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The Joystiq Indie Pitch: Gamedoctors

Justin McElroy

Being a giant, beloved video game blog has its downsides. For example, we sometimes neglect to give independent developers our coverage love (or loverage, if you will) as we get caught up in AAA, AAAA or the rare quintuple-A titles. To remedy that, we're giving indies the chance to create their own loverage and sell you, the fans, on their studios and products. This week we talk with Matthias Hoechsmann of German developer Gamedoctors. The studio (chock full of actual doctors) has just launched its first title, an iPhone/iPod Touch game called ZombieSmash!.

How did your company get started?

The Gamedoctors story is quite different to the much-seen "team of seasoned game industry veterans creating an iPhone game" story. We are, in fact, seasoned Ph.D-honored scientists who grew up with games and just want to bring our own fresh perspective to the iPhone and other platforms (get the company name, eh?).

Why did you want to make games?

There are a lot of ways to answer that question but I think when you boil it down, the "why" is much the same for everyone who got into this business. We love games. We have some ideas that haven't been done before, and we're taking matters into our own hands to make them come to life. Or, in the case of ZombieSmash!, unlife!

Why be independent rather than try to work for someone else?

The iPhone in particular represents an amazing opportunity for indie devs. Not only is it a truly unique platform where for a minimal investment you can potentially create a financially viable studio, it represents an opportunity for creative freedom that just hasn't been there in the games business for a long time. It's really a unique platform – where else could a couple of scientists without games industry experience have a shot at making a successful game?

As an independent studio, we are free to pick the technologies and platforms that we think will guarantee the best gaming experience. For instance, we are making heavy use of the superb open source projects cocos2d and the Chipmunk physics engine. This allows us to control every detail of the engine where it's necessary.

What's your game called, and what's it about?

It's called ZombieSmash! and it's about smashing zombies on the iPhone and iPod Touch. It defines a whole new genre we're calling "Survival Comedy."

At its core, ZombieSmash! is an undead-themed castle defense game with awesome physics-based gameplay. It puts you in the shoes of an unfortunate soul named Joey, who, under assault from the zombie apocalypse, must flick, smash, shoot, and otherwise destroy the undead masses.

To aid players in the struggle, we have over 20 special abilities and weapons that allow for creative zombie demolition - including fun implements like asteroids, wrecking balls, liquid nitrogen and an "Indiana Jones" style rolling boulder. You can even combine specials (for instance, smash nitrogen-frozen zombies with a boulder!) for added hilarity.

It has three modes of gameplay, which are Campaign (where you must survive over 31 nights, or levels), Endless Siege (survive as long as you can), and Sandbox (for some fun zombie smashing good times, without such tedious gameplay mechanics as a "health bar"). We're using Chillingo's Crystal platform for social and online functionality, as well as Playhaven's online community platform.

We also have music produced by legendary video game composer Chris Hülsbeck, the talented musician behind the scores to classic games like Turrican, Giana Sisters and the Star Wars: Rogue Squadron series. I still remember when I was reading game magazines as a teenager and Chris was constantly featured as "the sound magician." Today, he is producing the music/SFX for our game. How cool is that? I promise that every video game music fan will get chills from the ZombieSmash! soundtrack. I did.

How long did it take you to create?

A couple of perfectionists running an indie development studio makes some slight delays inevitable.

A little bit longer than we originally anticipated – a bout of swine flu (remember that?) combined with ever-loftier goals for the project helped it slip a bit from late 2009 to spring 2010. A couple of perfectionists running an indie development studio makes some slight delays inevitable.

What are you proudest of about your game?

In a word, polish. We've spent a lot of time focusing on the little details in ZombieSmash! that we think just make it feel "right." From completely overhauling the ragdoll animation engine to make the zombies feel more (un)life-like, to spending hours upon hours debugging to make sure performance is perfect on old and new hardware, we think we've nailed it.

What one thing would you tell someone to convince them to get your game?

We developed, from the ground up (using all of our Ph.D know-how for something meaningful), a feature lovingly dubbed the SplatterEngine™. Need I say more?

If you'd like to have your own shot at converting our readers into fans, email justin aat joystiq dawt com, subject line "The Joystiq Indie Pitch." Can't get enough indie? Check out the Pitch archives.

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