A Matter of Character

A good story isn’t about characters as unchanging archetypes. It does explore innate potential and expectations, but it’s also about choices and change (or refusal to change). A good survival story in particular puts its characters to the test, but not just as individuals. A crisis is both a test of the individuals and of the dynamics between them. In designing the character and skill systems for State of Decay, we’ve tried to capture all of these elements.

We’ve talked before about the fact that you don’t get to tailor-make your characters. Instead you encounter a wide variety of survivors with vastly different personalities and skill sets and then you decide who to bring into your group and who to leave out on their own.

So that’s the high level. If you’ve been following State of Decay closely, you’ve heard that before. Today we’re going to going into more depth about exactly how characters and skills work.

Let’s dive right in.

THE BASICS

All survivors share the same four basic skills:

  • Cardio — Rule #1 for survival. If you run out of Stamina, that’s it. Can’t fight, can’t run away. You’re done.
  • Wits — When the shit hits the fan, you need to think fast. The quicker you can assess a situation, the better chance you have.
  • Fighting — Sometimes your best option is a lead pipe to the face. Other times, it’s getting the hell out of the way. Master both if you want to survive.
  • Shooting — Used to be shooting was just a hobby. Now it’s a daily requirement.

Every survivor has a rating in these four skills, shown as a number of stars next to the skill name. 1 star is weak. 7 stars is exceptional. Additional stars are gained by successfully using the skill. So destroying zeds in melee combat raises the Fighting skill. Taking them out with firearms raises the Shooting skill. You can improve skills faster by performing particularly skillful feats like a headshot streak.

Each skill provides a specific stat bonus. This bonus gets higher the more stars you have in the skill.

  • Cardio — Determines maximum Stamina.
  • Wits — Improves search speed.
  • Fighting — Determines maximum Vitality.
  • Shooting — Reduces recoil when you shoot.
  • Leadership — Increases how much trust you gain whenever you gain trust.

In addition to these stat bonuses, most skills provide Abilities as you achieve more stars. Abilities can be active techniques, like Counterattack, which gives you a more powerful attack if you face a zed and dodge its attack first. Counterattack unlocks automatically when you gain your second star in Fighting. Other abilities are more passive, such as Quiet Search, which reduces the noise you make when searching. Quiet Search unlocks automatically when you get your fourth star in Wits.

Looking back at the list above, you’ll notice the last skill, Leadership, isn’t one of the basic four. That’s because not everyone has any skill in Leadership. It’s a Personal Skill that requires some natural talent or specific background. Most of the skills in State of Decay are personal skills, and they’re part of what makes characters unique.

INDIVIDUALITY

To start, every survivor has a unique combination of Traits. These Traits define the survivor on a fundamental level and have a whole range of effects.

The first Trait for every survivor is a Personality. Chatterbox, Selfish Asshole, Coward, Born Leader, Braggart, Autocrat, and Daydreamer are just some of the dozens of personalities you might encounter. Personality plays a big role in how survivors react to success and failure, how they interact with each other, and to any moral choices you make. In the short term, Personality is the least important thing to know about someone, but when trying to make your community work over the long haul, the mix of personalities matters. (We’ll probably need to dig into that in another article.)

Many Traits reflect a survivor’s background, representing job history or hobbies the survivor had in the past. These typically provide free Stars in related skills. For example, any active hobby like Hiking, Cycling or Aikido starts a survivor with two or three stars in Cardio instead of the one star that most survivors have initially. The Aikido trait also provides a free star in Fighting. Similarly, backgrounds that require street smarts or survival skills give a bonus star or two in Wits.

Other Traits reflect natural aptitude or ineptitude and provide a bonus or penalty to how fast a survivor can advance a particular skill. Being “Eagle-Eyed” means improving all Shooting skills faster than normal, while the “Hates Gore” Trait makes some slower to improve in Fighting, and being a “Dim Bulb” means Wits takes a lot more work to raise.

A handful of Traits have unique game effects. Having a “Bum Knee,” for example, means stamina drain while crouched. So a survivor with this trait can hide in bushes just as well as anyone else but can’t use it as a way to recover.

Finally, many Traits provide Personal Skills such as Leadership. Only survivors with the right Traits have access to each Personal Skill (and the stat bonus and abilities it provides). Just as in real life, the skills that the survivors have developed can vary widely in usefulness. Here’s a small sampling:

  • Bruiser — Comes from Natural Athlete, Brute, or Strong as an Ox. Provides a whole unique set of combat and exploration abilities. Survivors with this skill are few and far between, but they have the potential to learn unique melee combat techniques, to carry heavier burdens without tiring, and to use larger firearms without sacrificing mobility.
  • Construction — Comes from Architect,  Mechanic,  Electrician, or Engineer, among other jobs and hobbies. This skill doesn’t have much effect when out exploring, but having someone with any stars in Construction is essential for building a more advanced Workshop in your home.
  • Leadership — Comes from Presence or Born Leader. As mentioned above, each star of Leadership increases the Trust you gain from your actions. In addition, higher Leadership unlocks special effects from your emotes, allowing you to do things like boost the combat effectiveness of the survivors around you by cheering them on.
  • Counseling — Comes from People Person, Funeral Director, Stylist, or other jobs and hobbies. This skill has no impact on your combat or exploration abilities, but provides a chance to prevent community conflicts and to raise the spirits of frightened or depressed community members.
  • Sexting — Comes from Sleaze or Flirt. Without phone or internet service, this finely honed skill may be doomed to be something of a lost art.
  • Sports Trivia — Just as in real life, this is one of the most common skills. Sure, it might not be useful, but did you know that Randy Moss’ vertical leap was once said to be 51″? I did. (True story.)

CUSTOMIZATION

So we’ve talked about the Basic Skills that are common to everyone and about the Traits and Personal Skills that make survivors unique, but that’s just part of the story. You also get to make major choices about how to develop each survivor.

First, you can choose one Weapon Specialization for each of your survivors. This can be a specific category of firearms, such as Shotgun or Pistol, or a class of melee weapon, such as Bludgeoning or Hack and Slash. A Weapon Specialization is an entirely new skill line with a unique stat bonus and a whole set of unique abilities. Before choosing a Weapon Specialization, you need to unlock it by gaining enough stars in the corresponding basic skill: Gun-related specializations unlock at four stars of Shooting. Melee-related specializations unlock at four stars of Fighting. Each survivor can have only one Weapon Specialization, so choose carefully.

Once selected, the weapon specialization can be improved just like any other skill: by using it. So to raise your Shotgun Mastery skill, you have to take zombies out with a shotgun.

In addition to choosing a weapon specialization, you choose a number of Signature Abilities. Our goal in designing these abilities was not merely to provide abilities that make you stronger, but that change the way you approach exploration and combat. There are four different categories of Signature Abilities and each survivor can learn one ability in each category: Offensive, Defensive, Utility and General.

Which abilities are available varies from survivor to survivor, based on their skills. Only a survivor with three stars in Bludgeoning can learn Spinning Backhand, an offensive ability that lets you perform a spinning attack that turns an enemy around, exposing his back to you. Only a survivor with at least one star of Bruiser has the option to learn Push Kick, a utility ability that changes the [Y] button to do a powerful push kick, forcing enemies to stagger back.

The Push Kick, in particular, is an example of an ability that fundamentally changes how you approach a combat. Instead of encountering a group of zeds and trying to take them on as a group or trying to use the environment to separate them, you can use the kick to momentarily remove a few from the fight. You might choose to pair this with offensive abilities that let you kill individuals quickly but leave you vulnerable to groups or to let you focus on using pistols, which are versatile and lightweight but don’t have the physical stopping power of shotguns and revolvers. How you make use of these abilities is up to you.

All told, these choices allow you to take the same survivor and create someone who you’d want to use in very, very different ways. At a minimum, you’ll choose to focus on ranged vs. melee combat, and on fighting vs. avoiding fights, but you’ll also have a lot of specific options like the push kick that can provide interesting tactical choices. At the same time, since not all survivors have the same options, you should find yourself playing very differently as you switch between survivors.

THE SUM OF THESE PARTS

As with every part of State of Decay, we’ve worked to create a system with just the right mix of clarity and depth. We try to not to inundate you with stats and minor bonuses, instead focusing on key skills and abilities that have a big, identifiable impact. To close out, I thought I’d provide a quick look at some of the survivors you’ll likely encounter:

Thomas Ritter
Traits:

  • Father Figure — Protects others against Fear. Objects to Selfish actions by the community.
  • Carpenter — Provides the Construction skill
  • Travel — Wits +1
  • Camping — Wits +2, Cardio +1
  • Organizer — Provides the Leadership skill

Starting Gun: Revolver: M1917 — 45 caliber — Aging classic from the last days of WWI, a collector favorite.
Starting Weapon: Crowbar — No zombie apocalypse is complete without one.

Thanks to his Construction skill, Thomas provides additional options at the Workshop (if you have one). His mood also improves whenever you upgrade or build a Workshop. He has no special advantages in combat, but he could still choose any Weapon Specialization if he raised his Fighting and/or Shooting skill first.

