Urban Dead – Revisited

Nearly three months ago, I mentioned a game by the name of Urban Dead. At the time, I checked it out, messed around one day and then dismissed it. I just wasn’t interested in a web based text adventure.

Things change.

I have been checking out all sorts of games since my recent abandonment of all my usual MMO haunts. With City of Heroes/Villains and World of Warcraft canceled and Lord of the Rings Online only holding on by the skin of its founder price, I really wanted something low impact that I could just play at now and then without investing any time (since any time I invest will be in beta tests or my 360). I stumbled back on Urban Dead and decided to give it a go, this time from both sides of the fence.

Everything in the game is controlled through Action Points, which you earn at the rate of 1 per half hour and you max out at 50. As a survivor, walking from one block to the next costs 1 point, and so does just about everything else. Searching, attacking, talking, entering buildings, etc. As one of the undead, walking takes 2 points per block, at least until you get enough experience points to buy the Lurching Gait skill that allows you to move as fast as the living. The limit of points you get per day means you have to keep track of where you are and how long it will take you to get back to safety. The living don’t want to get caught outside, the dead don’t want to wind up standing alone near lots of people. Really, this is where the strategy of the game comes in.

While the game does contain “levels” and skills that you purchase with your experience points, there isn’t, at least for me, a huge rush to max out and get to the top because this game has no “end game”, its just about survival.

I’m really enjoying the game far more than I thought I originally would, and its totally worth the cost… free. If you decide to check it out, I’m Jhaer on the living side and Reahj on the dead side.

2007: Day 2

Breakfast is good. Expensive, but good. Luckily this year we’ve got a ton of Marriott gift certificates to use to we basically eat for free… go, go credit card rewards points!

On to the zombie walk… okay, lets talk about a good idea: Get a bunch of people together dressed as zombies, stumble down the street. Now lets talk about poor execution… do this at the same time as the parade, along side the parade, but not in the parade. Seriously, a better show, since they didn’t get into the parade, would have been to pick a time, say around noon, and walk as a group through the three participating hotels. Ah well, maybe next year…

Saturday was looking to be a zombie day as I headed over to see the Zombie Squad. They were hilarious, but at the same time informative and cool. While they take on the far flung fantasy of a zombie uprising, they do so in focusing in general disaster preparedness. Take a look around your house, if you were to be cut off from communications, power, running water… if it were to all shut down, could you survive the first 72 hours on what you have?

A visit to Dragon*Con isn’t complete without a trip through the Art Show. Definitely some cool stuff to look at, but some times I wonder how they come up with the prices of the art… I see one piece, very nice, oil painting, $300… a few booths down, another oil, $6,500. I didn’t really see much of a difference between the two. There was another 1/8 scale diorama this year, last year was undead which was very cool… this year is Star Wars. Something about the little bastards of tattooine… jawas, storm troopers and sand people. Very nice.

After a short break, I went down and caught the end of the “Is Warcraft an MMO with training wheels?” to which the answer was a resounding “Yes” even though the “hardcore raiders” didn’t want to hear it. People were calling their game “easy” and “simple”, and it is, from level 1 to 60 (now 70) you don’t need help, you can level on your own and be just fine, but at the level cap the game gets “hard” because you wind up needing a guild, or at least a few friends to power through Arena and Battlegrounds.

That was followed by a panel on the nitty gritty of MMO Design. Mostly the room seemed to be filled with people who didn’t want to hear “Its not easy, in fact its a lot of hard work and takes a whole team of people.”

Ever watched a movie about the end of the world? Ever watched a bunch of them? Ever notice that the same archetypes of characters keep showing up? I attended a panel to discuss exactly that: what types keep showing up and why. Most interesting was the aspect of how American films differ from British films and both of those are miles away from Asian films. Fun talks.

While I skipped out on a screening of “The Signal” earlier in the day (I’ve seen it), I did want to attend a Q&A panel of the cast a crew. A.J. Bowen likes to wink at me, but I think only because I wink back… but its not in a gay way. Really.

