Case #

08.4.14

Researcher

Subject

Moonrise, News, Press, Studio

Moonrise

Today it’s my great pleasure to announce our new game, Moonrise.

Moonrise is a multiplayer creature-collection RPG for mobile devices, conceived and developed here at the Lab and published by Kabam. It’s a fun romp through a gorgeous 3D world of ancient ruins and magical creatures, with deep, real-time strategic combat, full character and creature customization, and real-time online play with your friends.

You can read more about Moonrise and our partnership with Kabam in the Moonrise announcement press release, and at the game website at moonrise-game.com. We’ll also be showing the beta build of Moonrise off at PAX Prime in Seattle at the end of this month, so look for more information about the game and release details then.

Like everyone at the Lab, I’m intensely excited about Moonrise. It’s a game that embodies the same passion and spirit we poured into our first game, State of Decay. But alongside that excitement, I’m also very aware that this is a surprise to everyone who has been following the Lab for the last few years. What does it mean for us to be releasing a game that isn’t State of Decay?

First, our commitment to State of Decay is stronger than ever. Survival fantasy is in our DNA, and always will be. While I can’t talk specifics yet (and believe me when I tell you how hard that is), the long-term partnership with State of Decay publisher Microsoft we announced in January, and collaboration with author J.L. Bourne we announced last week, are all in service to something. Or perhaps I should say some things. And I think it’s safe to say those things will be exciting to State of Decay fans.

But those things — particularly when they’re big things — require time; for planning and design, for R&D and new technologies, for business and contract discussions, for new platforms to mature, and for a whole host of things that need to get done before you can unleash a full, chomping-at-the-bit game development team. So while the core State of Decay team continued to work on those things after the release of the game last summer, we built another team to take on a new project we’d been thinking about, which became Moonrise.

I’ve used the phrase ‘gaming omnivores’ to describe our personal gaming tastes at the Lab. You’ll find fans of every genre and platform here, and most of us love it all, provided it’s made with passion and respect for us as gamers. As game developers, we’re the same — omnivores. But just as we wanted to create a fresh take on the zombie genre with State of Decay, we wanted to create a fresh take on the creature RPG with Moonrise. As we’ll discuss in the coming weeks and months, Moonrise builds on the core foundation of collecting creature companions, with deeper team mechanics, real-time combat, a strong multiplayer core, and console-quality art and animation. And, of course, it’s playable on a device that most of us already have in our pockets or backpacks.

Moonrise is of course very different from State of Decay in many ways. It’s bright and colorful, it’s fantastical, and it’s on mobile. But despite those notable differences, you’ll also find that it’s very much an Undead Labs game, with a focus on systems-driven content, sophisticated progression mechanics, and a few bold design choices — such as strategic real-time combat — we think will result in a fresh gameplay experience. And, like every game we will ever make, Moonrise is a gamer-focused game, meaning it’s developed for people like us — passionate gamers who expect our time and money to be treated with respect. It’s also fully an Undead Labs game in terms of our complete commitment to the player community and long term support for the game. Moonrise is as much our baby as State of Decay, and babies needs lots of love and attention…

In my State of Decay: Year One anniversary post, I said:

The success of State of Decay, and the opportunity we have to take it even further, is 100% because of you. Not just because you’re customers, but because you’re gamers. Real gamers. Not just casual fans of the latest big-budget shooter or pre-scripted action adventure (although those can be awfully fun too), but gamers who are passionate enough to try something new. You met the unexpected with a smile rather than a frown.

As we prepare to release Moonrise and continue development on the future of State of Decay, this is more true than ever. It’s been a pleasure building games for you so far, and I can’t wait to show you what we have in store for the future. On behalf of all of us at Undead Labs, thank you.

Jeff

Case #

07.29.14

Researcher

Let’s Chat

In the fall of 2009 I went on a zombie bender. Zombieland had just been released, and I saw it four times. It wasn’t the best zombie flick I’d ever seen, but I loved the road-trip aspect of it, and the focus on how each person needs to decide whether they’ll work together, or alone, in the apocalypse. Mostly, it just rekindled my love of the zombie-survival genre, so it was back to Day, Dawn (classic, and the 2004 remake, which was a damn fine movie), the 28s, a ton of obscure hipster zombie stuff, and a fantastic dive into the Walking Dead comics. And books, too. Brooks of course — more the Guide than WWZ.

