IGF Factor 2012: Atom Zombie Smasher

And so our series of interviews with the finalists in this year’s IGF continues… High-speed, high (un)death toll strategy game Atom Zombie Smasher is up for the Excellence in Design prize at this year’s Independent Games Festival. Here, we chat to Blendo Games’ Brendon Chung about his origins as an indie dev, how people are creating their own narrative arcs in AZS, and his answer to the most important question of all.

RPS: Firstly, a brief introduction for those who may not know you. Who are you? What’s your background? Why get into games? Why get into indie games?

Brendon: Hi, I’m Brendon Chung, and I make games. As a kid, I grew up making maps for Doom and Quake. That somehow led to working professionally at a studio for a number of years, and that led to working as a one-man independent at Blendo Games. Making small personal projects is how I got my start, and it’s something I find most satisfying.

RPS: Tell us about your game. What were its origins? What are you trying to do with it? What are you most pleased about it? What would you change if you could?

Brendon: Atom Zombie Smasher is a game about the beginnings of a zombie apocalypse. You play as a super-organization that lies somewhere between FEMA, Red Cross, and a military dictatorship. The goal was to create a light simulation approach toward a zombie invasion, via RTS and tower defense mechanics.

The one thing I’ve been most pleased with is how players sometimes experience their own little character arc. When I first see people play, they tend to be meticulous about trying to evacuate every last civilian. But as they continue to play, I’ve seen them become callously pragmatic – “Hm, I’ll create a firebreak here so the zombie infection won’t spread” (proceeds to firebomb three city blocks full of civilians). I love it when a player gets to experience that arc.

RPS: What are your feelings on the IGF this year? Pleased to be nominated? Impressed by the other finalists? Anything you worry has been overlooked?

Brendon: It’s a great IGF lineup, as always. I’ve been playing Frozen Synapse lately, and I was so happy to see it getting IGF nods. What a great game.

RPS: Which game would you like to see take the Grand Prize this year?

Brendon: I’m going cheese out of that question and talk about how they all appeal to me for different reasons: Dear Esther: First-person shooters are responsible for getting me interested in game development, so I have a particular fondness when an FPS goes and does something unexpected like this. Fez: One of the most gorgeous games I’ve seen. Frozen Synapse: Turn-based tactical multiplayer squad combat. I love all of those words. Johann Sebastian Joust: I got to see this at IndieCade this year, and it was my best of show. Probably the most original use of motion controls I’ve seen. Spelunky: I’ve always been a bit miffed that roguelikes – arguably one of the purest displays of gameplay – don’t get more love, so I’m glad to see this one getting IGF nods.

RPS: How do you feel about the indie scene of late? What would you like to see from it in the near-future?

Brendon: I’d love to see game development somehow get integrated into elementary school through high school curriculum. Game development covers a wide spectrum of topics, and I think channeling it to some sort of final playable project is a great way to apply what you’ve learned into something tangible.

RPS: And how does the future look for you, both in terms of this game and other projects?

Brendon: I’m wrapping up a project right now, which I’m pretty happy about. For my next project, I have a few awful prototypes, hopefully one of which is not-as-awful and has the legs to go forward.

RPS: If you could talk to the monsters in Doom, what would you ask them?

Brendon: I’d like to have a fireside chat with the personnel, to get their feedback on the UAC military base on Phobos. I’ve always had concerns about the safety standards and practicalities of the installation – vats of toxic goo, doors that crush fleshy bodies – I think there are voices there that need to be listened to.

I’d also ask Pinky to put on some pants.

RPS: Thanks for your time.

Atom Zombie Smasher is out now. The full list of IGF 2012 finalists is here, and keep an eye on RPS for more interviews over the coming days and weeks.


  1. buzzmong says:

    Ah, Atom Zombie Smasher.

    It’s rather good, but is surprisingly difficult and you can snooker yourself pretty early on with no chance of redemption. It’s still quite fun to fail though.

    • jrodman says:

      Yeah, I just think it should have an intro tutorial experience that doesn’t make you feel like such a failure, and then say “okay, in the real game this will not go so well”.

    • Brendon Chung says:

      @jrodman – I usually try to throw the player into the game proper as soon as I can (instead of tutorial levels), and teach the various bits as the game is played. For AZS the approach I took was stuffing the “how-to” info in the optional zombie encyclopedia screens, but it probably wasn’t as effective as I’d hoped.

    • Pattom says:

      To be honest, part of the reason I love AZS so much is because it doesn’t have a tutorial per se. For those who haven’t played, the threshold for success starts low but rises as time goes on, and you’re expected to become more skilled at wielding your forces as they grow. You best learn to play it by simply playing it, throwing yourself against impossible odds where you’re dealing with the consequences of choices you made seconds before (doesn’t hurt that you can play a round as many times as you like before calling a final victory or defeat). I badly lost the first three games I played, but now I need to activate a few modifiers to make me sweat.

