I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Justin Leger, founder of Studio 2511, where we talked about the developer’s first project, Urban Zombie. If you haven’t heard of Urban Zombie, it’s a location-based augmented reality iPhone game that lets players fight in a Zombie apocalypse in their own neighborhood.
While the inner workings of the game and everything going on behind the scenes is more than I can comprehend, it’s as simple as launching the app on your phone, checking in to any location, and begin your hunting. Unlike other zombie games out there, Studio 2511 is attempting to make Urban Zombie a true mobile experience. If you want to get in on the action early you can do so by checking out their Kickstarter page and backing their project.
Not convinced yet? The following is a two part interview conducted with founder Justin Leger where we go more in depth into the history and technical aspects of Urban Zombie.
What technology is used in this game?
We are using a mix of several technologies to make this game. The game play is built with Unity and uses several components from the iPhone’s hardware during game play: the camera for the augmented reality video feed; the gyroscope for player control and rotation of the augmented reality world; and the accelerometer for weapon reloading and punching the Zombies away.
For the application user interface, player stats, location data, and player challenges we are using native iOS development. This part of the application is a better user experience when it is familiar and similar to other applications.
The backend API, the BRAINS behind the curtain, is a custom solution based on a framework that I have been writing and enhancing for years.
The idea of this project came about mid-2011 when my brother-in-law and I were in-between contracts and projects. We wanted to do something new and play with something different.
At the time, he was working on a personal mobile gaming project, and I was playing a lot with some computer vision facial detection technology on my phone. We had the idea: “Wouldn’t it be great if we could tell how someone was using our app just by the way they were interacting with their environment?”
Marker-based augmented reality was taking off, but in order for that to be effective, you needed to carry an image marker with you. That’s when we decided to use the gyroscope to transform a virtual game world on top of video feed to create a more immersive game.
The next challenging question we asked was: “A game about what?” Shooting of course, but shooting what? ZOMBIES!!!
What inspired you to create this game in particular?
Who doesn’t like zombies?! I have always loved zombies. Film and television have done an amazing job at bringing us into that world for short periods of time. I wanted to create something that would bring that world to players, everywhere they are, and anytime they want.
What sets your game apart from other games? How is it unique?
What I think sets us apart and is unique is that we are an augmented reality game where the real world matters. You are playing in real locations and the zombies you are unique to each establishment.
We are not creating a game where zombies are just obstacles to shoot down. They are real entities that exist in the Urban Zombie world. Each location gets a set of zombies and when they get put down, they will die for a time. The longer they live in each game, the more hits or bites they land on players, the stronger they get. They earn experience similar to how players do.
Players of Urban Zombie have the ability to earn brains, a sort of gameplay currency, where they can get Zombies of their own. Players can place zombies at any location around them and begin to amass a zombie army. You can even challenge other players to fight your zombies. The greatness is as your zombies fight other players those zombies are earning brains for you.
In other words, you’re still playing the game even when you’re not logged on.
I love playing with new technologies – figuring out ways to incorporate them together and give them new meaning in new ways. Computer vision is an amazing invention and it’s now at a place where we have the power in our pockets to use these incredible technologies in a way that we have only dreamt about.
My biggest challenge with this project has been the self funding and having to wear multiple hats. I love coding and problem solving. When you take on a project on like this, you need to be more than just a developer that figures out how use cool technologies and make a cool game. You have to be aware of your limitations and how to deal with them.
Describe your journey through creating Urban Zombie
We started off with concepting the core mechanics of the game and the backend API engine. From there we prototyped parts of the game and user interface to see what worked. Then picked our direction and started the hard work.
We are small team doing some cool stuff and have asked many favors along the way. That has been a journey in itself, finding the right people for the task when you have a limited budget.
Your game is on Kickstarter, what are you going to do with the money that you obtain?
