A few years ago while tirelessly scouring the internet at what must have been two or three in the morning, I came across a very unique piece of art. The image of children fighting off other undead children on a playground would stay with me and in my nightmares for some time. We all know that the subject of the zombie apocalypse has become a major craze this last few years but the idea of kids fending for themselves at school had never crossed my mind until seeing that image. Rightfully so, that one still shot quickly became an internet phenomenon and peaked my interest in the area of concept artistry, which is what the creator specializes in.
Fast forward to 2012 and I come across the Kickstarter page for a Zombie Playground video game that was obviously spawned from that memorable concept art piece created by the one and only Jason Chan. It brought me back to when I first saw the concept art and made me wonder why I hadn’t seen the direction it would go then. Now that I’ve seen shots from the game and 3D imaging of the characters, I want nothing more but to fire this game up and become enveloped in its goretastic fantasy, but I want it NOW! Luckily for us, we got the chance to ask Chan some questions regarding both the game and his success the last few years in hopes that it will hold us over.
Nerdlocker (NL): So Jason, how did you come to start working on this concept? Was it your own idea or were you working for Massive Black INC. by that point?
Jason Chan (JC): I was working at Massive Black when I painted Zombie Playground, but it was a personal piece and not for anything at the office. It was actually done as an entry to a friendly online contest based on the theme “outbreak.”
NL: Your art style is very unique. It seems like a combination of anime and…something I can’t really pinpoint. Could you explain a little about the journey to find your own fingerprint?
JC: Sure, there is definitely a lot of anime influence in my work. When I was a kid I would draw a lot of video game characters from my instruction manuals and from my game magazines. I really liked drawing Squaresoft characters and Capcom characters. I also drew a lot of comic book characters, especially X–Men. Then I hit a Warcraft 2/Diablo phase and then moved on to an anime phase in high school. However, once I started going to college, I began to learn more about western art and illustration and began gravitating toward a lot of that. From that point on, my pool of inspiration really expanded and I started to be influenced by a lot of different styles. I suppose my current “style” is the end result of all of those influences.
NL: What was your biggest influence growing up? You had to be a comic fan to grow into the artist you are today.
JC: I just drew what I liked. I was really in to X-Men, Final Fantasy, Shadowrun, Warcraft and Diablo, Star Wars, Aliens, Predator, Terminator, Mortal Kombat, Zelda, and more. I’m missing a bunch of stuff, but who wants to read a long list? Basically everything I became interested in became a subject of fan art. I was always really fascinated by the art side of entertainment. When Jurassic Park and Terminator 2 came out with their cutting-edge 3D special effects, I was blown away. Between that and animatronics and creature puppets, I was dead set on being a movie special FX guy growing up. When I got older, that passion started to shift toward drawing and painting instead.
NL: How much of your process is done digitally? What tools do you use most?
JC: Almost 100% of my work is done in Photoshop. Occasionally I like to change things up, but for the most part I just work in Photoshop.
NL: Reading a little of your bio, I get the impression you’re a fan of anything and everything fantasy. What’s your opinion on the throne of games, or whatever it’s called? Tell me you’re as head-over-heels as we are.
JC: I’m slowly making my way through A Dance with Dragons right now. I still have to watch the second season of the TV show, though. Hands down my favorite book series. Everyone has to read it.
JC: I used to play the game back in elementary school and high school, but stopped during college. It is very cool to see what has been added to the game over the past 10 or 11 years. I’ve only played an odd game here or there since then. I think the last time I played was at an event in Japan a few years
ago (after hours).
NL: I’m basically asking how big of a Nerd you are. Impress us!
JC: I’m a wannabe Nerd. I have an interest in most Nerd things, but not enough time to obsess over them as much as I could. I’m a big gamer. Right now I’m playing Dragon’s Dogma and Diablo 3. I’m trying to finish up A Dance with Dragons.
NL: What kind of game can we expect from Zombie Playground? Will there be hordes of zombie adolescents?
JC: Oh definitely. Not all of the zombies will be kids, of course, but there won’t be any lack of them. The kids are definitely the stars. The game itself is an arena game with action RPG elements. Basically, you work together with other players to complete objectives and survive waves of the undead. There will be different weapons, clothing, and abilities that players can unlock to deck out their characters so that players can really tailor their characters to their own liking. Since we are building this with a very small budget, the plan is to get all of the systems up and working for release and then just continuously add content to the game as people play. This makes it easier for us to get the game out there for everyone, yet still gives us the chance to add in things that we know we don’t have the budget to get in the game for release. By having the game continuously grow and evolve both from adding content and from player feedback, we hope to keep the game alive and people interested!
JC: We are trying to avoid real life guns. We decided early on that we would base the weapons on things that kids would have access to, but with the results (gore) of real weapons. It’s more like how you would imagine your weapons would work rather than how they would actually work in real life. It’s tough when you are doing a gory violent game starring kids and they are fighting other kids, even if the other kids are zombies. We don’t want to hit the point where the game goes from fun to off-putting.
NL: Are we going to be looking at a massive outbreak or will the epidemic be contained to the schoolyard?
JC: For now the game only takes place in the school since our budget is extremely limited. That does not mean that we couldn’t expand in the future if the game becomes successful or if we secure more significant funding. We have lots of ideas for environments that would not only be nice changes of scenery, but also add some nice new play mechanics.
NL: You and Massive Black Inc. are riding the Kickstarter train for this project. You have some pretty unbeatable pledge prizes including custom art pieces by yourself and you’re even offering to model certain characters in the game after the likeness of the backer (depending on the amount pledged). How do you feel about this new way of getting a project financed?
JC: It’s pretty nice for getting some extra funding for projects that need it while including fans in the process. I’m interested in seeing what the development process will be like with people aware and involved in the project at such an early stage. This is so much different than the traditional game development route where the public really doesn’t even know a game exists until it is almost finished.
JC: I can’t like both? Star Trek is science fiction while Star Wars is more science fantasy. Though Star Trek does have space elves/dark elves… Star Wars seems like an exciting space fantasy world full of adventure, but I would rather live in the Star Trek universe. What, I can make anything I want for free out of my microwave? Sold! Seems like the average person in the Star Trek universe just goes about their day, doing work because it’s fun and not because they need to (since there doesn’t seem to be money). As long as you don’t go out into uncharted space or enter enemy territory, seems like paradise! Plus who doesn’t want a holideck?
NL: Lastly, could you tell us what your favorite movie, video game and comic book/anime is?
JC: Final Fantasy Tactics, Blade of the Immortal graphic novel series, and Fullmetal Alchemist anime. Not sure I can pick a favorite movie, though. Favorite zombie movie is Dawn of the Dead.
There you have it! Just enough to get you even more excited about this game and familiarize yourself with one of the creators. Although, it’s our responsibility to ensure this game happens. It’s up to the people who want to see this game made to help it come to fruition. So what are you waiting for? Get over to the Kickstarter page and show your support in the way of massive amounts of cash…or even just a little. Every bit counts and you get rewarded for your faith in the project. So, it’s a win-win. Also keep up with the latest news on the game at the Zombie Playground website and check out more amazing art from Jason Chan on his website. For more interesting interviews and up-to-date news on everything Nerd, head to the only place for your inner Nerd, Nerdlocker.