Welcome to the End of the World – or – Buckle Up, Y’all. Shit Just Got Real

“Shit just got real.” – Marcus Burnett, Bad Boys II

Having a long-term strategy for surviving the zombie apocalypse is a great idea. A big-picture plan is necessary if you are going to survive past the initial outbreak. Where will you live? What will you eat? How will you defend yourself? What are you striving for beyond simply surviving another day? Accomplishing those big-picture goals are going to require you to be adaptive. Tactics are what you do with what you have in an effort to complete objectives that further your strategic goals.

In State of Decay we put a lot of effort into making sure that players can transition smoothly between different tactical approaches to gameplay so that they you can adapt quickly and make adjustments to your tactics as the combat situation evolves. We want you to easily flow from stealth to melee combat to ranged combat to using items. We know that everyone approaches these challenges differently, and it was important to make sure that as many approaches were accounted for as possible.

Even if wading into a horde armed only with a rickety table leg is likely to result in getting killed.

Guns
“Is it true that there is a place in a man’s head that if you shoot it, it will blow up?” – Danny Butterman, Hot Fuzz

I get pretty excited about guns. Not as excited as Brant, or this guy, but I love finding them in the game and I think you will too. There is a pretty nice spread of different types of weapons (again, if you can find them), and your choice of firearm can also influence how you approach situations from a tactical perspective. It’s like a list of my favorite things!

Pistols are great for picking off a few guys at pretty close range, especially if you have a suppressor. They can jam if you don’t know what you’re doing, though.

Revolvers are also great at short range. Super-reliable, too. You just have to deal with reloading a lot more often, and slowly.

Rifles are terrific at long range, especially once you really get to know what you’re doing. You can get more than one guy in a single shot with some of the beefier ones! That’s pretty handy. But they have a pretty slow rate of fire, and if zombies get up close and personal I don’t recommend sticking around.

Submachine guns are fantastic at dealing with crowds in tight places. They do go through bullets in an awful hurry, though, and it’s not like we have an infinite supply of those.

Assault rifles, wow. One of these and you can cut through a horde like a hot knife through a zombie’s eye into its delicate brain. Again with the high bullet demand, however, and ammo for these guys tends to be a bit more rare.

Shotguns, the quintessential zombie killing weapon, yes? Up close they basically turn zombies into puddles of black goo. Ammo is pretty reasonable to get, too. They are kinda perfect. Except that they are crazy loud and there is no way you’re going to find suppressors for them laying around, regardless of what you saw in No Country for Old Men (yes, they exist, but good luck finding one). So once that horde is gone, you’re pretty much guaranteed another one if you stay in the area, ’cause these guns make a racket.

You are using a suppressor, right? You probably should be. Oh you don’t have any? Hrm. You might be able to find some, but it’d probably be better if you had a way to make them… but, that’s for Phinney’s article next month.

Combat
“You should not have any special fondness for a particular weapon, or anything else, for that matter. Too much is the same as not enough. Without imitating anyone else, you should have as much weaponry as suits you.” — Miyamoto Musashi, The Book of Five Rings

Looking to get up close and personal? It’s a great way to get yourself killed, but it’s also a great way to dispatch a couple of zombies without letting the legions of the damned know your exact position. There are a number of melee combat options for you to use, depending on the situation and your tactical inclinations.

For instance, light blunt weapons like baseball bats or metal pipes are great at caving in skulls and knocking zombies around. They’re reasonably fast too. Getting kills shots are easier once you’ve knocked guys down, but it’s possible to one-shot a zombie on occasion. Solid crowd control, not bad for killing.

Light edged weapons can lop off heads wicked fast! Just don’t depend on them being able to get you any space if you miss the headshot, ’cause zombies don’t appear to really care if you just cut them. Very fast, just not great at dealing with groups.