Thanks to the Leadership skill, the Cheer and Taunt emotes have additional effects for Thomas. Anyone can use the Cheer emote to try to gain Trust with allies and performing the Taunt emote makes enough noise to alert nearby zombies, but when Thomas cheers allies, their combat effectiveness increases for a short while, and when he taunts zombies he can actually draw them away from attacking allies. He’s also better at earning Trust in general and is more effective at resolving problems with community members who have fallen into a bad attitude.

Sam Hoffman

  • Iconoclast — Resistant to Fear. Becomes Insensitive when she’s feeling good about herself.
  • Service Job — Wits +1
  • Eagle-Eyed — Faster Shooting skill improvement
  • Great Reflexes — Provides the Acrobatics skill.

Starting Gun: Shotgun: Warden — Shotgun Shells — Low profile, slim but brutal. Affectionately named “Fiona.”
Starting Weapon: Lead Pipe — A simple bludgeoning weapon.

Sam’s personality is a blessing and a curse. When her attitude shifts to Insensitive, there is a danger of her worsening the attitudes of community members who already feel bad. (This can be counteracted by having community members with the Counseling skill.) Physically, though, she’s gifted. She improves the Shooting skill faster than normal, making her a great choice for a gun-related Weapon Specialization. On the other hand, the Acrobatics skill, much like Bruiser, is an uncommon skill that provides a whole slew of unique combat abilities. This may mean you want to focus on melee combat with her.

Alan Gunderson

  • Autocrat — Resistant to Fear. Prone to Anger. Becomes Overbearing when he’s feeling good about himself.
  • Law Enforcement — Shooting +2
  • Loved Range Shooting — Shooting +1
  • Eagle-Eyed — Faster Shooting skill improvement

Starting Gun: Rifle: 700 Huntsman  – 7.62 MM —  A classic scoped hunting rifle, versions of which are used by the military.
Starting Weapon: Machete — Good for chopping brush… or necks.

Alan’s personality is almost pure downside. He becomes angry easily and, even when he is feeling good, his Overbearing attitude can piss off other community members. Again, the key to balancing this out is other personalities that counteract this effect or to kick him out of your community. In terms of combat, he has a clear inclination: he’s good at shooting stuff. You won’t find many better than him and that may be reason enough to keep him around.

Here is a visual example for you:

Lucky guy. A funeral director in a town where the dead don't stay dead.

Lucky guy. A funeral director in a town where the dead don’t stay dead.

Those are just a few examples. With dozens of personalities, jobs, hobbies, talents, and personal skills, each character starts out unique, and how they develop from there is up to you. Between choosing equipment, deciding how to invest your time, selecting a weapon specialization, and learning signature techniques, you have the ability to dramatically redefine the survivors, as individuals and as a group. By managing your community, you can cover for their weaknesses and play to their strengths, or you can allow everything to fall apart. You shape their story. Their survival is in your hands.

Any questions? Click the green button to the lower right and ask away in the forum.

Day By Day

A new game starts with a lot of ideas and ambitions. Then, day by day, you work to make those ideas a reality, while being true to those ambitions. Along the way, you find that no matter how many times you’ve done it before, every project is a learning experience.

With State of Decay we started with several ambitious goals, but the central challenge was to create a dynamic world where there was no single right answer or right path, where all your actions had real and lasting consequences, and the choices were yours to make. We wanted to do this not just with a scripted, branching approach. Instead we intended to let you take on the zombie apocalypse in a much more freeform and real way.

As Jeff mentioned in an earlier article, we knew this meant managing the game world with an extensive simulation. We had to develop an ecosystem of resources, survivors, and zombies that evolved naturally over time. And then we had to give you a variety of tools for taking on the challenges you’d encounter. Everything would have costs and trade-offs and every problem would have more than one solution.

So what does that really mean? What kind of choices do you have in State of Decay? It might be best to get the answer from the survivors themselves…

SURVIVAL GUIDE

I can only hope that others will find this journal and learn from our mistakes.My name is Thomas Ritter. My family and I, along with about a dozen others, have taken refuge in the Church of the Ascension in Spencer’s Mill.

As time goes on and the hope of rescue fades, we’ve begun to think more and more about long term survival. We’ve learned a lot these past weeks, most of it the hard way. With that in mind, we’ve compiled this record of the survival tactics we’ve adopted in the hope that this knowledge will keep others alive. If we live to do so, we will hope to share this information. If we don’t, I can only hope that others will find this journal and learn from our mistakes.

~ Thomas Ritter

HOME

The key is seeing them coming.Your first priority must be finding a place to call Home. Some people advocate staying on the move continually, but I haven’t seen anyone survive that way for long. Especially with a group, people need somewhere safe to rest and recover. And since the dead will find you eventually, it’s better to have a secure place to fight them on your own terms.

Spiritual comforts aside, the reason we’ve stayed at the church this long is simple: the grounds are completely walled in. We’ve placed barbed wire around much of the exterior, but of course this is only a slight annoyance to the dead. They just keep struggling through it until they slip inside, but it’s better than nothing.

Even though the wall isn’t impenetrable, it gives you time to react, and having an open area within the walls lets you see exactly how serious your situation is. It’s much easier for them to get the drop on you when you’re coming around a corner than when you see them shambling toward you after awkwardly working their way over a wall.

Which reminds me, I would strongly recommend setting up a watchtower of some sort. Something even taller than your exterior wall. Again, the key is seeing them coming. If you have someone who’s a decent shot, you can thin out their numbers before they get to you as well.

Now I’ll try to get some of the others to contribute their perspectives to this survival guide.

~ Thomas Ritter

RADIO

You don’t have to fight a Horde if you know it’s coming.We learned pretty quick that big groups draw their attention. You’ve probably already figured out that they’re drawn to noise, which is bad enough, but somehow they always seem to sniff out bigger groups. Maybe literally. Ew.

We are sure that stealth is the key to survival. It’s been true for a while now that they outnumber us. I guess I haven’t had the guts to say this out loud, but it seems pretty clear to me that the city of Danforth must be overrun as well, sending fresh Hordes of them our way every day. We have to fight them sometimes to make sure our home is safe, but out there, when we’re searching for supplies or things like that? Discretion is the better part of valor, I think.

So we sneak and we scout as individuals. Poking around in abandoned buildings or climbing up high to get a better look at how things stand. So how do we coordinate while being spread out? Walkie-talkies. The radio waves are our invisible weapon against them. You don’t have to fight a Horde if you know it’s coming. You can sneak into a hedge and hide out for a bit, or maybe duck behind a wall and find another way around.

And when somebody finds a building with the ammunition or medicine or food that we need, they can Radio Home, and we can swoop in, load up, and get out of their more efficiently because we’re all in constant contact. And no one person has to take all the risks. We’re a team, after all.

~ Lily Ritter

COMMUNITY

I know we all wish we had been able to lift his mood before he took such…drastic measures.It’s no secret that these are trying times. As the walls around the church grounds provide a physical shield around us, it is our collective Morale and belief in each other that truly keep the community together.

We nearly had a complete collapse of Morale last week. I do believe most of the community would have scattered if that had happened, likely raiding our Stockpiles before they left. Fortunately, even though our daily travails offer plentiful opportunities for community Morale to drop, there are many ways to counteract this effect. Everything that betters our situation — be it acquiring the building Materials necessary to reinforce our walls, upgrading the quality of our Sleeping Quarters, or simply clearing out a nearby Horde — rapidly raises Morale.

In addition to shepherding Morale for the community as a collective whole, I believe it is imperative to be mindful of each individual’s state of mind as well.

As I have made it my primary concern to tend to the spiritual and emotional needs of this flock, my thoughts on how to assess the situation have grown more concrete. My advice, such as it is, would be think of it this way: At any given time, each one of us has a single mental focus.

Typically, this manifests as a prevailing mood or attitude. Although there are many, many specific attitudes, I have come to view them all as some expression of Calm, Pride, Hope, Fear, Sadness, Anger or Shame. I have seen that positive attitudes tend to increase someone’s energy level, while the negative attitudes have the opposite effect. In addition, each of these core attitudes may display itself in a different way depending on the individual. When Lily is Proud, I have seen her become more Assertive, contributing a lot of positive energy to the community and reassuring those who have succumbed to fear. On the other hand — and I should note that I know Sam will not be offended if I use her as an example — When Sam is feeling Proud, she tends to become a bit Insensitive. This has no ill effects on her, of course, but it does on occasion mean that I must make a greater effort to prevent those who are already suffering from a negative mood from pushing further into negativity.

Some attitudes have more serious impact. Last week, one of our number fell into that most extreme version of Sadness, a serious Depression. The change was clear, with clear warning signs. I know we all wish we had been able to lift his mood before he took such drastic measures. We can only take solace in the fact that the method he chose precluded the possibility of him rising again as one of them.

