AUTHOR: SanyaDATE RECORDED: October 17, 2013 AT 18:35PM
Please read the entire Jobs page, and its links, before diving for your resumè and your email. I don’t want to get all mushy or anything, but joining the Lab means becoming part of something incredible, a real team in every sense of the word. We’re in this for the long haul, together, and when it comes to new colleagues, we’re looking for both talent and temperament.
You can get a great sense of us, our sense of humor, and how we roll by carefully reading the descriptions. None of these are entry level positions.
Here are the four openings:
Animator. There are ten things we’re looking for. How many of them describe you?
Producer. “Undead Labs is built around a culture of pragmatism and strong production values, which allows us to build a smaller, elite team of veteran developers and take advantage of the high-caliber art and technology resources available around the world. But operating that way requires skilled and knowledgeable producers, and that’s where you come in.”
Programmer. A lot of programmer job descriptions say the company is looking for the best. We’re looking for people who can be the best at things no one’s ever done before.
Designer. High confidence, low ego, positive attitude, proven design skills, and a hardcore State of Decay player? Call us.
AUTHOR: SanyaDATE RECORDED: May 24, 2013 AT 15:30PM
Are you a fan of Undead Labs and State of Decay?
If you’re reading this within a few minutes of it being posted, you probably are. You’ve read our design articles, you’ve followed us on Twitter and Facebook, you’ve lurked in our forums. Your comments and enthusiasm have gotten us almost to release, and soon, the game will be in your hands. We couldn’t have made it this far without you.
Some of you are a little bit…more. Around the Lab, we call you “superfans.” You don’t just read the articles, you share them. You don’t just lurk in the forums, you welcome newcomers. You ask thoughtful questions, and you spread the answers far and wide. You’ve jumped into our contests, written posts, emailed reporters, made videos, and turned this into the best game community in the world. You’ve inspired us to do our best every single day. So we want to celebrate you, by inviting you to celebrate with us on State of Decay’s release day.
We can’t fly all of you out to Seattle in order to say thank you, but we’ve wrangled the budget to fly three of you out to the Lab on release day.
We’ll choose one superfan based on their total participation and contribution to the community over the course of development. (It’s more than just post count, you know?) And we’re going to ask you to choose two of your own in the State of Decay Superfan Contest.
Here’s how to enter:
Before 11:59 PM (23:59) PDT on Monday, May 27, 2013, you must make a post in the forum with two parts.
Part One: In one paragraph, tell us why you are a superfan.
Part Two: In one paragraph, nominate another member of the community, either by forum handle or Facebook name, and tell us why he or she is a superfan.
The contest winners will be the two people most nominated by the community.
Here are the prizes:
Grand Prize (3 total): One round-trip plane ticket to Seattle from the nearest major airport to your home, one night in a Seattle hotel room, and one admittance to our private launch celebration. The date is not yet determined. Winners will be contacted with the possible options.
Honorable Mentions (20): Preview codes.
This breaks our hearts, but for legal reasons, we cannot award a grand prize to anyone who doesn’t live in the USA. Believe me, we tried. Winners who cannot collect a grand prize will definitely get hooked up with a code.
AUTHOR: JeffDATE RECORDED: November 16, 2012 AT 13:09PM
We started with a simple idea: simulate the zombie apocalypse. We sketched out our plan for State of Decay in big, bold strokes. We would focus on survival. We’d have meaningful choices. We’d have fast, sweet action. We’d provide the tools to develop unique survival strategies. Above all else, we would have the apocalypse simulator we all dreamed of every time the credits rolled on a great zombie flick.
“Simulator.” That’s a deceptively simple word. The world of State of Decay had to feel real, and as players, we needed to feel we had choices. Not just options, but the choices available to us here in the real world. That meant abandoning the usual game designer tools of scripts and triggers, and instead simulating behaviors and responses. Noise, echos, light, motion, resource depletion, morale, energy — all of those things needed to be modeled, and the inhabitants of the world designed to react and respond to them naturally. It was a daunting challenge, but one we thought was essential to creating a true survival experience.
No focus groups or game-market analysts were involved.No focus groups or game-market analysts were involved. That rarely works, and even when it does, as passionate gamers, we often wish it hadn’t. Great games, like works of art, well designed gadgets, or even a great recipe, come from people who are passionate about not only what they do, but also what they make.
We frequently pushed up against the boundaries of traditional design wisdom. What if death was really…death?Instead, we focused on creating the survival sandbox game we all wanted to play, and that never led us astray. Along the way, we frequently pushed up against the boundaries of traditional game design wisdom. What if death was really…death? Suddenly the zombie threat becomes meaningful. Then you want stealth, distraction, sneaky tactics, and home base fortifications. Fortifications? That implies guard towers, barricades, perimeter defense, and land mines. Land mines? They don’t have those at the sporting goods store, and besides, that store would be looted bare within days of the outbreak, so we’d have learn how to build our own. Looting? Well, looting (or more politely, “scavenging”) is an inevitable part of the apocalypse. But it has to be realistic. A looted store needs to stay looted, and food, ammo, and building materials need to be found in locations that make logical sense.
