Interview: Indie Stone On Project Zomboid

By John Walker on June 1st, 2011 at 10:51 am.

Ow.

Project Zomboid, darling of Reddit and attractor of impressive calamities, has its early alpha tech demo build in the hands of players, and the reaction has been very positive. We grabbed hold of one half of development team The Indie Stone, Andy “Binky” Hodgetts and Chris “Lemmy” Simpson, and demanded they tell us how it’s all been, how it came about in the first place, and what will be happening next. I am obliged to mention that the other two members of the team are Nick “Nickenstein” Cowen and Marina “Mash” Siu-Chong, along with Will Porter writing and Zach Beever making the music. But I ignored them. Read on…

RPS: When did Project Zomboid first become an idea?

Binky: Oooh ages ago, years ago. Something we always wanted to make and talked about making but we were busy with working in the commercial scene and didn’t really have any time.

Lemmy: It’s been one of those ideas that has been percolating for years. Our dream game idea that we’d chat about all the time, but one that we didn’t think we’d ever be able to make due to the sheer time it would take to realise.

RPS: So what changed?

Lemmy: Since Minecraft hit, we saw there was another way to develop a game that didn’t require years of upfront funding and motivation without people playing the game, and suddenly the idea seemed possible. So when it came time to talk about our next project, we were all ‘ZOMBIES!’ It was called ‘Zombies’ back then. We’re good at names.

Binky: Yeah, and then after Privates we figured, may as well give it a go now that we had some spare time – and it actually started to come together reasonably quickly. And it looked like it might actually be doable.

RPS: How much of what’s been released was in that original idea?

Binky: A lot of it, like the soup and the fire came together fairly late on as we were thinking of ways to demonstrate the sorts of things that would be in the game, during an opening tutorial.

Lemmy: Thing is the game isn’t so much an idea but a vision of a zombie game that we’ve discovered most big fans of zombie films have.

Binky: Basically, films were our biggest inspiration rather than other zombie games.

Lemmy: We can never claim it’s an original idea for a game. But think that’s why it resonates with people. Because anyone who’s a zombie fan, ourselves included, have talked about this game with their zombie fan friends.

Binky: So while it can only really be done in an indie environment unless you’re prepared to fund a huuuuge and risky development, it’s also difficult to do as indie unless you announce early and try to get support a la the Minecraft model for the same reasons.

Lemmy: It’s just never really been done before because of the aforementioned time and money commitments it would cost to make it under traditional development methods.

RPS: So how long do you think it will take to make?

Lemmy: Years I should think. There’s so much we could add that really needs to be in the game for it to fit our and other people’s vision of the game.

Binky: We hope to be updating the game for years. Expanding the depth of gameplay, size of world, and story events.

Um, you're aiming the wrong way sir.

RPS: So with this style of development, by constantly receiving feedback, do you think you’re better equipped to make this game that exists in everybody else’s heads?

Binky: Definitely – the support of the community is a massive part of development. Since, as Lemmy said, this is a game that every zombie fan wants to make, everybody’s got good ideas. It’s our job to take their ideas, make sure they don’t conflict, and combine them with our own ideas to shape a consistent, rich, and deep game.

Lemmy: We have a joke that we bought the design document for this game from Max Brooks. We read World War Z ages ago and pretty recently bought a copy of the Survival Guide, and it reads pretty much like a document of what should be in the game. The whole ‘zombie apocalypse scenario’ thing is something we’ve all discussed at some point, so really you find a lot of people’s suggestions we pretty much instantly agree with, or have previously thought of. The idea comes fully formed in everyone’s minds, because of the more actiony focus of modern zombie games. We always wished we could board up windows and push furniture against the doors. So has everyone else.

RPS: Of course.

Binky: It’s like – little things, such as the pre-made character you start as in this tech-demo being a slightly balding man – we wanted to make a proper zombie apocalypse where you’re not immune, you’re not some hero, you’re just some guy or girl who wakes up to find the dead have come back to life and are eating the neighbours.

Lemmy: Yeah the ‘every man’ thing was important to us. We want people to play as the businessman or the milkman, not always as the cop or commando. Since we started looking for a name for the game, we came across other cool games with pretty much the same concept. Rogue Survivor, Dead State… so yeah, we’re clearly not original but that’s cool because I think all the games fit a different niche. RS for the roguelike fans, Dead State for the turn based fans, and us for our… I don’t know… smothering fans?

RPS: How did you go about figuring out how dark to pitch it?

