Welcome To Zombie Outbreak

[Disclaimer: The following description and analysis is of a game which does not exist, it’s a fictional IP created to serve the purpose of this two-part article which is based on realism in zombie games. The writer has no qualification in the field of game design. Make sure you check out part one: Can A Realistic Zombie Work?]
I would like to extend my apologies to those who were shocked into a state of discomfort in the previous part of this article. Luckily, there have been no reports of an actual zombie outbreak, ever, and if one were to occur, simple logic dictates that it would only last for a matter of weeks if not shorter. Why? Technically speaking, conventional zombies are re-animated bags of meat, with only the ability to move and stalk their prey through sight, smell or sound. Without any sort of immune system to protect what’s left of the body, it is likely to rot away, eventually limiting the flesh eaters’ mobility before they decompose entirely.

When I spew the term “realistic zombie game” I am working under the assumption that a zombie outbreak is highly possible, and if it were to happen, these undead walkers are relentless and won’t deconstruct in a fortnight for the purpose of game longevity. Now, without any further ado, I present to you, “Zombie Outbreak.”

In ZO players create their own character from the ground up, including gender, age (18+ for both regulatory and credibility issues) and appearance. Once this initial process is completed, players will be presented with a huge map of the fictitious location in which the takes place, Victory City. After a brief cutscene in which the glorious history of the city has been played out, you are then given the option to choose a spawn point anywhere on the map, whether it be the beaten slums, the picture-perfect avenues, or rural outskirts. As soon as the player’s character has been deployed, the game begins, and at exactly same time, the initial case of the zombie virus also emerges in several random places across the game-world, granting uniquity to every playthrough straight off the bat.

It doesn’t take long for players to catch word of the outbreak (it being broadcasted across all media platforms) whether they start off at ground zero or several miles away from the first incident. The city and surrounding districts soon descend into chaos, and the player is instantly forced to think of a survival plan. The obvious solution would be to escape the boundaries of Victory City, and in Zombie Outbreak this is entirely possible. Accessible by ground, water, or even air, players can make their way to one of the neighbouring settlements surrounding Victory City. Each of these areas is smaller than the city and the game is designed so that by the time you reach these outposts, which will take a few hours of in-game time, the military will have already been summoned creating a circular border around the area. Of course crossing this border will result in almost instant death; even one compromise on the army’s side could see the virus spread beyond their control, so for now players are directed back into the fray to fend for themselves.

Due to the fact that Zombie Outbreak is set in a fictional realm and not in the land of the free (despite the obvious similarities,) players won’t start off with their own personal arsenals of weaponry, being forced to utilise their surroundings, akin to the improvisation mechanic used in Dead Rising. Like in the majority of zombie flicks, the only way of stopping a flesh-eater dead in their tracks is to destroy the brain or remove the head entirely. Melee weapons will be categorised as either blunt or sharp, one focusing on pummeling skull and splintering limbs, the other allowing clean cuts and with enough skill, decapitation.

Fighting isn’t the only method of keeping the undead hordes at bay however; running away and hiding are both suitable options. Sometimes fleeing with your tail between your legs is actually the better option, as extensive bouts of combat will leave you tired, prone to even the clumsiest mobs of flesh-eaters. Only by feeding and resting will your energy return, prompting the player to seek out suitable accommodation.

The most ambitious aspect of Zombie Outbreak is its “pure” free-roaming element. Nearly every building is fully-accessible from ground to roof level, presenting the player with hundreds of options for creating their personal shelter. This can then be fortified to ward off any invaders during the night, though to do this, players need to utilise ZO’s “salvage” game mechanic. Instead of marching out into the streets with a zombie massacre on the agenda, to keep them at bay in the long run you will sometimes need to go in search of survival materials including food, water and building components. It may sound like a tedious aspect to include, but consumables will come with expiration dates, and once that food has gone, you will need to use alternative methods to avoid starvation.

In some ways Zombie Outbreak could be described as an action RPG due to the various number of skills players can train in order to become the ultimate survivor. These include combat proficiencies (divided into the several weapon-types,) athleticism, agriculture, salvaging, stealth, engineering, charisma, leadership, and several others. Whenever you perform an action which is specific to an ability class, you will receive experience points which can then be spent in refining certain aspects of that proficiency.

