DAW2016 – Undead Labs

undeadlabs

DAW2016_logo

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.

undeadlabs

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.

Flower Power

Bad Brain

This morning I am struggling a bit to get started with my normal blogging process.  Right now I am going through what I generally term as a “low spot” in my mental health.  I have been feeling depressed and generally disconnected from the world lately.  It is like I am staring out a window and watching the world go by in fast motion.  Additionally I seem to be focused on only the bad things.  Like I could have a dozen normal conversations, but my brain is heat seeking in on the moments that don’t go perfectly.  Analyzing them, breaking them apart, wallowing in my imagined failure.  What frustrates me the most is that I have a pretty awesome life, but when my brain is on a down cycle it certainly doesn’t seem like it, and my internal critic has been working overtime.

The thing is, it wouldn’t be quite so bad if my brain would just stop with statements like pointing out that I have gained weight, or that I am failing to live up to this or  that goal.  It always has to be the bully and take things one step too far.  My brain is telling me constantly that I am an imposter and that no one actually likes me, and that at best everyone simply tolerates my actions.  My brain is kicking things up another notch over the last few days, and incessant about telling me that the world would simply be a better place if I no longer existed.  The thing is… I know deep down inside my core that my brain is a liar, but man…  is it relentless.  I am not expecting anything from this, but I figured I would open up a bit more into my own personal struggles.  No one likes hanging around with someone that bums them out, but maybe me talking about it helps someone else who is struggling with the same demons.  I know my brain is wrong, and that this will pass in time… but right now, it is pretty hellacious to live with 24/7.

Flower Power

ffxiv 2015-04-29 20-59-51-21 Last night was yet another running of the second static in our Final Fantasy Free Company.  We are still struggling a bit to gather up the eight people needed to raid, but hopefully as people continue leveling and gearing that will change a bit.  Ultimately I would love it were I able to be an optional in this group, since I have my group that meets seriously on Monday already, and our secondary night on Saturday before the podcast.  That said at raid time we managed to gather up seven people and attempted to pug an eighth.  That didn’t go terribly well, because while we were talking about the fights he ran off and pulled some golems.  I mean on one level I get it, because we had not said much in the game chat, and were sorting things out on voice chat…  but taking it upon yourself  to pull is rarely the right answer.  After a few wipes he refused to resurrect and we kicked him, abandoning duty and bringing in Ashgar.  From that point on the night seemed to improve.

Things were far more tense than they should have been, and there was a bit of an outburst on Teamspeak but other than that things fell in place fairly well.  I would be bummed that this team managed to get turn six in a single night of tries, whereas it took our team two nights…  but this group is leaning heavily on past experience.  When we tried to do each turn we tried really hard to go in as a blank slate and figure things out as they happened.  It was cool though to get another raid boss killed with this group and we moved on to Turn Seven.  There are a lot of moving parts in that fight, and largely the group still needs to figure out how best to control the Renaud freezing action.  It is a really fun fight and even more than turn six, it came back to me quickly as we started going through the motions.  I am starting to wonder though if I should be running Paladin on these fights since Damai is a Warrior main.  Not sure what additional benefit having a Paladin would give the group since it has a slightly different skillset.  Would at least give me practical experience doing stuff as my “other” tank class.

Another Outpost

StateOfDecay 2015-04-29 12-34-32-25 The other game that I played a significant amount of yesterday was State of Decay Year One Survivor Edition.  I am back to playing Marcus after going on some crazy misadventures as Maya.  When I last played I got the radio announcement that a military presence had been spotted on the outskirts of town.  Having done this song and dance before I knew that it was best to take Maya over there to check it out.  Additionally at that point Marcus was doing the whole “not sure how long I can go on” thing, meaning he was exhausted and needed to be rested.  Around this same time I got reports that two hordes of zombies were getting close to town.  I’ve found the best way to take out a horde is vehicular zombiecide.  So I laughably grabbed the Pizza Delivery car and took the the roads running them down.  This ends up stirring up quite a few additional zombies in the process, but far less in my experience than trying to put down a horde with gun fire.

After quelling the two hordes I moved on to the Military encampment and it went just as well as it had in the past.  The military wants everyone to stay inside and shelter in place… which is fine and good until the zombies try breaking down your door.  The military house was next to one of the survivor houses I was working on gaining trust with.  Unfortunately the person that normally gives me quests to complete to gain their trust was not available, so not sure exactly where they wandered off to.  About this time I got a frantic radio message from Lucy telling me that her brother was trapped and needed my help.  He had managed to get himself pinned down in a barn, and I had to ride in and save the day.  This actually was tougher than I thought it would be and ended up having to clear about nine zombies to get to him and save him.  By this time Maya was going through her whole “too exhausted to continue” routine, but I managed to finish things off and get back home with Jacob.  So there we are, back home and ready for another jaunt out with Marcus.  Hopefully I will get in and play some more tonight.

