Remembering George Romero, the Man Who Gave Gaming Its Greatest Villain

Remembering George Romero, the Man Who Gave Gaming Its Greatest Villain

STARTING SCREEN | A eulogy for the Godfather of the Dead. Plus Mike's Media Minute, game music, and all the rest for the upcoming week in gaming.

Starting Screen is the USgamer staff's weekly column. Check back every Monday as we share our thoughts on the news as well as our favorite obscure RPGs, game music, and more.

Once upon a time, George Romero wanted to make a video game. But like so many other creators who created something iconic at an early age, he could never quite escape the legacy of the classic zombie movie he made during the 1960s—Night of the Living Dead.

In 2010, Romero—who passed away over the weekend at the age of 77—admitted to Destructoid that he didn't play many games, but that he would would have liked to have worked on one nevertheless.

"I'd like to do a game. I'd like to work with a gamer on it," Romero said at the time. "But everyone who has ever approached me, it's always been... sell us your name and go home. I don't particularly want to do that."

Romero did contribute to gaming in various ways over his long life; but of course, it was pretty much all zombie-related. For better or worse, Romero's chief creation defined his career—something that he came to embrace over the course of more than a half-dozen 'Dead' movies.

His original 1968 film—Night of the Living Dead—was a genre-defining masterpiece, doing for zombies what Bram Stoker's Dracula did for vampires. Zombies would eventually become one of the most iconic enemies in gaming, appearing in everything from Ninja Gaiden to Call of Duty to Wolfenstein. Romero himself even appeared once as a zombie in Call of Duty Black Ops.

George Romero in Call of Duty: Black Ops.

The appeal of zombies in gaming is obvious: they're already dead, so you don't have to feel too bad about killing them; they're easy and satisfying to take down, but they can still surprise and scare you, and they splatter nicely at the end of a shotgun. Along with Nazis, zombies are basically the perfect video game villain.

Aside from popularizing zombies as a horror villain, Romero's main contribution was to make the living dead an allegory for consumerism, depicting them as ravenous slaves to capitalism even in death in Dawn of the Dead. The image of the zombies chasing survivors in a shopping mall wound up being so powerful that Dead Rising lifted it wholesale.

Despite the fact that he arguably never got his wish to work on his own game, Romero himself was no stranger to gaming. Aside from his Call of Duty cameo, he collaborated with Kuju Entertainment on a first-person shooter called City of the Dead for the Xbox, which was ultimately canceled. He also contributed his voice to a mobile game that was, of course, zombie-related.

Then there's this little gem of a commercial for Resident Evil 2, which Romero directed.

In the wake of his passing, game developers quickly emerged to pay homage to the "Godfather of the Dead."

Romero continued to write zombie-related material right up until his death. Just three days before he passed away, he released the first poster for Road of the Dead—a film described as "Fast and the Furious with zombies."

Romero's passing throws that project into flux, but there will be much (much) more zombie media where that came from. In that, he did more for gaming than almost anyone. Rest in peace.

Nadia's Note Block Beat Box: Nalbina Dungeons (Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age)

As I promised last week, I'm playing Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age. The game's soundtrack is fantastic, which isn't exactly the shocking revelation of the century. It's a Final Fantasy game. Of course the soundtrack is good.

Even grand soundtracks take time to grow on you, so I was surprised and happy when one particular song reached out and flicked me on the forehead: The theme for Nalbina Dungeons, which is where Vaan, Fran, and the never-harried Balthier find themselves after a small misadventure involving some royal treasure rooms.

Nalbina's dungeons are lightless, impenetrable, and full of sand (it's rough, it's course, and it damn well gets everywhere). It's a haunted, hopeless environment, but its ancient architecture is also awe-inspiring. The theme that accompanies Vaan and his pals as they try to find a way out conveys the foreboding majesty of the lock-up.

Nalbina Dungeons is remastered for The Zodiac Age, causing some fans to swear fealty to the original version of the song. Kids, kids … they're both great!

Caty’s AltGame Corner

Sometimes when I'm bored on the internet, I find myself reading miscellaneous Wikipedia articles. Sometimes it starts with a simple search if I'm curious about something, other times it begins with the day's featured article, before I trip down a rabbit hole of related articles even further. Wikipedia, in this sense of navigating it, has always been sort of like a text adventure. But only now has it been mechanized as actually a text adventure.

From developer Kevan Davis, Wikipedia: The Text Adventure takes the infrastructure of Wikipedia as an endless hole of information, and places it into an adventure game. You navigate it as you would any text adventure; examining objects to add to your inventory, venturing into new, intricately described locations. For my playthrough, I began in San Francisco, my home city. A pixelated image of the Golden Gate Bridge greeted me, as did a short descriptor for the troubled city. From there, it was choosing which neighborhood to venture to next, and see what else awaited me.

Wikipedia: The Text Adventure is a fun game to get lost in. It's wieldy, unexpected, while gamifying what we all accidentally do anyways: waste time reading bullshit on Wikipedia. You can play Wikipedia: The Text Adventure in your browser here.