Heavy weapons guarantee that your target is going to react in a big way. If you don’t miss. And if you can hit the target before the target hits you, ’cause heavy melee weapons are sloooooow. You can hit a bunch of enemies with a single swing, it’s just getting that swing out there. Decent killing power because of all that weight, especially if the target is already down.

What about unarmed combat? AHAHAHAHA. Heh. Sorry, just needed a second. Okay. If you’re in a situation where you don’t have a weapon, if you’re the one out of ten survivors that actually lives through an attack where they were unarmed? This situation suggests RUNNING. If you must stand and fight though, may I also recommend NOT PUNCHING. Punching is a great way to get bitten. Use low kicks to knock zeds down and then stomp those skulls in. Your survivors might be able to learn some takedown abilities that can help out in both armed and unarmed situations. After all, a zombie that’s struggling to get up off the ground is a zombie that isn’t sinking its teeth into your succulent flesh. Did I say “succulent”? I meant, “tender and delicious.” Moving on.

The specific combat abilities that your survivor can use depends on what skills he has naturally and how you develop them. Hmm, since I’m talking about them anyway, might as well dive into…

Skills
“A winner is someone who recognizes his God-given talents, works his tail off to develop them into skills, and uses these skills to accomplish his goals.” — Larry Bird

It should come as no surprise that different survivors have different abilities and skills. Each survivor you rescue is a bundle of potential wrapped in a bag of goo that zombies love to munch. The skills of your current survivor will absolutely influence your tactics in the field. Over the course of your (hopefully long) career you’ll acquire a particular set of skills, skills that make you a nightmare for the reanimated corpses trying to take over the world.

As your survivors, um, survive the zombie apocalypse, they’ll get better at doing so, and the specific skills that they are using affect their growth (as a human being and as a tasty snack). Want your survivor to get better at shooting pistols? Then you should take that survivor out into the big, bad world with a pistol and get to work getting better. Of course some survivors have natural talents that are going to allow them to grow a lot more in a particular area, which isn’t to say that you can’t find a way to increase your aptitude, but that may require some…

Specialization
At certain points in their growth you are able to choose specializations for your survivors. Specializations are skills that reinforce your survivors natural expertise and play style, that give you a powerful advantage over the shambling masses.

The choices you make about how your survivors grow is critical. It expands their tactical capabilities. Is it more useful to have a survivor that can pick locks, or one that can move quickly in stealth? Do you want the crack shot, or the unstoppable bruiser that can soak up a ton of punishment? Do you want a particular survivor to be able to master the use of pistols? There are a lot of different types of objectives that your community needs to pursue in order to reach your goals, and each of your survivors can help you get there in different ways.

The choices you make are also final. Once you’ve chosen a specialization for a survivor it is permanently part of that survivor.

Stealth
“The greatest victory is that which requires no battle.” – Sun Tzu, The Art of War

We’ve called it out several times in past articles and Q&A’s, but it’s important to this topic – noise attracts zombies. Being loud during the zombie apocalypse is a great way to get yourself killed. Fortunately you know this, and you know that the best way to avoid becoming a snack is for the zombies to never even know that you’re there. When you’re moving around stealthily you don’t become completely invisible to the zeds, but you make barely any noise at all and their vision isn’t all that hot. It’s also a great way to sneak up behind a lone zed and take him out without alerting every other zombie in the area.

Run
“Survival rule #1: Cardio.” — Zombieland

Here’s a pretty useful tool for the ol’ toolbox. Run. Most (not all) zombies are pretty slow, though they are persistent, and you can get away from them if you hoof it. Seriously, one of the most useful skill you can develop is recognizing when you are in over your head and getting the hell out of dodge.

Of course, you shouldn’t panic. You should think even as you flee. Hop a fence, duck into a bush, use a distraction device, start a fire, race into a shack and out the back. Do what you’d do if your physical ass was on the line.

Weapon Durability
“Even the finest sword plunged into salt water will eventually rust.” – Sun Tzu, The Art of War

I’ll admit to taking the quote out of context. Sun Tzu was probably talking about using your resources intelligently and not doing foolish things, but I’m appropriating it as a segue into weapon durability!