The day ends as it always does… with drinking and people watching, running into old friends, laughing and talking… and sleep.

Good night.

Aspect of the The Walking Dead

I’ve written about The Walking Dead before, and in my continued efforts to talk about my game idea without rehashing the same stuff over and over, I will write about them again.

There are six collections now instead of four as when I wrote before, and the story remains good. There are elements in here that just make sense to me, and are in line with the story of the world I would present in my game. If you haven’t read all the comics, I’m about to ruin one thing for you, so skip the rest unless you want the spoiler… its not that huge of a spoiler, so don’t get too bent…

In the comic, one of the things revealed that I really liked is the idea that everyone is doomed. See, The Walking Dead doesn’t refer to just the zombies. After an incident where someone who died through other means, never having been bitten by a zombie, comes back as a zombie, its apparent that whatever causes the zombies is already in everyone, just dormant. They are all going to become zombies, no matter how they die, unless their death involves the destruction of their own bodies such that they can’t rise.

This aspect will be integral to my game. I talked earlier about how players will have to manage food and resources, and how those will deplete even when offline. When you die, you are dead. There is no resurrecting or respawning, if you want to play more you have to start a new character. Then, if you want, you can travel to your old character’s hide out and kill the zombie-old-you if someone hasn’t done it already. When you die, you are undead. Your body will rise as an NPC, and if there are people unfortunate enough to be living with you, if they aren’t careful, they may be undone from within.

Zombies: Dialog and Quests

After mulling over the ideas in this post over at nerfbat, I thought I’d tackle it as it concerns my game design.

How would I present dialog? Well, thankfully I get out of part of it in that my only NPCs are the undead and all they do is moan. Of course, that brings up an interesting idea of do I display the moans as text or just audio that gets louder the closer they are and the larger the crowd? I like the idea of audio, even directional audio, but there might need to be an option to turn on text, just incase deaf people might want to play and not play as a deaf person. It is a role playing game, after all.

But if there are no NPCs, how will there be quests?

To understand the drive of the game, you have to understand the backbone driving force of the game: the tamagotchi.

Essentially, its a much more complicated version of that simple child’s toy… but if you boil it down, so is life and my Zombie MMO is really nothing more than a Life Simulator in a world of the undead. SimRomero, if you will.

Your character will have a stat sheet where you can monitor and manage things like how much you eat per day and how that affects your energy levels and overall health. You’ll be able to see how long your food supplies will last given your rate of consumption, and a projection of how long you will last without food given your current level of health. There might also be things like progression bars toward dementia, which can be reduced by human contact or reading books or listening to music, basically anything other than dealing with zombies.

So where are the quests? In a way there will be two sorts of quest like devices in the game…

The first will be player designed, largely including trade. If you have a stash of salt, a ton of it, and you have a need for other supplies, you will be able to set up a trade mission where you will trade X salt for Y other product until you have Z of said product. Players who stumble upon your safehaven while you are offline will be met at gunpoint and offered the quest. It will jot down in their notebook what you are looking for and what you will give for it. The twist here is that since you can specify a cut off point, like say you want oranges, 6 at a time, stopping when you have 4 dozen, its possible that player may find 6 oranges, return to you and find that you’ve already hit your limit of 4 dozen and are no longer taking oranges in trade. But that’s okay, its not a total waste since he can use the oranges himself, or in another trade.

The second will be presented in a “kill sheet” style, where you can earn Xbox360 style achievements by doing things. Kill 100 undead and you might get a title. A second title might be waiting at 500, a third at 2000, and so on. Have you been well fed for the past 30 days? Title. Killed another player? Title. Killed 100 other players? Title. Survived for a year? Title. You get the idea… As part of this, the game will include online profiles of players through the website, even the ability to make message board signatures that will include your stats (like the Xbox gamer tags). And of course, the system will include an options for hiding your profile completely, or making it viewable only to people logged in and on your friends list.

