Two quick notes:

A) Fallout 3 is indeed the shit. If you remotely enjoyed even the ideas of Morrowind or Oblivion, or just like post apocalyptic fiction, you really owe it to yourself to play this game. The writing is so much better here (and more vulgar, admittedly, but it fits the fucked up world it takes place in.)

The Karma system makes the game a tease from hell for players like me. I was absolutely a good guy in Oblivion, but I stole everything that wasn’t nailed down. Everything. I’m not even joking. Every god damn thing. But in this game, you lose karma. Stealing makes me a bad guy, so, I can’t steal! It’s horrible! See, normally I treat Bethesda games like they’re _my_ world. For me, they’re God games, in a sense. I decide what’s right, and what belongs to me (everything,) but when it comes to others livelihood, I do my best to make everything great for all involved. If you could Speechcraft the Dark Brotherhood in Oblivion to being good guys, I might’ve done those quests instead of killing them all. But, in Fallout’s Wasteland, Bethesda reclaimed the role of judge, and I’m in their world, I cannot be the kind and just God I was in Tamriel. Of course, I think the world is worse off, but regardless, I must abide by the rules of man. No theft.

And the action? The FPS can be difficult, but I imagine frantic shooting _would_ be difficult given that a ten foot tall green hulk looking guy is running at you. That’s why God gave you VATS. VATS is far better than bullet-time or any such device. Instead of slowing everyone else down, it completely stops them while you spend ‘action points’ to shoot your weapon at certain limbs, and it gives you a rough estimate of what a successful hit would take off. And if you damage a certain limb enough, the enemy will drop their weapon (if an arm,) start to hobble (if a leg,) or become dazed and confused (if the head.) Of course, continue to damage that limb, and it will gib, and they will die.

Of course, having played it on Xbox 360, I can’t help but think “God I wish I had a PC worth playing PC games on!” The mods for that game will be amazing. Period.

B) Left 4 Dead. I’ve only played it offline, and even then just a few levels, but I was blown away. I’m a hardcore ‘slow zombie only’-junkie, but damn does this game deliver. I swear to you, the farmhouse standoff literally had my blood pumping. After a brief juant through a corn field infested with zack (zombies,) you come up to a two-story farmhouse where you have to fend off attacking hordes of zombies while waiting for help in the form of a military transportation vehicle.

After much trying, I finally corralled the three AI bots to where I was hiding out; outside of a second story window on top of the porch ceiling. Sure the zack still come, but there’s far fewer choke points for them to access you, so, it worked. Then an AI partner shouted “There’s the truck! I can see it!” I turned around and saw the headlights cutting through the fog as the truck approached from a side of the building where I couldn’t see it. They grew brighter and brighter until the truck stopped just in view. We seemed to be at a slack point in zack, so we jumped off of the roof and ran for the truck… And then a HUGE zombie ‘tank’ (a Hulk looking zombie,) came out of nowhere and instantly creamed me and one of the teammates. Out of commission, our only hope is to lie there and shoot while we wait for our teammates to come and heal us. There I am, lying on the ground bleeding out, shooting like a madman, hoping my two teammates are able to take the Hulk… And then another horde of zack pour out of nowhere and ravage me and my other downed teammate. We never had a chance.

And then I realized my heart was thumping out of my chest. I need to get the internet again. And I need to get these amazing games. Man, I need a secondary job.

Both of these firmly earn my approval. (I think I’m going to have to create a logo; Jeffool’s Maharoof.)

Game of the year? I honestly don’t care to pick.


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Urban Dead: The MMO I love.

Despite all of my problems with them, I’ve found one. Oh Urban Dead, how I love thee!

The zombie apocalypse has come to the city of Malton, and right now ~40000 players are waging war against each other to end it, one way or the other. Here, let me give you the quick rundown of the free browser-based game.

Players accrue one action point(AP) every half hour, capping at 50. Survivors use these points to move across the city, search for items, attack zombies, and barricade buildings. Zombies attack barricades, smash buildings, and attack survivors. Seems simple enough, doesn’t it? It’s all done with a web interface an minimal graphics (though there is a Firefox graphical addon.) Different actions cost varying amounts of AP, and when you run out you collapse, so it’s important to make sure you always have enough to get back inside a building.

You level up every 100xp, and then turn around and use those points as currency to buy abilities, human or zombie.

Guilds, you ask? Well, groups are completely unnecessary for a casual player, but for me they play a large role in UD and that’s what I’m loving about it the most. I’m playing with a group of people who all jumped in at once and are starting to get pretty organized. Over a hundred members of a forum I frequent jumped in at once as Survivors, and some of the scarier zombie groups took notice and wished us luck, so that really makes the chest swell with pride. (Also, it worries us that we’ll be targeted and made an example of, while we’re still all at low levels.) We’ve made our forums password-protected to keep spies at bay, and closed admissions to ‘unknown persons’, but things are shaping up nicely.