Attitudes can change rapidly. Indeed, they will, multiple times a day. Each failure spawns negativity. Each success brings hope or pride. I have realized that the simplest way to improve someone’s attitude is to involve them in a successful supply run or home defense or some other simple triumph. I pray for and with everyone whenever possible, but sometimes finding a chocolate bar does more to uplift the spirit than all the Gospel in the world.

It is essential to understand, however, that all of this psychology will quickly take a backseat to any serious medical condition. When someone falls ill or becomes injured, old attitudes are forgotten and recovery from this condition becomes their primary focus.

Injuries and Illness must always be viewed as matters of extreme gravity. It is our experience that any fever may be a precursor to a rapid decline, and the only alternative to recovery is death. With this in mind, we have set up an Infirmary and made it a priority to keep our supply of medications as well-stocked as possible. No one makes it through a week completely unscathed and the wounds inflicted by the dead have an unclean quality than invites infection. Without a trained medical professional in our community, recovery can be rather uncertain, but having medications on hand does make a difference.

~ Pastor William Mulroney. Church of the Ascension. Spencer’s Mill.

CRISES AND CHALLENGES

Pay attention, even to the whiners. That’s the universe giving your punk ass fair notice.Will’s right that people are happier if they’re getting shit done, and it’s going well. No fucking duh. But you’ve gotta look at the big picture too, cuz the Lord may provide, but as far as I can tell, he’s mostly interesting in providing one mess after another. Here’s my advice.

Watch your resource stockpiles. People always try to make shit too complicated. Way I see it, it comes down to five categories:

  • Food (and Water) — This has to be priority number one. If you don’t keep this stocked people will take all kinds of risks on their own. Plus hunger makes people weak and a lot more vulnerable to Zeds. (And by people, I mean you, asshole. You aren’t immune to any of these effects just because you think you’re a tough guy.)
  • Medicine — One bite probably ain’t gonna kill you. Unless it goes septic. Then you’re fucked. Oh, and then there was poor fucking Brent with his weak-ass immune system. How you gonna die of pneumonia? Long story short: everyone’s paranoid about every sneeze or cough now, so you’ll find your antibiotics, antihistamines, cough suppressants, and everything else disappearing mysteriously whenever anyone feels a tiny tickle in the back of their throat.
  • Ammo — Hey, I enjoy bashing in a Zed skull as much as anyone, but if you’re up close enough to hit them, you’re close enough for them to grab you, right? When everyone has guns and ammo, staying alive is a hell of a lot easier. (Just make sure your people attach suppressors to their guns. Some people are dumb enough to think they can walk into town, go all Expendables, and not get mobbed.)
  • Building materials — I used to live in this shithole apartment down in Marshall. Damn roof would leak every winter. Had this one window that wouldn’t shut right. And that was without psycho flesh-eating Hordes attacking multiple times a day. Point is, you want to make sure you’ve got that angle bracket and those nails handy in advance. Don’t worry about putting together a specific shopping list, just get building Materials of every kind you can find so that no matter what happens, you’ll have it covered. (Plus, you should consider some construction projects, like maybe a locked Storage area. I bet that’d slow down how fast everything gets used up if people had to be more conspicuous about grabbing stuff.)
  • Fuel — I’m not really worried about any cars running out of gas just yet, but a good old-fashioned Molotov full of gasoline instead of alcohol is the shit. Plus if we ever want to get some power tools working up in here, we’re going to need some gas-powered generators, I’m pretty sure.

A couple more points:

  •  Make sure you have enough beds — Yeah, you’re gonna have a hard time getting people to stick around if they’re all sleeping on floors or sharing some nasty-ass bed that hasn’t had a proper wash since god knows when. And tired people are cranky. But that’s not the biggest problem. The biggest problem is that if you don’t get enough rest, you’re tired. And that, my friends, is the number one risk to your health when you are out and about.
  •  Electricity — Honestly, you get used to not having electricity a lot quicker than I would have expected, but like I said before I know there are things we could do if we had some generators.
  •  Pay attention – Fact of the matter is: bad shit is gonna happen, but we’re getting better at seeing it coming. So when you identify a problem, like some whiner starts crying about a really feral, aggressive-looking Zed near the church (or wherever), it doesn’t matter that you know he’s a coward. That’s the universe giving your punk ass fair notice. Hunt it down and kill it or set up some defenses for it or, well, do SOMETHING, cuz otherwise, you’re probably gonna find it ate two of your friends while you were sleeping.

~ Sam Hoffman

P.S. So Will says I can be a little Insensitive. Hey, I’m okay with that. I learned a long ass time ago that there are two kinds of people in this world: the ones with a sense of humor, and the ones who can go fuck themselves.

KITCHEN

I would strongly advise against moving anywhere that you can’t actively defend.The Church already came with a Kitchen, and we’ve converted the pastor’s quarters into something of a Bunkhouse. We used to be less strict about keeping food in the Kitchen, but when you have so many people living in one space, it doesn’t take long for things to get messy. We thought it was just an annoyance at first, but after Sam woke up with rats scurrying around the bedroom, we had to insist on a little more structure. In any case, the Kitchen has served us well since then. All food stays there and stays sealed. I would advise any other group do the same.

The first things we built ourselves were the Watchtower and the Infirmary. I’ve already touched on the value of the Watchtower, and I see that Pastor William has explained the importance of the Infirmary, but there are a lot of other things we should consider building.

Ultimately that may be what makes us move on. I believe there’s only room for a few more Facilities here, and if we gather any more survivors, we will need to seriously consider finding a larger home.  The (former) Kirkman residence down the road has a good wall and a little more room to work with. It also has a Kitchen and that tool shed may even have a halfway decent Workshop already Built In. So we wouldn’t even have to set it up ourselves. If we want to make that move, I think we’ll need to stockpile building Materials for a bit first. We’ll need to reinforce the walls right away as soon as we move in. Something to consider.

I know there are other, larger places to consider too, but I would strongly advise against moving anywhere that you can’t actively defend. If you don’t have enough people to guard all the walls, the place is too big for you.

~ Thomas Ritter

OTHER COMMUNITIES

As our reputation grows, you can bet your ass other survivors will ask to join us.Face it. Some of us are better equipped than others to handle situations like this. Honestly, I would have thought this crisis would weed out the incompetents faster than it has, but maybe it’s just because those of us with a little know-how are working so hard to protect everyone else.

Anyway, my point is this: We’ve got a decent enough crew at the church, but when I look at those other fools out there, it’s a marvel that any of them are still alive. Sometimes you get one of those guys who’s trying to gather up supplies in some location that you already scouted, and he offers to split the goods. You’ve run into that, right? Goddamn freeloaders.

Once that stuff’s been looted, it’s gone forever. It’s a waste to let some idiot who isn’t going to survive the week use up valuable resources that would do more good feeding you and yours, but I’ve still done it. It’s just in my nature to protect the little guy, I guess.

Well, you do that kind of thing and word gets out. Fame may be too strong a term, but basically, your actions build a reputation. As our reputation grows, bet your ass other survivors will ask to join us. Hell, a few people have already approached me when I was out scouting. But we have to be selective. If you can’t pull your weight, you’re just another mouth to feed.

~ Alan Gunderson

COMMERCE

Maybe Alan’s right that we can’t just invite every stranger we meet to join us, but we’re not alone and we shouldn’t act like we are.

In a survival situation like this, you realize pretty quick that you and everyone else are mentally keeping score.It didn’t take long after everything went to hell for most of us to decide that money (aka, legal “tinder”) wasn’t worth risking your life over. So we all pretty much settled on one currency from the beginning: cases of ammunition. Most people are willing to trade a little surplus Food or Medicine or building Materials for Ammo, and if we ever managed to have a surplus, we could probably exchange that for Ammo from someone as well.

So most major transactions involve Ammo, but there’s another economy, another currency, that most people don’t consider. You think you don’t spend every hour of every day actively bargaining, but in a survival situation like this, you realize pretty quick that you and everyone else are keeping score mentally whether you mean to or not.

The way I like to visualize it is this: Every day, you start with a certain amount of Influence. The more Fame you’ve acquired with your actions, the more Influence you start with. Every time you take something extra from the emergency supply locker, every time you convince the community to build Garden instead of a combat Training Area, every time you Radio Home to have someone else come collect all that hefty loot you found in somebody’s garage, you’re spending that Influence.

This definitely works inside your community, but I’d believe you may even be able to do the same with neighboring survivor groups if you earn their Trust even a little bit. The “exchange rate” might not be as good as at home, but as long as you’re on good terms with people, it’s worth a shot. As much as things have changed, some things are the same as they always were: if you want something from somebody, the most important thing is just knowing how to ask.

~ Jacob Ritter

CONTACT LIST

If we can make contact with other survivors, I bet they’ll be willing to help us out.One of the great things about the radio is our ability to contact other communities. Different people have different strengths and weaknesses. (Take my brother, for example. He’s not so good in a fight, but he’s awesome at being a huge dork. Driving. I meant driving.) So I think there are lots of opportunities for us to help each other out. Alan talked about running into someone when he was out scouting. That happens sometimes, for sure, but not every encounter has to happen in person.

