Zpoc will draw from and combine several archetypes for its gameplay.
A fundamental element of Zpoc hearkens back to some of our earliest addictions: Rogue-likes, MUD, Gauntlet and Diablo. Survival Adventures often combine tactical decision making with action, and force players to make hard decisions when faced with overwhelming or unknown odds.
Tension is generated by the unknown (procedurally generated) environment, maze-like corridors and blind turns, limited sight, and the possibility of being swarmed. Lighting and line of sight will be a key component of the gameplay when wandering outdoors or “venturing out.”
Action should be a staccato, as enemies must be overcome in bursts that arrive just as the heart rate is returning to normal.
Rewards are found in the form of scavenged Supplies and other Survivors. Supplies might include food, water, alcohol, medicine or drugs, mechanical or electronic equipment, chemicals, weapons, ammunition, etc. Other Survivors bring more hands to fight and build with, along with the chance of choice skillsets (Doctor, Scientist, Priest, etc).
Other members of this genre are Dungeon Keeper, Evil Genius and Dwarf Fortress. Though non-combative, the Sims and 2nd Life are also in this category. Here the draw is for the player who wants to simulate a virtual world, with as close to real ability to both construct and deconstruct their surroundings. Building elaborate living quarters, areas of special interest, elaborate traps and trophy rooms are all key – the Builder is the “sandbox” that lets the player draw their own artwork from out of the game.
We will draw on the Builder genre by making our environment as interactive as we can. Whether it’s boarding up windows, removing interior doors to use them to bolster walls elsewhere, or collapsing staircases to keep the hordes downstairs – a great part of this game will be in attempting to set up a safe and sustainable “base camp” for your growing band of Survivors.
One of Zpoc’s differentiators in this genre will be in Avatar-limited building and AI remote building. As one of the Survivors, the player will not be in “God Mode” but rather have to build with their own hands (and at their own location), or oversee others building.
As a settlement grows from more than just a room or two or a small house, it will be necessary for the player to move through the base giving orders and hoping that his followers are smart and motivated enough to carry out instructions (“fortify that doorway,” “batten down those windows,” “turn this room into sleeping quarters”). This will also generate tension, as the player will not be able to see the whole base at any given time, and will never know exactly what is happening across the building, down the stairs or up the hallway.
This timeless classic archetype is another key genre. Zpoc must contain strong character development – both of self and of party. Through the Journal, players should be able to see their stats increasing and their skills growing. They will watch themselves change from a “Worthless” Copy-Machine Re-seller into a true Post Apocalyptic Badass. They’ll learn to survive, to fight and to lead.
It’s a game about the Zombie Apocalypse. If it doesn’t contain suspense, pulse pounding moments, a sort of “heartbeat” backdrop rhythm to the mood, frightening “Oh shit!” moments, and possibly the occasional smoke break – we haven’t designed this game right.
It will be imperative that their be as little “game break” as possible – there will be a design preference to limiting pausability – at any given moment the player and their crew could be overrun and lose all their gear, their built up fortifications, and possibly their lives.
Achievements and Goals
Journals should document and track their achievements (solo hours survived, number of survivors in community, plans made and goals met). Journals may be able to “write” the story of the character as significant events happen, giving it a self-story or choose-your-own-adventure feel to the game, and possibly even mimicking the current state of the character’s sanity.
Options and Plans will need to be tracked and pursued in the Journal in order to maintain HOPE, a system for simulating mood, mental focus and fatigue, emotional stability, sanity and the effects of panic and terror.
Combining all of the elements into one game may seem like a tall order, and perhaps it is – but it seems only fitting for a game that seeks to present the Zombie Apocalypse in a way that is both fun and an excellent simulation. Some of this will surely change before we arrive at a final version, and some of it surely will not make it into the first iterations – but this is actually the “Core Concepts” document set down three years ago the first time we laid out this game, and it is the version we are now working to build.
Below are some screenshots of some prototype voxel models for Zpoc: