The lights are on
Players have had their choice of zombie games for years now. But recent experiments like the ARMA II mod DayZ and the controversial The War Z have opened up the apocalyptic formula with an online, open-world design. Neither title is polished, but the concept itself has kept gamers enamored. Our time with the games got us thinking about features we’d like to see in a zombie MMO.
In 2008, a virtual plague spread through the World of Warcraft. The zombie disease preceded the launch of a new expansion, Wrath of the Lich King, and rocked the world of Azeroth. Infected grain shipments inflicted players with a zombie illness that they could then transmit to other players. Packs of undead NPCs also roamed through cities, spreading their corruption. We’re not sure how we’d like it to be implemented, but a spreadable zombie illness could make player interactions and death tenser.
Varied Zombie Types
Both The War Z and DayZ rely on fast zombie types. The speedy undead make sprints through empty forests more thrilling, but exploring city streets is annoying when you’re chased miles out of town for making a single misstep. We’d like to see a mix of slow, early Resident Evil-style zombies along with Olympian sprinter Left 4 Dead zombies. We’re not saying we want permadeath in this hypothetical zombie game, but if players do become zombies it’d be more fun to control one that can move faster than a toddler.
I shouldn’t even have to write this down, but if you played DayZ or The War Z you know what I’m talking about. Shooting zombies and leaping over fences isn’t fluid in either game, thanks to clunky controls. I’d love the mobility to resemble Mirror’s Edge. A first-person view would limit your peripheral vision, lending a sense of claustrophobia. But if you have the skills, you can scale a low roof or slide under a truck to hide from zombies. Throw in iron-sights aiming on par with modern shooters, and you have a recipe for great gameplay.
Progression in an online, open-world zombie game wouldn’t benefit from the stat boosts and magic spells of games like WoW, but Far Cry 3 implements a unique skill tree that slowly turns the player into a killing machine. Upgradeable health, weapon accuracy, reload speed, stamina, and more could make surviving the apocalypse more satisfying. One top of that, perhaps players could scavenge the world for elements to create a cure. The quest to track down research books and antidote components could capture some of the excitement of creating Chuck’s motorcycle in Dead Rising 2: Case Zero.
Refined Survivor Interactions
Oftentimes in DayZ your worst enemies aren’t zombies – they’re bandits. Virtually no penalties exist to deter violent survivors from taking out other players and looting their corpses. MMOs from Ultima Online to Lineage have reputation systems that punish griefers, but those systems have traditionally been easy to game for dedicated wrongdoers. An improved design that rewards helpful players rather than trying to judge criminal behavior, offering delayed incentives for helping out your fellow man, could help balance out the short-term appeal of robbing someone blind.
Finding ammunition or medicine in an old RV or shop is one thing, but surviving off the land is another. A good online zombie should allow players to sustain themselves either in urban or rural environments. Players trying to elude the throngs of zombies in dead cities should be able to forage for canned goods and bottled waters in abandoned stores. Survivors who prefer avoiding the undead masses in favor of less-populated woods should be able to hunt animals and collect plants, as in Red Dead Redemption or Far Cry 3. Quietly biking across the countryside while hunting deer with a bow and arrow sounds like a great way to stay alive during a zombie apocalypse, and players should have that choice.
Image from Universal Picture's 2004 Dawn of the Dead remake
DayZ and The War Z plop you in the middle of a zombie apocalypse that’s been going on for who knows how long. There’s no tutorial or introduction, just survival. This may be hardcore, but this isn’t how a zombie apocalypse would play out. Some of the most intense and fascinating drama in zombie fiction occurs at the beginning of the end. Lee’s harrowing adventure in The Walking Dead is made more interesting because of his fateful ride in the back of a cop car as the zombie outbreak began. A gripping prologue could start players off in in a suburban neighborhood overrun with zombies, or an infected military base. Wandering the wilderness and skulking through infested city streets is tense, but the apocalypse should begin with a bang. A good starting zone could frontload the experience with more action, serve as a tutorial, and give players a greater sense of ownership over their character.
Light Building Crafting
One of the greatest moments in Minecraft is surviving your first night. You must cobble together a ramshackle hut or dig yourself a hole in the ground to survive the terrors that roam come nightfall. A building system similar to this would useful in an online zombie game. Players could barricade homes, destroy staircases, or create traps to help keep them safe from the undead. We’re not asking for full-fledged excavations like Minecraft, but anything would be better than nothing. Additionally, we want to be able to explore the insides of every structure – no more impenetrable plywood doors and windows.
These are just a few suggestions we think could make online zombie experiments like DayZ more fun. What do you want?