The other day, someone contacted us by radio and asked for some Construction Advice from my dad. That was really simple and he was happy to help out. That’s our special thing we can offer. I’m sure other communities have people with special talents or knowledge as well. If we can just make contact and convince them that working together makes sense, I bet they’ll be willing to help us out on occasion.

~ Lily Ritter

WORKSHOP

Encounters with the Dead are unavoidable and the wear and tear on our equipment adds up quickly.I agreed with Pastor William that our first priority had to be setting up an Infirmary, but the next step is a bigger decision. Maybe it’s the tool shed at the Kirkman place that’s giving me ideas, but I think we need to build a Workshop. We’ll need a decent set of tools and a good dedicated work area if we want to do any serious construction projects (like the Storage area Sam has recommended).

Just as important, a Workshop would be the key to us keeping all our weapons and guns in good shape. Encounters with the Dead are unavoidable and the wear and tear on our equipment adds up quickly. I think we could manage the repairs as one of our background maintenance tasks, just like the wall repairs. As with everything, we’ll take shifts, and as long as we have materials and tools for it, every weapon left in the supply locker gets checked out and worked on overnight.

If we really equip our workshop well, I could even imagine us doing some rudimentary auto repairs. That’s probably getting ahead of the game a little bit, but I’d still argue that a workshop of some sort would be a good second priority.

~ Thomas Ritter

TERRITORY CONTROL

This way we’re just dealing with the one horde at a time.It’s a fluid situation out there. With my years in law enforcement, I’ve got a pretty good handle on how to track this kind of information, though. The immediate area around our home, that’s a protected area, a little island of security. Once we built the Watchtower, that island got bigger. Any time we’re willing to burn some ammo with some long-range sniping, it gets even bigger for a little while.

Roving Hordes still find us, but this way we’re just dealing with the one horde at a time, at least.

Out there, in the town and beyond, some of the buildings are completely Infested. We try to scout periodically to identify the Infestations. You do not want to run into one of those accidentally. From what I’ve seen, the more Infestations that are near us, the more often we get attacked by Hordes. That’s why Sam and I make it a point to go clear them out periodically. Helps keep Morale up for everyone else too.

We haven’t done it yet, but we’ve been talking about trying to set up an Outpost away from the church. I figure it’d let us create a smaller protected area, making Supply Runs anywhere nearby much safer, it’d let us gradually gather Resources from the Outpost too, and we’d keep it stocked so it would be a place you could duck in and Resupply when you were out on patrol.

~ Alan Gunderson

Just for the record, that outpost shit was my idea.

~ Sam Hoffman

MOVING FORWARD

I know there are more ideas, more approaches to survival that we have yet to discover.We will continue to add this journal as we can, but I hope this gives you some idea of how to get started. Try building facilities like Infirmaries and Watchtowers to help protect your people and your home. Watch community Morale as a whole, but also tend to the Attitudes and Injuries of individuals.

Think about using stealth whenever possible and coordinating via radio. You can even contact other survivors that way. Maintain your stockpiles of the big five resources (food, medicine, ammo, materials, and fuel) whether by scavenging or trading with other groups.

Scout for infestations and clear them out when you can. Take on any hordes that threaten your home and consider setting up outposts to reclaim some of the territory around you. Most importantly, we try to end each day with as many people as we had the day before.

Or find your own way. This is just what seems to be working for us. I know there are more ideas, more approaches to survival that we have yet to discover. That’s okay. We’re just doing our best to keep learning and keep surviving. Day by day.

~ Thomas Ritter

08.10.12
News

Who Do You Think You Are?

It strikes out of the blue.

You’re at home on the sofa. You promised you’d watch this one tonight, but you’re choosing the movie next time for sure. You grab another handful of popcorn and shake your head involuntarily. You’re at the store late at night, not entirely remembering what you came to buy. The day is a blur of exhaustion, but you still wonder where the hours all went. You’re headed down the highway, music cranked, singing along to a song you haven’t heard in years. Reminds you of a better time.

It catches you off guard.

You’re mowing the lawn. It’s way too damn hot, but when there’s shit to get done, you do it. You’re drinking some coffee and updating your status on Facebook. Was that a glance from two tables over? You hesitate before saying hello. You’re out for a little target practice. Just fired off the last round of .45 ACP. Needed to blow off some steam.

Ultimately, you don’t choose the moment. You don’t choose the situation. You don’t even choose yourself.

The apocalypse doesn’t wait for you grab your Go Bag, and the world doesn’t freeze while you reconsider your height or hair color. You don’t get to min-max your attributes to game the situation. When everything goes to hell, you are who you are; you have what you have. And once the crisis hits, it waits for no one.

This is how it would happen in the real world. This is how it will happen in Class3.

When Class3 starts, you’re dropped into the world without any detours into character creation, and your first goal is simply to survive. So does that mean you never have control over who you are? You’re assigned to be Niko or Marsden or Ezio and that’s that? No, not at all. If you rescue other survivors and earn their trust, you can switch off and play as them.

Your first goal is simply to survive.You are responsible for not just yourself, but for the whole community of survivors that you gather. By and large, it’s up to you whether or not you rescue other people, and it’s up to you to earn their trust, but the smart move is going to be building a strong community. Because there’s one thing that we can very nearly guarantee:

You are going to die.

When someone is dead, that’s it.The zombies are relentless, and any mistake can be fatal. Odds are, you will die many times and in many ways. Bitten, bloodied, torn in half. Taking a turn too fast in some dead lawyer’s sports car. Sickened, poisoned, heaving and shuddering at the end. Charred and broken, victim of your own ill-timed firebomb. Weak from hunger, struggling to get away, but failing to find the energy to break free. You’re going to die as Marcus, despite his determination and strength. You’re going to die as Maya, despite her military training and keen eye. You’re going to die as Ed, despite his speed and stealthiness. And once dead, they won’t come back.

As we’ve said in “Everyone Dies,” you can’t load an earlier saved game. When someone is dead, that’s it.

It is your community that goes on. Your strategy is up to you, but your best bet is to gather together a good mix of survivors. This was one of the first core concepts for us when we started Class3: The most valuable thing you can find is not a stash of food or ammunition or medicine or any particular weapon or vehicle. More than anything, you need to find someone you can count on. Someone who can watch your back. Someone who can cover for your weaknesses.

I wouldn’t want to try to make a pipe bomb without some really solid background knowledge.Face it. No one is good at everything. In Class3, survivors have many different talents. Some are more or less useful than others, but no one covers every situation. Some talents help you in the field (gotta love anyone who wasn’t a couch potato before the apocalypse), while others help you at home (I, for one, wouldn’t want to try to make a homemade pipe bomb without some really solid background knowledge). Other talents, like an extensive knowledge of celebrity gossip or, well, strong computer skills serve no purpose.

Most survivors are bad at a few things as well. Some weaknesses are obvious. Someone with a bum knee has a hard time staying crouched and sneaking around for long distances. Someone with shaky hands can’t shoot worth a damn. But some weakness are less obvious. Try to round up every hardcore, survivalist alpha male you can find and you may find them at each others’ throats unless you’ve got a good peacemaker, joker, or storyteller to smooth things over.

You’ll have to decide between helping a friend or hurrying home to make sure everyone else survives.The other big thing to understand is that Class3 moves forward in real time. All the time. This means that people who seem to be in danger actually are. They won’t survive forever. Leave them alone while you stock up on ammo or choose to help some other group, and you may return to find nothing but zombies and the tattered remnants of their survival gear. At times you’ll have to decide between helping out a friend who is under attack or hurrying home to make sure everyone else survives the latest zombie assault.

The state of the world even progresses when you aren’t playing. Crises happen at a slower rate while you are away (we have to leave you some time to sleep, eat, work/study, etc.), but the need for food and medicine and ammo and construction materials never stops entirely. This 24/7 real-time nature of the game also includes the need to rest up and to get a good night’s sleep.

The more punishment you take, the more likely that you’ll want to switch over to someone who’s rested up.Humans can be incredibly resilient and resourceful, but we have limitations. The dead never slow down. They never grow weary. The same cannot be said for you. Food can give you a temporary energy boost. Painkillers can numb you and keep you on your feet, but eventually you must rest. The more things you do and the more punishment you take, the more likely that you’ll want to switch off and take control of someone who’s rested up and ready to go.

So you’ll be out there looking for food and fuel and ammo, but even more so, you’ll be looking for people. People you hope to be able to call friend. People who can help you grow a garden or build fortifications. People who are strong or know how to repair damaged firearms. People with medical training or who know a lot about cars. You don’t get to manufacture the other survivors out of thin air to meet your needs. No, you find them and choose to befriend them warts and all, working first to earn their trust.

You can choose to leave everyone else to their fate, and come back later and loot their stuff. Is that who you want to be?Of course, you can focus on your own immediate needs and choose to leave everyone else to their fate, hoping instead to come back later and loot what’s left of their stuff. That is up to you. You can try to survive without rescuing anyone. That is your choice to make.