Yes, there are spies out there, and that’s why the players are truly the highlight of this game. Aside from the gang at Evil Avatar that I’ve joined, there’s the Channel 4 News Team to consider. I mean, Ron Burgundy isn’t going to take a zombie apocalypse lying down. Hell, he wouldn’t even take the regular apocalypse lying down, unless he were on horse tranquilizers. Also, you’ve got the Drama Club showing us all what true professionals they are, keeping the classics alive in the face of undeath.

Urban Dead isn’t exactly passive gaming, as it requires about five minutes (tops) of interaction on the part of the player, but keeping coordinated with your group and planning that move can easily take half an hour if you’re serious about it. If you can spare the time, I highly recommend joining up with pals (or mine, or another group,) and help take back Malton!


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Cannibalistic Media

There’s little theme to this, other than I’m unhappy with how most games handle zombies. It’s mostly a dump of three separate posts I never bothered finishing.

So, Cannibalistic Media. No, this isn’t about my disregard if my favorite comic or game is ruined when made into a movie; good or bad. Screw films. This is about something far more controversial, yet less talked about: zombies in games, and how game developers are ruining zombies with their adaptation of the zombie menace. Why the double standard? Simple. I care about games. Movies? Not as much.

And I love zombies. We all do. They’re us, and we’re the ultimate villain, mindless machines of consumption, bottomless stomachs, followers, etc. etc. etc. blah blah blah. You know all that. But what you may or may not think about is the use of zombies in games versus other mediums. Traditionally when talking of zombies, we think film, as in George Romero, right? (Possibly Shaun of the Dead, but it’s inspired by Romero’s Night of the Living Dead and following films.) Even zombie movies without zombies (Signs, 28 Days Later,) do a better job than games of making their ‘zombies’ something to fear. So the question is begged, where do game developers go wrong in making “zombie games?”

Games make zombies cheap targets, and some games exploit that. The closest any game has come to using zombies as something to fear is Resident Evil, and even then only when you were worried about running out of ammo because, let’s face it, otherwise you were never really worried about a zombie killing you. Dead Rising tries to overcome this hurdle by letting zombies do what they do best, organize better than any union me and my fellow twenty-somethings will ever see in our lifetimes. By traveling in hordes, Dead Rising’s zombies properly overcome their weakness of slow movement by using the classic tactic of ensuring there’s a zombie almost everywhere you go, therefore they don’t have to travel fast. It’s just enough to evoke a tiny bit of dread when you have to jump on a platform unreachable to zombies just to chug some milk and get some health back, and then you look over the sea of rotting flesh you have to contend with to reach your real destination… But the problem with Dead Rising is the mass killing of zombies by its Mall-of-America-Made-Rambo, Frank West. Zombies themselves don’t present much of a problem for the player, and that’s by design, making killing zombies is as easy as hitting the attack button until they die, or when finesse is added, a few extra buttons for sake comedy or gore.

For another example of zombie gameplay that almost works, Halo 3’s implementation of Infection gameplay (created by gamers as a metagame in Halo 2’s multiplayer,) succeeds in a few places after a little fine tuning. Without radars, players often have to fight one zombie for his life, while another zombie comes from behind and takes a slice of the player, or with proper fine tuning, players have radar, but any time a zombie is near, the players radars are swarmed with red dots, indicating zombies everywhere, helping to add to suspense. By working together a group of players can hold off the initial zombie for some time, but eventually someone gets too cocky with a boring game of ‘everyone slaughter the green guy,’ and they slip, becoming a zombie themselves. As the tide turns, players begin to die and turn into zombies, and eventually you reach the end game of the zombies hunting for the last survivor. Of course, the games inevitably end when either the last player alive survives a time limit, or is killed by the zombies.

The element of players working together, when it happens, is probably the purest element of a zombie game put to play, but again it lacks numbers of zombies needed to make it worthwhile, and the ability to not fight, when the player knows he’s going to lose. The player doesn’t have the ability to plan at all, as the Infection mode is just a afterthought in the game. Looking at these examples, what we’re playing now aren’t “zombie games” as in a correlation to other zombie fiction, but “games that feature zombies.”

A game about surviving a zombie apocalypse cannot be based on combat. The aforementioned zombieless zombie movies do a better job than games that feature zombies because the movies’ faux-zombies present a constant threat that is rarely imminent. Even when the threat is imminent, it’s not the threat of ‘a’ zombie. Anyone can avoid a few zombies they can see from across the room, but being surprised by a zombie calls for a different tactic. The more zombies there are, the harder time protagonists typically have unless they either make a plan, or have help. There we touch on three key factors in beating zombies that are directly relatable to gameplay elements: Evasion, Intelligence, and Teamwork.

Evasion is key in that zombies, generally slow and stupid, are their most effective when in large numbers and constantly pressing the protagonist(s). If the protagonist is constantly killing zombies with abandon while up close to them, then why should they fear the zombies? They obviously pose no threat. So zombies should be tough to kill unless players are attacking from a distance or have very strong weaponry (explosives, mass-attacking weapons such as flame throwers, etc,) and even then sheer numbers should make surviving against the zombies for an extended time (on equal ground) a difficult task. Any time the protagonist fights zombies, he needs to be aware that the fight could cost him his life.

