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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. Great potential for a zombie MMOG.

    […] zombies. There are zombie movies, board games, games where zombies fight plants, and naturally, an upcoming massively multiplayer online game (MMOG) made for the console crowd. After scavenging resources, […]

  2. Game By Night » Undead Labs: Not Releasing an MMO — Instead, Single-Player “State of Decay” and It Looks Rough

    […] “State of Decay” and It Looks Rough By Chris on August 22nd, 2012 A while back, I wrote a bit about Undead Labs yet unnamed zombie MMO. The idea of a survival-horror sandbox excited me — […]

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