Setting the Tone

As we get ever closer to release, we’re immensely enjoying the way the music and sound pulls everything together. Sound Guy Kevin, and Jesper Kyd, have been kicking a lot of ass. Today, we’d like to share three terrific tracks composed by Jesper. But why just share them? Let’s have a contest!

There are three Jesper Kyd tracks below for your enjoyment. If you’d like to be eligible to win a State of Decay t-shirt, here’s what you do after you listen to them.

1) Choose ONE track.

2) Click on the forum link under the track. Tell us a one paragraph story about what you hear. (You may write longer.) I will choose a winner randomly from each thread — and allow you all to choose your own favorite story. So, a total of four winners.

3) You must enter by tomorrow, January 17, at 3 PM PST/6 PM EST/Midnight CET.

That’s it! All right, check out the music… and come back Friday for the Day By Day Q&A (barring the unforeseen).

 

Track One

Tell your Track 1 Story here.

 

Track Two

Tell your Track 2 Story here.

 

Track Three

Tell your Track 3 Story here.

08.24.12
News, Research

Doing What We Can

Today’s guest post is from the fabulous Annie Strain, a survivor well known to the Lab. She had a Survivor Cell before it was cool, y’all, and she’s here today to share the disaster planning that she has done for her family. Read on:

Hi Survivors!

I’m Annie and I’m married to Jeff Strain, the founder of Undead Labs.

While I’m not an official member of the development team, my love of both the company and the game is passionate and I have had so much fun watching the Survivor Cell pictures roll in. You guys get us!

In that train of thought…I wondered if you guys might enjoy seeing our own personal survivor cell, right here in Seattle, at the home of the company founder?

Now, I could bore you for literally hours with an analysis of survival techniques and supplies and why I have what I have on this table. After Jeff left NCsoft in 2009, before he officially launched Undead Labs, we spent months reading every bit of material we could get our hands on about survival and tools and disaster preparedness and, of course, we brushed up on our zombie lore.

I loved it. I effing LOVED it!

I wish I could tell you that this was new to us but the truth is that early on Jeff gave me a copy of Alas, Babylon and we talked about it for weeks afterwards and I think that really triggered our ongoing fascination with what the world looks like when you wake up and the world’s gone to hell and your friends, co-workers, and maybe even family are gone.

What does the world look like when you strip away every bit of civilization? What happens when your degree means nothing, when your status car, your bank account, your business cards means nothing?

Who’s got the grit to fight and survive and rebuild and where would you fit in?

(One of our kiddos, ready to rock with his Nerf gun.)

Anyway, while this is officially a “disaster/earthquake” preparedness kit, I continue to add to it when I see things on sale.

I thought I was complete but, damn, all these Survivor Cell pictures are making me realize that I’ve only scratched the surface!

I would love to have more light sources that are rechargeable, and collapsable water bladders for hauling water. I’d also like to have water purification tablets, an ax or two that’s small enough for me to swing easily, and some lumber to reenforce doors from zombies…uh, I mean looters.

(Now that I’ve unpacked everything, I also need some long nails and a few hammers. I’m light on tools, aren’t I?)

When I found it on sale, I threw in comfort items for our children like candies and things that can be mixed with water and taste good.

Some comfort items for adults too!

Can you see the can of red spray paint there? I want the helicopters, if there are any helicopters, to know folks are ALIVE INSIDE!

I bought these water bottles with handles so we could move quickly.

And tarps. Got to have tarps in Seattle. Zombies or not, we’re going to have rain.

So…there you go, fellow survivors! Many (most?) of you are seriously ahead of things with your bad-assed survivor cells but I’m doing what I can a little at a time.

And thanks again, all of you. Undead Labs is a small, independent studio and we’re pouring our heart and souls and our future into making a true zombie survival experience.

We’re grateful for your support and your friendship as we move toward releasing the first wave of this experience. You are awesome!

Your fellow survivor,

Annie

 

Sanya here: Thanks, Annie! All right, Zedheads, discuss your own plans using the green comment button (down and to your right).

By the way, I can see the future. If you’ve registered an Official Survivor Cell and you’re looking forward to the next challenge, you just might have to send in pictures like Annie’s next month…

07.3.12
News, Research

Society Is Not Ready For An Apocalypse

If there is an actual zombie apocalypse, we’re screwed.

On Friday night, there was an epic storm in my area, sweeping from Indiana to Delaware. I do not use the word “epic” lightly. Five hours of unremitting, strobe-like lightning that never let up. Winds that hit 70 MPH (that’s roughly 113 KPH, for those of you in places that teach the metric system). Torrential rain.

