The perfect zombified gaming experience

If somebody can make a competent DayZ clone on a console, they will make a killing.

Popular culture has always had a fascination with zombies.  The fad has never entirely gone away from literature and film but in gaming, the various mechanics of it are still being explored.  The nuances of existing within a post-apocalyptic and zombie infested world are so vast that most games only deal with specific aspects of it.  Most “Zombie Games” tend to focus on weapons to fight zombies and very little else.  There are many more threats during a zombie apocalypse than just zombies.  There is the environment; too cold and you will freeze, too hot and dehydration may get to you.  There is the threat of other human beings who may or may not be friendly.  What about your home?  Is your home safe from zombies or from people who will raid it? Are you a lone wolf or a group leader?  Zombie games have too many variables which is why most will put you in a role which defines your objectives almost automatically.

Left 4 Dead and Dead Island, although very different in their mechanics and presentation, focus on teams cooperating together to complete tasks through combat. Left 4 Dead offers significantly more action over plot and player growth whereas Dead Island favors a more basic traditional RPG style presentation.  Each of the characters in Dead Island have a specific set of skills which evolve over time which can make things a nightmare for zombies.  The avatars in Left 4 Dead are mostly cosmetic.  Their only real purpose is identifying other players clearly and firing guns.

Dead Island’s world is an open island paradise which the player can opt to drive vehicles to reach their destination.  It is populated by NPC characters who offer quests in exchange for money and rewards.  Weapons degrade with use and need to be repaired regularly.  Weapons also vary in strength and reliability depending on which character is swinging them. Because of the RPG elements of this game, characters will often “raid” sections of the map to farm the best loot they can from the enemies.

Left 4 Dead focuses much more on action within various environments and scenarios to escape from and managing the bullets to accomplish it.  The game throws hordes of zombies at you to keep you moving as well as a few special ones.  Some special zombies will immobilize you and you will need to rely on the services of another squad member to free you from their evil clutches.  Whether you’re fighting you’re way through a mall or an airport your motivation is always kill and move forward.

Resident Evil is action no matter which way you slice it.  Many claim the earlier games are the ones that ushered in the era of “survival horror” but I take issue with the “survival” portion.  I’ve never felt so ill equipped in a Resident Evil game that my “survival” was at stake. Resident Evil is, was and always will be an “action horror” title and a damn good one.  My point being that no matter which Resident Evil game you decide to play, you will be armed with either just enough or too much ammo for killing zombies.   The later games let you upgrade weapons so carrying a pistol is just as effective as carrying a rocket launcher if your aim is good.  The focus is definitely oriented towards killing zombies rather than avoiding them.

Telltale’s The Walking Dead is the best zombie game you would rather play as an open world game.  It does several things none of the other zombie games attempt to do.  A huge portion of surviving a zombie apocalypse are the choices you make to do so.  Another portion of surviving is the human element.  Who are your friends and who are your enemies?  As you progress through the story and you carry the weight of your choices, some of them carrying dire consequences made within fractions of a second, you will realize the zombies were not the biggest threat to your survival.  Sometimes your choices, though difficult to make, pay off in the end but again, you will have to live with making those tough choices to survive.

The major gripe with The Walking Dead is simply that the game follows the same major path and hits the same emotional highs and lows no matter how you play it. The conclusion is the same no matter how you play it.  Season 2’s finale offers a little bit more diversity which Season 3 can either celebrate or solidify back to a linear narrative to avoid being too complex.

Season 2 is a lot more intense.  The protagonist in question has memories from Season 1 which shaped her perspective on things. Certain events beyond her control have roots in the first season. Again, the same problem being that although the story is great, it is the same story being told as a choose-your-own-adventure.  Again, it is a great story.

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State of Decay is one hair away from being absolute nirvana as a zombie game. OK, several hairs away but they are only hairs.

I never knew about State of Decay until recently.  I was considering buying DayZ, which for my money is the ultimate zombie game, but we’ll get to that in a minute. State of Decay is a very simplified version of DayZ in a single player environment.  It deals with gaining people’s trust, and in turn you can play as those survivors within your group. You can upgrade survivor stats through various activities and complete missions whenever you want to.  You will end up killing your fair share of zombies but doing so may attract more.  If your survivor dies, that is it for them. You must select another and continue your journey.  State of Decay has a lot to do.  You must maintain high morale at your camp as well as accomplish many tasks to ensure survival.  You will need enough ammo, medicine and supplies to build and protect your camp. Certain things you build have perks such as repairing vehicles or making more space for survivors.  The survivors in your camp have their own personal agendas and do things whenever they want to.  If they fancy themselves a shooter, they may stand watch for a while.  Maybe they like cooking, they might be useful in the kitchen.  Some survivors go on missions and get into trouble and need you to help them out.