It sounds overly simplistic, I’m sure, but that’s the goal of the game: simple and fun. I don’t need to be a WoW-killer, I just want enough people playing so that maybe I can quit my “real” job.

2006: Day 3 – An Age in a Day

I could write about the panels I wasted my morning on. Well, wasted isn’t really the right word… the swordfighting display was cool, as were the various writing panels, but the free form discussion of game modding was kinda lame. I mean, how many different ways can someone ask, “But what if it doesn’t work?” and the guests respond with a new form of “Then you fix it.” I showed some friends the undead siege art. But I’m not going to spend much time on that, because frankly, I want to live in the Age of Conan.

Funcom is here and they have a booth for their upcoming game, but today they did a full blown demo using the current beta client and servers (they actually used their live data thanks to the Hilton providing the internet access). All my worries for this game have been pushed aside, and if Vanguard still wants my business they better show me something cooler than this.

The first thing we are shown is the character creation. Have you played City of Heroes? Their costumes are cool, but the body and face creator in AoC is freakin’ amazing. You can give yourself scars or a broken nose, you can be all sorts of skinny or fat, its just awesome.

Then we see combat. Auto-attack doesn’t exist. For range attack with a bow, you draw the bow, then it smoothly transitions into an aiming system, pick your target and fire. We only saw bow, but I’d guess it works the same with everything ranged, perhaps spells. We didn’t see spells. But we saw close melee combat. Your character has six sides… front, left front, right front, left rear, right rear, rear. If you swing through a side and someone is in it, you can hit them. So yes, you can do a wide arc swing and hit multiple targets. Hitting someone is a series of key presses which determine the kind of swing and the location of the strike… almost like one of those console fighting games, but without the mad slamming of keys to make super-ultra-mega-death-combos. There are combos though, as you learn more fighting moves you can use them. But the absolute best part of combat is that you actually interact with each other. When you swing at them, you swing at them, not just in the same swinging motion you always make. You slash at legs and torsos and heads. And finishing moves can actually involve grabbing the opponent, running them through and then letting the body slip to the ground. It makes for much more visceral experience. And there is mounted combat. You can ride past someone and slash at them as you go. You can trample people. And the horse leans when it runs, just like real horses.
Then there are the towns. Player towns. Run by guilds. And you have to defend them from NPCs who rise up to fight you. Towns are strickly PvE, but for PvP they have tower keeps, and you can siege them, with real siege gear, that you have built. You actually can build, arm, aim and fire a trebuchet with a rolling flaming shot that slams through the approaching forces or the enemy keep walls. Since guild towns are PvE, they are instanced, which means the landscape doesn’t get cluttered. Tower keeps being PvP are limited in number, contested.

Basically everything about the game looks great. So far, it is the game I will buy a new computer for.

I saw a preview of Neverwinter Nights 2 also. It was pretty good. It beats Conan only in that it has DM tools so you can make your own modules and there is no monthly fee. Conan wins at everything else.

There was, of course, much hanging out, costume watching, and drinking.

2006: Day 2 – Deal or No Deal

The main reason I come to Dragon*Con is actually to attend the panels. Meeting authors, actors and other people in various industries, listening to them speak and speaking with them is cool. But, I can’t deny the lure of the Dealer’s room and the Exhibitor’s hall. The Exhibitor’s are there to sell stuff or just show off recent or upcoming stuff. Neverwinter Nights 2 is down there (and it looks cool), so is Age of Conan (and Funcom is also still peddling Anarchy Online too), as are many craftsmen and gaming companies. The Dealer’s room is less refined… comic books, t-shirts, bootleg TV shows on DVD, old movie posters, etc. Porn stars are usually in the Dealer’s room, except ones like Traci Lords, because she’s a legitimate actress (at least in the eyes of Sci-Fi and Fantasy fans).