Fun stuff for sure, but none of it was really scratching my survival-fantasy itch. The great thing about zombie books and movies is that they make you think about what you’d do if the apocalypse hit tomorrow. Hanging out with your friends and comparing survival plans is truly one of life’s great pleasures.

But then a friend (known around here as Brant) turned me on to the Day by Day Armageddon series by J.L. Bourne. The author was an active duty military officer, and it really showed in his work. The story was personal and gripping, but also logical and well structured. It was believable. It was impossible not to cast myself in the role of the narrator, relying on my wits and whatever equipment I could find to survive every day. I consumed it in a day, read it again, then read the sequel.

And then it was time to build a studio that could make the ultimate zombie survival-fantasy game.

A few months later, Undead Labs was formed, and I found myself joyfully working with some of the most talented and passionate developers in the industry. As we started laying down the design for what would become State of Decay, numerous copies of Day by Day Armageddon (DbDA) were purchased and passed around. In those early days every developer on the game read the books. Of all the movies, books, comics, epic poems in iambic pentameter, and folk songs about zombies, DbDA stands apart in its contribution to our design and development culture.

Fast forward to January 2014. State of Decay is a huge success — thanks everyone! —  and we’re announcing a multi-year, multi-title relationship with Microsoft to build on State of Decay and take it to greater heights. (Yeah I know that’s vague… damn gag…) I did an interview for Xbox Wire, and while I couldn’t give them any details, we did talk about influences, and I mentioned DbDA and the strong impact it had on State of Decay.

I didn’t think much about it afterward, until a few weeks later when my phone chirped with a Twitter notification:

JLtoJeff

After I privately worked through my fanboy freakout, I contacted J.L., and we started talking. About zombies. About Day by Day Armageddon. About survival fantasy. About the future of State of Decay.

We flew him out to visit the studio, meet the team (including Brant, who is still working through his fanboy freakout, although not quite as privately), and talk some more. He liked what we had to say, and we liked what he had to say. There was a real meeting of the minds going on, and everyone could feel it.

So, we decided to work together.

I’m very excited to announce that J.L. Bourne will be collaborating with Undead Labs on the future of State of Decay. I can’t talk about any potential future titles right now (mmph mmmmmmph mmmph), but on the road we’re now traveling, we have the benefit of J.L.’s powerful narrative voice and intimate knowledge of the skills, tactics, weapons, and daily realities of the zombie apocalypse.

When we said the future of State of Decay is bright back in January, we meant it.

Welcome to State of Decay, J.L.!

Jeff

(OMG JL BOURNE!!!)

(sorry…)

 

[Read J.L.’s welcome to the State of Decay community here, and please welcome J.L. yourself by clicking on the comment tape.]

Case #

06.6.14

Researcher

Subject

Jobs

Automation Programmer

Do you like to find ways to make the computer do the work of a 100 people? Do you get a big thrill from pushing a button and watching your code handle thousands of things perfectly that silly humans would constantly screw up, or find things humans have already screwed up? Do you get an even bigger thrill by then figuring out how to automate pushing the button?

We’re looking for someone who loves to write automated test harnesses, sophisticated build and patching systems, and simulation tools to drive games to their knees begging for mercy. That perfect someone would have good instincts for grey/black box testing, and be able work with game programmers, designers, and testers to instrument the game and our service platforms for automated testing.

Here’s what we’d like to see:

  • As with all our positions, a love of gaming is a must
  • Knowledge of C/C++, C# and higher-level languages such as Lua, Python, or Ruby
  • Excellent understanding of QA methodologies and experience writing Test Plans and Test Cases
  • A customer oriented mindset, with good communication skills
  • Experience in console, mobile, and/or PC development a plus (all three is awesome)
  • Self motivated with a focus on delivering results
  • A degree in Computer Science or equivalent is a plus, but not required

Here’s what we’d like you to do:

  • Own and deliver automated test strategies for our products, spanning multiple release cycles
  • Improve the efficiency and reliability of our games by working with team members to encourage a test-driven mentality in the development process
  • Own diagnostics and fault-tolerance aspects of various systems
  • Automate verification of end-to-end customer experiences, from client front end to server back end interactions
  • Own our automated build and patching infrastructure based on a blend of commercial and in-house tools
  • Participate in testing regularly scheduled releases

This position is for full-time employment at the Undead Labs studio in Seattle. For more information about what it’s like to work at the Lab, check out our jobs page.