Binky: Well, one of the things that shaped it was that we, er… paid “homage” to the way The Sims works with it’s Moodlets and we were thinking, what sorts of moods would your character be feeling in a zombie apocalypse? And, really, it would be a pretty depressing state of affairs. The game had to be dark. Moments of comedy, maybe, when you forget temporarily what’s going on, but mostly it would be horrible.

Lemmy: I personally trace it back to the opening of 28 Weeks Later – where Robert Carlyle abandons his wife to the hordes, and the viewer is encouraged to think of him as a despicable monster. When all he really was a coward, and in a moment of life and death, his cowardice or perhaps pragmatism won over his love for his wife.

Binky: There’s a bit in “The Last Man on Earth” when Vincent Price is sat on a sofa with the neighbours pounding on the door and he starts laughing… and his laughter turns slowly to crying as his despair overwhelms him. That’s a big inspiration for the game.

Lemmy: We want people to make difficult choices, and feel pangs of guilt for when they choose these options. Permadeath, saving only on quit, is key to this. If they’ve survived for a month in-game, and have a lot invested in the character and story, then if their wife is about to be chewed by zombies, they are a lot more likely to face that same dilemma.

RPS: You’ve had a pretty crappy time of it lately. Has the reaction to the release made up for any of that?

Binky: It’s been amazing, yeah. In many ways the run of luck we had almost ceased to be annoying and just became funny – I think the bomb was the icing on the cake. But we didn’t anticipate the reaction being *so* positive. We had mentally prepared ourselves for polarised opinion.

Lemmy: Absolutely! We’ve been blown away because, quite frankly, with all we were promising for the full game, and given our run of luck, we were fully expecting some kind of backlash at how little was in the first version over all the promises we’ve made for the full game. I guess we were too close to it, but we totally didn’t expect even remotely this much of a positive reaction to it. So yeah, it’s been totally worth it, and then some. We’ve got goosebumps because it all feels real now. Seeing people make YouTube videos of it (50+ and counting) makes us realise we hit the ‘YouTube story’ thing that was so important to us.

Binky: Also that “share your stories” thread on our forum is amazing – exactly what we were hoping to see happen much further on in development – but it’s happened already. It’s mind-blowing. Also, huge props to Zach Beever who’s made us the most wonderful music we could have hoped for. It’s incredible.

Lemmy: And The Will Porter, for his amazing writing that made those scenes work so well.

RPS: So what is a priority to add next?

Binky: Character customisation will be a big thing to add. That’s when the RPG elements really start to take off – create your own everyman/woman.

Lemmy: And NPCs. It’s when you have unscripted NPCs knocking about, following you, arguing with you, doing their own thing, that’s when the real emergent fun begins.

Binky: In many ways, NPCs are more important to the feel of the zombie apocalypse than the zombies are.

Lemmy: Crazy things happening you just gotta tell people about, or make a video of, where some AI character went nuts and then it all went crazy.

RPS: What’s the first thing you’ll add that will drive a rift down the middle of the PZ community, with swathes swearing to hunt you down?

Lemmy: There will obviously be the usual balancing and nerfing rage, but we have to expect that. For example, the nail spiked baseball bat. I’ve got this gnawing feeling we’re going to have to lower the damage that does for balance, but then people seem to really like it how it is. What to do!

Binky: Hmmm… we thought the pillow might have been it.

Lemmy: I guess the two big camps in zombies are ‘fast vs. slow’, and we already lost all the fast guys, so we’re a united front now!

Binky: I guess that’s the point. We going for something that is consistent with proper zombie lore. So providing we don’t stray from that, hopefully there won’t be too many polarising decisions. And we won’t stray from that because we hate it when other things do.

RPS: Thanks for your time.

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57 Comments »

  1. CMaster says:

    Ooooh, what’s that new “feature” indicator up the top there? Will there be others for reviews etc?

    • Premium User Badge

      Sinomatic says:

      I imagine its to point out articles vs. straightforward news stories. I seem to recall some people thinking that the quantity of articles had gone down in relation to news pieces in the last wee while (whilst as far as I know, the number of *all* types of posts went up). Doesn’t hurt to draw attention to them.

    • Premium User Badge

      Tunips says:

      It’s room for one more pun.

    • Tssha says:

      There’s always room for one more pun! It’s like Jello, only people hit you with pillows for making them.

  2. sexyresults says:

    Can’t wait for further updates/releases. It’s always neat to hear about a bunch of guys making their dream game.

  3. Dozer says:

    I’d buy it if I weren’t unemployed!

    • Zarunil says:

      I thought you were a busdriver? Did your addiction to bus-driving simulators get the better of you? Like my addiction to Farming Simulator 2011 got me fired from my job at the farm?

