Sunday, 24 July 2011

Project Zomboid

Zombie shooters, survival horror, it's all been seen before. Games like Left 4 Dead create a frantic and incredibly bloody zombie shooting experience. Mixed in with a few survival elements such as being conservative over the use of medical kits and painkillers. Resident Evil, another popular video game series, also does a similar job, with more focus on survival. Ammunition is scarce and careful use of it is key to survival. These concepts, however fun they may be, are still very basic. They don't focus on the human needs of survival horror. There is no realistic injury, the characters never eat or drink, never get ill or need to sleep. I suppose a game that does include such things can almost be considered a zombie survival sim. The Indie title Project Zomboid wants to fill this void in the survival horror market. Project Zomboid has been in development for some time now by a small team of developers. It's a 2D isometric survival game that can be played in either your browser or a client on PC, Mac or Linux. Currently, only a tech demo is available, but a lifetime license can also be purchased. The team intend to release the game in a similar fashion to that of cultural phenomenon Minecraft, by allowing consumers to purchase the license in order to fund the game, and then releasing updates that are free for them to access.

The fire brigade were incredibly slow that day.

Project Zomboid aims to be a sandbox game, there is no specific storyline, the idea of the game is to simply survive a zombie apocalypse in an urban environment. The player can make safehouses by boarding up houses, and the aim of the game is to survive as long as possible. The game features no save system - so death is permanent. This feature has been received in a number of different ways by the game's audience. The bottom line is, it gives the game a different set of objectives. If the player could save, they would be much less caring over the character they play. Death being permanent helps to add a sense of desperation to the gameplay - a sense of immersion. The developers have explained the game on their site as 'the story of your death' and that is essentially what the game is. There is no way to survive forever, it simply isn't possible. The fun is in surviving as long as you can.

This next qoute is what I personally find the most interesting - it's taken directly from the game's website (a link can be found at the end of this post): "Starvation, illness, loneliness, depression, alcoholism, drug addiction, suicide, sanity, trust issues. There's more to zombie survival than shooting zombie heads off." This game aims to be deeply strategic, and incredibly realistic. I've played through the tech demo myself and seen example of some of these features. The character is designed to be as realistic as possible. For example, he has levels of awareness which dictate his field of vision and how quickly it moves into a new room when opening a door. If he is tired, hungry or injured his awareness is reduced along with his accuracy and attack speed. If a zombie is spotted suddenly that is very close to him, he will experience shock. This shock will further reduce his speed and accuracy, putting him in increased danger. The character can get ill, and only time and rest can cure the illness. If you are in pain, pain killers need to be applied, if you can't sleep due to pain you'll need sleeping pills. There is just so much to talk about in this game, the scope and ambition is enormous. The character also becomes injured - there is no health bar in this game. You have a status panel that displays the condition of each part of the character's body. If he becomes scratched he will need bandages to stop the bleeding, and pain killers to stop the pain.

A very indepth item crafting system is also planned for the game. At the moment there are only some basic recipes, such as ripping up sheets to make bandages or hammering nails into a baseball bat for that classic zombie killing weapon. The player can use cans of soup and can openers to cook actual meals - the ovens even work. Leave an oven on too long however, and you'll have a fire on your hands. This is just another example of the layer of depth the development team are going for in this title.

There are a lot more planned features on the site that remain to be seen. For example, RPG character progression. It is difficult at the moment to see where this will fit in and how the developers manage to pull it off. A basic concept of experience and levels would work, with the player maybe choosing between different perks with each level. But the creativity and vision of the development team makes me think they'll have something much more original in mind for this system. NPC survivors are also planned, they may be friendly or offer missions, or be hostile and attempt to take your resources. Co-op multiplayer is also planned, a very promising concept. The number of players that will be able to join a single game is not yet announced. The last and most interesting of these features will be game-changing events the longer you manage to survive. An example given on the website is power plants failing, plunging you into darkness. This means flashlights are the order of the day - making batteries all the more valuable.

I have only touched the surface of the potential this game has, and the only downside is that due to this it's going to be a long time before we see a full release. The developers are obviously interested in adding as much depth as possible. However, this does beg the question, how much is too much. They could easily add features that conflict with others, or that make the game far too complex to play. It almost faces the same situation that Notch faced with Minecraft a while ago - when is the game 'complete'? Any game can have any number of features, but it is essential for a developer to strike a point where the game is exactly as envisioned and not overly complex. I'll be following this title closely myself, and you can too by following the link below. I highly recommend checking out the tech demo, why not purchase a license to support this amazing title!

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