Zombie MMO Shuffling Our Way?

ZOMG*!  It’s a MMOZG! New studio Undead Labs is hard at work on a console-exclusive, as in, not coming to PCs, zombie MMO.  “Why zombies?” you may ask.  One of the answers you will get is “because the world doesn’t need any more dragons.”

Undead Labs has been set up by Jeff Strain who has worked on a number of low-profile titles you may have heard of, such as StarCraft, Diablo and World of Warcraft at Blizzard.  He then went on to found ArenaNet with some other ex-Blizzard employees.  ArenaNet were behind Guild Wars and following ArenaNet’s take over by NCsoft, Strain has satisfied his desire for a return to his development roots with the formation of Undead Labs.

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The creation of the definitive (and only?) massively multiplayer online zombie game for console gamers is the singular reason for Undead Labs’ existence.  Naturally their reasoning behind creating an MMOZ (they do not bother appending the ‘G’) is far more complex than a simple overdose of dragons and stated love of the recently undead.  Here is a bigger part of their answer:

Zombies are fun because they give us an excuse to break all the rules, without guilt. I’m not just talking about over-the-top violence — we’ve got aliens, terrorists, and robots to fulfill those needs — but instead the suspension of rules across the board. Here you are in a huge, rich world as it existed at the height of society, and it’s yours now. Everything. You can do what you want, go where you want, and take what you want. In fact, you have to, if you are going to survive.

We’ve all asked ourselves, “What would I do?” while watching a zombie flick. That’s what makes this fun; now you can find out.

The studio’s decision to focus on producing a console-only MMO comes about because they believe that to create a great console MMO it must be built and designed from the ground up just for consoles.  Of course they are not denying that another part of the reason is because there are few console MMOs to compete with but you certainly cannot blame them for that.

At this very early stage there is not much more to be known about the game.  It “will almost certainly be subscription based” as they want the driving factor to keep people playing and paying every month to be fun and not rely on things like “micro-transactions, in-game advertising, ‘premium’ accounts” and the like to generate revenue.

As for when the game might, the name of which they are “not ready to announce” yet, Jeff says, “Just file it away in your “future cool stuff” memory, and I promise you’ll know about it when we get closer to release.”  Another clue to just how far off it might be is embedded in his answer to the question of which platforms the game will be developed for:

We’ll be developing for high-end game consoles. By today’s standards, “high-end” would include Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. But the market can change rapidly so we’ll have to see how things look when we are further along in development.

Decide for yourselves just how many years into the future we may get before we see the game if there is a chance we will not see it before the next generation of consoles hits the shelves.

One more comment that caught my interest in the flurry of news surrounding the revealing of Undead Labs earlier this week came in the interview that Strain gave to Develop.  The difficulty of implementing a great console MMO user-interface entered the discussion.  Develop asked whether he thought that motion control could help.

I have to tell you, the possibilities of creating a MMO around the Wii controller are just staggering. You could do so much with it. Unfortunately, the hardware is just not up to scratch. But, hey, who knows what the next generation of hardware will bring. Certainly the Wii’s direct-access controller would enable a phenomenal level of MMO mechanics.

I can think of a current “high-end” console that will have a motion-sensing, wand-like controller in the not-to-distant future, that should be a well understood and mature piece of gaming technology by the time Undead Labs’ zombie MMO will be ready to face us and our collection of garden implements.

*See definition 6 here.

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