It this all sounds awesome and you think you have what it takes, send your resume and any code samples you can share to jobs@undeadlabs.com.

We’re looking forward to hearing from you.

Case #

06.5.14

Researcher

State of Decay: Year One

Exactly one year ago today, one year ago from this very moment as I write this, I was in bed. Not sleeping — oh no, that wasn’t going to happen for at least a few more days — but finally, actually, truly in bed. After a final, all-in push to get things wrapped up, the hours were ticking down to the worldwide release of State of Decay, a game we’d been working on for two-and-a-half years; a game we’d poured our hearts and souls into, bled over, fought for, and pulled kicking and screaming into existence despite its design breaking almost every game design rule in the book.

On that Tuesday night, June 4, 2013, I was in bed waiting for Judgement Day. The game would start rolling out on the Xbox Life network at 2:00 AM local time. Scarier still, the review embargo lifted at midnight, so reviews could start hitting within the hour.

I, and my colleagues at Undead Labs, had no idea what was to happen over the next 24 hours. We knew we’d built something unique: a game that broke rules about permadeath, multiple avatars, and offline progression; a game that blended RPG, third-person action, and survival simulation in a manner that caused our publisher to scratch their head through most of its development (and kudos to them for standing by it). We were proud that we’d built something new, and grateful we’d had the opportunity to do so; but there’s a difference between being proud of what you make, and making something people actually want. We’d soon find out whether people wanted a zombie-survival simulation in which your starting character was very likely to die in the first hour of play. (Ah, Marcus, we loved you, man…)

I distracted myself for a few hours by watching Zombieland for the fifth or sixth time. Not really genre canon, but still a great movie. Zombieland came out in fall 2009, exactly 12 days before the foundation of Undead Labs. At that point the seeds of ‘Class3’, the codename for the game that became State of Decay, were well planted, but Zombieland focused on human relationships over a period of weeks and months, and really made me think about how survival is not just about food, water, and shelter (and bullets), but also about your emotional health. Having good friends may not be more important than avoiding being eaten, but it’s definitely up there somewhere around ‘sanitation’ and ‘tooth brushing’ on the long-term survival priority list.

Anyway, the movie ended, and midnight hit. Judgement Day was upon us. I waited. I felt like my whole life was on the line, and in some ways, it was. At about 12:15, Sanya sent an IM with a link, that simply read, “IGN review is in”. I stared at it for a long time. IGN is one of the big guns, and if their reviewer got his Marcus killed and rage quit an hour in, we’d be toast.

I finally mustered the courage to click the link, scroll to the bottom, and open my eyes.

8.9 — Great. “For many, State of the Decay is the zombie game they’ve always wanted.”

I couldn’t believe it. I read the entire article, and they loved what we loved. They understood how permadeath made your decisions meaningful, how playing multiple characters made your community your primary investment, and how other risky decisions were made in service to our goal of creating a true survival simulation. I was floating — although that was probably more from lack of sleep than anything, but the combination was awesome.

The next day was like a waking dream. The game rolled out across the world starting at 2:00 AM as planned, and by the time I went into the office at 6:00 AM, we’d surpassed 25,000 paid downloads. By noon we hit 50,000, by the start of our release party at 4:00 we’d passed 100,000, and by the end of the day we settled in at around 135,000. It was a record-breaking release (only Minecraft, a game with a huge existing fan base, had sold faster), and would set the pace for the 500K and 1M thresholds to come over the next few months. State of Decay went on to become the fastest selling original game in Xbox Live Arcade history, and is now among the top sellers of all time.

Over the next year we released numerous free updates and two DLC expansions to the game: State of Decay: Breakdown, which focuses on the simulation mechanics of the game to offer an ever increasing survival challenge, and the just-released State of Decay: Lifeline, which returns to the narrative focus of State of Decay and offers a new map, new mission types, and a whole new military-themed story to experience.

