Case #

11.16.12

Researcher

State of State of Decay

We started with a simple idea: simulate the zombie apocalypse. We sketched out our plan for State of Decay in big, bold strokes. We would focus on survival. We’d have meaningful choices. We’d have fast, sweet action. We’d provide the tools to develop unique survival strategies. Above all else, we would have the apocalypse simulator we all dreamed of every time the credits rolled on a great zombie flick.

“Simulator.” That’s a deceptively simple word. The world of State of Decay had to feel real, and as players, we needed to feel we had choices. Not just options, but the choices available to us here in the real world. That meant abandoning the usual game designer tools of scripts and triggers, and instead simulating behaviors and responses. Noise, echos, light, motion, resource depletion, morale, energy — all of those things needed to be modeled, and the inhabitants of the world designed to react and respond to them naturally. It was a daunting challenge, but one we thought was essential to creating a true survival experience.

No focus groups or game-market analysts were involved.No focus groups or game-market analysts were involved. That rarely works, and even when it does, as passionate gamers, we often wish it hadn’t. Great games, like works of art, well designed gadgets, or even a great recipe, come from people who are passionate about not only what they do, but also what they make.

We frequently pushed up against the boundaries of traditional design wisdom. What if death was really…death?Instead, we focused on creating the survival sandbox game we all wanted to play, and that never led us astray. Along the way, we frequently pushed up against the boundaries of traditional game design wisdom. What if death was really…death? Suddenly the zombie threat becomes meaningful. Then you want stealth, distraction, sneaky tactics, and home base fortifications. Fortifications? That implies guard towers, barricades, perimeter defense, and land mines. Land mines? They don’t have those at the sporting goods store, and besides, that store would be looted bare within days of the outbreak, so we’d have learn how to build our own. Looting? Well, looting (or more politely, “scavenging”) is an inevitable part of the apocalypse. But it has to be realistic. A looted store needs to stay looted, and food, ammo, and building materials need to be found in locations that make logical sense.

Back to land mines. Having land mines implies you need to make them, since the apocalypse puts a dent in manufacturing. What would making land mines require? Well, a machine shop, and expertise. Needing good old fashioned know-how brings us to a system of skills and abilities. Being good at something feels good, and being able to save the lives of your friends is good for morale. Ah right, morale. Wouldn’t mental health be an enormous issue, after the apocalypse?

People need a goal, something beyond just surviving another day.One thing that’s good for morale is keeping busy. People would feel better if they could accomplish missions, if there were stories to be told and other survivors to rescue and a goal to shoot for, something beyond just surviving another day. So we brought in the best story teller we knew and got to work.

All the tiny elements filled out the original broad strokes until we had a clear picture of what State of Decay could be. We’re making a game, but we’ve also balanced that with reality. The real world isn’t a shooter, where you just kill everything that moves with effectively unlimited ammo. When a real disaster strikes, you worry about food, health, exhaustion, and morale. In reality, an apocalypse would mean no more factories making weapons and vehicles, and we’d all have to live by the old song: “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.” And out here, you don’t take stupid chances every other minute because more than anything else, you want to live to fight another day.

We just think that fun doesn’t have to be meaningless.That’s what we’ve built. Oh, we’ve had to make some tough choices along the way to stay within a reasonable development timeframe (believe me, we could add “just one more thing” forever if we let ourselves), and we also had to keep in mind that this is supposed to be a fun game, rather than a strict simulation of reality. We just think that fun doesn’t have to be meaningless or without consequence, and if anything, being deeply engaged is the most fun you can have.

Over the next two months, we’re going to explore the two main pillars holding up State of Decay in articles, images, and videos on this website. Richard Foge is going to take you into the world of the tactical game. Fighting, with weapons or without. With an assault rifle, or up close and personal with a hatchet. How vehicles can be your salvation in the apocalypse, and how they can quickly turn into a metal coffin. Stealth. Reaction time. Distraction and evasion. It’s all important to a game that isn’t just about running and gunning the undead, but instead requires you to think like a survivor. After that, James Phinney is going to dive into strategy and simulation. Base fortification and customization, along with outposts. Resource gathering and stockpiles. Survivor management, and the role morale plays in survival. Planning ahead, and long-term thinking.

Thanks.Yesterday we delivered a massive Content Complete milestone to Microsoft, which means the focus from here is polish, bug fixing, tuning, and balancing. The end of the road is in sight. We’re incredibly excited to get State of Decay into your hands. Thanks for being with us so far.

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