But think about whether or not that’s who you want to be. Before the apocalypse comes, you don’t have any warning. You don’t get to tweak your stats to be the ultimate survivor. You don’t choose what you have. You don’t choose who you are. But afterwards, once the shit hits the fan, the real decisions begin. Your choices define you as much as any talent or skill stat.

All your choices matter. And you must live with the consequences.

~ Phinney

(8/17/12 followup questions answered here: http://undeadlabs.com/2012/08/news/followup-qa-customization/)

To discuss this with the rest of the Undead community, please click the comment button for a ride over to the forums.

Everyone Dies

The zombie apocalypse is coming. You want to know how everything works. How dangerous is it? How can you protect yourself? We have the answers, but how much can we really say?

Mystery and uncertainty are a big part of the zombie canon. You shouldn’t go in knowing all the ins and outs. You shouldn’t feel like everything is perfectly understood. The unknown is part of the drama, and the seeking answers is part of the challenge.

So today, we’ll share what we can. It’s not a catalogue of spoilers from the dev team. Instead, what follows are the thoughts and observations of a fellow survivor in McMillanville.

It starts with a single, stark fact of life: Everyone dies.


Day 17

Reckon I can’t think of a more bullshit situation. And that’s a fact. When one of us dies, we come back as one of them. Our loss is their gain. Randy thinks the bites do it. He figures it’s something in the saliva or bodily fluids or some such thing. It’s hard to say. These days, ain’t like it’s easy to find someone who hasn’t been scratched or bitten at some point.

Shay’s got another theory. Says maybe we were all infected already. I don’t know if that scares me or not. Maybe that means we can find a cure. Maybe it means we’re all fucked. I just know this: so far, every one of my friends who’s died has come back.

The first time we had to put down someone we knew, I almost couldn’t do it. But then it went after Shay, and I just reacted. Later, my buddy Chuck asked the question we were all thinking: When these people die and get back up, are they still themselves? Deep inside, can they still think or feel? Do they have any choice? And did we?

But experience has answered that one, time and time again. We’ve seen how they act, more instinct than thought. And we’ve all seen that look. We’ve seen it in their eyes. Just hatred and hunger. Not one ounce of humanity left. Better that way anyway. It’s not your friend. It’s just a shell. It’s just a shell.


Day 18

Put more of the bastards down today. It’s crazy to think about how much things have changed. I still remember the day we started calling them zombies. Sounded fake at first. Like something out of a fucking horror movie, but what else would you call them? You see a man die — stone cold dead — and then get up and walk. And there ain’t no way to put one down but remove its head or destroy its brains. Wasn’t too long before we got real comfortable with the term.

They say the first one’s always the worst, and I’m sure as hell not going to argue. I pumped ten bullets to the torso of that fucking waitress and she just kept coming. Took a bullet to the brain to finally drop her. Lucky for me, she was one of the slow ones. If she wasn’t, who knows? I’d probably be shambling around with the rest of them.


Day 19

Everybody knows Randy’s the best shot, but he’s getting cocky. Today, he used that big ole Remlinger 700 to shoot a leg and an arm off of one. I swear he was aiming for the extremities just outta sport. The thing goes down, of course, but keeps on crawling. Never seen one deterred by pain, and that’s a fact. Well, Randy walks right up to it and caves in its skull. Stomp, stomp with his boot heel.

Reckless son of a bitch if you ask me, but he’s a sure shot, and I know we’re lucky he joined us. Just need to find a way to put his sharpshooting abilities to more reliable use.


Day 20

Can’t take nothing for granted. Tried to build a kind of guard tower for Randy out of oil drums and two-by-fours. Damn thing tumbled and nearly cracked open my skull.

Soon as Chuck and I have our talk about why duct tape is not a substitute for a 3¼ inch nail — even if it is “abundantly quieter than all that hammering” — we’re gonna hit the veterinary clinic. Shay’s right that we lucked out this time, and our old collection of first aid kits is running a bit on the thin side these days. We need to secure a more comprehensive inventory of medications and medical supplies in case we’re not so lucky next time.


Day 21

Bad fucking day today. Bad fucking day.


Day 22

I don’t know if Chuck’s gonna make it. He’s starting to have that look. I do know I don’t want to be the one to do it…if it comes down to the mercy shot.

We try to look out for each other. Usually, when someone goes down, we’re able to drag ‘em to safety. Had some pretty impressive escapes a time or two, even when someone started off on their own, we got there in time. You might lose some of the stuff you were carrying and be outta commission for a bit, but it’s better than the alternative.

Hell, I’m pretty careful, but everyone screws up on occasion. A time or two, I’ve turned a corner while bringing home a duffel of soup cans or some such thing and found myself face-to-face with a whole horde of zombies. Next thing I knew, I was waking up in the infirmary or over with the Wilson boys…back when they were still among the living and breathing.

Can’t push your luck though. How many times can you count on getting rescued in a situation like that? Not many, I reckon.

Because of some of the scrapes we’ve survived, people sometimes look at me and Chuck like we’re invincible, but we know better. Fact of the matter is there’s nothing magical or special about either of us. Every day we stare down death, and every day we face the risk of extermination. There’s no Ctrl-Z or reload to save us.  And once you’re dead, you’re one of them. There’s nothing you can do to control it or fight it. It’s a done deal. The best you can hope for is that your friends carry on in your memory.

Well, don’t count on it, Chuck. I’ll be damned if I’m ready to make any memorials for you. You got no choice. You have to pull through. You have to.


Day 23

Fever and chills for Chuck today. He has the glazed over look in his eyes that we’ve all seen before. Shay asked me what happened out there. Always treating everything like it’s a puzzle that can be solved, that girl.

I told her we took our precautions. We’ve been carrying food and medicine with us on our scavenging runs, like she insisted. Give yourself a burst of energy or heal up a wound and help you keep going. It can help you out of jam, but you have to think about weight. Sure, we could have taken more with us, but the weight is a killer. She knows that. The more you carry, the faster you wear out.

She wanted details, but what was there to say? We got tired, but those bastards never slow down, and they never get tired. Ain’t too hard to ward off a single swipe or attempted bite from a zombie, but when you’re exhausted, when you get surrounded, you can’t…you can’t keep your feet. They tug at you, drag you down.

What could I tell her?  Chuck got all tore up. I helped him to his feet, but there were so many… he was taken down again. We were lucky to get him back home in one piece.

I couldn’t really finish the story. We looked in on Chuck together. Saw the same thing. He might not make it. I didn’t say anything, but she leaned in and real quiet like said, “I’ll do it. If it needs to be done.” Don’t know where she gets the strength.


Day 25

Hell of a day yesterday. Randy says that karma is on our side. Wouldn’t have taken him for a buddhist or hindu or whatever that is.

A car wrecks half a block from our little stronghold — I can call it that now that the guard tower is stable — and the commotion brings a mess of zombies. The driver’s still alive, but Shay doesn’t think that trying to get to him is worth the risk. “He’ll be one of them by the time we get there,” she says.

Randy ignores her and looks to me to make the call. “I’ll go,” he offers, plain as that.

“Just cover me, asshole,” I answer and head out to get him. To her credit, Shay comes with.

The repeated report of Randy’s Remlinger behind us has the simultaneous effect of thinning the zombie numbers ahead of us and drawing some away from the car. The fuckers do have a spiteful attraction to loud noises.

The driver’s still alive when we get there, and we learn, once he’s safely back home with us, that he’s a doctor, an actual licensed MD. He’d been holed up at the church with a few others but when things turned to shit, he grabbed a car and tried to get the hell outta dodge.

Hope to God he’s a better doctor than he is a driver.


Day 26

The good doctor shows his gratitude by tending to Chuck. Popping a Tylenol is about as much as I know about medicine, so I can’t say exactly what the doc did. All I know is that whatever it was helped Chuck turn the corner. This morning, he was even up and moving around a little.

Doc says Chuck’ll be kind of low energy for the next day or so, but the talk of a mercy shot is behind us. The doctor’s still got a busted up leg from the wreck, so he won’t be able to join us on supply runs for a while. That’s okay by me. I think we might prefer to keep him safe and sound at home anyway. He can still treat people with a bad wheel, and that’s what matters.

Maybe Randy’s right. Karma’s on our side. Think I might head to the church tomorrow, see if anyone else made it and needs our help. We’ve been treading water too damn long. It’s time to start trying to build something.


This is the heart of Class3. It’s a game that’s not just about fighting zombies — it’s focused on the dangers and struggles of post-apocalyptic survival. To us, this means making your choices matter. It means giving you freedom with consequences, and sometimes those consequences are harsh: your community can be wiped out, and all characters (including yours) are at risk of permanent death.

This is a risky design choice and one that could easily lead to a game that’s only for the most hardcore players, but that’s not our goal. We are always guided by two words: fun first. That’s why getting overwhelmed in a single fight won’t instantly get you zombified. It’s also why you’ll get clear warning signs if a character is close to succumbing, and why there are ways to build on your legacy if someone doesn’t make it.

As development moves forward, we’ll continue to test, tweak, and balance a lot of these mechanics, but our guiding principles have never changed.