The only issue with the draw of the stuff for show and sale is that it takes half a day or more to see it, so you basically miss most of a day of panels. Today was that day. But not at first…

I have never gotten anything autographed on purpose at Dragon*Con. I think I got a poster signed once by someone who I didn’t know on a poster I wasn’t planning on keeping. The wife, however, really wanted to get something signed by MaryJanice Davidson, who happened to be doing signings at 10 AM. So, rather than go to the parade, we went to the signing. We were supposed to have friends in the parade, but it turns out they didn’t go so thankfully we didn’t waste our time. It was interesting to watch the wife get so excited talking to Mrs. Davidson, about the books and introducing friends to books and other books. A real treat.

Then we went to the Art Show. There are alot of really talented artists out there. There are some that suck too, but that’s to be expected. And of course, talent is in the taste of the beholder, or something like that. One piece really stood out, and sadly I can’t share photos of it with you because they don’t let you take any, was a huge diorama of the front of a castle, mote and gate, being sieged by the undead. It was just very damn cool.

After that we hit the Exhibitor halls and the Dealers’ room, and saw a great many things that would be great to own. But alas, most of those things are simply not in the budget.

It was about 5 PM by then. So the day was pretty shot for alot of the panels.

We hung out and watched the costumes go by a little while and then went to Star Wars trivia. I don’t know nearly as much as I thought I would. We heckled instead. And then went back to hanging out and costume watching.

At 9:30 PM we made the decision to go see some short films… that started at 10, and the line was huge. We wandered around again, but returned at 11:30 for another round of shorts. We got in. I really wish we hadn’t. It was billed as comedy, and two of the four items were… one was weird but oddly humorous… the last was… well, it was neither comedy nor short. Forty minutes of some crap about a Jedi and some other Jedi and a group of Jedi and an army of Sith and a tree with black bark and roots and a snake and some of the stiffest melodrama ever filmed. It was… gut wrenching. It just droned on and on, and it wasn’t even bad enough to be made fun of. It just sucked.

More hanging out and watching costumes intermixed with stepping into various rooms to find out that I don’t like hentai, or filking, or watching TV shows in a room full of smelly people, or the drum circle, or DJs spinning techno, or Cruxshadows. Bed is nice. Its 4 AM and sleep is good.

Tomorrow, panels.

Dead in the West

At the recommendation of a friend in a comment on this very weblog, I have read Dead in the West by Joe R. Lansdale.

Undead things are afoot in the town of Mud Creek and the Reverend Jebidiah Mercer figures this might be his chance to redeem his ways. This book isn’t your traditional zombies, but sometimes that’s for the best. It was a good quick read (despite being listed on the site for a week, I actually read the book in about three to four hours). I’d be interested to check out some of Lansdale’s other works.

So it gets a thumbs up from me.

One Character

Would you play an MMORPG that only allowed you one charcter?

I’ve been thinking about this alot lately, mostly because I strive for a little “identity” in games. I am Ishiro in the World of Warcraft, and Ishiro is me. So far in games I’ve never run into another Ishiro (but I don’t play asian games), and only one Ishira. That means, more than likely, if you are in WoW and see Ishiro, its a pretty good bet it is me. The problem comes in with if I tire of being an alliance human priest on Durotan, or a horde undead warlock on Eitrigg, or any of the other Ishiros I have out there, I can’t change him without deleting him and starting over.

I think this is why, more and more as I think about fundamental game design, I favor a skill based system of some sort, where everyone starts exactly the same and becomes different through the choices of skills. The advantage, of course, is that if the game allows me to redistribute skill points or simply to focus on new different skills, I can be an all new person but without the crazy item swapping of class based mechanics where I have to delete my character, or the complete identity overhaul of playing a new name.

Now… take that desire to play one identity and take that to a physical limitation of being only allowed to create a single character in the game world. Again, I think I’d be in favor of it as long as my character worked like I’ve described above, where my fate isn’t decided at character creation and the only way to change is to dust off and nuke the site from orbit.

So yeah, that appears to be the direction I’d like to see games go, and the direction I’m going to take my silly Game That Never Was project.

