E3 2012: Fragging undead on your phone with Parallel Zombies

Jef Reahard
J. Reahard|06.06.12

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E3 2012: Fragging undead on your phone with Parallel Zombies
E3 2012 Fragging undead on your phone with Parallel Zombies
The hardest thing about E3 is finding a place to sit. Well, that and making yourself heard above the din of squeeing fanboys, clicking cameras, and bass lines that would wake the dead. Per Blue CEO Justin Beck and I eventually found a couple of seats, but we didn't quite find the quiet, so we spent the better part of a half hour talking very loudly about the company's new Parallel Zombies mobile title.

If Per Blue and the Parallel prefix sound familiar, it's because Parallel Kingdom has been out for the better part of three years now. But what's this I hear about zombies, you say?

E3 2012 Fragging undead on your phone with Parallel Zombies
Beck told me that his company's clientele is "mostly male and mostly on Android," which is something of a unique situation when it comes to the casual-friendly (and Apple-dominated) mobile gaming market.

In terms of metrics, Beck said that the firm services over a million users. How many of them pay is a different matter entirely, though Beck says he's just as happy to provide a terrific game experience for those who don't contribute financially. "We're not just about paying customers but playing customers," he explained.

Per Blue is vertically integrated. Development, art asset production, business marketing, publishing, and support are all in-house. It's a true indie outfit in every sense of the word, with 35 to 40 employees (located in Madison, Wisconsin) currently split into two dev teams. One works on Parallel Kingdom and the recently released Parallel Mafia, while the other slaves away on Zombies.

Per Blue's aim is to make games that go a bit deeper than your average mobile title. The firm launched Parallel Mafia in April, and now Parallel Zombies is chewing its way through alpha testing and looking at a Q3 2012 release. Aside from the new genre flavor, the dev team is bent on upping the overall fidelity. The models boast quite a bit more detail compared to their Mafia and Kingdom counterparts, and the gameplay has been tweaked to offer RPG staples like classes, questing, and hop-in-hop-out multiplayer functionality.

There's a virtual joystick, plenty of guns and ammo, and even crafting. At the end of the day, though, you're slaying zombies. But you're not just slaying zombies, you're slaying them in local buildings or on your neighborhood street corner, as the game makes use of location information to simulate, say, a plague of walking dead at the Los Angeles Convention Center. It's all real-time multiplayer too, so you can see other players move, shoot, and kill (complete with grisly death effects). You can also pick up items that zombies drop, regardless of whether you're the one who killed them or not.

Per Blue is hitting a lot of genre sweet spots with its titles thus far, and now with the post-apocalyptic setting, Beck says that his company is tapping into the fantasy that a lot of people have when it comes to fighting off hordes of undead at the end of the world.

Post-apocalyptic splatter is always better with buddies, though, so the devs are focusing heavily on the social aspects of Parallel Zombies. Parallel Kingdom, and to a lesser extent Parallel Mafia, features large amounts of player-generated quests and emergent gameplay. With Zombies, Beck says that the more enjoyable experiences are the shared let's-get-'em moments built around accessible gameplay.

To that end, automatic grouping has recently been implemented into the alpha build, so you can join a crew that's already playing. "It'll be this instant matchmaking thing so it'll make a huge difference," Beck says. "You'll bond, make a friend, kill zombies, and really the social infrastructure is 50% of the fun."

Monetization for Parallel Zombies basically happens in three phases: leveling up, vanity items, and trade. While crafting isn't something you'd normally associate with a zombie-centric title, the game boasts an extensive trading post economy. Players can build up in-game wealth and resources, sell those resources to other players who may lack the time or desire to work as hard, and everybody wins (including Per Blue, which takes a cut of the sale). Beck says that this leads to a game that can truly be played without spending a dime and without sacrificing the premium gameplay experience that paying customers enjoy.

Ultimately, over 75% of Per Blue's users will never spend anything on the product, but the firm still wants to retain and entertain them for years. A lot of the more aggressive freemium titles don't go for that balance, but Beck says it's a core design feature for the Parallel Zombie experience.

Massively's on the ground in Los Angeles during the week of June 4-7, bringing you all the best news from E3 2012. We're covering everything from PlanetSide 2 and SWTOR and ArcheAge to RIFT's and LotRO's upcoming expansions, so stay tuned!
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