Basically, it was like a hurricane with one important difference. With a hurricane, you get lots of warning.

Four hours before the storm hit my town, the weather report said there was a 10% chance of isolated thunderstorms.

An hour before the storm hit, I was hitting refresh on my brand new forum like a deranged lab animal in a Skinner box. My priorities were in line with my day to day life, not the apocalypse that I didn’t know was coming.

Hundred year old trees were uprooted and flung by the wind.I lost power almost immediately, so I sat in my living room and watched the weather instead of the forum. The wind threw my grill into my container garden, which I thought was a problem right before I watched the wind pick up two, hundred year old, tulip poplars by their roots and fling them… away from my house, a lucky break I’ll never forget. A total of six gigantic trees were uprooted from my backyard alone.

Saturday morning, we discovered the damage wasn’t just in our neighborhood, or even our county. The power was out everywhere. The only stores open for a twenty minute drive in every direction were running on generators. McDonald’s was literally the only food place open on a fifteen mile stretch of a major business route. The wait to order was 45 minutes. They cooked everything they had and shut down.

Probably for the best, since there wasn’t a single working traffic light for miles, and people turning in to the parking lot were causing near-wrecks.

Gas ran short. The heavily computerized gas stations simply couldn’t open.On Sunday, things were getting a little… sketchy. No traffic lights had been restored, and the cops were stretched too thin to handle everything. (They blocked every intersection to prevent left turns. Clever. Inconvenient, but clever!) Grocery stores in my town were only open in the sense that their doors were open so their employees could throw away thousands of pounds of unsaleable food. We tried to make calls, but between downed cell towers and everyone in the state trying to make calls, it was a challenge.

Generators were running dry, and the heavily computerized gas stations simply couldn’t open. Only the most antiquated pumps could function at all, and the stores with those were charging premium prices.

With no power, no internet, and no cell service, I actually found out the extent of the damage from a newspaper. Like, the kind on actual paper. The storm hadn’t just hit my town, or my county, or my state. That’s also how I found out the power might be out for a week.

(I promptly decamped to my mother in law’s house. She doesn’t have internet and her power is still sporadic, but the generous neighbor’s wifi works when the power does and at least there’s some power every few hours… and when the temperature is 97 degrees with 60% humidity, sporadic air conditioning is a damned sight better than none.)

Things are getting back to normal (assuming this pressure system doesn’t shift and we don’t get hit with another storm before the grid is back up), so I guess this isn’t the apocalypse, after all. But it made me think. What would you do with a disaster that comes with no warning? Like… right now. You have to survive with what you’ve got and nothing else.

The problem wasn’t really the conditions. The problem was humanity.The problem wasn’t really the conditions. The problem was humanity. Gas was briefly scarce, but people were still using it up to run their cars so they could sit in air conditioning. No one really believed the scarcity would last and burned gas accordingly. The folks with generators were just as insane – they didn’t just power their freezers and fans, but their AC, their DVD players, and reading lamps all night long.

Where do you get the gas for your generator when the pumps don’t work and the trucks stop coming?

Never mind the shortsightedness, there were some people that couldn’t think at all. With my own ears, I heard a grown man ask how he was supposed to eat with no frozen/refrigerated food and no microwave to cook it in.

Don’t think going country is a total solution. Being at the rural end of the county wasn’t an advantage in this storm – they were at the bottom of the power restoration priority list, and most of them are on well water. With electric pumps. No toilet flushing for them!

How would you survive? Are you ready?Also, while yes, knowing how to shoot and butcher a deer is a post-apocalyptic advantage… what do you do with a few hundred pounds of deer meat when it’s 97 degrees outside and you don’t have a freezer?

I’ve got a small garden. Not only did the storm flatten everything, but nothing was ready to harvest anyway. So what do you eat when the vegetables are still growing?

Canned food is nice. I’m actually the only person I know on my block who has a manual can opener, one that doesn’t plug into the wall. How do *you* open your cans?

Rice and pasta and beans in storage are all very well, but have you ever tried cooking them over an open fire? (Trick question. You don’t. You cook over coals. But do you know how long it takes to create a good bed of coals with gathered wood? Do you know how fast you’re gonna run through wood? Twigs won’t cook anything but s’mores.)

Let’s say you heat with a woodburning stove in winter. You have, therefore, a stock of seasoned hardwood stove lengths and a place to burn them. What do you do with all the neighbors who are not so equipped?