Mike's Media Minute

After a solid start for Spider-Man: Homecoming, it seems the elation has crumbled back down to Earth. The film dropped 61 percent for its second weekend, taking in an estimated $45.2 million. Given the great reviews and the performance of competing films like Wonder Woman, some may feel down about that.

It's important to have some context though. This brings the film's domestic total to $207 million, putting it ahead of the Amazing Spider-Man 2's entire domestic take. Worldwide, we're already off to a great start of $467 million. Spider-Man: Homecoming won't do gangbusters, but it'll probably land ahead of both Amazing films. It still has to open in China and Japan, so there's a likelihood that it'll land near Spider-Man 2 in third or fourth place overall for Spider-Man

That was largely the point here. Spider-Man's domestic gross has been on a continuing downward trend overall. Marvel was brought in to rehabilitate the brand for Sony, to the tune of merchandising rights. Assuming Homecoming ends up where estimates put it, domestic will up while international revenues will remain in line. That's a good thing and it set Sony and Marvel up for a sequel, where they've proven they can give audiences what they want.

Wonder Woman is doing a damned great job, in line with Deadpool last year. It's a major female-led film for a character that's never received a solo outing. It's also a rehabilitation of the DC Extended Universe. It's also a great film. Another reboot of Spider-Man isn't hitting those same points. Both are good. All is well. The sky isn't falling.

Matt’s Monday Mornings

Television rules the nation. Or at least my weekend, as I spent most of my time in front of a TV screen watching Broadchurch, Game of Thrones, and the EVO Street Fighter V finals in that order.

I decided to finally start Broadchurch, a British crime series that's been on my watchlist forever. Weirdly enough, one of the stars from the show was announced as the new Doctor Who the next day, but I don't really watch Doctor Who so it was more of a weird coincidence. I'm still two episodes away from finding out who the murderer is, but the show's strange structure basically makes it so there's a new prime suspect every week. That's kind of a lame thing to do for a whodunnit, but as a show that examines how a small town reacts to a murder case, it's very good.

Likewise the new season of Game of Thrones is back, and it appears that the show is keeping its aggressive pacing from last season, which is a huge relief. I fell off the show around season four when it was clear the writers were trying to stall catching up to the books, but now that they've beat Martin to the punch, Game of Thrones feels like a much better show as a result.

Lastly, EVO Street Fighter V. What an ending! I really wanted Punk to pull it off in the end, but I could definitely see how that kind of pressure would affect someone. While it might have been a lot, Punk put up an amazing series of games, and Tokido's comeback was just as thrilling to see.

This Week's News and Notes

  • EVO 2017 took place over the weekend, and it included its customary array of memorable fights and dramatic finishes, including a massive comeback by Tokido out of the Street Fighter V loser's bracket. We've got all the best match highlights here.
  • Speaking of EVO, we posted the oral history of EVO last Friday. Grab a snack, settle in, and read John Learned's excellent history of the world's largest fighting game tournament.
  • Kingdom Hearts 3 got a new trailer over the weekend and something of an approximate release window—2018. It's honestly hard to know how to feel about this game after all this time. Excited? Reflective? The fact that it's being headlined by Toy Story just goes to show how much times have changed since the franchise's last go-around in 2006.
  • Destiny 2 Beta starts tomorrow. Not much more to say about what is bound to be the most hyped game of the year (we've got a ton of coverage planned for this week). Here's all the relevant info you need for the beta.
  • Looking for a playlist that evokes the spirit of Splatoon? Caty put together this gem last week.
  • For those who listened to my tale of woe last week regarding the loss of my saved games after transferring my 3DS, there is a silver lining. The loss inspired me to start a new game of Pocket Card Jockey—one of my absolute favorite games from last year—and I'm currently in the midst of my best horse ever. If you never got around to playing Pocket Card Jockey, I really urge you to check it out before the 3DS rides into the sunset. It's a real gem from the folks at Game Freak.
  • In the meantime, Pocket Card Jockey's most likely candidate as successor for Secret Best Sports Games of 2017 is Fire Pro Wrestling: a revival of the classic wrestling series from the N64 days. My favorite Fire Pro Wrestling article so far comes from Kotaku's Nathan Grayson, who used it to "simulate" the upcoming fight between Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor, because that's honestly what that fight deserves.
  • So I'm not as much into the Marvel universe as Mike or Matt, but one thing I really like about those movies is how earned they feel these days. Having been around for more than a decade (!) now, Marvel's characters feel like old friends. And I'll admit, the description of Infinity War sounds pretty amazing.
  • Axe of the Blood God: Nadia and I will be finishing up our playthrough of Persona 4 Golden and Chrono Trigger with a live episode on Tuesday at 12pm ET/9am PT. Join us on Twitch as we break it all down!
  • We're also launching a brand new podcast! Look out for it on Wednesday! Until then, thanks as always for supporting USgamer, and we look forward to spending another week talking about video games with you fine readers.

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Kat Bailey

Editor in Chief

Kat Bailey is a former freelance writer and contributor to publications including 1UP, IGN, GameSpot, GamesRadar, and EGM. Her fondest memories as a journalist are at GamePro, where she hosted RolePlayer's Realm and had legal access to the term "Protip." She is USgamer's resident mecha enthusiast, Pokemon Master, and Minnesota Vikings nut (skol).

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