Year One Survivor Edition

State of Decay

State of Decay Sept 2013 Back in June of 2013 I was completely amped with the release of State of Decay on the Xbox Live Arcade.  While I am not traditionally a console gamer I spent a good deal of my time out in the loft playing this game at launch.  When it came out that September of the PC I was even more excited because it meant that I would be spending more time playing it.  Since then I have picked up the two expansions…  that I have woefully not spent much time playing.  This has been one of those titles that when it goes on sale I sent copies to friends, considering it is as close to the perfect zombie survival game as I have ever played.  The only flaw however is the fact that this game desperately wants to be multiplayer.  In fact when I told my friends last night what I was playing before the raid…  the immediate response was an excited question asking if they added in multiplayer.

State of Decay: Year One Survivor Edition 2015 While I did not take the best reference shots, because I was too busy playing the game…  I did dig up one of the screenshots I took playing the original steam release in the above section, and now directly above this paragraph is a screenshot from the Year One Survivor Edition… which is essentially an HD Remaster more than anything.  I definitely find screenshot two more appealing.  The first screenshot uses a lot of deep shadow to mask the extremely muddy textures, whereas the second shot is more willing to let you see things more naturally.  Another thing that I really dig is that the game has some nice Depth of Field going on in the YOSE edition.  You can see this in the second character on screen but even more so below in the shot of my character climbing the tower in town to scout for a view.  The world feels more “real” which makes it all the more creepy as you are wandering the wastes looking for resources.

Year One Survivor Edition

Awesome Depth of Field Effects The biggest thing I have noticed while playing is that the controls seem much more responsive.  I am playing the game using the exact same black wired xbox 360 controller I did the first time, but this time around everything feels more fluid.  If this were just shooting I would think potentially it was me, since between the times playing this game…  I played a lot of Destiny with a controller, which has greatly improved my aiming.  I am noticing it especially when I am driving a car however, that things feel more controllable and less all over the place.  Additionally the melee combat feels more responsive.  This is aided by the fact that our character has now learned how to use a knife, instead of simply kicking zombies when your melee weapon breaks.  Stupid as this sounds, it feels even more “walking dead” thanks to this little motion.  This works unbelievably well when your companion holds the zombie and you finish them off with the knife.  I did a lot of this in the lake area before moving into the town for example.

All Three Versions in One I did not make it terribly far last night, because I was playing for about an hour before and after my World of Warcraft raid, but I did manage to get far enough in to remember why I liked this game so much.  Since it had been so long since I had last played, I opted to just restart the original campaign, as it tends to be the best way to ease into the game.  Additionally while running around yesterday at lunch I picked up a Xbox One copy for my boss, so I am figuring he will want to discuss what is going on in the game.  He is not much of a gamer but picked up the  Xbox One because his grand kids also have one…  and is a huge Walking Dead fan so I figured State of Decay was just about the perfect game for him.  I am one of those people that can do something, but struggle to talk someone through it… unless I am doing it myself.  I figured the only way I could be of any help to him was to actually be playing the content myself.

Making Progress

StateOfDecay 2015-04-28 22-56-06-48 Like I said earlier I did not make a ton of progress, but after having played this multiple times I feel like maybe my play is a bit more focused than it was the first time.  As a result I have already rescued one group of survivors, cleaned out the veterinary clinic, built an outpost, built a sleeping area, built a workshop… and am working on building trust with a second group of survivors.  Not too shabby for about two hours of play if I do say so myself.  The whole “knowing what you are doing” aspect definitely speeds things up, as well as having a basic understanding of the lay of the land.  The first time I played this game I was having to constantly check the map, whereas this time around I can navigate at least somewhat based on landmarks.  I remember on my first play I overshot the church by a huge margin, crashed my car… had to get a new one… and finally made it back to the church at night.  This time I went straight there, knowing there was no real sense in exploring until I had done the introductory stuff at the church.

This is still a really great game, and like I said at the start of all of this… the only weakness is it would be so much more enjoyable were I exploring with my friends.  The bane of my existence is just how fast melee weapons break.  I feel like this is a game about me searching for my next weapon, more than anything else.  I rarely use guns, and prefer to take on the zombies in close range… in part  because it doesn’t summon more zombies to the gun shots.  Additionally I really do not want to summon a zombie horde down upon me.  That said I did at one point clear out a couple of hordes with a random car, which was extremely gratifying.  The other strange thing I have noticed is that I no longer fear the zombies.  The first time I played this game I was scared to death of interaction with them.  Every time I would search a location I would take the time to carefully board it up before proceeding.  Now I just deal with the zombies as they come… so in a way it feels like the transition someone would have to make in this world.  I understand it better, and therefore I am less concerned by it.  Still having a blast after all of the time I have played the game in the past, which is quite the compliment to the developers.

#StateOfDecay #YOSE #UndeadLabs