Reflection: Zombie Panic At the Disco
Published on the 31st of October 2023, Edited on the 2nd of November 2023
Author: Twilight, Rhone, and the ZP Team.
Date: October 31st, 2004
In 2004 Half-Life 1’s modding scene was not quite what it once was at it’s peak. It had reached a level of maturity and long by now had expectations for mods. No longer could you put out a simple level of something mundane or experimental as most of it had already been done and the awe factor was a distant memory. Not to mention, that Half-Life 2 was just about to come out bringing tantalizing engine features (like physics) that Half-Life 1 lacked. Not to say that Half-Life 1’s modding scene wasn’t still sizable, but modders had already begun the shift over to the Source engine, with it worth noting that many projects did not survive the transition.
Today we’re going to talk about a mod that seemingly came out of nowhere and defied all these expectations. Get the shotgun, we’re talking about Zombie Panic!
Zombie Panic! crawled out of the grave Halloween 2004. First with an open beta, then releasing patches up till a year after. While releasing a multiplayer mod for the aging game would have been a death nail in most cases, ZP was able to make it’s mark thanks to it’s well designed gameplay, theme, and that no HL2 mods had released yet. The main concept is perhaps incredibly simple and common now, but at the time was quite unique.
Survival & Gameplay
So how does it play? A team of humans start off with pistols and crowbars. One of the players will be chosen (unless they volunteer) as a zombie with a limited number of respawns. As soon as any human player dies, they join the undead and respawn as a zombie. If any remaining humans live long enough, complete an objective (usually by escaping), or eliminate all undead, they win. If all the humans die, Zombies win.
It was like a twisted Quake Royal, working together (hopefully) to be the last ones standing. This little mod of course developed a cult following, growing to hundreds of players and custom maps. It grew to such a decent size in popularity that it even had it’s own SteamID back when Valve allowed a select few mods to have a “store page”.
This is where my story with the mod comes in, as it was 2006 and Zombie Panic! wasn’t as popular as it was once initially was. I can’t exactly recall how I discovered it, perhaps it was Planet Half-Life, or maybe in a PC Gamer magazine. Regardless, I somehow obtained the mod and wanted to play it, but there wasn’t really many servers, perhaps just a few and usually empty. Now again, the details are fuzzy, but by some miracle I played on just the right time to discover the 0wn3d Clan server populated with players. Every Sunday evening usually at 5 or 6 PM, I would boot up Zombie Panic!, let my TV blast away a new Family Guy episode (as embarrassing as that is to say), and play for hours as the sun set.
Actual screenshot of the 0wn3d Clan server populated with players, circa 2006. Yes, there was a “piss” plugin. Don’t ask me why we thought it was so funny…
Image courtesy of Trylr
I don’t know if the other players were orchestrating on forums or IRC, but I just naively knew to join that same time every week and I would have a blast. We played on what felt like an endless sea of maps. Some based on then popular YTMND fads (memes), some of mundane places like grocery stores, and many ports of CS/HL maps. A decent amount however were many created just for Zombie Panic. Even the 0wn3d clan had mapped out a fictional HQ for themselves. The server to me was Zombie Panic, and it became a routine of not just my life, but with people I have never met outside of this game. It was like a virtual clubhouse we all shared, something we probably all could have never imagined changing…
But it did change. Time marched on, and we all stopped playing. Now I wish I could remember exactly why, but I believe it was because all of us ZP players were aware that the successor was in development on the Source engine. After all, the included changelog ends with, “Now, on to Zombie Panic Source!”. I want to say I kept playing up until the very end, but I’m uncertain. What I do remember is those late winter nights eagerly awaiting news on my favorite mods. A tradition that still happens today was releasing updates around the holidays, and Zombie Panic: Source was no different. They had revealed an image still embedded into my brain, a pre-rendered image of a shotgun with two presents, with the real present being the release date: 12-28-2007
Best Christmas present ever.
2007 was a penultimate moment for Valve fans even if we, the players, at the time didn’t know it. The Orange Box (TF2 and Portal) released, top notch mods like Fortress Forever and Zombie Panic: Source released, Black Mesa: Source was still teasing us with mouth watering media, it was quite a time to be alive. Today I think we take high quality mods for granted. But I remember when it was a lot of hard work to achieve even a decent level of quality throughout your mod. You could easily have one aspect like models be amazing but level design be atrocious. Sadly, this was not uncommon for a lot of Half-Life mods, and same with Half-Life 2 mods. Zombie Panic: Source itself probably went through the same growing pains. It seems at one point, the original two founders of Zombie Panic, Twilight and Rhone, were involved with the Source remake but left the project by the end of it’s completion. Still the mod continued with the rest of the team taking over and finishing the port. The end result was everything a Zombie Panic fan could dream of with quality of life improvements, good selection of maps, and great gameplay. And you bet the day ZP:S came out I played till dawn the next day. Hooray for Christmas Vacation!
Rise from your grave
One of the most iconic maps for Zombie Panic, Club Zombo by Maveric.
Sadly I can’t say I remember the 0wn3d Clan much after ZP:S released. The mod was so popular, I probably lost track of them in the sea of servers. And for a long time, all I could really do was cherish those memories of the old Zombie Panic. I was convinced that like many players of old mods in the Doom and Quake days, most of our experiences would have little documentation beyond a few scarce comments and maybe even one screenshot from random people providing some proof these games were even played and loved.
Thankfully for Zombie Panic, that is no longer the case. A user on ModDB named, Trylr, uploaded an entire archive of all the maps the Zombie Panic community created and played including the 0wn3d Clan. In addition, it even contained screenshots of game sessions back in 2006! For me personally it was like a dream come true. To anyone who remembers Zombie Panic in those days this is a must download, but if you are interested in game/mod history it’s also a fascinating look back at gaming clans and mod scenes.
Let’s wrap it all up
Does it still hold up? Excluding all my personal history with the mod, fun can still be had with the original Zombie Panic. However with the spectacular upgrade that is on Steam and is a click away, it’s hard to really recommend the original over it’s successors. So I would say maybe. If you love old mods, it’s a must play but if you need something a little bit more refined and polished then I recommend Zombie Panic: Source or Contagion.
So what happened afterwards? Well, after the success of Zombie Panic: Source the team formed a company called Monochrome Games and they developed what is in essence a sequel of Zombie Panic that was called “Contagion”. Monochrome is still currently making games, releasing a VR shooter last year. Their legacy is still celebrated however, by not only acknowledging ZP:S, but they are still updating it to this very day.
It just goes to show that despite being nearly 20 years old, Zombie Panic has stood the test of time. Which I suppose is fitting because it seems that ZP never stays dead, it just rises back up.
Happy Halloween! Don’t let the zombies bite!
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