Back to land mines. Having land mines implies you need to make them, since the apocalypse puts a dent in manufacturing. What would making land mines require? Well, a machine shop, and expertise. Needing good old fashioned know-how brings us to a system of skills and abilities. Being good at something feels good, and being able to save the lives of your friends is good for morale. Ah right, morale. Wouldn’t mental health be an enormous issue, after the apocalypse?
People need a goal, something beyond just surviving another day.One thing that’s good for morale is keeping busy. People would feel better if they could accomplish missions, if there were stories to be told and other survivors to rescue and a goal to shoot for, something beyond just surviving another day. So we brought in the best story teller we knew and got to work.
All the tiny elements filled out the original broad strokes until we had a clear picture of what State of Decay could be. We’re making a game, but we’ve also balanced that with reality. The real world isn’t a shooter, where you just kill everything that moves with effectively unlimited ammo. When a real disaster strikes, you worry about food, health, exhaustion, and morale. In reality, an apocalypse would mean no more factories making weapons and vehicles, and we’d all have to live by the old song: “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.” And out here, you don’t take stupid chances every other minute because more than anything else, you want to live to fight another day.
We just think that fun doesn’t have to be meaningless.That’s what we’ve built. Oh, we’ve had to make some tough choices along the way to stay within a reasonable development timeframe (believe me, we could add “just one more thing” forever if we let ourselves), and we also had to keep in mind that this is supposed to be a fun game, rather than a strict simulation of reality. We just think that fun doesn’t have to be meaningless or without consequence, and if anything, being deeply engaged is the most fun you can have.
Over the next two months, we’re going to explore the two main pillars holding up State of Decay in articles, images, and videos on this website. Richard Foge is going to take you into the world of the tactical game. Fighting, with weapons or without. With an assault rifle, or up close and personal with a hatchet. How vehicles can be your salvation in the apocalypse, and how they can quickly turn into a metal coffin. Stealth. Reaction time. Distraction and evasion. It’s all important to a game that isn’t just about running and gunning the undead, but instead requires you to think like a survivor. After that, James Phinney is going to dive into strategy and simulation. Base fortification and customization, along with outposts. Resource gathering and stockpiles. Survivor management, and the role morale plays in survival. Planning ahead, and long-term thinking.
Thanks.Yesterday we delivered a massive Content Complete milestone to Microsoft, which means the focus from here is polish, bug fixing, tuning, and balancing. The end of the road is in sight. We’re incredibly excited to get State of Decay into your hands. Thanks for being with us so far.
AUTHOR: SanyaDATE RECORDED: June 20, 2012 AT 11:32AM
I’m pretty sure I’m dreaming. Or, given the ichor and rotting flesh everywhere, I’m probably having a nightmare, but either way I can’t possibly be awake.
How did I get here? How did I wind up with potentially the best community job ever?
Well, it started with a lot of swearing.
Technically, it started with a passion for Golden Age science fiction and fantasy, but I digress. Anyway, at the turn of the century I had a rant site, where I raged about an MMORPG that I loved more than anything. (This is why I never get upset with the screaming guy on a forum. I know exactly where he’s coming from.) From there I moved to writing about games, and from there I moved into community management. I didn’t know what I was doing, but in 2001, neither did anyone else. I figured I’d just treat people the way I as a gamer/sentient adult would like to be treated, and so far it’s worked out pretty well.
All of the great developers are players at heart, and after years of gaming, experienced players have a solid grasp of what makes a good game.I have been managing game communities ever since. There are a lot of ways to do my job, but the way I do it assumes that when it comes to bringing a virtual world to life, players and developers all in this together. It works because there really isn’t much of a difference. All of the great developers are players at heart, and after years of gaming, experienced players have a solid grasp of what makes a good game.
Players and developers working together create something bigger than just a game, and the interaction between them raises a mere product into the realm of art — or magic. It’s why I’m still here doing this job over a decade later. There’s no better buzz to be had.
The development team is building a world, but the players have to live in it.What makes the magic happen is communication. Everyone needs to know what’s going on with each other. Everyone has to be treated with respect, as equals with a vested interest in the success of the project. The team is building a world, but the players have to live in it.
So I’ve always seen my job as the conduit. I’m your representative inside the company, and I’m the company’s ambassador to you. I solve problems, I argue advocate, I bear bad news when I must, and I cheer. I support fansites, wrangle guilds, keep the information flowing, and ensure your voice is heard.