Nightmares

Since I was very young, whatever age I was in the fourth grade, I have had nightmares. When they first started, I would, as is often depicted in movies, awake in a cold sweat, sometimes even screaming. The nightmares ranged from monsters in my closet to alien abductions to demons and ghosts. As I got older, they got worse, and more frequent. What started as a fairly rare thing became almost nightly, and then it was nightly.
One time, in high school, I tried to avoid my nightmares by not sleeping. That lasted about three days, then I succumbed. After moving out on my own at 19, I tried it again. Seven days without sleep, and I started to halucinate. My nightmares, not being able to torment my sleep, came to get me while I was awake. At ten days, I was literally out of my mind. Somewhere, stuffed in a box in my closet, I have pages of … text that I wrote. I don’t remember writing that stuff, in fact I can’t even read most of it. Its largely not in English. But what I can read of it confirms to me what I do remember, I was scared, really really scared. After ten days awake I finally passed out. I slept for two whole days and had to make many apologies for missing work.

Since then, I still have nightmares, well, what other people would call nightmares I guess. However, they have lost one quality: they don’t scare me any more. Night after night, I dream of apocalyptic worlds where zombies eat human flesh, worlds overrun by powermad dictators and their ruthless armies, jungles overrun by monsters and beasts. I dream of death and destruction, often involving people I know and love, and every morning when I wake up, I wake up calm. In ways, I have even come to find comfort in my dreams. In zombie filled cities, I team up with other refugees, friends and family, and together we fight the undead. They die, I die, and in the dream the emotions are there, its not like I’m some automoton just mowing down zombies. But the emotions of my dreams no longer translate to my sleeping body.

Why do I bring this up? Ever since I “broke” my nightmares, its hard to keep those thoughts out of my head. Its not as if I am some kind of mental defective, and I’d never actually act on or try to carry out the things I imagine. But I’ll be standing on the street and see someone walk in to traffic, at which point I’ll imagine them being hit by a car or truck, or that having stepped out into the open the monsters or zombies see him and move in for the kill. The good side of this is that I never lack for things to write about. The bad side is that I often can’t stay focused in one line of imagination long enough to craft it into a story worth selling. So I have these folders on my PC and stacks of paper in boxes and drawers full of short snippets, vignettes, that I want to use but just can’t seem to make sense of…

Anyway, enough rambling out of me.

Nothing to See Here

Seriously… for some reason today my brain is so horribly scattershot that I’ve been staring at my article entry page for a while and haven’t been able to think of anything to write about. I think it may have to do with the mind numbing task I’ve been doing at work… replacing direct table queries with view based queries. Its a web app, with about 200 pages, and every page uses queries. Ugh.

So, allow me to hit you with some random thoughts…

TV Shows: Its May, which means that just about every show is pulling stunt casting and/or running season finales. I happen to watch alot of TV and my biggest concern is my favorite shows are on either UPN or the WB, neither network will exist in the fall. The CW (the combination of UPN and the WB) will be announcing their line-up on May 18th. Most other networks will be doing so around the same time as its Upfronts week. Veronica Mars and Supernatural had better make the cut and show up in the fall.

Comic Books: I’m really itchin’ for volume 5 of the Walking Dead to come out at the end fo the month…

Books: I actually finished my pirate book and started something else, but I’m too scattered to really review the pirate book. I want to read more undead/zombie books, but I don’t own any.

Houses: Who are the people who are buying these $500k+ homes around Atlanta? and how can I get their jobs? I always thought my salary was fairly decent, but unless these people are really overstretching their budgets and plan on defaulting their loans or flipping their houses for resale, I must be wrong and my pay sucks.

Computer Games: I really need to play more games. I miss it. But new games will require a new PC investment. *sigh* I guess I’ll stick with World of Warcraft, and maybe start playing Puzzle Pirates or something…

… and why is it that the guy at the newsstand laughs at me every time I ask him to sell me a winning lottery ticket?

Page 4 of 512345