For a lot of you, I know this article will only whet your appetite for more information. (That’s good, right?) While I’m sticking to my guns about not giving everything away before the game is even out, I’m sure there are a lot of questions we can answer right now. If you’ve got one, hit reply, and fire away.

We’ll do a follow-up Q&A article next week.

Phinney

No World Order

The setting is our world. The time is now, except everything’s completely gone to shit and it’s happened fast. You don’t know why or how any of this happened. The only thing you know is that dead people are up and walking and that, if you’re not careful, they will kill you too. Is the crisis worldwide or isolated? It’s hard to say. You’re cut off from the outside world and everything around you is in total chaos.

This is the starting point for our open world zombie survival game, code named ‘Class3’. If you’re a zombie fan, you’ve thought about this scenario before. There are three big elements. The first is the zombies themselves. You have to figure out how you’ll kill them, how to escape them, and how to avoid them in the future. The second is other people. They may want to help you. They may want to harm you. That’s where things start to get really interesting.

And then there’s that third element: the world around you. Maybe you’ve never thought of it in those terms before, but odds are the environment plays a key role every time you picture the zombie apocalypse. It’s not just a backdrop. It’s a place full of buildings to explore and loot, abandoned cars for making a quick escape, firearms to collect and use, food stockpiles to raid, hiding places to duck into, and propane tanks to turn into the world’s brightest and most short-lived zombie welcome signs. It’s a world of endless possibilities.

Today, I want to share our vision for the world of Class3.

As always, our starting point is thinking about the essence of zombie survival. At its core, what does survival actually mean? Well, it’s not getting your guts ripped out by zombies, for sure, but there’s a lot more to it. In those first desperate moments, survival is a matter of action and stealth. Grabbing a chair or a crowbar or an axe and busting some zombie skulls or, if you happen to find one, breaking out a 9 mm and trying to headshot the zeds. But once you’ve escaped that immediate danger, you’ll have a whole new set of challenges. You’re going to need somewhere safe to sleep, and you’ll need to figure out how to get everything you need to survive: food, water, medicine, weapons, tools, and ammunition.

Deciding where, when and how to collect and protect these things is up to you. You’ll choose where to set up camp. Will you hide out in an abandoned house, seek shelter in a cabin in the woods, turn the county fairgrounds into a fortress, try to run a farm, set up in your favorite pub, or look for something else?

You’ll also need to decide whether to go it alone or team up with others. People complicate things, bringing in issues of morale and trust and teamwork. Still, as I’ve discussed before, there are a lot of advantages to having friends. Surviving as a lone wolf is hard and few will be up to the task.

There’s also how you approach day-to-day survival: Walking or driving, sneaking around or shootin’ up the joint. You’ll want to consider your actions carefully, though. Fuel and ammo are scarce resources, and nothing draws a crowd of zombies faster than making a lot of noise. If you’re going to battle a massive horde head on, you’d better have an escape route planned and either a well-disguised hideout for laying low or a fortified stronghold to make your stand.

So how do we ensure something so free-form makes sense to everyone? We think the key is having a world that is as intuitive, logical and consistent as possible. So, of course, we’re going to put things where you’d expect them. If I asked you to list the best places to acquire medicine, you’d probably say a hospital or a pharmacy. You’d probably guess that you can find food in a supermarket or guns and ammo in a police station. A lot of buildings are iconic, letting you know what’s inside as soon as you see one. (Okay, you may not know how many zombies or scavengers or shotgun-wielding maniacs are inside, but you’ll know the firehouse has some axes.)

At the same time, a sense of exploration and discovery is very important, so we’re putting a lot of work into letting you explore. We want to give you access to every single building that could have something you want. For a polished game with the kind of visual quality we want, this is a bold goal. It’s difficult from a technical and production standpoint, but it’s a challenge we’ve enjoyed taking on. So far, so good.

The aim of being intuitive doesn’t just apply to places where you find resources, but also to the sites you may claim and call home. Once you’ve chosen a location for your base, you’ll have choices to make about fortifications, facilities, and population. Want to build a guard tower in the northeast corner to have a better sniping spot when a zombie horde comes shambling down Main Street? You can do that. Would you rather focus on gardening and growing food, or do you think it’s more valuable to improve your medical facilities? It’s up to you.

“Horror is most striking when the alien, terrible, and profane collide with the familiar…”A zombie survival plan isn’t just about the big choices, though — it’s also about the moment-to-moment decisions. We believe the environment should be a playground, full of fun opportunities for movement and interaction.

Maybe you ring a church bell or scatter a group of birds to make a diversion for a raid. You swim across the river to get to your destination, creeping along a low garden wall and hiding yourself in the bushes on the outskirts. You reach a fence, lean back against it, and shimmy to the edge, where you peek out to check for zeds. All clear — now for the house. Are you going to go in through the front door or climb up to that second story balcony? Things get ugly after you’re inside, and you go sliding over a table, guns blazing before ducking behind the couch for cover. When you realize you can’t hold the position, you shoot out a window and dive through the shattering glass to make your escape.

We’ve been implementing a lot of those behaviors just recently, but we knew early on they would be a part of the game. That’s when we started thinking seriously about the specifics of the Class3 setting.

Immediately we had to tackle the question of diversity. In a survival situation, terrain types matter a lot. Rural areas have fewer people, which probably means fewer zombies (except when that occasional super-horde comes rolling through). They also have more space for growing and hunting for food. On the other hand, urban areas offer a lot more convenience. Especially in the beginning, there’d be a lot of resources and gear to loot to give yourself a head start. The really dense areas offer something else as well — lots of places to hide. But just talking about those two extremes is an oversimplification. There’s a whole range. A small town isn’t rural, but it isn’t remotely the same as a big city. There’s a lot of variety out there and different places are a better fit for different survival plans, so we talked about all the possibilities and knew we shouldn’t pick just one.

If you’ve been looking at the concept art we’ve posted, you already know a lot about the environment we’re building. Doug’s inspiration came not far from home, in the diverse climes of Eastern Washington: mountains, rivers, cities, one-stoplight towns, and farmland far as the eye can see. This region had all the variety we were seeking.

It also happens to be an area a lot of us know pretty well (here’s a picture of Shaun’s hometown), but there’s another reason we chose it — the essence of horror is familiarity. Horror is most striking when the alien, terrible, and profane collide with the familiar and the personal. That’s a big part of what makes a present day zombie story so compelling in the first place, and it’s why McMillanville looks the way it does. Maybe it was a little tattered and worn, even before the big outbreak, but it was still a place that evoked a core, idealized picture of human society…right up until all hell broke loose.

These last few months, we’ve been running around in the 16 square kilometers of varied terrain and architecture that form the Class3 world. It has forests, windy mountain roads, highways, rivers, farmland, fairgrounds, train tracks and tunnels, mid-sized McMillanville, the eastern edge of Dunniway City, and other little townships and clusters of civilization scattered around the area. The whole shebang. Of course, things will change here and there as we polish and tune the experience. Things will get moved, cut, remade, and replaced. That’s the reality of game development.

I will say this, though: So far, we love it. The world that Dave and James are building has been a fantastic playground for fighting zombies, climbing onto and over things, ducking into police stations in search of guns and ammo, driving around like a madman, plowing through zombie hordes, and leading scavengers on raids for supplies.

It’s our world. It’s now. It’s the perfect setting for the zombie apocalypse.

Phinney

Survival From The Dead

We’ve been talking a lot about zombie behavior recently. Think of it like observing zombies in the wild – Discovery Undead or Mutual of Zombieland, if you know what I mean. When they’re not trying to eat you, what will they be doing? This sparks discussions rife with images of both horror and comedy. A stranger trapped in a car surrounded by zombies. A zombie trapped in a car with no clue how to get out. We definitely want a mix of both elements in our game, but at heart, we are trying to create a serious zombie survival experience.

For every zombified hipster still staring down at his iPhone or stumbling shambler bumping into a wall and looking around in confusion before doing it again, we’ll need a lot of zeds on the prowl, showing their rage and their insatiable hunger. We need to be true to the one defining principle of zombie survival lore:

Zombies are freakin’ scary.

The terror starts at first sight. We’re used to seeing zombies in movies and games, but think about it. In person, an animated corpse would trigger our most primal instinctive responses of revulsion and fear — we’re hard wired to be afraid of physical disease, to be repulsed by rotting flesh, to mistrust unpredictable behavior, and of course, to dread the very thought of death. It’s only natural that we’d be freaked out by death incarnate shambling (or sprinting) towards us in an ever-growing horde.

Zombies will never let you rest “…we’re hard wired to be afraid of physical disease, to be repulsed by rotting flesh, to mistrust unpredictable behavior, and of course, to dread the very thought of death.” because they never rest, and never slow down. You can’t out wait them — their patience and desire to hunt you down will last forever. You might outrun a slow horde of them for a while, but you’ll never be able to settle down and feel safe because where there’s one, there’s fifty. No matter how far you run and no matter how many you take out, they’ll eventually find you again.

