in. The turret is the best weapon in the game. It has no ammo, no overheat problems. Nothing. You can shoot in any direction at a high rate of fire. So the player feels no desire to explore or find more content, gradually build up their weapons to fight the hardest enemies. They can just sit in a room.

The path finding is equally dreadful. Zombies continually run up and down the walls outside the building while you stand around inside, doing nothing. It’s also worth pointing out how big and at the same time, how empty the building you’re in is. What the hell was it before the zombies came anyway?

I die, and notice there’s a custom skin for the show_message now – why wasn’t that there when it asked me for my name?

I try playing another level, but it’s almost identical to the first one, except the room now has a bed in it. The trophies are very samey, the stats are OK but don’t record much and it turns out the 2 player is split screen, which I imagine is fun if you enjoy the actual game, which I don’t.

The online high score system doesn’t seem to be working either.

After a search I found the game topic at the GMC.  It’s quite remarkable. The author gets extremely annoyed when people complain about the control system, and this happens several times. However, they don’t try and fix this within the game, instead they get kind of angry.

I started this article to learn more about Zombie Top Down Shooter (ZTDS) games. So what have I learnt from ‘Zombies’? Keep tight control of balancing. Make sure your core game is solid before adding other features like trophies and high score systems (that don’t work). The game features no story and no information on your character, which hurts the enjoyment of the game. The game does feature some special zombies that make you slightly change your tactics, which is good.

The more I play this game, the more I feel drained. This is the best ZTDS? It is the spotlight overall. While the game on YoYo is rated 4 stars I’d probably give it 2 stars. Let’s move on to the next game.

Zombie Terrorists by cocoreysa

I think this is the kind of game people think of when they see “ZTDS” – broken and unpolished. It has a lot of the flaws that ‘Zombies’ did, but manages to do even worse. By the way if you’re wondering about the game, I believe it’s a reference to a common rumour that was around before Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2’s launch – that it would contain a zombie mode. But because Infinity Ward’s games took place in the modern day, the Nazis would be replaced by terrorists. This was later proven to be absolute nonsense.

The first thing that I noted was the UI, which takes up about a 1/3 of the screen. This is further hampered by the fact that the screen size is so small, which makes it difficult to see things coming, and react to them.

When starting the game there are some options which you can choose from, but none of them have any explanation as to what they do. They all seem to be directly ripped from Call of Duty, as well. For example, kill streaks? How would that work? Once you die, you finish the game, so getting 1,435 kills in a row isn’t really that skilful.

The other very noticeable bit of the game is that zombies appear from thin air, sometimes right in front of you. They also disappear into thin air when the arbitrary ’round’ is over. This is confusing and odd. Why do this? It has no advantage over any other spawning system, and just makes it look unprofessional.

There are a lot of options (pistol only, kill streaks etc.) but the core game is frustrating, bizarre and extremely repetitive. Zombies appear out of thin air, and disappear again when the ’round’ is over.

Hitting the escape key immediately exits the game, which is annoying when I want to pause it or just go back to the menu.

A plus point is that the game features 5 different maps to play, but there’s no difference in gameplay between them. The ‘city’ map is especially poor – the flickering street lights strained my eyes, and they shone through buildings for no reason. Some maps feature buildings which are 2D and you can enter, whereas others feature ones which were ‘2.5D’ and you couldn’t enter, which was annoying.

There is limb damage in terrorist zombies, but it’s only aesthetic. So if you blow their legs off, zombies still run at the same pace, which is ridiculous. The muzzle effect is a Game Maker standard effect, which looks awful. The path finding is even worse than ‘Zombies’. The fog makes it difficult to see a lot of the game because it covers everything up.

So what was there to learn from Terrorists Zombies? Well, like ‘Zombies’ it includes relatively arcade-like style gameplay. The zombies are easy to kill and there’s lots of blood and gore. In my WIP game zombies require many more shots to take down. Upon playing these, I’m loathe to say that they have it better. It’s just more fun to kill more zombies with fewer shots to each. In addition, I need to make sure the screen is large enough to see things coming, and make sure zombies don’t just appear from nowhere.

This is honestly a very poor game, and it shocks me that it has been rated 4 stars. Is this really all it takes to make a game which is considered popular by the YoYo Community? I want to strive to make something a lot better.

Blood Bath 2 Unlucky by petrik09

To be honest I wasn’t expecting much after the disasters that had come before, but Wow!  As I dropped into the first level of this game I realised I was having fun!

The graphics are 3D, but it’s still done in a top down-ish style. The 3D has animations, lighting and different models for different weapons. This really adds to the appeal of the game and makes it instantly more interesting and attractive.

