Every time I see an article about first-person shooters in the Daily Mail or another drama-mongering news rag that caters to the easily offended, I give the universe a silent prayer of thanks that they haven’t yet discovered the Pandemic flash games. An average round of Call of Duty piles up a body count that would make Sergio Leone blush, but that’s peanuts compared to Pandemic – where the game’s stated objective is to kill everyone on Earth.
In the Pandemic games, the player takes control of the evolution of a disease, adding symptoms and vectors to its design while it spreads around the planet. The game taps into some base, nihilistic urge in us. It’s an urge felt by most everybody: the series of browser games has been played countless times – tens of millions at least – since debuting in 2007, and the legendary ability of Madagascar to resist infection by the player’s carefully cultivated disease (and thus denying you a victory) became the stuff of internet legend.
Now developer Dan Archibald’s Dark Realm Studios has brought Pandemic to iOS, with Pandemic 2.5. The opportunity to eradicate your own species is apparently as appealing as ever: the new Pandemic has shot straight to the top of the App Store charts in a score of countries.1
After the break, my chat with Dan Archibald: what it’s like to be an internet sensation, how Newgrounds spurred him into game dev, and which Madagascar image macro is his favorite.
Owen Faraday: The Pandemic Flash games were an internet phenomenon. How did that make you feel, seeing the President Madagascar gifs everywhere?
Dan Archibald: You can only describe that as surreal. I had stumbled upon the Madagascar-related gifs and comics quite accidentally, but even then I had just assumed initially that what I was seeing was limited to the one website, reddit I think. I read through the thread in disbelief, though with a huge smile, stunned that people had actually spent their time to illustrate their frustrations with Madagascar.
OF: That’s really what set it off, isn’t it? Players had been humbled so often by Madagascar that it seemed to be an antagonist. It was out to get you.
DA: People started saying that Madagascar had it’s own, unique AI and that it was more paranoid by design. The reality is that all the regions in Pandemic 2 all had the same AI, the fact that Madagascar was so difficult to infect was simply statistical. You couldn’t help but laugh, though.
OF: How did you get started with game development? Are you one of those guys who taught yourself Flash?
DA: The thing that got me started with game development was simply my desire to create. I enjoy writing, and if video games did not exist, I’d most likely be pursuing a career in film – not as an actor, but as a director or a writer. It’s also why I unfortunately can’t help but daydream about new projects and ideas while still in the midst of working on whatever project that’s currently underway.
OF: If I remember right, you started on Newgrounds, didn’t you?
DA: Yeah, Newgrounds was essentially the catalyst that actually pushed me into making my first few games in Flash. Discovering the portal and all the animations and games that other people were creating was not only a true source of inspiration but also very effectively pulled at my competitive nature. I think it’s safe to say that I’d be a very different person today had I not discovered Newgrounds when I did.
My high school had a pretty good set of computer courses and I was able to teach myself Flash, Photoshop and programming. My instructor was of little help as she was apparently a physics teacher. Once I had made a simple platformer game, I started a new project, an experiment I named “Pandemic”, which was inspired by my love of sim games – I played SimCity 2000 from age 7 – and it’s from that experiment that I got my first real taste of video game development.
OF: So you’ve been eating and breathing Pandemic for years now. On forums and Twitter I’ve noticed that some people who didn’t play the Flash versions are having a little trouble figuring out the game – have you spent too much time with Pandemic games that it all seems too obvious to you now?
DA: I’ve definitely been contaminated by my previous experiences with Pandemic. I had hoped that the game would be self-explanatory, and that with the in-game instructions people wouldn’t have needed a tutorial to understand the game. Unfortunately like you’ve said, a small minority does seem to not grasp the overall concept. That’s why I’m adding a tutorial to the game in the big update I’ve planned.
OF: What else can we expect in that update?
DA: The update I’ve already sent Apple fixes a few key issues that found their way into the release build of the game. After that update is live – hopefully next week some time – I’ll begin working on a more comprehensive update that will focus primarily on improving the overall experience of the game. That means adding save functionality, complimenting the existing instructions with the aforementioned tutorial, improving the UI and more.
OF: And after that? Is the next big project Pandemic 3? Or something completely different?
DA: At the moment I’m focused on supporting Pandemic 2.5 as well as I can. But I’ve had my next project at the back of my mind, fighting to get loose. A lot of work needs to be done before it can be started however, so I’ll have to leave it as a mystery for the time being.
OF: Will that emerge as a Flash game first or will you go straight to iOS this time?
DA: My next project is definitely another iPhone/iPad game and while I’d love to go into detail about it, all I can say is that it will be a fairly unique take on an established genre.
OF: One last question: what was your favorite Madagascar image macro?
DA: Perhaps one of the first images I saw is still my favorite to this day. It’s simply a satellite shot of Madagascar, with 4 lines of bolded text: no borders, no airports, seaport only, Madagascar. It’s incredibly simple, but the overall tone of the entire thing always brings a smile to my face.
1 Before you look: no, Madagascar isn’t listed on the App Store charts. Yes, I was also disappointed.