Some weapons are sturdier than others, but pretty much everything you find is going to break eventually (hopefully after smashing in many undead skulls). How does this affect your tactical choices? I’ll tell you something, free of charge: Trying to take on the zombies hand-to-hand is a BAD IDEA. It might work for awhile, but it’s going to wear you out pretty fast and isn’t very effective at destroying undead brains. At least you’re smart enough to not try to punch them. Right?

Right. Well, did you pack a backup weapon? Do you think you could find one nearby before the hordes find you? Okay, so the most likely way this affects your tactics is that you’ll switch to your (hopefully suppressed) ranged option or use up some of your precious incendiary and explosive items to clear out any trouble you run into and try to avoid getting up close and personal. But those precious melee weapons tend to break at the most inconvenient moments, and your fancy submachine gun is a complex beast made up of lots of moving parts that is going to jam on you one day. Best to keep that in mind.

Items
“There is no one magic move or secret that creates victory, but lots of little items that when added together can make you victorious.” — Bill Toomey, Olympic athlete

Remember when I said that being loud is a great way to get yourself killed? Well, it’s also a great way to manipulate the mindless hordes out to eat the flesh of the living, and if you have a way of making some noise away from your objective you may be able to distract the hordes and get the job done without any drama. We have a pretty great example of this sort of tactic in action in this video.

There is more to things that go boom than shown in the video. The options include improvised bombs, incendiaries, mines,  homemade explosives, and more. They can be used to distract, burn, or blow up the enemy. Sometimes all at once. They are a great way of making an impossible situation a little bit less so. It’s up to you to find them, build them, and use them in the best way you can to further your objectives.

Vehicles
“No stop signs, speed limit. Nobody’s gonna slow me down.” ACDC, Highway to Hell

Cars are awesome. Mostly you can plow through zombies without putting your squishy survivors at risk… mostly. Just be careful that you don’t get a hanger beating on your door, looking to rip you out of your seat. And be careful running full speed into a large horde (or one of those BIG guys, you know who I’m talking about). That kind of damage wrecks your ride quick. It’s like those stories you hear about guys who get hurt, or worse, when they hit a deer.

The other thing about cars is that they are loud. I keep looking around for an electric ride, but apparently no one in Spencer’s Mill is green enough to really care about their carbon footprint. The upshot of this is when you get to where you’re going, the whole neighborhood is going to know you’re there, and the folks left ’round these parts aren’t the kind you want coming over for a visit.

Sure, it sounds like fun on paper. Zombie apocalypse, get in a fast car and do whatever you want. But getting into an accident can leave your survivors hurt real bad, and if you suddenly find yourself in the middle of nowhere with a wrecked car, hurtin’ real bad, you’re going to wish you’d been a bit more cautious. Vehicles are finite, and survivors aren’t invincible. One wrong move and one of your most useful tools is gone, not to mention potentially losing a car as well.

And if you run out of vehicles? I did hear someone talking about a guy that can get you vehicles from the outside. But it’s going to cost you. A lot.

Death of a Star
“The only thing I know is everything you love will die.“– Chuck Palahniuk, Survivor

You’ll probably end up with a couple of go-to survivors for certain situations. Your go-to shooter for handling sieges, your go-to bruiser for dealing with infestations, your go-to stealth expert for searching for resources. It’s important to note that no matter how awesome one of your survivors ends up being (as you customize them via the Skills system), eventually they’re going to get tired out in the field. So tired that it may literally cost them their lives if you keep them out in the field. Fatigue affects your stamina, which is used for just about everything you do from fighting to running to climbing fences as you attempt to outrun the broken teeth nipping at your heels (not adorable nipping like this).

TL;DR: A tired survivor is a dead survivor. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Have a deep bench.

