Zombies, vikings, murder: Ska Studios on WP7 and the future of XBLIG gore

In 2007, James Silva had just graduated college and settled into a 9-5 job. He was resigned to spend the rest of his existence in cubicle complacency, letting his lifelong goal to develop games as a career fade regretfully away. Then his indie title, The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai, won $10,000 in Microsoft's Dream Build Play competition, and everything changed. He quit his job, lived the life of a starving artist and perfected Dead Samurai until it passed certification from Microsoft.

"The work was exhilarating," Silva said in an interview with Joystiq. "I remember that when I got the email saying I'd passed cert, I ran around the apartment screaming."

The game sold "well enough," but more importantly, it led him to meet Michelle, his fiancée, who was a tester for Dead Samurai at PAX in 2009.

"I've said it before: XBLA literally made all of my dreams come true, right down to meeting the woman of my dreams," Silva said.

Since Dead Samurai, Silva has launched six games on XBLA and XBLIG through Ska Studios, including The Dishwasher: Vampire Smile and I MAED A GAM3 W1TH Z0MB1ES 1NIT!!!1, with one more coming in 2012. His latest endeavor in the fantasy he calls a career is developing titles for Windows Phone -- on Jan. 4 Silva launched Z0MB1ES!!1 (on teh ph0ne) for WP7, a trio of games that includes I MAED A GAM3 W1TH Z0MB1ES 1NIT!!!1, a new game mode called Endless Zombies and a shiny new title, Time Viking.

Silva was concerned about losing the console charm of Z0MB1ES in a phone version, but he said it worked out just fine in the end, potentially because the infuriatingly catchy theme song doesn't require 60GB to get inside your head.

"The game is faithfully ported," Silva said. "The twin-stick controls work as well as you can expect, and the game introduces a brand new charm: phone charm! It's like console charm, but now you can obnoxiously sing along to the song in public places full of strangers. Because remember, creeping people out on a bus isn't just a two way street -- it's open warfare."

Silva had been approached previously to port Z0MB1ES to iPhone, but he said he was unfamiliar developing for iOS and he was "too much of a control freak" to let any shops do it for him. Microsoft asked him about porting to WP7 halfway through the development of Vampire Smile.

"I'm a bit of an Xbox fanboy anyway, so being able to incorporate Achievements and Leaderboards to what was originally my XBLIG game was really cool," Silva said. "And there's definitely a bit of pride to be had in having three games you've published through Microsoft showing up on your own Gamercard."

Endless Zombies can be viewed as the arcade mode of the original Z0MB1ES, complete with a looping labyrinth full of monsters out for your blood (or brains). Time Viking follows Z0MB1ES' cue, cutting back from the flesh-based flaying of Vampire Smile and including a different kind of explosion -- robot explosion. Time Viking involves an epic ballad about accepting your fate as a washed-up rock star and building a robot-scrap-metal tower to the moon. Once there, you do something worthy of any rock star, aging or otherwise.

"I get emotional every time I finish the game," Silva said.

Silva and fiancée Michelle are currently working on a new four-player brawler for XBLIG, Charlie Murder. With a name like that, we'd expect something a tad grotesque, but the amount of Gindhouse-inspired gore in Charlie Murder surprised even Silva, he said.

Turns out melting skin off isn't just entertaining, but adds a whole new dimension of gameplay!
"Charlie Murder did something weird, if not entirely unexpected, in development," Silva said. "Now there's wall-spike impalement, melting skin, dual-wielding severed arms, curb-stomp executions -- it's a huge departure from the original version I planned for XBLIG, and I'm loving how it's turning out. Turns out melting skin off isn't just entertaining, but adds a whole new dimension of gameplay!"

That's true love at work, people. Once Charlie Murder is finished (or when he gets tired of hearing people compare it to Castle Crashers), Silva and Ska Studios want to make a new Dishwasher game, and he has plenty of ideas mapped out for it already. "But that'll all have to come after Charlie Murder," Silva said. "And Charlie Murder is coming... when it's done. Probably before the world ends, but no promises."

For now, Z0MB1ES!!1 (on teh ph0ne) is out on WP7 for $2.99 -- that's about $1 a game -- and Silva doesn't have any plans to release it on other mobile platforms. If you've been looking to get a Windows Phone, this might just be the final reason to break down and do it, and we don't see anything wrong with that.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.