How do you get in touch with family members to find out who has a shelter and a food supply when the phone lines are down and the cell towers are out?

How do you make water safe to drink when your upstream neighbors are rinsing out their deer carcass and their filthy hunting clothes in your shared river?

How would you survive?

Scoring The Apocalypse

Film soundtracks are amazing things. One of the things I like to do when I’m thinking about the musical choices a film makes is to swap out a piece of music from a completely different movie — or even some of my own music — over a key scene, just to see how it changes the feel of the moment.

I love the idea that a piece of music can support, enhance, skew or even subvert the emotions on display.

I believe game scores can do the same thing. With games, though, you have the additional challenge of the player being able to do anything at any time, particularly in an open-world game like Class3. To support the emotional tone of the game while taking into account the constant variability of gameplay, I’ve chosen to work with the overarching themes and tones in Class3 as a palette for our music.

You will be able to work with others to stake your claim in a new society, one where your family is created by bonds of trust instead of a common bloodline.

What are the themes that will comprise the cornerstones of the musical palette in Class3? First and foremost: survival. Your friends and loved ones have been mauled, murdered, and reanimated. You’re constantly searching for water, food, medicine, and a safe place to sleep. Sorrow, danger, despair, and fear wait around every turn. The world is broken.

Secondly, of course, it’s about zombies. The wretched, rotting, soulless creatures that haunt your every step. Always on the hunt and never tiring, they constantly seek your flesh. When the zombies are closing in, the music isn’t about a world robbed of it’s humanity, it’s about the immediate danger of an approaching horde.

Finally, the music needs to support the theme of rebuilding our world. You will be able to work with others to stake your claim in a new society, one where your family is created by bonds of trust instead of a common bloodline.

Musically, it’s a genre defined by the sum of parts. Our Faded Americana style takes cues from Country, Western, Rock, Folk, and even Blues music, but it lives somewhere in between those genres without belonging to any of them.

Those are the thematic pillars of Class3; but we still need a framework to deliver the score. That framework is defined by two elements: The first is a style we call Faded Americana, defined by our art director Doug Williams to describe the setting and visuals of the Class3 world. Musically, it’s a genre defined by the sum of parts. Our Faded Americana style takes cues from Country, Western, Rock, Folk, and even Blues music, but it lives somewhere in between those genres without belonging to any of them.

Along with those elements come suggestions of instrumentation: rondo, slide, resonator, and acoustic guitars; dulcimers, fiddles, and percussion of all types from a traditional drum set to ‘musique concrete’. Inspiration comes from popular artists like Johnny Cash, Tom Waits, and The Black Angels as well as composers like Carter Burwell, Gustavo Santaolalla, and Dave Porter. Each of these artists have already tread the ground of Faded Americana, and it’s my hope to deliver a similar emotional intensity to compliment the art and feel of Class3.

The second major element to our score comes from the darker side of film. The pulsating drones of John Carpenter, the haunting discomfort of Jerry Goldsmith, and the textural tones of Vangelis all play a role in creating the sense of unease and intensity that plagues you and drives you through Class3. Together these two styles will constantly interweave to bring you a soundtrack rife with fear and despair, but also a sense of hope, exploration, and the potential to rebuild a world on the brink of destruction.

That’s where Jesper Kyd comes in. For years, I’ve admired his ability to create scores that are emotional, dense, and driving while still keeping a sense of sparse openness that’s crucial in supporting a reality where society has collapsed. With his proven ability to understand the complexity and diversity of game design, I believe Jesper will help us present a singular and unique experience for our apocalypse. I’m thrilled to work with him and ecstatic to have him as a key contributor to Class3.

-Kevin

Capping Off The Week

This week, Phinney, Reid, Kevin, and Scott (who you’ll get to meet soon) piled into a car and took a trip to Vancouver, Canada. Their destination? Animatrik, a company that specializes in motion capture animation. If you’ve ever seen behind the scenes footage of people running around in tights with little reflective balls all over them, that’s mocap, and it’s been used in movies for years. As it’s evolved over the past fifteen or so years, though, it’s also become an important tool for game developers.

To give you guys some insight into what motion capture is, how it works, and how it’s going to apply to Class3, I sat down with Reid to learn more about what our recent session was like. Read on to see what he had to say!

What is mocap and how is it different than traditional animation?