Weapons are bought, and the shop type system is easily accessible at the top of the screen. The balancing on the weapons is good, and each one feels distinctly different in handling.

At the start of the level it directed me towards some help, where I actually learnt about the game, as opposed to some of the other games where the help is non-existent.

The sight of customization options lifted my heart, and I wasn’t disappointed. There are a couple of attachments and equipment which can be purchased. These are great, they easily add depth and advancement to the game. It helps to give the player some amount of choice as well – buy the attachment for this gun or to save up for another. I’d like to see this system extended, because at the moment you can get the final weapon quite early on.

There are some barrels to explode, which means you can actually interact with the environment in this game, which is a really good start. This could be expanded – having a bunch of explosive barrels doesn’t really make sense in a park.

The shooting system is enjoyable, despite a low number of guns. The impact of your weapon feels good, and there’s a bit of limb damage – occasionally you’ll only blow their heads off. The feel of a shooting system is vital in a shooting game. This is why many people argue about whether they prefer Killzone over Call of Duty – in Killzone the controls are quite ‘floaty’ but this allows for more graphical effects, and is less demanding on new players. However, Call of Duty’s system is very precise.

The sound was good. It was used minimally, and added to the game well. The weapon effects sounded excellent, and the sound definitely added to the games appeal.

Now, the game isn’t perfect – the graphics need a bit of tune up as some of the models look poor, for example, the zombie model could have been improved. It could use a few more guns and equipment for extra variety. I wonder about the replayability – there are three maps, but they’re all very similar. In addition it’s tough to see where your money is, which causes problems when you’re trying to buy things.

It honestly shocks me this is rated 4 stars, the same as the previous game. In this case I think it’s worth 3.5 stars, but some extra content could easily boost this up to a 4.

As I play this game, my faith in the ZTDS genre is restored. The addition of 3D graphics clearly boosts the enjoyment of the game. But it’s not just about graphics – easily accessible customization, clear help files, good difficulty. The solid foundations are here for a fantastic game, and I can see that potential clearly shining through.

Wrap Up

After playing those games I’ve seen the highs and lows of the ZTDS genre. But the elements I want to include in my zombie game clearly shine through:

Polish, polish and then polish some more. I had always considered this before, but you never polish enough. What do I mean by this? Play your game. Is that piece of the UI slightly too big? Make it smaller. Zombies slightly too hard? Weaken their attacks or the amount of them. It’s easy to think ‘That’s fine’ or ‘Nobody will see that’. But people will, and they’ll appreciate the extra effort you go to improve it.

Graphics. You might get the impression that I only like 3D graphics from this article. It’s not true. But 2.5D or 3D systems add so much more to immersive nature of the game. If you do 2D graphics, then great, I won’t criticize you for it. Just make sure the effects are good and that you get a proper artist or learn from some tutorials. Just ask in the Art forum of the GMC.

Mechanics. Zombies are being used as a crutch for poor game design. By all means use zombies, but think about previous systems. Don’t copy from World at War. Think about why World at War was fun and apply those concepts. Special zombies add a lot to gameplay, so think carefully about including them.

Sound. Use sound minimally, don’t try and force it on players. Don’t loop music or sound effects, and if you have a zombie sound effect for death, try including a couple of slightly different ones instead of just one. Allow sound volume to be lowered or turned off completely.

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6 Responses to An exploration of Game Maker Zombie Top Down Shooter Games

  1. Hey a great article, thanks for writing and sharing.

    It’s really good to hear of someone else doing a little research before going ahead and plowing on with yet another top down zombie shooter. Unsuprisingly I’m looking to make one as well which lead me to this article. Keep an eye out for it and be sure to drop me some feedback when it’s on the go, judging by this well written and constructive article your feedback would be greatly received. 🙂

    Thanks again.

  2. rex says:

    how do you open doors on the 1st one zombies

  3. geeämsee says:

    Yeah, I think zombies are a big turnoff. But some people like them, and so it’s easy to please a big crowd by making one of these. There’s absolutely nothing original in the idea, but every game brings some new content. The creators are young, proud and more or less inexperienced, so they don’t like suggestions about improving the controls (I’m looking at you REllU/RN-Company).

  4. Desert Dog says:

    I heard gore by chaz13 was quite good. I remember gore2’s screenshots looked quite nice.

    Didn’t try it, though, don’t really go into zombie shooters in a big way.

  5. Shelby says:

    I like this article. They’re so common, that I don’t even play them because I’ve grown to expect all the same.

  6. Sean says:

    Good article, top down zombie games are very common around YoYo. I think the reason behind this is the ease of programming and spriting top down games and the fact that killing zombies is an easy concept that is almost always fun.

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