The world is persistent and it exists whether you’re in it or not so
PROTIP: When you exit the game, make sure your camp’s morale is maxed out. It does not seem impossible to keep everybody alive but on a mission to help an ally in trouble, he was torn apart right in front of me as I was arriving to save him.  I just had to deal with him dying.  The world being persistent is a double edged sword, on one hand you are constantly fighting off the threats around you, on the other hand there is very little sense of accomplishment.  There is no real way to secure an area forever and the same missions will always repeat so the most interesting thing to do as a player is to complete the story missions.  I have ideas to make this game slightly more enjoyable but let us skip that.  State of Decay is a great single player experience that is a few shades away from perfection.

DayZ!

I have very little hands on experience with the game itself and even considering that, the scope of the game has changed so much.  The game, as it stands is a raw experience.  You spawn into the area and it becomes a free-for-all.  Everything becomes random.  If you are lucky enough to get decent gear, you have to make sure you are fed, clothed properly and equipped to heal yourself or you could bleed to death.

Much like The Walking Dead, people are the real threat.  But unlike The Walking Dead the threat is actual people who are much more inclined to murder you than help you.  This aspect is very much the selling point of this game.  You are surviving against real people and it is the closest sense of living a life in a post apocalyptic zombie infested world. You spawn in, try to live, learn all you can, die, respawn, learn from your mistakes, die, learn from your mistakes, die, etc. and try to do a little better each time.  The hard part about DayZ is living long enough to build any sort of reputation or leaving a permanent mark on the world. The game itself is unfinished but servers frequently reset and erase any progress the player makes. As an unfinished game, there are several glitches that still lurk so it is impossible to judge where this game will end up. The biggest problem with it is the lack of progression.  On some level DayZ is all about putting you back to square one upon death.

But that is why it is ultimately perfect. You get one life to do the best you can and maybe you’ll live to see the end… if there is an end. The question of whether or not there is an end is what motivates the players in the environment.  Since there is no end, most players try to shoot other players for their loot.  Most of the items in the game require maintenance, wheels on cars need to be replaced, resources can be gathered and bases can be fortified but most players will run around shooting at each other instead of surviving. Finding the right server to play on changes everything.

—————————–><INTERMISSION><—————————–

I tried to briefly cover the essence of each popular Zombie game.  Now, I will attempt to even briefly-er outline how a game can hit the console market and make a killing if it can do it before DayZ.

—————————-></INTERMISSION><—————————–

The first console game to give the player more control in the zombie environment will become a thing…

So let me conceive a game that would take guts and skill to make. It combines ideas from all the games that I love.  I shall call it Z. Just Z.

Here is how I envision it.

Open the game case, install the game, press start, create a character and along with it a profile the game will cull data from for introduction purposes.  A person spawning into a city will have different advantages than a person spawning in the countryside. The option to start out completely “naked” in the wilderness can also be selected.  The story will eventually reach the same conclusion but the aftermath of it is influenced by how you started and play through the game.

During the initial spawn in Z, the game walks you through the basic idea of gathering resources via cutting down trees, looting, establishing a base, recruiting survivors, maintaining health, expansion, migration and then sets you free.

If the player you created, dies, they are dead forever and their responsibilities fall on another trusted ally.  If no trusted ally can be found, then the game reverts to an autosave.

The main goal of the player is to get to a safe haven located very, very far away and you are ill equipped to make the journey.  It is not a journey that can be made alone or neglected for too long.  Even though some areas have more resources to be found than others, the amount of them is finite.  If a group of survivors gather in one place for too long, resources may become stretched thin. Doing things like creating a garden or managing livestock increases the length of time the player can survive in an area.

At the conclusion of the game, you’ll discover a way to cure the disease.  You have the option to either stay in the haven or bring the cure outside.  Should you choose to bring the cure outside, you get to give it to whoever you want but it is not an infinite supply.  The game doesn’t end for the player until he or she decides to start over or manages to cure everybody.

Here is the clincher.  The world is randomly generated and accompanied by a “seed code” like Minecraft.  Whoever has your seed code can input it into their world map. This would open up new options that go as deep as the developer wishes.  This could be a simple opportunity to assist an ally within their world, open trade routes or be a case of warring tribes.

TL:DR

  • Minecraft’s random world creation.
  • State of Decay’s linear directive story.
  • Dead Island’s Melee focus.
  • DayZ’s physics and bullet mechanics.
  • Create and inhabit outposts with specific directives. (The capabilities and resources needed to maintain a medical hut vs a hospital)
  • Find and recruit survivors needed for advanced tasks. (Mechanics repair cars. Doctors cure disease etc.)
  • Items degrade and can be maintained as well as upgraded.
  • Upon death, player assumes the role of a random survivor or their closest NPC ally within the same world.

The game does have an “end” but has the illusion of being endless by virtue of the game world being inhabitable after the conclusion. There are still tasks to be done until the player is satisfied.

That’s just my two cents though.

Kudos.

The Jaded Gamer (IamFN2K@gmail.com)
(@IamFN2K)

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