The two last abilities mentioned, charisma and leadership, are especially important. You’re not the only survivor in Victory City, and you will soon find yourself needing allies. Not only do they support the player in combat, they can also be assigned to carry out tasks such as barricading shelters and can even be sent across the city in search of materials, munitions and other survivors. These missions will use up resources and have to be planned in advance; it’s also worth taking note that not all tasks will be a success, sometimes your companions may turn up empty-handed or even bring home unwelcome visitors.

To begin with, combat is mainly one-on-one, utilising a dodge n’ counter mechanic, forcing players to keep a constant eye on their HUD. If your energy bar suddenly sinks, you will need to duck out of the fight and make a run for it. Enemy AI is designed so that the zombies try to beat you down or grab you before trying to take a nibble; and if that should happen, it’s game over. Luckily, the game isn’t so realistic that playcers need to start the whole thing again, no, checkpoints and auto-save measures are in place to keep things fair.

As far as story goes, there are a chain of plot-based missions, surrounding several of the characters you come across, also acting as tutorials for many of the game’s mechanics. Sometimes, the narrative will force the player to make moral choices, such as killing an infected human and sharing resources with other survivors. These won’t have a major impact on the plot, though it can alter relationships with other NPCs.

So there you have it, a rather long-winded outline of what would be, in my opinion, a fun, yet realistic zombie game. The whole meta-layer of gathering/managing resources would definitely turn some people off, but with so much depth it could prove addicting (like the Assassin Contracts in AC: Brotherhood.) As I mentioned in the first part of this article, maybe developers have looked at something very similar to this, though with something this ambitious, it would be a hefty risk, especially with the amount of effort which goes behind crafting ZO’s open world mechanics. On the other hand, the whole “authentic survival” element could be the genre’s next innovation just waiting around the corner.

If you’re a die hard fan of zombie fiction, I urge you to start reading Image’s The Walking Dead and also check out the recent TV series. Also, be sure to download We’re Alive; it’s a radio drama with a zombie twist, and though the first couple of episodes are a little rough, it will grow on you very fast. The show is currently on its second season and can be downloaded directly from the iTunes store.


  1. Great article just wish I could play Zombie Outbreak.

    I love We’re Alive, Got a little bit addicted to it when I first started listening to it. Stayed up way to late, just had to find out what happened next.

  2. Get out of my head! I’ve always thought a game like this should be made

  3. When’s the release date? Have you secured a publisher yet?

    One area that you should look at further is the zombie’s reactionary AI. For example, how can you distract them? Will they head towards the loudest noise source? In which case, setting of a diversionary car alarm to draw the Zombies away from the route you intend to take or place you want to get to.

    Obviously, using a gun is a big no if you’re one, two or three on one. You take them down quietly to avoid detection.

    Another one would be the living NPC AI. Some of them should be out to stab you in the back and take all your resources, if not also your life. It’d be better to stick with smaller groups of people, as you’d need to pay attention to how the react to you. Subtle body language cues and their performance over time could indicate that they’re about to burn out and commit suicide from all the stress and strain. Or maybe they’re not doing so well for the team because they’re plotting behind your back…

    A rival gang might set off a car alarm near to your base, meaning you need to shut up shop and escape to another area. What awaits you there but another gang? How do you oust them or muscle into a small niche of your own?

    All of which leads to morality. You sort of touch upon it a little, but there’s so much more you can get from it. A lot of non-game related Zombie fiction uses the Zombies as a backdrop with the human relationships at the foreground. Who rises to the fore? The ruthless gits, most of the time. So if it’s you that’s the ruthless one, leading with an iron will, sabotaging rival gangs before they get a chance to sabotage you, and stealing resources from other gangs that mean you no harm.

    Basically, there’s a HUGE amount of depth that can be set into the game. Me wants it.

    • Everything you mentioned there was written in the first draft of the article, though I had to chop it down for reader digestion. The whole “Gangs” aspect is something I would have liked to describe in further detail, also the inclusion of multiplayer.

      • Everything I said was sort of also in my response to the first post. Therefore, I win! :P

        Still, this is the ultimate zombie game, and I look forward to it. Perhaps Mooch and Nofi will do it for iPhone after their current project?