State of Decay continues to sell well a year after release, but we’re just getting started. In January we announced a multi-year, multi-title partnership with Microsoft Studios to continue development of the State of Decay franchise. State of Decay was a great first step, but our ambitions for where we take it from here are much higher, and Microsoft is ready to step up and work with us to make those ambitions a reality.

Those of you who have followed Undead Labs from our early days probably know where all this is going, and I won’t disappoint you. The success of State of Decay, and the opportunity we have to take it even further, is 100% because of you. Not just because you’re customers, but because you’re gamers. Real gamers. Not just casual fans of the latest big-budget shooter or pre-scripted action adventure (although those can be awfully fun too), but gamers who are passionate enough to try something new. You met the unexpected with a smile rather than a frown. Your Marcus died, but you didn’t rage quit (or if you did, you came back the next day after you cooled off), because you were willing to embrace a game with real consequences. You enabled us to take risks and push the boundaries of game design in the pursuit of new gameplay experiences.

More than merely being thankful to you for making State of Decay a success, I want you to know that it’s a genuine pleasure to make games for you guys. You’ve fueled us up over the past year, and now we’re off building the future of State of Decay…and we sure as hell don’t intend to let you down.

On behalf of the entire team at Undead Labs, thank you.

Jeff

Case #

02.6.14

Researcher

Subject

News, Studio, Team Zed

Lewis Fixed It

One day, everything blew up.

This was back in 2007 or so. I was at ArenaNet at the time, and we had just published an live update for our big MMO Guild Wars. Something had gone wrong, and nobody could login to the game. Our community forums were exploding with angry players, our customer service team was calling us frantically wanting to know what they should tell people, the server programmers were snapping at anyone who even walked into their field of view (“If I knew what the frakking problem was don’t you think I would have told you by now?!”), and everyone was tense and worried.

Well, except for this one guy. We’d hired this kid out of DigiPen about a few years earlier, and he’d turned out to be a damn fine programmer. So much so that we now had him working on core server code, which is basically the lifeblood of any MMO. The Big Scary Stuff. Lewis was kind of quiet, had a terrible sense of humor (in the sense that he had a strong sense of humor, but loved bad puns and daily joke calendar kinds of things), was super smart, and completely unflappable. While everyone else was batting away the swarming management types, Lewis was quietly coding amidst the chaos.

I remember thinking, “Damn, doesn’t he realize what’s going on here? We have several hundred thousand players who can’t login right now, and he’s just sitting there coding without a care in the world.”

And then, without turning around, he simply says, “Fixed it.”

It took a few minutes for it to sink in, but yeah, he’d found the issue, fixed it, and published a build. Everyone was logging in and happily playing.

So this is the kind of guy you want on your side, whether you’re programming the zombie apocalypse, or actually trying to survive the zombie apocalypse. Calm, cool, competent, and, when called upon, a real ass kicker. Of course, the bad jokes would get him killed on the second day, but my god, how awesome would he be on the first day?

Lewis is a great addition to Team Zed, and he’ll be helping drive a lot of the awesomeness to come. Welcome aboard, Lewis!

Jeff

“Did you hear about the kidnapping at school?”
“No! What happened?”
“He woke up.”

(Actual joke Lewis told me yesterday.)

Check out Lewis’s own article here: http://undeadlabs.com/2014/02/studio/anything-that-needs-doing/

Case #

01.30.14

Researcher

Subject

News, Studio, Team Zed

‘Bout Damn Time

“Did you write the code that spits out an empty page at the end of every print job?”

It was June 1996, and I was on a pay phone in the cafeteria at Hewlett-Packard interviewing for a job at Blizzard Entertainment. The guy on the other end of the line was Patrick Wyatt, their VP of R&D.

It wasn’t going well.

“Uh, no, I don’t think so. It probably…”

“Well, I think you probably did it because it makes HP a ton of money on paper sales. What do you know about device independent bitmaps? Are you familiar with CreateDIBSection()? What is the make and model of the video card in your gaming PC? What are the pros and cons of object oriented programming?”