  2. scorcher24 says:

    One of the latest Patches introduced a bluescreen for ATI-Users, that don’t delete atomzombiesmasher.exe from their system and rename atom_net.exe to atomzombiesmasher.exe.
    Annoying. So far it does not have been fixed.

    • Brendon Chung says:

      This is a tech problem I still haven’t fully sorted out. I know it has something to do with some ATI cards, and some system configurations. Unfortunately the only fix I have at the moment is this clunky exe renaming.

    • The Sombrero Kid says:

      Sounds like a catalyst AI issue, in which case disabling it would fix it, also if it is it’s not brendans fault :D it’s amd trying to be clever (clue: they’re not).

  3. povu says:

    Atom Zombie Smasher is always nice for a short bit of fun.

  4. John Brindle says:

    Dear Brandon Chung,

    Your game is evil. I don’t mean make-all-the-kids-wear-pants-on-their-head-and-commit-serial-killings evil. I mean nether-demon-of-the-third-circle-squatting-in-your-toaster-swearing-at-people’s-mothers-and-ruining-bread evil. Each individual mission plays out so quickly that you always think you can have “one more go”. But the campaign system just piles and piles on the pressure, offering more and more numbers that need to be crushed while refusing to ever produce a moment where something is ‘finished’ or ‘done’ and where a player can walk away to do something else. You’re always halfway through things; you can’t quit now. AND THEN YOU WIN (or, more often, lose) BEFORE YOU’VE SATISFIED THAT MONOMANIAC DEMON URGE TO TAKE OVER EVERY LAST SCRAP OF LAND. SO YOU HAVE TO DO IT ALL OVER AGAIN, BUT WITH A LONGER CAMPAIGN.

    If I had a wife and kids I would have lost them by now. I therefore will see you in hell, since your dark work has been kind enough to book me a table.

    John Brindle

    • Brendon Chung says:

      Well, they are zombies. At some point it’s no longer about winning, it’s about trying to lose as gracefully as you can.

  5. rustybroomhandle says:

    Love this game and how for me it was too difficult until I stopped thinking like a humanitarian aid worker and started to take a colder approach.

    Chung for benevolent dictator!

    • Brendon Chung says:

      Ha, I love hearing that. The transformation is complete. My mission is done.

    • ScorpionWasp says:

      It works both ways too. At around my 9th campaign (Lost my first 7 straight. AZS was a lot harder before all the patches), it occured to me that you could sometimes use dynamite to open up avenues for otherwise doomed people to escape through, to great effect.

      You kids have it way too easy these days.

  6. Jams O'Donnell says:

    I once described Frozen Synapse as an instagib version of Brendon Chung’s Flotilla, so it’s fun to see him saying he’s been playing it. I wonder if that similarity is apparent to him too.

    • Brendon Chung says:

      The original Rainbow Six had this elaborate squad planning mode where you plotted the movement of all your commando squad. Then, one of its expansion packs featured an option where you got to just spectate your squadmates execute your plan, without the messiness of you moving around & shooting people in first-person.

      I loved that mode. It felt like programming + robots + shooting stuff. Frozen Synapse scratched that itch for me, and went one step further with great multiplayer back-end.

  7. Lambchops says:

    i heart Blendo games. Gravity Bone, Flotilla and Arom Zombie Smasher are all ver different, united both by their excellent presentation and being damned good games. Looking forward to seeing what Brendon comes up with next.

  8. cptgone says:

    Atom Zombie Smasher = best fun i’ve had in years.
    love the gameplay, look & feel, vignettes & upgrades…

  9. aerozol says:

    Gravity Bone is really really cool, I recommend it to anyone who hasn’t played it. It’s under an hour of playtime, if I remember correctly. I tried one of the older mods way back, but got stuck at a talking skull, and gave up, probably because I’m an idiot, and lazy, etc.
    Atom Zombie Smasher is amazing as well!

    We have quite a versatile developer on our hands here, folks.

    • Brendon Chung says:

      That’s Barista 2 – the obtuseness of the talking skull bit was my fault. I buried the explanation of the conversation system in the game’s readme text file, for no good reason.

  10. King Toko says:

    Great game. Probably the best indie game last year. I been having tons of fun with it. Its also great that I can record my campaign logs so I can see how I get better or a lot of the time worse.

    Any chance of DLC such as more weapons etc? The addition of the KringleJammer was quite fun.

  11. A-Scale says:

    More bloody Gravity Bone!