Motion capture records the movements of a live actor onto a set of controls called a rig. The rig controls the movement of the character model. You know those tight suits the actors wear, covered with a series of markers? The markers are what actually gets recorded and through a lot of crazy math, gets translated on to the rig.

Mocap is a great way to get realistic motion in a short amount of time. While hand-created keyframe animation can create realistic movement, the process is really consuming, and you still wouldn’t capture all the subtleties that you can get from mocap.

Traditional keyframe animation is very good for stylized movement and stylized characters, and for the “realistic” motion of fantastic creatures like dragons. Obviously, you can’t mocap something that doesn’t exist!

A lot of people recognize the mocap suits that actors wear, but how does the process actually work?

A bunch of cameras track the position of the little white markers on the actors’ mocap suits, which are used to triangulate the position of the actor’s actual joints. The data is then converted into rotational joint information that’s put on the skeleton. (A lot of markers and a lot of math are involved because they haven’t figured out a way to put the markers inside the actors yet. :) ) Once this  motion is on the skeleton, we translate it again to the character’s animation controls (which we refer to as the “rig”).

In the end, the animation ends up on the character in the same format as it does when I keyframe it. The only difference is that mocap data puts a key on every frame (that’s 30 keys per second of animation), which requires different animation techniques and tools to edit the dense amount of data that motion capture gives you.

For cinematics, if you plan correctly, get a good performance from the actors, and get good motion from the mocap studio, the animator shouldn’t have to edit much. Gameplay motion is a whole different thing — that requires a lot of editing.

What do you look for in a motion capture actor?

Since we were shooting both cinematic and gameplay styles for this session, we were looking for people that were both good actors and had strong physical and athletic skills.

For our cinematic shoot, the actors just ran through the scenes like they would if they were on stage performing a play, and we captured their motion in large chunks. For these sequences we’re primarily looking for acting ability.

On the other hand, the gameplay part of the shoot required the actors to perform specific actions in small pieces, which can feel pretty counterintuitive or unnatural. For example, if a character picks up an object and then throws it, the acting sequence might be broken up like this: the character is standing still (one shot), the character picks up an object (second shot), the character stands with the object in their hands (third shot), the character throws the object (fourth shot), and finally, the characters returns to a casual standing state (fifth and final shot). For an actor who’s used to following typical stage directions to just pick something up and throw it, that can be a jarring experience!

It sounds like mocap is pretty specialized. How do you go about finding the right actors?

Well, in our case, one of the actors we used was highly recommended by Animatrik and the other was recommended to Animatrik by someone who had worked with him in the past. Most mocap studios will know talented local actors from past projects, and they’re usually happy to recommend them. When that approach doesn’t work, you can hold casting calls where actors and their agents can send you resumes, demo reels, and things like that.

Once you find someone that looks good, you typically hold auditions to make sure they’re a good fit for what you need. (Since our guys came highly recommended from people we trusted, we actually skipped this step.)

What’s a mocap session like? Tell us what you guys did when you were up there!

The session started out with breakfast provided by the studio. While we ate, we got acquainted with the team and the actors. We also went over some of the scripts for the acting portion and some of the action for the gameplay portion. Once the actors had their suits on and everything was calibrated, we had them go right into the acting.

Phinney and Kevin took turns directing the storyline scenes. Before each scene was recorded, they prepped the actors on things like where to be on stage, how the characters they were playing should behave, what their personality and state of mind should be during the scene, and how intense or subtle the scene should be. I chimed in a little bit on some logistical things, like the placement of the objects they were interacting with. The actors also had some great ideas and added a lot of personality on their own.

After the acting section of the session was complete, it was my turn to direct gameplay stuff. I coached the actors on the speed and strength in which they should perform an action, judging the motion on if I thought it I could easily make it loop or not. I also tried to get them to start out in an idle pose, do an action in place, and then end the motion in the same idle pose. That will make the animations blend much more smoothly when you actually put them in the game.

How long do mocap sessions usually take?

Our day consisted of two 3 to 4 hour blocks. In both cases, we started with cinematic scenes and moved on to action sequences.

The morning session started with breakfast, paperwork, and studio and actor set-up at 8:00 am. We started shooting at 9:30, then broke for lunch at 12:30. After talking zombie games, guns, and Skyrim with cast and crew, we went back into shooting at 1:30 and were scheduled to start wrapping up at 5:30. Things went quicker than we’d expected, though, so we finished our full list — plus some bonus recording — around 4:30.