What I’m not is a marketing person. I’m not here to sell you anything. I’m here to make sure you’re never sorry you bought it, and to connect you with thousands of likeminded people.
I’m not alone in holding this non-marketing view of community, but I am decidedly in the minority. That’s why I’m pretty sure I’m dreaming. I have not often gotten to work with a team that shares my philosophy on community building. Undead Labs does to such an extent that I keep looking around my home office for the surveillance camera. I can’t find one, and pinching myself is only resulting in bruises. Ergo, this is really happening.
Many of you reading this have been following Class3 (and drooling over Class4) for much longer than I have, so I’m going to need your help getting up to speed on what has got you excited. The team is highly aware of what you’ve said so far, but there are some mean deadlines looming and everyone’s got to get their nose and every other appendage to the grindstone. No rest for the rotting!
I got to see a kickass demo of Class3, and it gave me the heebie jeebies for three days.Also, because there are no secrets on the internet, I better get this out of the way now: I’m afraid of zombies. They freak me the hell out. If the world we’re building was real, I would be in the fetal position. The first chance I got, I’d fortify some kind of tower, chop down the ladder, and not move until one of you brainiacs built up a compound big enough that I could just stay inside and garden all day. Or assemble explosives. Whatever. Just as long as I didn’t have to look at some shambling, lurching monstrosity liable to rip off its own leg in order to kick my ass.
As such, I haven’t seen any zombie movies. (This is especially awkward on a personal level, because I live with the world’s biggest zombie aficionado, and there are literally thousands of horror movies and splatteriffic games lining the walls of the basement.) I got to see a kickass demo of Class3, and it gave me the heebie jeebies for three days. There’s this thing, with a landmine, and a truck, and the air was just FILLED with zombie parts, and…I think I need to lie down now.
What I mean is that with every game I’ve ever worked on, the community has taught me what really counts. I’m coming to you with no preconceived notions on zombies, or sandbox gaming for that matter, and I am psyched to find out where you want to go.
AUTHOR: JeffDATE RECORDED: June 20, 2012 AT 11:32AM
Today it’s my great pleasure to announce the end of our search for the ultimate community director. After months of resume reviews, phone discussions, and all-day interviews at the Lab, we’ve finally welcomed the inestimable Sanya Weathers to Team Zed.
Sanya has excellent credentials in the online community field, including six years as Director of Community for Mythic Entertainment (if you’ve ever played Dark Age of Camelot, you probably know her as Sanya Thomas) and a regular contributor to MMORPG.com. But we were looking for more than that; we were looking for someone who genuinely likes people; who radiates positive energy; and who views building and nurturing a great game community as a simple matter of communicating in an honest, no-bullshit manner and treating people well. I know those sound like obvious qualities for anyone choosing to build a career working with online communities, but that’s surprisingly not always the case. As you’ll discover over the next few months, it’s the only way Sanya knows how to operate.
Does this mean you can expect regular updates and more information about Class3? Oh hell yeah. You don’t hire a kickass community director if you have nothing to say…
Today we’re excited to announce we’ve signed BAFTA award-winning composer Jesper Kyd to the project. Jesper is perhaps best known for scoring the Hitman and Assassin’s Creed series, both of which earned him numerous industry awards. Now Jesper’s capturing the Faded Americana style of Class3 in a dark cinematic score mixing live acoustic performances.
Undead Labs Audio Director Kevin Patzelt has been working closely with Jesper over the past few months. Kevin shares his thoughts on the musical goals for Class3, and why Jesper is the ideal composer for the project, in the article Scoring the Apocalypse.
AUTHOR: JeffDATE RECORDED: January 06, 2012 AT 23:09PM
Happy 2012, fellow survivors!
After a well-earned break for the holidays, Team Zed is back in the Lab and pounding away at the code, art, sound, and design for ‘Class3′.
To celebrate the new year—and, okay, because we haven’t updated you in a few weeks—I took some “spy cam” footage in the Lab today with my trusty iPhone. We’re not quite ready to post official trailers at this point, but I snuck up on Foge as he was testing out some ambush functionality on the Lab TV, so you might catch a glimpse of some early-alpha Class3 gameplay goodness.
Or maybe more than a glimpse…
As we jump into the new year we also bid farewell to Emily, who took point on our website and kept in touch with our community and fansites such as MMOZed.com. Emily is off to new adventures, and we wish her well. Don’t worry—we’ll be keeping you up-to-date on our progress here on the Undead Labs website, and we’ll also be announcing plans for a more robust community site soon.
We had a tremendously productive year in 2011, and we’re anticipating an even better 2012. I’m happy to say that Class3 is on schedule and looking great. We’re excited to show it to you and the rest of the world officially—assuming I don’t get my ass kicked for leaking unofficial gameplay footage…
Update: It looks like our comment system is biffed. We’re working on it. For now you can leave comments for the dev team on the Lab Facebook page.