From a tactical standpoint, you can approach objectives any way you want. Some survivors’ skill sets may make them better suited to tackling certain objectives, but you’re the one calling the shots (and it’s on you if you get someone into a situation and can’t get them out of it).

In Closing
“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” – Sun Tzu, The Art of War

All of these tactics are just tools for you to attempt to achieve your overall strategy. You have to make the hard choices about where you’re going and how to use everything available to reach your goals.

Good luck.

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Ready to talk about this? Got any questions for the followup Q&A? Click the green tape down and to your right and hit the discussion thread.

The Way You Make Me Feel

I don’t like MMOs.

I love the idea of MMOs. The idea of playing in a massive, persistent world with my best friends and folks from all over the world is incredibly appealing. Current MMOs offer the world, and tons of players, but I’m an action gamer and that’s just not what MMOs are right now.

I’ve been dreaming about what an MMO could be since I was a n00b designer. In my mind I always pictured piling into a car with my friends and tearing off into a massive world. They would lean out of the car, shooting and swinging bats.

Why aren’t MMOs really like that?

MMOs get breaks because of their social nature, but if you really look at them closely they’re barely even games. Mario 64 (nearly 15 years old at this point) feels better than any MMO I’ve ever played. MMOs aren’t even close to keeping up with cutting edge videogames from a gameplay or presentation perspective.

I’m a console guy. I always have been. I cut my teeth on the NES, playing Mario 3 and Contra. I got completely sucked into A Link to the Past and Super Metroid. The FEELING of interacting with the world has always been stronger for me on consoles; it’s what they’re made for.

What about MMOs? What if we replaced all the math with action? What if an MMO could feel like a kickass console game?

How about we give you a bat, and when you press a button to swing that bat, it hits things. Not just range tests to the target, but your bat has collision and the path it moves through defines what you hit. Not numbers and spreadsheets behind the scenes, but you actually hit that thing with your weapon.

How about if you could actually dodge out of the way of enemy attacks? Not a skill that gives you an increased percentage to do some counter-math against the opponent’s formula, but an actual dodge-out-of-the-way that lets you duck just underneath the rotting grasp of an attacking zombie.

How about some actual guild goals? Not, “We’re doing this raid to get our healer caught up on gear,” but instead, “We’re going to raid the power plant because if we clear it out we can get power to our community and get our communications network online.”

Imagine plowing a modified death truck into a swarm of zombies to clear a path to a building your community wants to scavenge. Imagine vaulting over a couch smoothly into a jump kick, whipping out your pistols and nailing a couple of quick headshots, then diving out the window onto the back of an RV that your buddies are driving. Imagine loading a car up with explosives, driving full speed at a massive swarm of zombies, diving out and detonating the trap just as it plows its way to the heart of the horde.

That’s the game we want to play here at Undead Labs. So that’s the game we’re making.

It’s my job to sure that the game feels AMAAAAZING. Fortunately I’m in a great situation where I won’t be allowed to fail. Everybody at Undead Labs is a gamer, and by that I don’t mean they’re into games only the really hardcore players are into, I just mean that everyone here LOVES games. And they have high standards. That makes it pretty easy for me to get solid opinions about the latest gameplay tweaks I made.

I believe that MMOs can and should compete with the best triple-A games. And I believe consoles are the perfect place for MMOs to make this stand. Together we’ve learned tons about the power of persistent worlds from today’s PC MMOs, and I’ve personally spent years working on top-tier console action games, so let’s bring them together.

Everything that I’ve worked on has been preparing me for this one game. Vehicle tuning on Road Rash 64 and Kinetica, combat on God of War, shooting in SOCOM, systems on Guild Wars. Each of those games has taught me valuable lessons about game feel and tuning, and I’m putting all of that knowledge to work here at Undead Labs.

I don’t like MMOs, but I love this game. You will too.

Foge

[PS: If you just can't get enough Foge and would like to know more about him, be sure to check out Jeff's introduction.]