The Average Gamer

Indie Rock: Zafehouse: Diaries

Zafehouse Diaries - Immunity DilemmaEveryone whose opinion matters knows the best part of zombie fiction has nothing to do with the zombies. They’re an ever-present backdrop and they provide an obstacle to overcome, sure, but they should never be the focus. They’re a shambling horde of corpses, that’s a very silly thing. It doesn’t exactly suggest from the start that anything containing them can provide any worthwhile narrative.

Great media has taken this limiting and ridiculous trope and used it to great effect. Romero makes commentary on the state of modern society. Kirkman tries to have grand discussions about the philosophical teachings of Hobbes and Locke (and the video game based on his series raises discussions about how much of your past carries over when it no longer matters, the extent of your compassion when faced with your own needs and the importance of retaining someone’s youth while also preparing them for reality).

Zafehouse: Diaries is a zombie game where you never even see one. It’s a game about people. Most of the game’s information is conveyed through text, but it’s in no way a visual novel. The systems are somewhat unique and it’s hard to draw an immediate parallel or source of inspiration.

The current pre-release version gives the player two modes, each taking place in a small town and letting you be somewhat in charge of the actions of five people beset on all sides by the reanimated dead. Depending on the task you’ll either be scavenging houses for the tools to rebuild a car and escape, or gathering the information necessary to be airlifted to safety.

The game’s beauty is in the systems that support all this. Your five characters are all able to perform actions with differing levels of ability and come with a randomised backstory. Their skills are constructed in the same way as their entire lives, You’ll start a game and have five people, mostly with disparate backgrounds, different jobs, different races, different genders, different sexual orientations and places within social classes. All of this has the potential to get in the way, or support, how each character acts around another. It’s not just important who the person is, but also their prejudices.

You’ll roll characters that absolutely despise each other. You’ll roll homophobes and racists, people that despise the money another has (had?) in the bank. Women that don’t trust men, men that are anxious of women.

Zafehouse Diaries - Survivor RumoursIt’s intense and requires constant concentration. You’ll have to manage in great detail the social interactions of everyone attempting to do the same task. If you mess up and have to people who hate each other barricading the entrances you’ll probably end up with them fighting and potentially causing an injury that’ll have to be managed (that you may not even have the supplies to do).

The only truly effective way of easing contempt between characters is by spreading rumours, something you can only do once a day. The game will let you, regardless of whether it’s technically feasible for your character to have done given their background, suggest that they’ve done something that would change the group’s opinion. Two characters don’t like another? Spread a rumour that they were head of a national campaign for better working conditions in their jobs.

This might backfire, though. It may disperse some hatred from one source but generate heat from another. Mention that a character directed a film popular with middle-class men in an attempt to impress, but another character is disgusted by that? All you’ve done is shifted the buck.

Eventually, presuming no one has starved or turned into a zombie themselves, your characters might start to get over their prejudices and focus on the task at hand. Sure, the message may be a little trite, that people need to set their petty differences aside because they’re meaningless, especially when there are bigger issues at hand, but it’s done so effectively that you might not even mind.

Auntie Pixelante - TriadYou can buy Zafehouse: Diaries now on their website. It isn’t finished yet so more features are gradually being added with some regularity. You can also vote for them to be Greenlit on Steam if that’s your thing.

Oh Also

This game from Anna Anthropy and Leon Arnott is very cute and very simple. It’s called Triad. It’s about three people trying to share one bed and dealing with the pitfalls of not having enough space, but also dealing with the stresses of everyone having their silly sleeping quirks that make maneuverability and comfort a hassle.

It’d be nice to have more levels with more personality quirks to figure out and overcome but that probably won’t happen. It makes a point and then leaves. Good video game.

One Comment

  1. ThePhenomenalC

    20th Mar, 2013 at 9:53 am