DeadLife: The Co-Op Zombie Sandbox game we would make.

Posted: March 20, 2011 by ryanlecocq in Off-topic

Here we go again, it’s time for another pipe dream game idea.  Brice and I have waxed on many a time about how there is neither a competent co-op sandbox game or a zombie sandbox game and there should be both.  While Left4Dead and now Dead Island are making the zombie-dramatic-action game a new genre, we have yet to see a game that plays like Far Cry with zombies.  Many, many people have voiced ideas about how this game would work, but we haven’t seen a single one so far.  The main concepts all of them share though are a single persistent location visited by many players online and the idea of different bands of survivors working towards different goals.  Enter our idea: Survivor Stories.

The core of DeadLife is the 8 predetermined characters that a host player can choose from when creating a game.  Each has their own story and goals within the game’s world that will take them across the small town and surrounding county in which the game takes place.  Once the host selects a character and begins the campaign, the lobby appears for other players to join in either a public or friends only game.  Up to 32 other players can then join the session as either the 7 remaining survivors, attempting to finish their own plot simultaneously, or as their own avatar doing as they like.  When I say avatar I don’t mean your dashboard avatar.  I mean you create your own Confederate flag and skull-n-crossbones covered marauder and pursue whatever mayhem suits you.  You can either join a survivor party, replacing an AI civilian, or you can work against any or all of the survivor groups.

So whether you’re playing as Leon the truck-driver, trying to find his wife, or whether you’re MadCrabs817 who doesn’t give a crap about anybody, you’re in the same persistent world.  Game sessions would move along a set timeline like Dead Rising so that the events happened in a somewhat predictable pattern.  So for example if we had formed a party of marauders and saw the chemical plant explode in the distance, we know someone is doing Leon’s plot and will end up in the NW suburbs soon.  We can then form a band of like minded individuals and occupy the neighborhood before the survivor party gets there.  Much like well known encounters in shooters (The half-wall in Dust, the cave in Blood Gulch, you know what I mean), every set-piece in DeadLife’s town would become a familiar spot for players to encounter each-other in different ways.  Just like how any good Battlefield player knows how to both attack and defend every point on every map, the game would encourage playing both sides.  But let’s not forget that this conflict has three sides.  Of course you can play as a zombie.

Although it was flawed in many ways, Resident Evil: Outbreak had some brilliant ideas for a zombie survival co-op game.  One of which was that when the infection overcame you, you join the ranks of the shambling undead.  I remember fondly the joy of standing perfectly still after turning so that I could grab another player and bite them before the party realized I was now the enemy.  Even though the game was co-operative, we have a learned acceptance that once you go undead, all bets are off.  So one feels no guilt as a player immediately turning on their friends.

This is a concept I would love to see work in DeadLife.  If you are a survivor, it’s understandable that your friends would be pissed if you wiped out the whole team after turning, wasting everyone’s efforts for the last hour or more.  So the game would use a concept we know from movies of the survivor trying to resist turning.  Survivors would fight the controller to try and prevent their corpsified self from ending the mission by eating everyone.  Marauders on the other hand, exist under a common understanding of chaos.  A fellow marauder for example would never question you in team chat based on whether you kept attacking the survivors after turning or bit your best friend’s nose off.  Marauders also follow a movie stereotype of highly aggressive people becoming highly aggressive zombies.  So when your huge, beer-guzzling, trucker-hat-wearing marauder turns undead, it’s more like the berserk in Doom.  When a marauder goes undead, it’s like going Incredible Hulk and your teammate’s understand that it’s best to stay out of your way.

As far as the little details to fill out the game, my list is pretty standard.  Persistent items and objects across the map, ie: I knock over a garbage can and it will still be knocked over if you see it an hour later.  A huge variety of real world objects that can be used as the player sees fit.  The biggest part would be a physics engine that makes Havok look primitive (or at least ancient, which it is).  In order to make it possible for players to try every single crazy zombie idea and get realistic results, everything in the game would need to behave properly.  Glue would need to dry and duct tape would sure as hell have to work as advertised.  Gasoline should have explosive fumes while lamp oil requires direct flame for a full second to light.  Such a game engine may not exist yet, but it would have to for a game like this to really work.

  1. lagunawsu2 says:

    After reading this I had some thoughts before I fell asleep last night:

    All in all you have 8 survivors, and since I’m all about the tech trees, that means you have 4 tech trees with the two most powerful abilities at the top. For survivors, most of this stuff is grayed out, meaning you have a very limited amount of options. Leon can only go part of the tank tree and part of the medic tree, but he can go all the way down the gun tree and grab his unique powerful at the top. (Duel wielding?) This is, of course, out the window for Marauders, as you can pick anything from any tree you like, but you don’t have access to any of the top tier abilities.

    The four trees would be as follows:

    1. Tank (Taking damage/ability to guard other players, also I think some melee options.)

    2. Damage (the gun tree, this is where you learn to shoot weapons automatically, etc.)

    3. Support (Medic type, can forestall zombiefication for a limited time, can heal others HP.)

    4. Zombie (Become a zombie quicker and for longer, control a limited amount of zombies, learn to heal yourself by draining their dark energy at the cost of zombiefication, etc.)

    Some ideas for Survivors:

    Natasha (Nurse, has access to more gun tree and tank tree than Jones. Ult is full heal all.)

    Doctor Jones (Old dude, very little guns and tank, best support in the game, final ability can just take you straight from zombie to human.)

    Jack Nimble (Youth, has the ability to copy anyone’s abilities to a lesser degree, moderate amounts of all the trees, except zombie, where he can go the furthest the fastest and get to his ultimate, which is to go “berserk” as per Marauder zombies and still be human, for a time.)

    Rose (Youth, younger than Jack. No tank tree, no guns tree. Almost full support tree and Full zombie tree. Final ability, zombie control; The scene of these marauders about to attack a lone little girl and then she points at them and says “GO MY PRETTIES!” made me laugh pretty hard.)

    Also on the Marauder card, I was debating with how to handle death. My first thought was it would be just like a survivor, your back to your last “stage” or “point” or whatever, but I think this should be a bonus only for survivors. Instead, marauders when they die are either just perma-dead (IE go make a new character) or conversely you could keep your “level” but you would lose all your abilities, which you would have to make up with earned points again.

    All conjecture here, also I think these concepts could work just as well without tech trees but with a more Runescape type system (you perform skill X you get experience for skill X) This means that Rose could fire guns too, she just would never get beyond the basic level but for Leon he would only have a pistol for maybe the first 20 minutes and would quickly advance to more…deadly things.

    • ryanlecocq says:

      I was actually leaning towards a perk system, since Dead Island already has a skill tree system. Dead Island is also a sandbox game, but it’s more of a 4 player co-op drama like L4D.

  2. Nigel says:

    Man I have been dying for a game like this! I even attempted such a game about a year+ ago. I tried it as my first game (which unfortunately most of these are), and I didn’t quite have the skill or the knowledge to complete such a large scale game. I’ve since moved to smaller games, but possibly I’ll go back to the project 🙂

    Anyways really great post, I wish such a game existed…

    • ryanlecocq says:

      Although I don’t think the game we envision will exist anytime soon, I have high hopes for Dead Island. I guess only a couple of months ’til we find out.

      I unfortunately don’t have the patience to code games. The farthest I ever get is making mods and such. If wishes were fishes though.

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