Protagonists also need to be able to gauge the chances of their survival for not only narrative purposes, but to honestly have a chance of survival. Protagonists will need to be able to determine when methods of brute force will obviously not work, and they will need to figure out alternate methods to achieve their goals. Jumping into battle and constantly dieing until you think to look around defeats the purpose of trying not to die. In this respect the save system in *Dead Rising* ‘almost’ made sense. Sure people complain about it, but compare the fun in playing from your save point in *Dead Rising* to the cheapness you felt when you realized dying in *Bioshock* carried such little penalty. The ability to resolve situations where attack means certain death is a very important point of difference between humans and zombies. I know some gamers just like to run and gun, but that’s not what a ‘zombie game’ should be. That’s for ‘games that feature zombies’.

The most important difference is the ability to work together. Sure zombies gather around people and chase them, but that’s hardly conscious teamwork, it’s happenstance at best. (Let’s not get started on smart zombies from movies like Land of the Dead.)

Knowing that zombies don’t work together, are not smart, but can easily overpower a protagonist in most situations are the exact reasons that zombie fiction is so popular. To apply the typical game mechanic of killing numerous enemies to zombies, anything that makes zombies unique is lost. By sheer force of unstoppable will until a precise death, and numbers that alone should make them unbeatable, zombies captured the public imagination. By making them goombas, video games have made them boring.

Players should fear zombies. Players should fear death.

The obvious question is, how do you go about addressing these differences if one were to make a ‘zombie game’ with the more traditional zombie roles in place, and what kind of game would that be? Let’s partake in a mental exercise.

First, let’s assume that we’re dealing with, at most, two types of zombies. I’m sticking to fast and slow types, both only killable when the brain is injured. A key factor in making players fear death, is making death a truly bad thing. I’m against the school of thought that a player shouldn’t die, I just think that a careful player, acclimated to your world, should be given reasonable cues to see dangerous situations, and be able to differetiate between danger and certain doom. If they still act like they’re Mario with a star, well, let them die. That’s okay. What’s important in making a zombie game is that proper fear of zombies is maintained while the only methods of success are by using the three key factors.

While I enjoy a good rampage as much as the next person, my main assertion that zombie games can not be based on combat with zombies is one I stick by. *Dead Rising* provided many slapstick gimmicky laughs, but at the end of the day if I want to rampage, I stick *Grand Theft Auto* in, or possibly even *Oblivion*. By making zombies disposable bad guys, rather than a near-unbeatable multi-bodied entity for consumption of flesh, we get rid of the very reason for making them zombies. There is no fear, or worry, or even dread… You simply pick up your shotgun and run. Zombies as a group shouldn’t be so easily stopped, or even stoppable at all when numbers add up, and that’s what Bungie taught us with their adoption of proper zombie gameplay in *Halo 3* under the name Infection. For people to indefinitely hold off zombies for any extended period of time is impossible. Eventually a player slips, and the zombie scores a victim. Soon, a few more are converted, and eventually the tide turns with zombies outnumbering and killing the humans.


Rushing into a fight like you’re Rambo trying to save downtrodden Taliban P.O.W.s is pretty much ‘out’, in most cases. That’s not to say a mad dash for safety isn’t an option, just probably not the safest one, and it’s important for players to be able to gauge if that’s a plausible action or not. If the typical player is wrongly convinced that the only option for survival is running and gunning you’ve either made a few bad decisions in game or level design, both by allowing that to be seen as the most likely possible solution, and by allowing it to be a completable task.

The Caveat: I’m no dummy. Now’s a good time to point out that hardcore players will insist on doing everything their own way. If that includes killing all of your zombies, and they’re able to do it, it’s okay to reward badasses, just make sure they truly earned that reward. Killing ‘a’ zombie is as easy as shooting him in the head. Killing a dozen surrounding your character with a machete should either be a miracle on damn clever playing.

Also, I’m largely against allowing a player to control a zombie after converting from a human, as this no doubt leads to people intentionally dieing. Isn’t it better to just allow that express action, to let player(s) be a zombie, rather than to set up a game for multiple humans and have it botched by meta-gameplay?

But regardless of what you decide to do post-death, eventually players will die, and expect their characters to become zombies. How do you handle that? My opinion:

Player to Zombie Conversion Possibilities:
1. Instant conversion:
1a. ‘One bite converts’ zombies, players instantly convert on death.
1b. Zombie attacks/bites do damage amounts, players instantly convert on death.
2. Extended conversion:
2a. After a player is bitten (or dies) they are given a time limit during which they still retain control of their body. Over time the player (due to stress factors, availability of the easy kill, or other factors,) loses control, attacking other humans until they are completely a zombie.
2b. Players have two health meters, a ‘current health’, which determine their life (and/or a host of other stats,) and a ‘max health’ (the total amount of health they can possibly have in their peak form.) Typical injuries affect current health, while zombie bites affect both. ‘Max health’ could theoretically be raised to normal levels by a ‘zombie cure’ while the player is still alive. The player turns into a zombie when their ‘current health’ is depleted.


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