And when they do find you, there will be no discussion or negotiation. There’s nothing you can say to a zombie to keep it from attacking you, and there’s no noise or body language you can use to scare it off. Zombies care more about killing you than they do about their own preservation. So even though they may look a lot like us, they’re a sort of blank mirror. The very things that make us human — our emotions, stance, inflection, body movements, expressions, and the thousands of other little things that communicate our thoughts are gone. When facing a zombie, we face a reflection of ourselves that embodies everything that isn’t human.

Zombies do not simply seek to kill you. They want to consume you. If you fight a zombie, you’d better destroy it, find a way to escape, or pray to god someone will rescue you before it is too late. Defeat can only end in two ways: you’re torn apart and eaten alive, or you’re infected and turn into a zombie yourself. Not pretty. You must learn to cope with being hunted if you want to live. Humans aren’t used to having predators — especially ones that look like us or worse, used to be our friends and loved ones.

That’s where things get truly difficult. To survive, we may be forced to sacrifice some of our own humanity. Maybe this means you’ll find yourself in a situation where you need to make the choice between leaving a friend behind to die or dying yourself. Maybe it means not sharing food and water with people desperately in need because you know you’ll need it yourself. Maybe it means turning away an injured stranger because you’re afraid they will turn. Or maybe this means having to face your recently turned mother, father, spouse, or child. Even when the right answer is clear, the choice may not be easy. There, perhaps, lies the ultimate horror.

“The dangers and horrors of a fictional zombie apocalypse are deeply similar to the real hazards we face when order breaks down from natural disasters, extended power outages, riots, disease outbreaks, and other catastrophes.”But let’s say that somehow, despite everything, you’re still not afraid. After all, zombies are just stinking, mindless, uncoordinated, fragile lumps of rotting flesh and bone, right? You’ll find a way to outwit them, you tell yourself. Well, even if you do, you’re going to have to deal with those who have survived. Zombies give us all the motivation in the world to turn on each other. Your ultimate survival plan needs to protect you from zeds, but the more you succeed at that, the more you become a target for every other desperate, ruthless survivor out there.

On top of all that, I think one of the reasons zombies resonate with us is that there is a kind of realism to them. The dangers and horrors of a fictional zombie apocalypse are deeply similar to the real hazards we face when order breaks down from natural disasters, extended power outages, riots, disease outbreaks, and other catastrophes. When we find  ourselves trapped together in urban areas with no real sources of food and water, the interdependent network of comforts, technologies and conveniences we’ve come to rely on disappears. We don’t know our neighbors (or our neighbors’ neighbors) well enough to truly trust them. We are uncertain about the safety of the chemicals, radiation and biological agents that surround us. And we know that governments and giant corporations may have agendas that may not be in our interest, but we’re powerless to do anything about it. It’s all the horrors of modern society, brought to life by the walking dead.

As we’re building our world, these are some of the feelings we want to capture. There will be hope too, and humor, and moments of triumph, but we want to start by giving you a challenge worth overcoming. We never want to lose sight of what the game’s all about — surviving the zombie apocalypse.

As always, we love to hear your opinions. What scares you about a zombie apocalypse? What excites you about it? What moments and feelings are you hoping we’ll capture? Post a comment and let us know.

Phinney

Keeping It Real

This is the mother of all zombie outbreaks, the F5 on the Fujita scale, the 10 according to Richter. The end is here, now. Standing against the tide are the survivors, one of whom you choose to control in a 3rd-person action game like no other. Your only quest is one of survival, you define the mission by how you define the word. Many will band together and work to improve their lives by building a society, utilizing skills and training from their former lives to rebuild infrastructure and order. Some will go it alone, preferring to scratch out their own safe harbor. All will have to face the rising tide of the undead, the perfect foe, a relentless enemy. All will fight.

That’s how Brant began his description of the game we were envisioning. His words evoked a picture of players taking on the challenge of long-term survival in the face of the zombie apocalypse, including everything from pulse-pounding combat to strategic decisions about where to make a stand. We saw this premise as an opportunity to make an online world focused on player-driven experience instead of static, treadmill content.

In short, we would empower you to try out your real-world zombie-survival plan.

We were rapidly forming a high level picture of the game:

  • Zombie survival. We start with an unwavering focus on bringing the whole zombie survival experience to life. It’s not just combat. It’s about meeting survival needs. Food, water, shelter, ammo… You’ll need them all.
  • Amazing action. Absolutely zero compromise on the moment-to-moment look, feel, and fun factor of the game. You shouldn’t have to put up with unexciting mechanics just because they’re packaged in an addictive wrapper. The game must play like a great console action game.
“Great action gameplay is about responsiveness and feel, but it’s also about freedom…”
  • An evolving, dynamic world. These sound like buzzwords you’ve heard so many times before, but for us it’s a real goal: creating a game where players’ choices and ability to build have permanent impact on the world. It informs everything we do design-wise.
  • Player choice and empowerment. Every one of the points above is tied to this. A survival situation is about making choices. Great action gameplay is about responsiveness and feel, but it’s also about freedom, and the way to have an evolving, dynamic world is to empower players to affect that world.

So there we were last summer, breaking things down feature by feature. The pieces were falling into place quickly. Every conversation about booby-trapped vehicles or zombie dismemberment seemed to trigger someone saying, “Damn. When do I get to play it?” But enthusiasm doesn’t automatically mean success. We were talking about an ambitious concept with real design and implementation challenges, and that’s why today’s press release and our follow-up Q&A document describes two games, code-named ‘Class3′ and ‘Class4′.

To explain why, I’ll need to share some development philosophy. There are whole conferences dedicated to the topic, but here’s my short list:

  • Know what you’re making. This is a point Jeff emphasized early on. “You know the number one reason projects fail? Because not everyone on the development team is trying to make the same game.” Sound crazy? You might be surprised. Especially with larger teams, it can be a challenge to keep everyone on the same page. Right from the start, Jeff challenged me to define three pillars for the game — three sentences that would represent our goals and guide us throughout development. “These three pillars should never change.” It took 20 minutes. [And will be the subject of a future post! -- Emily]
  • Commit to greatness. By and large, people are in this business because of their love of games. They hunger to make something great; they dream of creating a classic; but there are a hundred things that can derail that ambition. Some are internal, but many are external: budget, schedule, morale, direction, support, etc. Are they helping the game be great or are they sabotaging the process? We know Microsoft shares our goals and believes in our vision for this game and when they want to support something, they have the muscle to do it.
  • Put your ideas to the test. We all make mistakes. Even me. (Er, even I?) Luckily, avoiding mistakes isn’t actually the key to success; it’s finding them fast and being willing to fix them. That’s why so many development tips are ways to put your ideas to the test early and often: Hiring only gamers. Rapid prototyping. Agile development. Philosophy of iteration. Strong tools and pipeline that allow rapid refinements. Usability tests. All of these help you catch mistakes and fix them quickly.

You probably know that most online world games are buggy and incomplete at first. It’s not because the teams suck. The games are so big and complex that it’s hard to make one that functions, much less one that’s good. Teams can spend years trying to get all the big, complicated pieces into place before learning if their game is any fun. And that makes it hard for them to know what they’re making; it makes it hard, during that seemingly interminable slog, to continue to commit to greatness; and it makes it impossible to put their ideas to the test early and often. In other words, it’s not a formula for success.

So we asked ourselves if we could plan our project a different way. What if we didn’t tackle the full size and complexity of Class4 from the start? What if we committed to making the core gameplay fun first? Not as a little tech demo but as a fully-realized game. What would that look like?

  • You’d get the great action Foge promised. Melee combat, gun combat, driving and exploration. It wouldn’t need absolutely every gun and vehicle and zombie variation we could imagine, but more than anything, this part of the game would need to feel complete, not placeholder.
  • You’d be able to play with a friend. Cooperative play is a defining part of being in an online world, and it’s damn cool on consoles. We had to have it. With our online world experience, we’re comfortable not tackling every technical and performance challenge of having massive numbers of players running around at the same time just yet. We know how to solve those problems. To start, though, what we’d need is two-player cooperative play.
  • You’d be able to build. You should be able to decide where and how you want to find shelter. An isolated hideout for the night? A fortified base? How fortified? How many survivors do you bring together? Will you grow your food supply or scavenge for it? All these things should be up to you to decide.
  • You’d be in a dynamic, evolving world. We‘d also need our dynamic world systems designed and working. We wouldn’t have to implement every possible kind of change that can happen to the world — for example, we don’t need to tackle complex features like seasonal changes — but we would need enough to have the world feel genuinely alive.

We immediately dubbed this game ‘Class3′, and we could see it would be an ambitious but feasible XBLA game. The more we talked about it, the more we liked the idea. There was a lot to like:

We’d get real-world feedback about our game. Do you always avoid areas with Screamers? Are you complaining about the balance between machetes and chainsaws? Hell, do you want more involved farming options than we anticipated? The more feedback we get about Class3, the better Class4 will be. And not just the game. The team. Class3 is a chance to ramp up our community team and gain experience talking to you and gathering feedback. This will help them hit the ground running for the more complex community management issues that’ll come with Class4.