    • HeavyStorm says:

      @Zarunil: Your addiction to farming game… wait… what?

    • Dozer says:

      Well remembered! They took exception to my habit of driving into every car and lamppost I saw. I blame GTA.

  4. Premium User Badge

    tomeoftom says:

    Nice interview.

  5. Groove says:

    I liked Project Zomboid when it was still cool.

  6. Kieron Gillen says:

    THE GAME ISN’T SCARY! THE NEW TAB IS SCARY!

    KG

    • Temple to Tei says:

      Who gets to decide what is a feature?
      Is the tab a feature? How can it reference itself?

      This is going to end badly.

    • StranaMente says:

      I blame it on the tab if the feed is now broken and I can’t see it on firefox. Damned scoundrel of a tab!

  7. Alexander Norris says:

    Lemmy: Thing is the game isn’t so much an idea but a vision of a zombie game that we’ve discovered most big fans of zombie films have.

    Binky: Basically, films were our biggest inspiration rather than other zombie games.

    That’s because “other zombie games” aren’t actually zombie games; they’re games with zombies in them. Treating zombies as cannon fodder or enemies is missing the point – zombie films are about the breakdown of civilisation and the sheer shittiness of human nature, and what happens when the two meet. Zombies are just a natural disaster that conveniently makes seemingly human people into outright monsters.

    So basically: now I need to buy Project Zomboid, and then I need to buy Dead State (and hope there isn’t too much overlap between the two, although I’ll still buy them even if there is because zombie games).

    • Jumwa says:

      Well said.

      It’s nice to hear about these guys making their dream game, and it does sound terribly interesting to me. I suppose a selfish desire to like to play it helps me sympathize with their plights all the more.

    • Mad Hamish says:

      Bang on man. I’m really sick of all the zombies at this stage. It’s good to see someone make an actual Romero esque zombie game where the zombies are more of a setting rather than a load of monsters. They’re a force for nature and there’s no escaping them anymore than you can escape breathing air. The zombies may kill you but it’s the other humans you gotta look out for.
      I can’t even smother my wife in it so I can go exploring on my own. Instead, like the coward I am, I let the other guy do the dirty work and I actually feel bad about it.

      I was hoping that Dead Island was gonna be like this, but it seems they’ve gone the zombie basher route.

    • Tom OBedlam says:

      I’m writing a paper on exactly this at the moment. Zombies just foreground existing societal decay.

    • Alexander Norris says:

      Hamish: yeah – I had high hopes for Dead Island, until they started showing videos of you getting XP for killing zombies. It seems more like a first person Dead Rising than anything else.

      Also: games with zombies in them really need to stop using the word “Dead” in their name.

    • Coillscath says:

      Spot on, spot on. Fast zombies killed (Shush) the zombie genre for me. The whole point of the slow, shambling, moaning zombies was that they were slow enough, and still human enough that you could pity them, and think about them for a while. It was a scary thing, realising that the shambling, rotting mess was once a human being with plans for their future, hobbies, friends, a family, and maybe someone they loved very much.

      And the terrifying thing was that you may end up just like them.

    • pipman3000 says:

      lol zombie game elitism.

      kill me now

    • Dozer says:

      @Pipman3000

      Will you come back as a zombie?

    • Mad Hamish says:

      Yeah I think fast zombies peaked in 28 Days Later in film and Left 4 Dead in games. There’s nothing to them really, they may as well be velociraptors or sharks with legs.

    • SM47 says:

      Come on now chaps, if it wasn’t for the fast zombies featured in 28 Days Later, the zombie revival of the noughties would’ve probably never happened. And if you go far back enough on the zombie timeline, the (talking, running, indecently exposing) science-vampires featured in I Am Legend directly influenced Night of the Living Dead. So all this ‘I preferred zombies before they sold out and started running’ hipster nonsense is built upon blancmange foundations. Zombies ran before they walked.

      Can’t we come to some sort of agreement? WHAT IF ZOMBIES CANTERED?

    • Xercies says:

      Despite what many people think 28 Days Later is a zombie movie, yes it has fast zombies but it still has what other zombie movies have, a band of survivors, a siege like mentaity, and the “Humans are the real monsters” message.