Since we have a lot to do back at the Lab, we drove back to Seattle the same night. We were a bunch of zombies the next day, but hey. It fits, I guess. ;)

When we get back mocap data, what format is it in?  How do you get the finished characters into the game?

We get video first so we can choose the takes we like best. Once we’ve picked these, we send the details back to Animatrik, who  cleans up the files we requested and sends them to us as skeletons with the motion attached to them.

The animations we get back are in a lot of different pieces, so to get them ready to use, Scott translates the motion from the skeleton to the rig. When he’s done, he sends them to me to do the necessary edits and get the pieces organized and exported. Once we’re finished, they are usable for the designers to put into the game.

Thanks for giving details about your trip, Reid!

I hope you guys liked this inside view of how our characters are being built! Next week, we have more game information coming your way — Phinney is preparing a design article on multiplayer in Class3 to close out 2011, so be sure to check back in on Friday.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Emily

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

Lessons From The Range

Last week, we took a company field trip to a local gun range to get some hands-on experience with pistols. Only a few of us had actually shot a handgun before, and since we’re building a zombie survival game, we figured that it would be a good plan to make sure that everyone on the team has at least fired one before. I mean, how can you build something without knowing how it actually works?

The day was pretty amazing. As soon as we arrived at the range, we were given a short safety class. In a half hour or so, we had learned how to properly handle our weapon — how to carry it, how to check to see if it’s loaded, and how to hold it. Our instructor even drew little lines on our hands to help us remember the proper pistol grip. Before we headed into the firing lanes, we picked out a pair of ear protectors, a set of safety glasses, and our first spread of 9mm pistols.

Once we were on the range, the real lessons began.

Lesson #1: Loading a magazine is a pain in the ass.

Most of us didn’t realize how tricky it can be to load a gun by hand, especially when you’re trying to do it quickly. To put a bunch of bullets into a magazine, you essentially need to push one round object down with another, and there’s a spring pushing back so you have to use more and more force to shove them inside. Loading the first few is easy enough, but after four or so it takes some real technique to do it smoothly. We also discovered that 9mm rounds are worse than .45’s because they’re tiny — Ben (who’s super tall) struggled with this part the most and dropped the smaller bullets a few times because they were hard for him to hang onto.

On average, putting a single round into a .45 takes between two and four seconds. Multiply that by eight, and you’ll see that loading a full magazine is going to take you between a quarter to a half of a minute. That’s a lot of time when you’re in a life or death situation.

Now picture how difficult it would be if you were trapped behind the counter of your local sporting goods store, scooping up a pile of spilled ammo, and trying to quickly reload your gun while zeds are slamming their rotting fists against the window. It’s not a pretty thought.

How does this translate to the game? Well, we’re not going to make loading a hassle, of course, but it’s given us some food for thought on reloading mechanics, interesting scenarios, and the value of speed loaders as items you can find in the world.

Lesson #2: Missing is a lot easier than you’d think.

If you’re a horror fan, you probably scream at your TV when you see people shooting at zombies and completely missing their heads. We did too — until this trip. Target shooting gave all of us a much greater appreciation for how the slightest tilt could affect accuracy in a big way.

Case in point, your grip can make or break your accuracy — and the correct technique is not what you’d expect. A proper two-handed pistol grip is 80% off-hand to 20% trigger hand, meaning that you should grip the gun much tighter with your non-firing hand. That’s because your firing hand is more susceptible to small, unintended shifts when you flex that trigger finger.

Another interesting factor is recoil. Even with a .45, the kick you feel when you shoot isn’t as big as movies make it seem, but even if your hand only moves a little, there’s no way to keep your sights perfectly lined up between shots. Some of us experimented with shooting in rapid succession; some of us took a long time to aim between each and every shot. Being accurate when firing quickly was a real challenge, which in turn gave us an idea of how hard it would be to stay accurate while moving and firing rapidly. Not the formula for a perfect headshot.

In Class3, aiming is based on player skill, but recoil and moving while shooting can affect the spread of your shots. The more experience your character has with firearms the better — just like in real life, knowing the right techniques can really help you deal with issues like recoil and being accurate on the run.

Lesson #3: Distance matters. A lot.

It makes sense that shooting something far away from you is  trickier than hitting something right in front of you, but many of us didn’t realize just how far pistol accuracy drops off after the 30 to 40 foot mark. When we first started shooting, our targets were at 15-20 feet, and we felt like zombie slaying bad-asses. The bulls-eyes on our targets quickly turned into gaping holes, and no shots hit outside of the target circles. We were unbeatable.