Object oriented programming was still a pretty new concept at the time, and I had just finished a few training courses in it at HP, so I talked about that and my sweet new video card (a Diamond Stealth3D 2000 OMG 3D!) to try to cover for the fact that I had absolutely no clue what a DIB section was, much less how to create one.

Somehow, I got the job; and while getting to work on some of the definitive online games of that era was great, working alongside Patrick Wyatt on them was even better.

Patrick was a programmer and designer on Blizzard’s early console titles such as Rock & Roll Racing and The Lost Vikings. Great games, but ultimately mere warmups for his next efforts: Warcraft, Warcraft II, and StarCraft, for which he was the principal programmer and producer. As VP of R&D for Blizzard, Pat also made major contributions to Diablo and Blizzard’s Battle.net gaming network.

Patrick left Blizzard in 2000 to co-found ArenaNet, where, in addition to his business, design, and production roles, he developed the core server and network platform technology for the hit MMO Guild Wars.

So yeah, the guy has some serious game development chops.

Prior to starting Undead Labs, I worked alongside Pat for almost 14 years. He’s been a tremendous mentor, colleague, and friend during that time, and we’ve made some damn fine games together. It’s true that he once called me at 5:00 AM because he hit the wrong speed-dial button when he was trying to get the surf report, but I forgave him when he took me to Carl’s Junior for a Western Bacon Cheeseburger while my wife was in labor with our first child.

Jeff and Pat living the healthy California lifestyle.

Jeff and Pat living the healthy California lifestyle, circa 1996

Today, I’m very happy to announce that Patrick has joined Undead Labs, and will be working shoulder-to-shoulder with Team Zed as we dive into the development of… well, what’s next, and beyond.

Patrick has written some thoughts on joining the Lab, which you can read here.

Welcome to the Lab, amigo. ‘Bout damn time.

Jeff

PS: Patrick still insists I’m responsible for the extra blank page at the end of every print job. Of course, he’s also always insisted that every person has an NSA agent assigned to spy on them from birth, and it turns out he was right about that, so…

Case #

01.10.14

Researcher

Subject

News, Studio

The Road Ahead

Hola fellow survivors,

I wanted to let you know we’ve signed a multi-year, multi-title agreement to extend our development relationship with Microsoft Studios. We’ll be able to share details later this year, but as with State of Decay, we think it’s best if we just keep our heads down and build some prototypes before we talk too much. For now, suffice it to say there are big things going on with State of Decay.

If this were a press release, we’d have a carefully vetted quote from Phil Spencer, head of Microsoft Studios, expressing Microsoft’s excitement as well. But pictures speak louder than words, and we think Phil spoke pretty loudly during the keynote at E3 last year:

941805_10151923384671633_1743200524_n

Thanks to Phil and everyone on our hard working team at Microsoft Studios for believing in State of Decay!

And most of all, thanks to all of you for your ongoing support, encouragement, and enthusiasm for State of Decay. We know how far we’d have gotten if it hadn’t been for your spreading the word, and it definitely wouldn’t be here. You made this happen.

It’s been a long haul from the original vision to this point, and the road ahead of us will take years to travel. We hope you’re up for the trip, because we can’t do it without you.

Case #

10.17.13

Researcher

Subject

Jobs

Game Animator

Can you bring these sketches to life?

If your answer is “hell yeah!” and you’ve got the animation chops to do it, we want to talk to you.

We’re looking for a talented and passionate animator to join our veteran team of developers and bring our next generation of games to life. You might be our dream candidate if:

  • You are obsessed about the craft of animation and can rattle off your all-time animation heroes from film and games
  • You love (and I mean freaking love) games and are able to talk in depth about them (and believe me, you’ll be grilled on this…)
  • You are at home with hand-built key-framed animation as well as mocap direction and integration, and able to discuss the appropriate uses for each
  • You know your way around Maya with your eyes closed
  • You have shipped at least one game as a professional animator
  • You sleep on a bed of “Art of… ” books
  • You can work quickly and comfortably in a rapid prototype environment
  • You want to stretch yourself professionally and personally to help us create something truly fresh and innovative
  • You can talk intelligently about game design and enjoy working shoulder-to-shoulder with talented designers
  • You are as excited about making awesome games as creating awesome animations

Did I just describe you? If so, this is your chance to join the elite developers at Undead Labs. Contact us directly if you know someone at the Lab. Otherwise, send us an email at jobs@undeadlabs.com with your resume and links to your online portfolio.