“Class3 is a chance to ramp up our community team and gain experience talking to you and gathering feedback.” We’d keep the team small for a lot longer. We can’t make Class4 with a tiny team. It’s a big game, and we’re already planning for how and when we’ll grow. You can’t expand a studio without careful planning and expect the company culture to survive. In the meantime, though, we love the idea of making all the zombie killing, base building, storytelling, and world evolution work while we’re still at that size where everyone can be involved in every part of the game.

We’d make the game fun right from the start. There’s a paradox to game development: Designers make better decisions the more the technological limitations are known, but programmers better define technological limitations the more the design is known. Chicken, meet egg. The bigger and more complex your project is, the more you have to work around this issue. (Hey, how does car customization affect UV layout on vehicles and overall texture budgets? Oh, it depends on the car variety in a typical area, does it?) In a game, everything is related in some way, so a smaller, more focused game doesn’t just mean fewer things to do, it removes unanswered questions and speeds up the things you have to do. That puts fewer obstacles between us and building our core gameplay.

We’d have a full production cycle of experience with our pipeline and our tools. That gives us a chance to refine them before kicking off large-scale Class4 production. Every game developer dreams of having the perfect toolset, the one that lets you spend your time making the game fun instead of struggling just to get things working.

Finally, we’d have to put up or shut up in short order. You guys don’t want to read blog posts from me for the next half decade where I tell you how amazing and revolutionary and uberleet-yadda-yadda our game is going to be. I don’t want to play the role of PR wonk doing interview after interview that amounts to “Trust me. Someday you’ll see it’s AWWWWESOOOOOME!”

More than anything, that last point excites us. Is it a challenge? You bet. But that’s what we want. For us, it’s not about the talk, the hype, or any of that other nonsense. We live to create, to get stuff into your hands, and, we hope, to make something you’ll love.

And that’s what we aim to do.

Monsoon Season In Arizona

Congratulations. It’s the zombie apocalypse, and you’re a million times more prepared than the average latte-drinking commuter or TV-addicted layabout. You’ve got some food, some medicine, a knife, and something for cracking skulls. Hey, maybe you even have print-outs of some handy how-to guides for things like building your own gas-powered electrical generator. Maybe you’ve got some experience with wilderness survival.

On top of all that, you’ve actually given this some thought. So instead of panicking or freezing with uncertainty, you’ve got a plan to follow.

If anyone’s going to survive, it’s gonna be you. And that means you face the big question: how much should you help other people? Can you really afford to share that water? Do you dare try to figure out where those cries for help are coming from?

Well, I think we all know the reasons to be selfish: there are no second chances. You simply won’t be able to save everyone. Besides, you’re no help to anyone if you’re dead. For that matter, you’re actually a threat to them. Still, in the spirit of the holidays, I’d like to offer this little argument in favor of helping out strangers, even in times of crisis. And no, it’s not going to be an appeal to your better nature or a reiteration of some abstract principle of strength with unity. To me, it comes down to one thing: monsoon season in Arizona.

That’s right. If you’re not from Arizona, that phrase probably sounds ludicrous, but that’s the point. The fact of the matter is that there really is such a thing, and in the post-apocalyptic world of self-sufficiency and raw survival, it could be the thing that does you in.

Of course, Arizona monsoons aren’t as destructive as the monsoons, typhoons, hurricanes, and tsunamis you’ve heard about elsewhere. But contrary to your natural mental image of the American southwest, monsoon season brings occasional flash floods. In the desert. In fact, those inviting little green patches (arroyos) on the arid landscape mark the spots where water will sometimes come rushing down with enough volume and force TO SWEEP AWAY A CAR.

And this happens in areas where it isn’t even raining. There’s a thunderstorm miles away and then bam: lost or damaged supplies, a sprained ankle or broken leg that gets you killed a week later, a really bad encounter with a cactus that leads to an infection, or even a blow to the head that does you in right then and there. And sitting there, in the hundred degree heat, sun beating down on you, you’d never think to even look out for it.

That’s my point. Just admit this to yourself right now: it’s a big, complicated world out there, and you don’t fully know just how much you don’t know. So help your fellow humans. They just might know that critical bit of trivia that’ll mean the difference between life and death for you. Seriously…flash floods in Arizona? In the summer? You can’t make this shit up.

VGrevolution’s Zombie Wishlist

I saw a fun post on vgrevolution today: 5 things we want in the zombie mmo. It’d be irresponsible for me to publicly commit to any of those things right now, but I will say this to Darren and his buddies: we like the way you think.

Phinney

11.11.10
News Review 77

There’s Just No Way To Fake It

In his introduction last week, Foge talked about our ambitions for this project as an action game. The kind of immediate, responsive, action-oriented gameplay he described is one of the core design pillars guiding us. Judging from the response, I think that post gave many of you a much clearer picture of the kind of moment-to-moment gameplay we hope to achieve.

But for some of you, it also raised some questions. Does this mean we’re making an action game with some thin veneer of multiplayer connectivity?

Hell no.

We’re talking about a true persistent-world game. There’s just no way to fake that. There’s nothing quite like exploring an expansive persistent world that has a player population to match. A world full of friends and strangers. A world full of moments that you can’t experience any other way — like when you save the life of a perfect stranger and know it was a real person, not some NPC in some canned sequence everyone sees eventually. When that same person returns the favor and you get to talking. When you and a few other players decide to organize yourselves and become a force in the world and start gaining notoriety with other real human beings. When you and your friends get together and decide to stage an event or contest or celebration that the game developers never planned. Or when you discover that your sense of humor or your command of Zombieland quotes actually matters. When you become famous for your actions and see people reacting to your reputation. Not just the one the game tracks, but the one you’ve actually developed.

Suddenly, everything you do takes on new meaning, because it’s affecting other real human beings.

There’s a reason that people spend so much time in persistent world games. Some of it has to do with the gameplay, but a lot of it is just the other people. We are social creatures by nature, and a persistent world gives us the opportunity to exercise our social side (or even not-so-social side) in a real way. Lone wolf. Jokester. Achiever. Group leader. Explorer. Guide for noobs… How you play and who you are is up to you, and it’s a choice you get to make again every day.

But there’s often a disappointing side to the persistent world: Overall, the world is static, and players have no real impact on it. It’s a big theme park full of predefined rides for you to try out in a particular order.

That’s not for us. We believe a persistent world should be living, dynamic, and evolving. We believe your decisions should affect the state of the world and the state of the world should matter to you. We believe you should get to be the hero; not because you were able grind your way to some artificial achievement that everyone else will eventually grind for too, but instead because you achieved something unique and heroic — something that people actually care about because it has an impact on the world.

Sound ambitious? Maybe a little crazy? Well, it’s ambitious, but it’s hardly crazy. There are already persistent-world games that have started to push the boundaries, giving players more control over the world. It’s not the standard, cookie-cutter model, but on some level, it’s been proven to work. The common thread in persistent worlds where players have a real impact is the ability –- and the need -– to build. The more you have room to be the source of order in a chaotic world, the easier it is to let you have an actual impact. If the world has all these huge, existing kingdoms, then designers need to constrain your actions a little more to ensure you don’t change the nature of the world. If the world is defined by unclaimed territory and chaos, it’s really easy to give you free rein and let you define how the world takes shape with your choices and your actions.

Which brings me to the zombie apocalypse. It’s in vogue right now to slap zombies into just about everything. And that’s fine, but make no mistake: that’s not why our game is about zombie survival. Survival is the heart of the game we envision. It’s not just a cool mechanic or setting; it’s about making an amazing persistent world.

Society has collapsed. The government response has failed. The medical response has failed. The military response has failed. The majority of humans have succumbed. Survival is in your hands.

Where will you sleep? How will you feed yourself? Will you go it alone or will you team up with others? These are real decisions you get to make and of course they all have consequences for you. But that’s not all. These decisions have consequences for the world. Is the local school your stronghold? Is it controlled by a group of human raiders? Or is it still overrun by the zombie masses who were once human refugees? Have you secured a supply of gasoline? Are you generating bio-diesel? Are you hoarding fuel or sharing it or trading food for it? Is there enough electricity for emergencies? None at all? Do you dare try to reactivate a nuclear power plant? Are you farming or scavenging for food? How much have players collectively researched and figured out about the nature and cause of the zombie plague? Have you and your friends developed a hydroponic farm? Will you share that technology? Where are the safe zones, danger areas, supply lines and trade routes? You bring order to the chaos. Your actions shape the world.

This is why we’re so excited. Bringing together amazing moment-to-moment action with a living, dynamic, evolving persistent world… how could we not be? And that’s why I’m writing about it now. Honestly, I couldn’t tell you if it makes sense for us to talk about our game so much at this stage. It’s not a calculated PR strategy to stir up controversy or manufacture hype. We’ve brought together a team of veteran developers — gamers who love the vision for this game — and we’re pouring every bit of experience and passion we have into creating it.

And there’s no way to fake that, either.

Phinney