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New Information on Undead Labs’ Zombie MMO

While I tend to get most of my gaming news on the internet, when I saw the latest issue of EGM magazine (issue 241.0), I had to pick it up. Since the magazine started back up, they’ve been doing an excellent job of getting unique interviews and scoops from inside the industry. This issue was no exception with “First Look At Undead Labs’ ZOMBIE MMO” emblazoned on the cover.

We’ve heard very little about the game, there are some nice tidbits to be found here.

The Quotes

The atmosphere reminds me quite a bit of Fallen Earth.

“[The world] is present day, just a few months from now, however long it takes for the zombies to completely destroy everything that’s functional about civilization. The premise isn’t how you deal with the initial zombie attack, it’s how you deal with the aftermath and survive.”

The article comes with little bits of concept art and one big two page spread showing a downed and destroyed airliner lying on the fields of what could be LAX.

They also give us good indicators about what to expect of the game world:

“The game will not be ‘a canned, theme-park MMO,’ but rather a dynamic world to be reclaimed and rebuilt. That world is present day, just a few months from now…”

“After scavenging resources, you’ll need to pool some ideas and blueprints together to retrofit the settlement with defenses. The game’s dynamic and malleable physics engine lets you design obstacles, cattle paths and all manner of cruel and ingenious traps to stem the flow of sudden zombie strikes.”

Gather and crafting? Bolstering defenses to ward of zombie strikes? Sounds like we’re playing territorial domination here and that’s pretty cool.

This all makes me think the game may have more in common with the world of, say, Darkfall over WoW. The article definitely gives the impression that taking things back– and fighting to keep it– is a big part of the game. James Phinney and Jeff Strain go on to say,


Safe For Work Edition of This Zombie

“Real empowerment! Not running out to kill 10 things because I said so.” Strain quickly adds, “Like if we drop you into the middle of the zombie apocalypse with a crowbar and put you at the end of the Santa Monica pier, you know what you have to do, right? There’s no guy standing around with a little exclamation point over his head that you need to talk to,… your goal is to survive at any cost and find some kind of immediate shelter.”

“Banish the memories you have of the PC MMO paradigm for combat, and start thinking AAA console action game.”

“[Forge] understands that weapons (like the M14 assault rifle or long-bladed machete) need to feel snap-fast and satisfying, to pierce bones and dismember limbs just so.”

“‘You have to look at what the interactions are like in the films and books, [says Forge]. There’s this really strong visceral connection between melee and ranged combat… …I’m looking to put that experience in your hands with the slickest control scheme we can come up with.’”

Which is great on a number of levels. First and foremost, people expect zombie games to be about action. They want to shoot off limbs and explode heads and come up with their own interesting ways to dispatch the undead– that’s the whole basis for the Dead Rising series, isn’t it? Combat is God of War is fun, there is no doubt about that. This game will require a different approach but it sounds like they’re on the right track.

It’s not all about high intensity action, however:

“All the basics of zombie apocalypse survival are required in our world: food, water, shelter, and of course, bullets,”

“Over the first couple of days, you’re going to be worrying about food supply, how to equip yourself to deal with travel, protecting yourself from the elements and conditions”

To me, this sounds like basic “get gear, get food and water to regen” stuff, but it gets better:

“In quieter moments you’ll be able to build out the settlements, even plant and grow gardens within. You can’t drive a chainsaw through a zombie’s skull on a crappy diet.”

Survival will surely be a team sport, too.

“Ultimately you’ll try to locate other friendly humans and increase your chance of survival through numbers. Together, you may eventually gather enough materials and defensive measures to move into larger shelters like an abandoned house, and potentially clear out other nearby establishments like the local 7-Eleven”

“‘A lot of it has to do with how real world the stories are– aside from crazy hordes eating your flesh. It’s everything you see, like the breakdown of human society, the challenges people face trying to survive, figuring out if there are others you can trust, learning to work together.”

There’s no mention of whether the game will feature both solo and group paths; however, I think it’s safe to say the it will. Console games are not renowned for mandatory interdependence, though I’d like to know how much a lone ranger would be able to do if territorial take-overs are a major aspect of play.

Finally, they give us an idea of how each player will progress and advance themselves:

“Though in an early state of development, it appears the game may adopt an open character progression system (not strictly class-based).”

They go on to provide several possible “specialty roles” players may be able to adopt, such as “ace mechanic,” “the guy with medical training,” or “an ex-special forces tracker.” There is definitely a sandbox vibe coming from almost every part of this game. I’m hoping they keep the open class system. We need more of that in this industry and it seems fitting in such a modern setting.

Thoughts

I have to be honest here, when I first heard about the game I pretty much wrote it off. This article piqued my interest but I’m still not convinced it’s a good sell.

At its core, this game is three niches deep. It’s an MMO, it’s post-apocalyptic, and it’s zombie based. Add into this the fact the it is being made “purely for consoles” and I think we have cause to worry if they’re not over-specializing. I have to wonder who the target audience is for this game. Is it MMO fans, zombie fans, or action fans? While the last two might fit together, consoles players aren’t the most accepting of the many aspects of play we MMO players take for granted.