This funding is essential to getting Urban Zombie finished and into users’ hands. When our Kickstarter is successful, we will be able to complete development and finish the gameplay experience, ramp up the art and audio, and make sure the servers are ready to support the growing number of players and zombies.
What are your future goals for the project, and any other games you may have?
While at this moment we are focused on getting Urban Zombie completed and shipped, we are also planning an Android version as soon as possible. In future releases of Urban Zombie we are also planning on incorporating additional augmented reality technologies to create a better and more immersive user experience.
We can’t reveal much about our future game concepts at this point but it’s safe to say that like Urban Zombie, they’ll make you say “Wow!”
If you are successful in your campaign, what is the future you envision for Urban Zombie?
The Zombie Apocalypse!!!
We’d love to see the Urban Zombie community take off and have players challenging each other, sharing tips, and making their suggestions for new features. And, of course we’d like to see Urban Zombie be on the Staff Picks sections of Apple’s App Store, featured by major game and app review sites, and most of all we hope fans continue to spread the word!
Do you have any advice for other indie developers, based on what you have learned while creating Urban Zombie?
Follow your crazy ideas. And have a LOT of passion about your project. But also…plan it out, brainstorm a lot, call in favors, and don’t listen to anyone telling you you can’t do it.
What would you say to people that are interested in supporting Urban Zombie? How would you win them over?
Well, it’s a kick ass game that a lot of people are going to want to get their hands on. We know that from the play testing we’ve done so far, but Kickstarter funding is critical to achieving our vision for it.
Also, we spent hours trying to come up with the coolest rewards that could fund the game so hopefully we’re on target, but we’re open to ideas from the Kickstarter community! We’ve already received some suggestions from backers and hope to hear more. Feel free to write us at firstname.lastname@example.org or comment on our project page:
Beyond that, we’re huge fans of Kickstarter and what it can do for brand new teams and all new IP like in the case of Urban Zombie. We really hope the community embraces the game and this team. We’ve spent months of sweat on this idea, and we’re so close!
Some of the most innovative and interesting software that’s around today started with a couple of people that had some good ideas. They often didn’t have a lot of money, but they kept pursuing their dreams and through the generosity of friends and financial backers, they eventually brought their ideas to the world. I feel Urban Zombie has the potential to make a lot of gamers very happy! Become a Kickstarter Urban Zombie backer and help us change mobile gaming forever!
Justin Léger - Application Architect, iOS Developer, Entrepreneur
Prior to Urban Zombie Justin has acted as a Senior Application Architect for companies like American Airlines Blockbuster, RCA and several magazines under the Hachette Filipacchi masthead.
He started doing mobile about 5 years ago and have been trying to make it his focus ever since. His first iPhone game was Webosaurs for the iPhone.
Additionally, Justin is the founder of Dalmob.org, a group for mobile development enthusiasts operating in the DFW/North Texas area.
Justin Pierce – Developer, Interactive Artist, Entrepreneur
Justin is a lifelong gamer and has personally been working on game projects since high school. He studied New Media Art and Japanese at the University of North Texas, experimenting with interactive artwork and had a Digital Windchime piece at the Dallas Museum of Art. Justin has experience with level design and 3D art, and now specializes in developing and designing games and interactive 3D apps using Unity.
He’s developed SpaceJunk, an online first person shooter for PC/Mac/Web, and FishMoto and Cake Day for iPhone himself and has worked on several freelance projects with a niche in Augmented Reality.
Chieh-Yu “Joy” Tao – iOS Developer, Entrepreneur
Joy is originally from Taiwan and studied Electrical and Computer Engineering in New York at New York University where she received her Masters. Her focus is as both an engineer and developer.
Her first iPhone application -GRID Reader- was launched in 2011. GRID Reader allows you to fully customize and control your favorite content, from RSS subscriptions,
Joy now lives in Dallas and she enjoys reading comics and snowboarding in her spare time.
For more information on Urban Zombie be sure to visit their Kickstarter.