Then some of us decided that we wanted to try our hand at longer ranges.

As soon as the targets went out to 30 feet, we saw a definite drop in accuracy, and at 50 feet headshots became a rarity and people would occasionally miss the targets entirely. (Though Jess and Foge both had some really nice shots at 60+ feet.)

As Brant mentioned in his Weapon Of Choice article, we’ve talked a lot about the relative roles of different kinds of firearms. Our experiences at the firing range really underscored how much better handguns are at close and medium ranges. When I was in the army, I wasn’t a sharpshooter, but I was easily hitting targets with a rifle at 50 yards instead of struggling to do it with a pistol at 50 feet.

Lesson #4: Holy shit — guns are loud.

Yes, they really, really are. Even with the hardcore noise-cancelling headsets that we had on, shots were loud enough to make some of us physically jump, and people that decided to adjust their ear protection at the wrong times definitely regretted it (and their ringing ears). How loud are we talking, exactly? Let’s take a look:

85dB — OSHA requires hearing protection
120dB — Most peoples’ normal pain threshold
150dB — Your chest cavity starts to vibrate
160dB — Your eardrums rupture
180dB — Tissue important to hearing starts to die
194dB — The loudest sound possible

Now consider that most rifles, shotguns, and pistols produce between 150 and 160dB when fired — and some can actually hit upwards of 170d!. That is really freaking loud.

This just served to reinforce one of the big features we’ve discussed many times: Noise matters in Class3. Before you pop off a few rounds at a zombie, consider this: if he’s got buddies in the area, they’re going to hear you and come shambling (or running). Likewise, if you’re trying to get away from a horde that’s chasing you, taking as many of them out as you can could save your life.

Lesson #5: Practice. Practice. Practice.

There are a lot of subtleties to good marksmanship. Being too excited — like I was when we first started shooting — can make you pull the trigger instead of squeezing it. Anticipating that big bang and the recoil can make you tense up right after you line up your sights. Both will ruin your accuracy. Having a poor reset — releasing the trigger after you shoot instead of just easing up on it — can shift your hand as well, forcing you to take extra time when you’re trying to re-aim. Every gun has a different weight, sight, and amount of resistance on the trigger. Each one takes an adjustment period to master. (Surprisingly, no one ever warmed up to the gun with the fancy holographic sight. We expected that to make aiming easier, but it was distracting and felt unnatural for most of us.)

By the end of our range visit, we all noticed a noticeable improvement in our shooting skills — we were reloading magazines much faster, were anticipating our shots less, and were hitting our targets much more. After burning over 1000 rounds,  we decided to take out one final zed, then call it a day. Everyone got a single.45 round to fire — with the rest of the team heckling, er, watching and providing moral support. Check out our results!

A bunch of the guys got clean headshots, but in the end Brant still had to show everyone up, going second-to-last and calling his shot, “eye socket on the right.” His hole is the one in the dead center of the eye socket on the right.

All in all, we learned a lot of lessons at the range that can apply to the game. One of these was just how much room there is for characters to get better with guns over time, but we also saw something else: you can make a lot of progress really quickly. We have no intention of making a grindy experience where you perform repetitive actions to slowly earn critical stat increases. After all, that’s not what we saw in our real life bit of firearms training. So if you’re playing a school teacher who’s never fired a gun before, you won’t have all the advantages of a seasoned hunter with a sniper rifle, but just going out and using a rifle will improve your skills in no time.

Have you fired a pistol before? Do you have any lessons of your own that you’d like to share? Post a comment — we’d love to hear your stories!

Emily

PS: If you want to see our experience first-hand, head over to our Vimeo page and check out videos from the range. We’ve also got a lot of great photos on our Flickr gallery, so head over and check those out, too!

That Shit Could Happen Here

I grew up in the small Central Texas town of Temple. Never heard of it? Most people haven’t. It’s about an hour north of Austin, and about half an hour south of Waco. You remember Waco, right? Yep, that’s my childhood stomping ground. That’s where I learned to play D&D, fell in love with video games, saw Dawn of the Dead for the first time, and pushed wheeled trashcans full of day-old Mexican food down the alley behind the restaurant with my car at 40 mph because there was nothing else to do.

Sigh. Good times.