In that way, the design really seems to be at war with itself. While console players will expect high-intensity action, the article seems to indicate that there will be a lot of downtime. Do zombie fans really want to plant gardens and search for blueprints? Moreover, are we emphasizing the zombie-theme or the post-apocalypse? Though we’ve frequently seen the two tied together, in terms of design, the two could drastically effect how people enjoy the game. Though zombies are obviously a huge motivator, what’s to set this game apart from the likes of Fallen Earth?

As an MMO on a console, the challenges this game will face are huge. It must be able to support an MMO sized audience. I’m left wondering if the confounded design paradigms will offer enough to justify consoles players tying themselves down as most MMOs expect them to– a sentiment fairly unique to the MMO genre. We have to remember that console players often look down their noses at us. Playing one game to the exclusion of most others– and paying for it– is absolutely foreign to them. Still, I’m obviously not saying that there is no hope. The game is not dead in the gate.

In short, Undead Labs must strike gold, perfectly balancing a blend of console-based action with the addictive drip-feed of MMO progression systems lest the ultra-niche nature of the game bar them from mass-market or even mid-market success. Yet, in an era poised to explode the possibilities of expansive online gaming on every platform, if there was ever a time for console MMO hit, we are rapidly approaching it.

And the thing is, as an MMO and console fan, I think this game could be good. Really good.

Undead Labs is stuck between two audiences who generally want very different things from their titles. Can they bridge the gap between our expectations, deliver on both, and give us that proverbial handshake between genres? I sure hope so, because they’d need a damn good game to do it. And that’s a game I want to play

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  1. Julian

    the thing i instantly thought of when i read this… is of the new kinect add-on for xbox. it seems like it could really make for a fun game if you can immerse yourself that heavily into a game. and if its only for consoles then it seems perfect.

  2. Mojeaux

    Looks very very interesting! Reminds me a little bit of Fallen Earth, or what I read about it, since I never played it. Definitely something to keep an eye out for.

  3. Scarybooster

    This will be cool if it has a Dead Rising feel to it. A Zombie game needs an aggressive AI. Almost like a castle defense type of MMO.

  4. Skizy J

    The idea of a Zombie game that takes actual skill is just fantastic. This makes me very excited! The thought of having to establish a territory and build it up. But not just defenses, farming and housing as well. I think this game has the potential to rock the console world. Although I am excited and would love to play this sooner than later, I do hope that they take there time and make this the great game that it very well could be.

    Skizy

  5. Kriegjager

    The main issue I have with the development of this game is that it is for console only. Most console games are based around a gratifying albeit relatively simply adventure (Shooters, RPGs, adventure,etc) or mechanic of a sort (Fighters, Racing) with very, very few involving much strategy, planning, or lots of game time to accomplish much in the game world.

    You can pop onto halo, play for a few hours, and shut it off having accomplished quite a bit. Alternatively most mmo’s require quiet a bit more time dumped into them, becoming a hobby in themselves as opposed to gaming in general. Eve-online for example, in all it’s complexity, can take days to train skills, weeks to become powerful in yourself, and months to become a corporation of significance within the game world.

    PC games certainly have the typical simple adventure bit ported over from consoles, but computers corner the market in RTS and simulations. Frankly it just seems like this game aught to be Pc first and foremost, and attempt to release on console if possible.

    Considering the way most mmo’s for console go, I’d rather see it release on PC than not at all.

  6. ZER0 XIII

    i caught this thread or one like it quite a wile back. when this idea was just a rumor. since then i fed this rumor in hopes that i wouldn’t be wrong about its appearance in the near future.. now i have somewhere to send the many friends and gamers i told about this. i have not checked for more info on its creation until today. and i am sooo very excited for its debut!! i come from a general gaming lifestyle.. my first game was at 2 years of age ( pitfall on atari ) and i will never cease to play.. i have been a fighting game pro ( competed for money ) and same gos for shooters.. i like to race and figure out puzzles. though as much fun and for being quite a skilled competitor my heart has always been an rpg fan. the one thing i thought was untouched was a good i mean excellent 3d 1st or 3rd person mmorpgfps. the new fallout series gives me some if not most of what i am looking for. they have ghouls or zombies.. and the play is phenomenal. only drawback is that its not mmo.. the idea of open class leveling is more than awesome.. but i do hope in a wide range of specialization for class and structure to make team play more significant. if you look to dead frontier they have doctor cook and engineer.. on is for aid one is for sustenance and another is for repair. there is no doubt in my mind that a lot of thought and planning has gone into the creation of this game. i hope since it will be console only that there will be some reservation benefits as in some one of a kind weapon/ armor.. or animal snare / trap :P..

  7. Milo Spiliakos

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  8. john doh

    Concole only ? It will fail!
    MMOG is PC!

  9. Baird

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  10. survival cache

    You really make it seem so easy along with your presentation however I to find this topic to be really something that I feel I would never understand. It kind of feels too complex and very broad for me. I am having a look ahead on your subsequent post, I will try to get the grasp of it!

  11. bo stearns

    it wont fail. plain and simple i have been a huge mmo pc fan for my entire life.and a huge fan of console shooter like(yes i said it) cod and men of honor even dead rising though i failed at it.this is pc depth combined with console action. this will be a good game.oh and by the way survival-plus-zombie-plus-depth=Win!!!!

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