Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Infection Spreads: Zombie MMO Headed to Consoles

Keep your Zombie Survival Guides handy. The infection is spreading to a console near you. No, it's not Left 4 Dead 3. It's not downloadable content for your favorite game. It's a standalone, massively multiplayer online zombie game, or as the boys at Undead Labs call it, an MMOZ.

Undead Labs is a Seattle-based developer whose sole objective is "to create the definitive massively multiplayer zombie game(MMOZ) for console gamers." The studio was formed in 2009 by Jeff Strain, an MMO industry veteran, who has previously worked on groundbreaking projects like StarCraft, DiabloWorld of Warcraft, and Guild Wars. He is joined by industry talent such as James Phinney and Doug Williams, who both have previously worked with Strain at ArenaNet. What binds these guys together is their passion for gaming and, especially, zombies.

There's no doubt that crafting an MMO experience for the console is an ambitious and difficult job. Numerous talented studios have tried it in the past and failed. The team at Undead Labs has addressed this. On their blog, Strain emphasizes that their MMOZ project will not simply be a port of a PC game; it will be designed specifically for the consoles and play to their strengths.

What sets the console experience apart from the PC? According to Strain, it's the following:

  1. Social Gaming - When you play on your PC, you're essentially playing by yourself unless your friends bring their own PCs over. A console allows you to play with other people in the room. Strain expands on this, hinting at splitscreen play in an MMO environment.
  2. Freedom of Movement - A controller is a much more streamlined interface than a mouse and keyboard. Undead Labs wants "to make it fun to just move through the world."
  3. Visceral Hand-to-Hand Combat - No more skill bars. The MMOZ will have a combat system "feels more like a console than an MMO."
  4. Vehicle Combat - Splatter zombies with cars. Need I say more?
  5. Destructible Environments - Just think of the possibilities.
  6. Fun with Physics - Build traps and use your own intelligence and cunning with the environment against the zombie horde.
  7. Invisible Interface - No messy UIs or overly intrusive health bars, mini-maps, or chat boxes. Console gamers expect a transparent interface that is out of the way of the action and the world.
  8. Voice Chat - You don't have a keyboard on a console, so Undead Labs is determined to find a way to fully integrate voicechat. How else are you going to communicate with your fellow survivors when the undead are beating down on your walls?
I highly recommend reading the full post

This is an incredibly ambitious project. Not only is Undead Labs embarking on a quest to bring MMOs to the consoles, they are also going toe-to-toe with zombie survival game masters like Valve. But if their MMOZ takes off, then their innovations will be regarded as equal to the guys who invented a jump button.

So far, this MMOZ doesn't even have an official name yet so don't expect a release date soon. But, personally, if anybody can accomplish this task, it will be the guys at Undead Labs.

And, to sate your zombie tastes, here's an awesome, albeit fake, trailer for a World War Z movie.

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