Two of the biggest pop-culture trends of the past few years—zombies and nostalgia—have combined, finally, into one, massive meta-juggernaut. Organ Trail, a zombie-fied version of the ’90s classic “educational” video game Oregon Trail, has been hanging around on the Internet for a while now as a flash game, but its creators, The Men Who Wear Many Hats, are aiming to launch it for iPhone, iPad, and Android phones this spring. They’re funding the project now on Kickstarter and, while they’ve far surpassed their original goals, they’re still looking for a little financial help. The A.V. Club talked to co-creator Ryan Wiemeyer about zombies, dysentery, and the kindness of strangers.
The A.V. Club: What was the inspiration for Organ Trail?
Ryan Wiemeyer: We were just two programmers, at the time, sitting around. I was doing art, design, and production, but I wasn’t the best artist, so we were talking about what we could do that would require very little art and that we could take advantage of as programmers. We just said, “Wouldn’t it be cool if we made Oregon Trail with zombies?” It matches the survival theme.
AVC: Oregon Trail’s kind of a weird game playing it now as an adult, though. Why was it so popular then? Just because you could play in school?
RW: I think so? I was really bad at it. I never got very far. I guess the whole appeal was just that you weren’t actually learning but playing a game.
AVC: You guys have had a hell of a response to the Kickstarter campaign; you’re way over-funded. What are you going to do with the extra money?
RW: We’re four times over-funded right now. It’s actually not enough, though. We purposely set the goal low knowing that people like to donate to products that are succeeding. When we set the goal, we looked at other teams and games that were our scale, and we justified that we’ll probably get double what we’re asking. We’re getting much more, but because we’re doing so well we decided to push ourselves into buying better tech and try and form a studio. We’re looking at costs, but we’re still kind of short.
AVC: When can your funders expect to see results and get their versions of the game?
RW: The first time we made the game, we did it in Flash, so we didn’t really know what we were doing. It took three months, though. Now, we have to deal with hardware, licenses, and other things, and I don’t know how long that’s going to take at all. I don’t know how long it’s going to take just to make our company, and we can’t buy anything until we make the company, because once we do that we can write all that off as start-up costs. It’s looking like it’s going to take a lot longer than we hoped. Originally I was aiming for March, but now just spring in general. If there was a gun to my head, I’d say two days after spring ends because I’m pushing for the last day of spring, but something will probably go wrong.
AVC: Were you surprised that your high value incentives went on Kickstarter?
RW: They went right away, like the first day. I just thought, “Oh, crap. Those were supposed to be enticing.” Then we had to come up with new expensive incentives, and so we added a $150 package and a $250 package. Those also went right away. Any incentives that are limited are gone. That’s really cool, though. I feel like we should make more, but we can’t fit anything else in the game.
AVC: You said in the Kickstarter video that you haven’t made any money off the game so far. True?
RW: We’ve made a little money off donations, shirt sales, and Google ads, but it’s only really been enough to pay for hosting the game. I think, really, we’ve lost money, because we’ve ended up buying our own shirts and some team hoodies, and all that. We all have full-time jobs, though. We’re all game developers. We just do this at home and then we go to work and do it again.
AVC: Any ideas for future games?
RW: When we started, the only idea for our games was that they had to be funny. We made things by just throwing ideas out there, and some would get more traction than the rest. Others are just jokes, like, “Let’s make a joke about Communism where you have to stand in line for bread.” Then, actually, when you think about that, it doesn’t sound fun at all. We have a post on our site about game ideas that didn’t get made and why not.
I want to make another educational game about presidents where they’d all come back as zombies, and you’d have to kill them in chronological order by who came first in office. It would be fun, but you’d also learn something. Kids probably shouldn’t be allowed to play it, though.
The next game I want to make isn’t really a game. Doing this Kickstarter, people have said, “Man, you guys have got to be swimming in all that money.” I want to do something really small and maybe call it “Money Swim.” It’ll be Scrooge McDuck style just about you, swimming through coins and dollars. I think that I can put that out for free once we have a license, just to put out something really dumb.