"Humvee" by Pawel Parol
As the first draft of ALIVE INSIDE is nearing completion, I've been reflecting more and more on my own Zombie inspirations. It's a genre that I wasn't really interested in as a kid. This will undoubtedly be sacrilegious to some, but when I saw Romero's original Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead as a kid in the 90s, I thought it was too campy to take seriously. However, when Dawn of the Dead was remade and released in 2004, I saw it in the theaters and was blown away by its gritty realism, the teenager-approved action sequences, and the simultaneous terror and intoxicating freedom of society collapsing. At the time, I found the characters relatable and well-developed. By the time the group decided it was time to fortify the bus and make a run for the marina, I was completely hooked and cared a lot about all of the characters. Since that experience, you could probably say I've been a little obsessed with stories of survivors and zombies.
Below is a highly eclectic list of some of my favorite zombie media from a WIDE variety of products that have all, in some way or another, inspired the creation of ALIVE INSIDE and the games I run - and maybe they will inspire your games as well.
Survivor Z (Phone App: Game)
Published by Mongadillo
This phone game, released in 2013, is still functional for iPhone, though it's been years since any new content was released. This game was a fascinating and innovative fusion of interactive novel, resource management game, and a location-based game long before the Pokemon phone app became available. In this game you can scavenge for supplies, meet and recruit NPCs, claim and fortify real world locations, and become immersed in some truly interesting text-based adventures with consequential choices. I reached out to the creator who let me know that he's actually developing a follow-up game so keep your eyes peeled, survivors!
Zombies, Run (Phone App: Audio Adventure)
Published by Six to Start
I've never been more than a reluctant runner but I love a good hike and this is such a cool app to pair with any type of movement-based physical activity. The idea is you are a "runner" who is a survivor for a colony during the zombie apocalyspe. The game tracks your movement and is essentially an audio book that tells you when zombies are near, a good encouragement to push yourself and run faster. Completing runs gets you supplies which you can use to upgrade your zombie base! I loved the idea of integrating an audiobook with physical activity and the voice acting is pretty solid. With over ten years of accrued content now, you can get a lot of running in with this game.
Zombie Exodus (Phone App: Interactive Novel)
Written by Jim Dattilo
This massive interactive novel comes in at over 750,000 words - and that's not counting the sequels. I'm a big fan of text based adventures and interactive novels and this is my favorite. It's hard to capture all of the elements of a survival situation - scavenging for weapons, resource management, complex interpersonal relationships within the survival group, finding, securing and fortifying a survival location - and this book somehow manages to do them all well. It's a riveting story with great characters and your choices have huge consequences. The relationships between the protagonist and the other survivors within the survival community had a big impact on my own vision for how survival communities can work in ALIVE INSIDE.
Walking Dead (Video Game)
Published by Skybound Games
This hugely popular video game is perhaps the best "choose your own adventure" style story that you're likely to encounter anywhere. It's been years since I played through this game but Clem and Lee are still in my head. I think this game really internalized in me that in the absolute best zombie stories, the zombies are just the window dressing. The people, relationships, and human drama is what make a compelling story.
Dead of Winter (Board Game)
Published by Plaid Hat Games
This is the best zombie board game that I've played, mostly because of how well the game does of juggling the various tropes of the genre: scavenging, fighting zombies, resource management, and fortifying your shelter location. That juggling act is something I am striving to bring to ALIVE INSIDE.
The Zombie Survival Guide (Non-Fiction(?) Book)
Written by Max Brooks
This book is a really fun read. Before writing content for TTRPGs, I wrote fiction, with a big focus on apocalyptic fiction. To that end, I've read a lot of survival and emergency preparedness books. This book is written in that vein but with a totally unique slant of thinking specifically how to survive the undead threat. If you plan on running a zombie campaign set in the modern world, I absolutely guarantee you will find useful snippets and ideas from this book to incorporate into your campaign.
State of Decay (Video Game)
Published by Undead Labs
Grand Theft Auto but set in the zombie apocalypse. *shrugs* I don't need to say more, do I?
How to Survive the End of the World as We Know It (Non-Fiction Book)
Written by James Wesley Rawles
I mentioned that I read a lot of prepper/survival books right? This is basically the godfather of those books. I would not recommend reading Rawles' fiction - the writing quality is an apocalypse all in itself - but his first non-fiction publication is a must read for anyone who wants to fully conceptualize the staggering logistics of surviving the end of the world. Expect a "list of lists," a complete manifest of all the physical possessions one is likely to need to survive the apocalypse. It's thorough, illuminating, and I promise it will make you consider things (like how long can vacuum sealed white rice last) you haven't thought of before.
Back 4 Blood (Video Game)
Published by Turtle Rock Studios
This is the spiritual successor to Left 4 Dead (which could just as easily be on this list), but I leaned into this one since it's still culturally relevant. The gameplay is familiar, fun, and highly bingeable, with a ton of customization options that you'd expect from a modern first person shooter. The weapon variety and customization - along with the characters feats and upgrades - are a big source of inspiration for how I conceptualized those elements in ALIVE INSIDE.
By Colombia Pictures
I saw this in college and it was such a fun ride. It's highly quotable, has great characters, and like other comparable comedies of its time (Pineapple Express, The Other Guys), it does a fantastic job of blending and balancing seemingly incongruent genres: comedy, action, horror, and romance.
28 Days Later (Movie)
Fox Searchlight Studios
Starring a young Cillian Murphy, 28 Days Later is one of the quintessential modern zombie flicks. Dark before it was cool, gritty before it was trendy, and solidly well made when zombie movies were still campy, I'd make the case that this movie kicked off the two-decade zombie resurgence we now enjoy. If you haven't seen it yet - or if you haven't seen it since it came out - I humbly implore you to cancel your plans tonight, make some popcorn, and rent it on Amazon. Be sure to leave the lights on.
Fear the Walking Dead (TV Series)
Thought I'd go with the standard fare Walking Dead? I could have, but I like to be edgy and unpredictable. Plus, this is my current TV obsession. I watched the first season when it originally aired but I'm now watching it on Hulu where it's streaming and I'm nearly done with the second season. Admittedly, the characters aren't as well developed as the original and the second season has some plot elements that vacillate between recycled from the Walking Dead or teetering on the unbelievable, but it has enough original element to keep me hooked. The first season was fascinating to watch as western society inches toward collapse, something that's typically glossed over in zombie fiction. I really like Nick, the recovering heroin addict, and the parallels the show draws between the zombie apocalypse he's endured for the last few months and the personal apocalypse he's dealt with his whole life. And the second season cinematography (it takes place in Mexico) is both beautiful and original for a zombie setting.
What's your favorite zombie media? Let me know in the comments below!