Temple isn’t exactly the glitzy metropolis you’d expect to see in a game. If I’m donning my cape, mask, and lightning fists to take on some evil supervillains, I want to be somewhere sexy like Paragon City or Tokyo. If I’m taking up my two-handed mace to get my Paladin on, I expect the best chance to be admired is somewhere densely populated like Stormwind or Paris. When I suit up in my NFL-designed space marine combat armor, I look forward to dishing it out to the bugs on their homeworld of X’zzzt.

But the zed apocalypse? Forget the cities and the flashy locales — many of us will be holding back the rotting hordes in small towns just like Temple.

A few weeks ago, we asked you to share your hometown with us. Our survey received thousands of responses from all over the world, and the results were surprising. While it’s statistically true that most of the world’s population lives in big cities like New York City, London, Paris, and Athens, you can see from our Outbreak Map that only a handful of us live in the heart of metropolitan areas. Most of the people that responded to our survey actually live in small towns or suburbs. Home isn’t Times Square or Shinjuku — it’s Bob’s IGA, the VFW dance hall, the local espresso shack, and the Alamo Burrito and BBQ Hacienda.

Check out our full Outbreak Map here!

When we started designing the world of Class3, we wanted to capture the essence of the real zombie apocalypse by creating a setting that felt like a real place — one that you might actually live in. For a template, we chose a typical small town in eastern Washington State, very similar to our tech director Shaun’s hometown of Benton City.

McMillanville. It’s not fancy; it’s not exotic; but it’s home. And you know, that shit could happen here.

Jeff

PS: Thanks to all of you who entered your hometown on the map! Team Zed loved watching the map fill up over the past few weeks. If your hometown isn’t called out, go ahead and add it! Don’t worry if the pin doesn’t pop up right away — our map updates every night, so check back the next day to see the latest version.

Ground Zero

If the zombie apocalypse hit each of our hometowns tomorrow, what would the world look like? While some of us live in huge cities like New York City and Los Angeles, many more of us come from smaller towns — ones that are strikingly similar to those in Class3.

As an experiment, we’re creating an “Undead Labs Outbreak Map” to visualize where all of us would be holed up during an outbreak. Help our research by adding your city, state, and country to our short form here. Next week we’ll share the results, so stay tuned!

Thanks, everyone!

Emily

Q&A: Environments And More

Happy Friday, everyone! Last week, we posted an article from Phinney that explored the world of Class3. This week, we’ll answer the questions that you guys have asked on our website and on fan forums.

Read on to see what we’ve covered!


Matthew from our website asks: “Of course there should be a limit to what can be carried, but what about a truck or SUV? Is there the possibility of using a vehicle to go into town, scavenge, then return to a rural bunker of superness?”

As an individual, you’ll find that there’s a realistic limit to what you can carry, especially if you want to be able to fight freely. One of the big advantages of using a vehicle will be increased storage capacity, but you’ll also want to keep their disadvantages in mind: sound, visibility, fuel and maintenance.

With that said, we’re not making a completely free-form physics simulation. You’re not going to be able to stack the back of a truck with huge, precariously balanced piles of supplies wedged together in an epic display of Tetris mastery. We’ll leave that for your trips to Ikea.


FreakyBowMan from our website asks: “When you start out in the game, will you have basic things to help you survive like a weapon (a pistol or rifle), a vehicle, and enough food and water to get started?”

As is the case with most games, we won’t tune the starting experience until we’re much further in development. We need to know as much as possible about the whole game before we can be certain how to make the best start for it.

Currently, we expect that you’ll start the game essentially empty-handed, but that’s exactly the kind of detail that may change over the course of development.


Many people ask: “Will weather, seasonal changes, and snowy terrain affect gameplay? For example, travel speed, activity level for zeds, and being able to gather water.”

We’re not planning on having weather or seasons in Class3, but are looking forward to introducing them as factors in Class4. We think seasonal changes are an important part of bringing an online world to life and really fit the zombie survival genre.

Being able to set up rain water collectors to enhance your drinking water supply is a cool idea regardless.


Dee Cazo from MMOZed asks: “If you can hit a church bell to make noise and cause a distraction, are you able to shoot the bell to cause this? Would the bell cause more attention than the gun shot?”

It depends on the gun you’re using, how many shots you fire, and on how long the bell keeps ringing. Unless you want to invite all of the zombies in the area to dinner, I wouldn’t recommending going full-auto with a machine gun on a church bell, but that’s up to you.



Lucien from our website asks:Will there be wildlife in the game? If so, will we be able to kill animals and cook them for food?”