For more information about what it’s like to work at the Lab, check out our jobs page.

We look forward to hearing from you!

Case #

10.17.13

Researcher

Subject

Jobs

Game Producer

Undead Labs is structured a bit differently than traditional game studios.

Triple-A games are massive, resource intensive projects that demand a ton of investment capital and large teams. In fact, the unquenchable demand for content in the next generation of online games is pushing team sizes into the hundreds. But these huge teams bring significant tradeoffs, such as inefficient communication, forced specialization (okay, you’re modeling all the eyelashes for the native dendari insect-men for the next four years), and, worst of all, the loss of cohesive studio culture. Also, huge teams just aren’t as much fun.

Undead Labs is built around a culture of pragmatism and strong production values, which allows us to build a smaller, elite team of veteran developers and take advantage of the high-caliber art and technology resources available around the world. But operating that way requires skilled and knowledgeable producers, and that’s where you come in.

We’re looking for a talented producer to help us build global production pipelines, document and refine processes, facilitate communication, and generally bring order to the chaos of building ambitious games. If you’re an organization freak, can explain the difference between a CMS and a DAM, wax poetic on the pros and cons of Scrum (and any other production religions du jour), and love to see a complicated process distilled down to its core essence, you might have a home with us.

Love of games is, of course, also required…

Here are some other things we’d like to see:

  • A few years of professional experience in product management
  • Game development experience in any capacity is a huge plus
  • A formal educational background in an accredited four-year program is a big plus
  • Experience with and passion for tools, including spreadsheets, wikis, CMSs, blogs, and project-management tools
  • An attitude of service, but also an ability to lead
  • A self-starter who is happy to be in the driver’s seat, rather than the passenger’s seat
  • A passionate, pleasant, fun demeanor
  • Deep knowledge of and respect/appreciation/love for State of Decay also a big plus; like, really big

This position is for full-time employment at the Undead Labs studio in Seattle. For more information about what it’s like to work at the Lab, check out our jobs page.

If you’re interested in applying for this position, send your resume and a cover letter explaining why you are the perfect candidate to jobs@undeadlabs.com.

We look forward to hearing from you!

Case #

10.17.13

Researcher

Subject

Jobs

Game Programmer

Want to do something completely different? With the highly successful release of State of Decay behind us, we’re heading into uncharted territory with our upcoming projects, and we need a few more hardcore programmers to help us get there.

We need help creating latency-tolerant combat engines, rapid world generation and authoring technologies, sophisticated creature AI, global virtual economy systems, scalable persistent object systems, etc. In other words, all of the cool technologies required for online-world games.

This is complicated stuff, and requires an elite team of programmers who really know what they are doing. Are you an elite programmer? Among the best? If so, we want talk to you.

Here’s what we look for in a programmer. Remember that this is not a checklist of “must haves,” but rather a guideline that we use to find great candidates.

  • A true passion for the craft of writing clean, efficient, well-structured code
  • The ability to think quickly and communicate thoughts effectively
  • A customer-oriented mindset and development philosophy
  • Solid math skills
  • Proficiency in C and C++
  • Knowledge of C# and higher-level languages such as Lua, Python, and Ruby a plus
  • Experience in console and high-profile PC development a big plus
  • A degree in Computer Science or equivalent from an accredited four-year program is a plus, but not a must
  • As with all our positions, a love of gaming is a must

This position is for full-time employment at the Undead Labs studio in Seattle. For more information about what it’s like to work at the Lab, check out our jobs page.

If you think you have what it takes, send your resume and some code samples in C++ or C# to jobs@undeadlabs.com.

Make sure your code sample shows us something meaningful — we like to see real solutions to real problems, as opposed to class wrappers or thin API layers. Your code sample is your portfolio, so put your best foot forward and blow us away! We won’t compile your code, so please don’t send entire projects; just the highlights. Also rest assured that any code you send will be used solely to evaluate your candidacy, and will be held in the strictest confidence.

We’re looking forward to hearing from you.