Developer Appreciation Week is here! For the uninitiated the concept of Developer Appreciation week dates back to 2010 and was started by Couture Gaming the Blogger formerly known as Scarybooster. The idea was simple, spend a week talking about all of the things you love about various game development companies and studios. As a blogger we spend plenty of time pointing out what is wrong in the games we love, and talking about ways that they could be better. That said it is important to understand that for most of us this critique comes from being a huge fan of the games and genres as a whole. So during this week we point out the things that are going right and make a point of mentioning all the things we really appreciate out there. If you too are a blogger please feel free to join in by posting your own Developer Appreciation Week ideas.
I was first aware of the existence of Undead Labs back in November of 2009 when articles started filtering onto the various MMO news sites that this company had spun off of ArenaNet to create a zombie themed MMO. Firstly I am a huge fan of all things Undead, and I started watching any news about this upstart company to try and glean bits of information about the upcoming game. Few things make me happier than slashing my way through hordes of the walking dead, and I’m enough of a fan of the George Romero movies that I have a vial of dirt from the graveyard that the original Night of the Living Dead was filmed in. With time it was announced that they had set their sights on creating a really solid single player experience instead of an MMO, which honestly was probably a really solid move given that by the time the game would have released… the MMO market was looking a little shaky. On June 5th of 2013 the resulting game, State of Decay was released exclusively on the Xbox Live Arcade, and I bought it the moment it was available for purchase. If you were to craft a perfect Zombie game… you’d have State of Decay. I loved everything about it… minus one little detail. The game felt like it was originally designed to have co-op support if not a fully fleshed out MMO experience. However as excited as I was about the game I took to my blog and made a post talking about my day one impressions.
Shortly after making the post I had Annie Strain the wife of Undead Labs founder Jeff Strain interacting with me on twitter. This really told me that this game studio was a little different than the big polished institutions I was used to interacting with. Everything about Undead Labs seemed like a big family, rather than a business. I had the fortune to interact with a handful of them at Pax South 2015, as they were ramping up to launch both their pokemon-esc mobile MMO Moonrise and the State of Decay: Year One Survivor Edition. Just talking with them really brings home this feeling of them all being in this together. The best part however is that they really do make amazing games, and over the years since State of Decay has launched I have purchased it for so many of my friends. I even purchased the disc copy of YOSE for my boss, when I found out he had just purchased a Xbox One. While he is not a big gamer, he was a huge fan of The Walking Dead… and as a result is now also a huge fan of State of Decay. Once again… the only problem with the game is that it begs to be a multiplayer experience. We’ve talked about this before on our podcast, but if we could explore that game world with friends it would truly be one of the best games released on any platform.
Another huge boon about Undead Labs is the insanely hard working Sanya Weathers. If you have been around the MMO industry since the early days, there is a large chance you know that name. I became aware of her during my time playing Dark Age of Camelot, and always appreciated the job she did trying to wrangle the crazies and help out the folks who really needed assistance. Within the community management circles she is a bit “infamous” for her blogging days. Regardless of how you might remember her, she is one of those forces that it wouldn’t matter what company she was working with… I would pay attention to them from that point on. I am hugely thankful of my own interactions with her during the lead up to, and after Pax South 2015. I would not have actually had the interview with Undead Labs were it not for her reaching out to me on twitter, and that sort of proactive nature is just awesome. It was heartbreaking when the Studio announced that they would be cancelling Moonrise because I was right there with them pulling for it to be the next big breakout hit.
One of the folks that I met with during Pax South was Geoffrey Card the Lead Designer for State of Decay. Since the convention I’ve followed his movement a little more closely and found that he does this amazing series of live streams. What is awesome about these streams is that he tends to grab various folks from Undead Labs and streams over the pacific timezone lunchtime. The thing that I find valuable about them is the way that the various folks end up breaking down the games as they are playing them, and deconstruct what elements are really well done and what elements could use improvement. A lot of the games that I have seen him play are other zombie genre titles, and it feels like he is trying to grok everything that is going on in the title so that he can absorb it like a sponge and burn it down to the purist element to use for inspiration on State of Decay. As someone who has always been a bit of an armchair designer myself, I find the process valuable and it also serves to give the watchers a bit of a glimpse into the inner workings of the game studio itself at times. If you are into that sort of thing, I highly suggest you check the stream out sometime.
The best thing about the Developer Appreciation Week construct, is it gives me open season to write love letters to the various companies that I really respect and appreciate. Undead Labs is one that I knew without a doubt that I would be touching on during this week, and I am really excited to see whatever the next thing is that they are working on. Part of me is crossing my fingers hoping that we finally get either a co-op experience or a full fledged MMOized State of Decay. Regardless I will be watching any news about this great studio with interest.