Lifetap Volume 1, Issue 15 – What Would You Want in a State of Decay MMO?
During PAX Prime 2014 our event team jumped at the opportunity to visit the studios of Undead labs in downtown Seattle. While there was little to no direct mention of the pending State of Decay MMO, I’ve pondered what shape it might take in the weeks since.
Most entertainment mediums are notorious for spawning legions of imitators, and video games are no exception to that rule. There are plenty of reasons as to why that’s the case, but even just skimming the surface it doesn’t take long to conclude:
- There are more talented people with a passion to create than there are people with original ideas.
- Likewise, people with original ideas don’t always have the means to execute them to their fullest potential.
- Successful distribution of an original product sets a precedence that there is demand, so those with the capabilities to supply more products based on the same concept typically do so.
- The capitalist cousin to the above is an even more direct reason: companies like to turn a profit, so will commonly take the pinball approach (the path of least resistance) by borrowing creative concepts from its peers.
One of the points here is that we’ve known of the potential for a State of Decay MMO since shortly after Undead Labs was founded back in 2009. Since then, the original DayZ mod came into existence and has – for better or worse – brought with it certain expectations when it comes to open world zombie survival horror games.
DayZ has essentially become the template for a subgenre in much the same way the original EverQuest became the original template that dominated MMORPGs for so many years. Two relatively high profile projects should instantly spring to mind here: Lifeless and H1Z1. Both titles are still in earlier stages of development, but both are also attempting to refine, iterate, or improve upon certain aspects of what made DayZ popular.
When it comes to what I would want or expect from a State of Decay MMO, a game based on the DayZ template definitely isn’t it. Those projects are already being developed, and that template really wouldn’t be a good fit for what makes State of Decay fun in the first place.
So what would I want to see in a State of Decay MMO?
My wish list for a SoD MMO is actually quite simple, and is based on some of the key building blocks of the original game. Your own list may be different or more complex, but here are a few big ticket items I’d be looking for in no particular order:
Some might argue that it removes some of the suspense from survival horror when you know that one or more AI companions have your back. However, in State of Decay these companions are not just disposable units, nor do they magically respawn after being defeated in combat. True to survival horror, once they’re gone, they’re gone for good.
The thing is, you do begin to care about your companions after investing a certain amount of time in developing or progressing them. Even if all you care about is “hey, you bastard zombies took my stuff!” it still adds to gameplay.
The other thing companion characters brings to the table is playability. They would mean being able to log in and play in a virtual world – no matter how extreme the conditions – and still be able to play even if you’re real world or online friends aren’t around to join you. This added layer of accessibility is critical in online gaming if you want your game to see ongoing success post-launch.
The team at Undead Labs have done a solid job of making companion characters matter in the grand scheme of things. If you trace the studio’s roots at least back to ArenaNet, it comes as no surprise that companion characters found a core role in State of Decay given how integral they became in the original Guild Wars.
In many ways, Guild Wars was years ahead of its time. The rest of the industry is only now beginning to catch onto why it worked so well and has had such longevity. In much the same way, a State of Decay MMO has the opportunity to provide a solid and original entry into the zombie survival horror space.
Hardcore survival games offer up a slice of human drama in the mix, but it largely comes hand-in-hand with the death mechanic. There is some potential for organic, player-created drama to happen in this scenario.
I was exposed to the brilliance of George Romero’s original Night of the Living Dead at a very early age back in the mid-1970s. The thing that always stuck with me is that the zombies were really just a conditional factor; a plot device used to create unnatural circumstances in which interesting human drama could unfold.
To me, that’s one of the biggest things missing from the current crop of zombie MMOs and virtual world settings. State of Decay might not have the deepest of storylines, but it does find subtle ways of making you caring about tasks like rescuing survivors. The mix of characters you accumulate also has the potential to spark up compelling moments that take you outside of the basic needs to gather food and supplies, and make sure the zombies aren’t beating down your door.
What would you want in a State of Decay MMO?
Like I said, my core list is pretty short and to the point. If you’ve played DayZ, are currently playing Lifeless, or looking forward to H1Z1, what are those games missing that you’d like to see in a State of Decay MMO? Drop your thoughts into the comments should you feel so inclined, or you can also ping me on Twitter.