      • Oh, also, we need a procedurally generated city for the ultimate replay value.

  4. Great article, fella. A San Andreas sized city with a 28 Days Later fight for survival mixed in with some levelling up and other RPG elements, maybe. Either way, it’s an ambitious project if anyone decided to take it on.

    Random aside: “addicting?” Ugh! “Addictive” is still fine even for an internet generation. Sorry, just grates my cheese to see it.

    • I would have stuck with using “addictive” in that context, but I would get the cane!

      • From whom? Half the dictionaries don’t even recognise the word, let alone the fact that “addictive” is the correct (and perfect) word for this usage.

    • Bunimo, you have no idea how much I agree with you. I look through the Android market, and all the reviews say addicting, all of them! When did addicting become the replacement word for addictive? I don’t get it, I just thought it was a bad translation at first but clearly not.

      • There’s evolution of language then there’s bastardisation. “Addicting” will always be the latter to me (no offence intended, Jim H). 8-)

      • yes, (explitive deleted) YES!

        i hate that complete and utter non-word, and it has indeed infected the android market, its a constant source of rage for me.

      • I also want to lend my support in the banning of “addicting”. I read it so much I started to think I was the insane one.

      • So glad to find so many like-minded haters!
        I love our language but I’m also perfectly happy with its evolution. New words come and old ones go and when that makes sense I’m fine with it.
        What I hate is when a ‘new’ word appears out of no other reason than ignorance. Addicting seems to have come about purely because people weren’t sure what the adjective form of addiction is.

        Incidentally I could also murder people that say chillax. It’s a portmanteau of two existing words that both mean the same thing as each other anyway with the resulting word meaning the same as well!

      • id guestimate that 100% of intelligent readers would agree with you. :/

  5. i’ve actually designed a game quite similar to this… too bad that while i have the design chops, i don’t have the coding chops to do anything past an ascii style version.

    i absolutely agree it’s a game that needs getting done.

  6. Someone been reading max brooks?

    • I prefer reading the books rather then him, not much to read on him.

  7. Sounds like a very entertaining game, I like the free roam and survivalist/micromanagement aspects, along with the RPG nature. It would be cool to have a zombie game where training up a free runner would be as much as an option for survival as training up a soldier. I think the layout would work as somewhat of an MMO, where you had different survivors, each bringing their own abilities to the table, in an open world map.

    To flip it on it’s head somewhat though, I would also like to see a heavily scripted and tightly woven narrative in a zombie game, where the humanity of the characters is the focus, as opposed to the zombies. Like Heavy Rain but with zombies, where your individual actions and decisions change the course of the game and what you have to do to survive.

  8. This sounds like a great design idea, but i’m not sure it would be the funniest game for solo. With co-op though and online it would be excellent.

  9. The only reason I can think of to explain why a game like this hasnt been put into production is either technological restrictions (you are suggesting building a massive open world map – complete with 100% accesible buildings) or a developer simply doesnt have the cash or scope to build such a game.

    It’d be wonderful (I imagine). A game drenched in atmosphere where walking down a decaying street foraging for supplies is a tense and surprising act. In regards to every building being accessible, you could compensate by saying that a certain gang has taken over it, or you cant break in till you’ve got to a certain level or befriended a NPC, therefore limiting the buildings in which a player will go into. I think I’d love to just walk around all day looking for supplies and exploring, finding collectibles and such.

    I like the social aspect to it as well, meeting other survivors and trying to work out whether to stick with them or ditch them or even rob them.

    I just want to play this game now! So many great ideas for it, its a shame we couldnt be designers! Brilliant article that has really got me thinking! Well done!

    • Another aspect which I wanted to include was death itself. I finally chose to follow the conventional checkpoint/save system but before then I had a more unique idea. Imagine if you didn’t just play as your character but as all of the survivors you recruit into your group? It would mean that if one died, they would remain dead, and you would therefore have to cycle to another character. This would create an effect by which you would become attached to your favourite characters and if caught up in a zombie ambush, you wouldn’t plough into them like you have nothing to lose, instead you would do what any normal human being would do and leg it.

      However, this would water down the game’s character-centric narrative.

  10. A developer should make this game. It could have so much depth in it meaning it would be an epically awesome game. I would buy it.

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