We think so. We’ve had discussions about wildlife and have some general ideas about the role that animals will play, but we haven’t worked on these features enough to talk about them in detail publicly. It remains to be seen exactly how extensive the systems will be, but when we mentioned “hunting” in the article, we were talking about hunting animals for food.


Keith Tallon from our website asks: You’ve collectively mentioned a ‘super-horde’ a couple of times — is that scenario something you envision recurring randomly throughout the game?”

As with other undefined terms we’ve thrown around (like “screamer”, which is a zombie prone to making a lot of noise), a super-horde is pretty much what it sounds like and, as you’d imagine, there won’t be super-hordes everywhere all the time. We’ll go into detail about zombie types and zombie hordes in a later design article.


UnleashTheMuse from MMOZed asks:Will there be water and/or piers or boats in the world?”

Yes, there will be water in the game. We want to keep the number of vehicle types down, so it is entirely possible there won’t be boats you can pilot in Class3. We’ll see.

You will be able to swim, but you may want to be careful about that. You never know what’s lurking under the surface.


Sgt. Jonah Hex from our website asks:You mentioned swimming, how will you handle zombies vs. water?”

I’ll just say this: You have to worry about drowning. Zombies don’t.


CaptElmo2165 from our website asks: “How are you planning to excuse the time gap between the start of the meltdown and where our character begins? After all, true survivors would already have acquired weapons, food, water and a safe spot within the first few days. Will we be at a disadvantage?”

Well, I’m not saying the answer to that has anything to do with the isolated mountain resort area that you see in the concepts Doug labeled “starter area” — because that would be giving away something super secret — but I will say that this question is something we’ve considered.


Retro Zombie from MMOZed asks:Will there be insane non player characters?”

We do want to use characters in the game to depict the range of psychological reactions you’d see in a zombie apocalypse. It seems very likely that total societal collapse would push some people over the edge. Heck, there are plenty of less than rational people out there right now. Imagine how nuts they’d be in an end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it scenario.


Breakd0wn from MMOZed asks: “Will the noise you make from walking attract zombies? For example, if you go into a store that’s been looted and step on a piece of glass.”

The noise that you make will attract zombies. We won’t be modeling the sound from individual shards of glass, but moving slowly is quieter than moving fast, and what you have with you and what you’re walking on may also be a factor. Noise management will be one of many tactical decisions players will need to make from moment to moment.


MarleyTheMongolianMongoose from MMOZed asks:Will the environment be completely open with no instances or loading screens?”

It’s an open world game, so you can expect it to play like one. You won’t hit loading screens when traveling from one part of the map to another.


Huevel from MMOZed asks:How destructable will the environment be?”

Class3 will feature some environmental destruction, physics-based gameplay and player-controlled building, but we don’t want to misrepresent the kind of game we’re making. It will not be as free-form as Minecraft, and the destruction will not be as extensive as a game like Red Faction.

These are the kind of big choices you have to make early in development to set your priorities. First and foremost, our goal is to try to capture the feel of the zombie survival genre. There’s a reason most zombie stories don’t focus on tearing down whole buildings, reshaping terrain, and constructing elaborate mountain-top fortresses — it shifts the conflict from being personal to being strategic. Even though you will have a lot of freedom to make meaningful strategic choices in Class3, we never want the game to stray from that direct, desperate, and personal feeling.

Blowing up the occasional propane tank, gas pump, or SUV would be fun, though, right?


John from MMOZed asks: “How will the players handle waste, from trash to the toilet? Can rotting trash attract zombies? Can players get cholera from sub-standard sanitation?”

The game is about survival and that includes all of the challenges above and beyond being eaten by zombies. Things like cholera and dysentery will be among the hazards you face… though you won’t spend a lot of time in the game managing a communal inventory of feces. ;)


Dantron from MMOZed asks:Dantron inquires if zombies are repelled by cotton candy and if so will Dantron be able to acquire some cotton candy mix from the fairgrounds?”

We would certainly never discourage Dantron from searching the fairgrounds for cotton candy and then instituting a series of empirical data gathering protocols vis-à-vis the walking dead and spun sugar, but we will offer the following a priori analysis:

  1. People eat cotton candy.
  2. People are what they eat.
  3. Zombies are not repelled by people.

 

That wraps it up! As always, we’d like to thank you guys for sharing your feedback and ideas about Phinney’s post. If you have additional thoughts about the Class3 world, or anything else we’ve covered in this Q&A, post a comment and let us know!

Keep an eye on the site for future updates from the team, and be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter for the most up-to-date news alerts.

Have an awesome weekend, everyone!

Emily