AUTHOR: EmilyDATE RECORDED: December 09, 2011 AT 22:37PM
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.
AUTHOR: TravisDATE RECORDED: December 02, 2011 AT 19:10PM
From the first time I saw Night of the Living Dead when I was 13, I was hooked. That stark, black-and-white photography, the unrelenting brutality of the walking dead, the pressure-cooker intensity of the conflict between those few desperate survivors, and that ending! Zombies had their hooks in me and never let go. Dawn followed Night, of course, and from there the rest of Romero’s works, Fulci’s Italian giallo zombie movies, anything I could get my hands on. I devoured the movies, dragged my Dungeons & Dragons group kicking and screaming into games of All Flesh Must Be Eaten, and generally watched, played, and read just about anything zombie-related I could get my hands on.
Still, just about any fan knows that all things zombie aren’t created equal. It’s a polarizing genre, encompassing classics of cinema like my old friend Night of the Living Dead, modern blockbusters like Zombieland, and, let’s face it, some pretty cheesy (but still fun) low-budget schlock-fests. Now that I get to do this for a living, I find myself analyzing the zombie stories I’ve loved for more than half my life, asking myself: What separates a fun zombie story from a great one?
Well, I’ve got a theory about that…
At the heart of the matter, good zombie stories aren’t really about the zombies at all. Zombies are a catalyst for story, the fuel that makes the engine run. But just like fuel without an engine can’t take you anywhere, zombies without the core foundation of story can’t move you. Sure, it’s fun to brain them with a tire iron, but by themselves zombies are just monsters to be killed.
Characters, and the conflicts between them, are that core foundation. They’re what the story is really about. They give context to all the zombie-killing, supply-scrounging, base-building action and make your decisions mean something. When you can see the impact your choices make on the world as a whole and on these few scared, scattered people who are your fellow survivors, those moments stick with you.
Picture this scenario: Your friend Ed is sick, maybe dying, and nobody wants to risk him turning in the middle of the night and eating everyone in their sleep. If you can’t get him a doctor, the others are going to throw him out onto the street — assuming they don’t just put a bullet in his head and be done with it. You know of a doctor who survived this whole thing, but he’s not feeling charitable. He’s got expenses, he says, and the meds he needs aren’t easy to come by. He wants more than you can barter, and more than you can hope to scrounge before Ed’s too far gone to save. Maybe you’ve never drawn a gun on a man in anger before, or maybe you have, but the question is: How desperate are you to save your friend?
Here’s another one for you: You haven’t found any food in several days. Your stores are running dangerously low, and you come back from a scouting run to find that one of the other survivors in your camp has been caught stealing from the storeroom. That’s the difference between life and death out here, not just for you but for the whole community that trusts you and relies on you. When Jeb mutters “Somebody get a rope,” what’s the call you’re going to make?
These are the kinds of stories we want to tell — stories that dig down into the people who survived the zombie apocalypse huddled together in makeshift habitation. We want to examine the conflicts that arise in these pressure-cooker situations, whether they’re related to long-term survival or the stresses of post-apocalyptic life or folks who just plain don’t like each other. We want to use the zombie apocalypse as a metaphor, to examine the human condition the way all the great zombie films do.
I have a little trick when I’m writing for Class3. Everything I write, whether it’s a character (like crusty old Doc Hanson or those trouble-causing Wilkerson boys), a plot element, or a chunk of dialogue, I ask myself: “Would this still be awesome if it didn’t have zombies?” If the answer is anything less than a resounding “yes!”, it goes back to the drawing board. Zombies bring the awesome to just about anything, but I don’t want to give you folks “just about anything”. I want to give you the awesomeness of zombies on top of the awesomeness of a compelling story full of interesting characters with nuanced, believable motivations.
Everything I’ve learned in my career as a writer and every project I’ve worked on has prepared me for writing Class3. Alpha Protocol taught me about forcing the player to make hard choices with no clear right or wrong answer, and making the consequences of those decisions have a lasting impact on the game space. Fallout: New Vegas taught me to build a believable post-apocalyptic society, and the tricks and techniques for writing a coherent story in an open-world game where any character can die at any time. My years of writing tabletop gaming books for World of Darkness were all about creating moments of evocative, intense horror and emotional conflict between characters.
So, there you have it: My philosophy on writing zombie games. Take the zombies out of the equation and be damn sure you’ve got a rock-solid story full of interesting, well-developed characters and exciting action.
Then put the zombies back in so those characters can smash their heads in with tire irons.
(Emily’s note: If you just can’t get enough Travis and would like to know more about him, be sure to check out Jeff’s introduction.)