On paper, After the Fall is yet another zombie apocalypse-based virtual reality game. In 2022, that’s not exactly newsworthy. Hell, the title’s Dutch developers at Vertigo Games have even already released one of the genre’s earliest defining games with 2016’s Arizona Sunshine.
But in (virtual) reality, After the Fall is greater than the sum of its parts.
Aside from providing an action-heavy blizzard-filled festival of violence that feels straight out of your favorite ‘80s action movies, After the Fall provides one of the rarest commodities in the entire gaming industry: a fleshed-out VR co-op experience. Perhaps it’s because the Vertigo Games team didn’t have to focus on how to do VR zombies, so they were able to put the emphasis on how to make squad-based VR gameplay that’s actually fun to play and works like it’s supposed to (most of the time).
Of course, no ‘80s-themed zombie spectacular would be complete without a soundtrack straight out of a classic horror film, and that’s where Jonathan van den Wijngaarden’s score comes into play. Inspired by John Carpenter, the veteran composer delivered arguably his finest work to date on the new title.
SPIN spoke with van den Wijngaarden and the community manager for Vertigo Games, TamTu, about their latest adventure in re-dead-ing the undead.
SPIN: Now that After the Fall is finally out, how does it feel to see the fan reaction?
TamTu: For the dev team, it’s been quite a roller coaster, and it was a huge sigh of relief to finally get it out there. We’ve been talking about the game for such a long time — ever since we released a demo back in 2019 — and it was met with huge anticipation. Musically, we were able to sample some of the tracks in the trailers that we’ve released over time, so the response to that was really great. Seeing people react really positively to the trailers was really affirming for us, and it really motivated the team to keep going up to the release. The response post-launch has been pretty amazing too.
Jonathan van den Wijngaarden: I wholeheartedly agree with TamTu there. I always feel that music gets a spotlight of its own when it comes to game launches, and composers are always on the frontline. It’s always super scary to read the first few reviews, but as the hours went by, I saw more and more positive responses. People actually mentioned the soundtrack so much that I even saw a reviewer stop talking over his video just to showcase the music.
How different was making After the Fall as opposed to your previous zombie VR game, Arizona Sunshine?
Jonathan: Generally speaking, this game felt like starting all over again, because we were doing something different. We were focused on getting a multiplayer title out. The game is also a lot faster paced, which is reflected in the music. I hadn’t done music before for this adrenaline-pumping gameplay. It was a lot of trying different iterations on stuff to see if it would work with the game, because obviously VR is a very sensory-based experience. You get a sensory overload pretty quickly. Our background in VR gave a bit of a reassurance, but it still feels like every single project is going out there in the woods and making sure you come out alive.
TamTu: From a development standpoint, it was very interesting to keep innovating. Arizona Sunshine was a pretty big title for us, so we all sat together and asked “What can we do to take it to the next level and really innovate in certain aspects?” There were a lot of new things that we learned over the course of development, like Jonathan using dynamic music in the levels. The pacing is a lot more action-focused, but when there’s no action in those moments between, we had to dynamically slow down and adjust the music as well.
Considering that VR is all about immersion, what goes into building that VR atmosphere rather than a flat game?
Jonathan: I’m a huge fan of John Carpenter and his music, so I instantly felt that working that dreadfulness into the music would give users this nostalgic feel to match our ‘80s and ‘90s setting. It’s hard to explain, but if you listen to John Carpenter’s music on stuff like The Fog or The Thing, it has this dreadfulness to it with a certain kind of quality to it. That was something that I wanted this to have.
Speaking of horror movies, what do you think it is about zombie games that work so well for VR?
TamTu: I think everyone has that fantasy or question of what it would be like to be in the apocalypse, and I think zombies represent one of the most realistic outcomes that could happen. It’s just not too far off from what could really happen, because the enemies themselves are still very human-like. I think that’s what really helps with the imagination and immersion of the concept of zombies — especially in VR. When you go into VR, you really experience a different reality, and in the case of After the Fall and Arizona Sunshine, that reality is the zombie apocalypse.
What was it like putting together a full co-op VR game with After the Fall? It seems like there’s not a ton of co-op VR experiences out there.
Jonathan: Getting responses from the players is the best reward for doing this kind of work — even if it’s not aimed at me directly. The best reward I can have is seeing people tweet stuff and be very enthusiastic, seeing them laughing and having fun or being scared when they go through a specific area. So with a multiplayer game in VR as big as this one, it means that a lot of people will play it, and there’s going to be a lot of feedback. Obviously, there’s always going to be criticism too, which is totally fine. I take that stuff to heart as well and learn from it.
TamTu: We absolutely felt like there was a certain void in VR for this genre as well. After seeing how popular the co-op experience was in Arizona Sunshine, it was something that we really latched on to. We said “Let’s make a four-player cross-platform co-op game for VR, and let’s make it work.” I think it’s important to be a front-runner on something like that, really innovate on it and set the bar for other developers.
After the Fall isn’t really your normal take on the zombie apocalypse either. What went into building a fairly unique take on a classic idea?
TamTu: I think the development team had a lot of fun trying to come up with something new for the zombie genre. The team is full of people who were big fans of the ‘80s and ‘90s action movies, so we gave ourselves a blank canvas after Arizona Sunshine to figure out what we really wanted to do. I think After the Fall really delivers on that whole action hero power fantasy. You’re the ones with the guns, so the enemy should be afraid of you, not the other way around. It’s a new take on the zombie genre, and we’re really happy we took that gamble and went for it.
Jonathan: Normally in a zombie movie or a zombie game, you would be avoiding zombies as enemies. You would run away and try to make it out alive. But in this game, you actually go in there to hunt the Snowbreed because you can harvest the stuff you need from them. You can’t just go sit in your house, barricade the doors and wait for the apocalypse to happen. You have to go out into the blizzard and hunt down those creatures.
What kind of message do you want to send to players about After the Fall going forward?
TamTu: The launch is only the beginning of After the Fall. We’ve got so much more in the pipeline. We’re coming out with new levels, new modes, and we’re just really excited to expand upon this world further than what we’ve set up so far.
Jonathan: It’s going to be an interesting exercise for me, because I haven’t worked on a project like this before. I’ve been doing this kind of work for 17 years now, but I’ve never worked on a project that is scheduled to have a long run like this. Usually it’s just a release, getting it out there, and then pre-production starts for the next title. It’s really exciting to have the ability to grow, expand and try new things, ideas and approaches from a musical perspective now that the basic sound is established.