    • Tom OBedlam says:

      The vampies of I am Legend are markedly different from zombies, though I’ll grant that they inspired Romero’s zombies, in terms of the metaphor of America-as-graveyard. Zombies obviously have their roots in Haitian zombis, who were either the living reduced to mindless slaves or the dead brought back as slaves. Either shambled. Romero, in Night of the Living Dead created the modern living dead zombies, and they shambled. The shambling, slowly encroaching horror is why they function as allegory for social decay and collapse.
      Fast zombies are a different kettle of fish entirely and whether they work or not in a media depends hugely on how’re they’re used. While dawn of the dead (2004) was a fun remake, the allegory of consumers-as-the-living-dead failed because the zombies weren’t trapped in conditioned behaviour but were active predators. Conversely, in 28 Days Later the infected, who owe more to The Crazies than other zombie lore, function to ask the Twilight Zone question “Who is the true animal?”

    • Jeremy says:

      Zombies don’t canter, they saunter.

    • Lilliput King says:

      I thought zombies bopped.

    • Tom OBedlam says:

      This don’t swim, this flyyy!

    • pipman3000 says:

      zombie sinbad is performing at an undead nightclub. he says “slow zombies walk this” and hobbles around the stage to demonstrate. the crowd laughs and he continues “but fast zombies walk like this!” and he runs off the stage and dives out of a window to tear out the throat of an unlucky survivor loitering outside. he gets a full round of applause and drinks on the house.

  8. Temple to Tei says:

    Spoilers ffs!
    Well that’s two films that have been out 10 -50 years each that I don’t need to watch.
    Sheeesh!.

    Also, more doom and gloom in games is good/bad as it makes me use real life for escapism from games.

  9. Faxmachinen says:

    Why is Bob Smith wearing a sports bra?

  10. HexagonalBolts says:

    The music really is great, especially that track with the female vocals

  11. Cradlejoe says:

    I’m glad they acknowledge Dead State and don’t see it as a threat, can’t wait for both of these now!

  12. Premium User Badge

    P7uen says:

    This is how you make a zombie game.

  13. Meat Circus says:

    This game makes me sad. Good-sad.

  14. jealouspirate says:

    I plan on buying this game. Sounds horribly depressing, though. I think I’ll need to take regular breaks to play Missy’s Ponycorn Adventure.

  15. Ergates_Antius says:

    I had a cat called Binky.

    She died.

    I was sad.

    Poor Binky, we loved you so much.

    • Edawan says:

      Did she raise from her grave after that ?

    • adonf says:

      Mom said she was sleeping
      She lied! She lied!
      Why oh why is my cat dead?
      Couldn’t that Chrysler hit me instead?

  16. Premium User Badge

    Martel says:

    I’ve only had a chance to play it a little after getting it, but it is already pretty intense. Pretty good stuff for how early in the dev cycle it is. I’m excited to see where they take it.

  17. Coillscath says:

    No reference to “I Am Legend”? Though I suppose the feel of that story was a little different by the time you reached the end and the big reveal happened.

    It would be rather interesting to see a twist on that level if your character survived long enough, though.

    • SavannaJeff says:

      “The Last Man on Earth” was a movie adaptation of I Am Legend.

  18. paulsoaresjr says:

    Kind to mention Rogue Survivor which is a hidden gem and I see a lot of similarities. Sadly, the developer gave up on it but happy to see PZ has (or will have) most of the coolest features of RS.

    • Premium User Badge

      JB says:

      Hi Paul, loving your videos so far, most amusing. Plus the warehouse location was handy intel for my second play of PZ.

      Still haven’t seen you molotov anyone though…now you know where the gas cans, empty bottles and torn sheets are, there are NO EXCUSES!

  19. RagingLion says:

    Hmmmmm. I still think I’m more inclined towards Dead State because of all the narrative stuff in that and character interaction which sounds like it’ll be more complex and also it has an end rather than it just going on for however long you can manage. However, I much prefer the option of real-time combat and this sounds like it could get properly fleshed out.

  20. Wulf says:

    …this is a Lemmy and Binky thing? I did not know that. Interest quadrupled.

    However, looking at the videos of it, the text is about 10 times smaller than what I can actually read (yay for a degenerative condition with my optic nerves). I could use windows magnifier, I suppose, but… since it’s Lemmy and Binky doing this, and they’re awesome, I figure I’ll ask.

    Any chance for font configuration, guys? If yes, I’m in. No fancy menu needed, really, don’t do that. All I would ever ask for is a few settings in a text or XML file that I can dink with. That’d be fine. I mean, I’ve screwed around with barely comprehensible nonsense in text and XML files before, so that doesn’t bother me at all. Not even slightly. You should’ve seen what I went through to get big text in NWN2 and a UI that would work with big text. So much fun. Morrowind was easier because someone made an application where I could just create fonts. That was awesome. And Magicka was just a matter of “Here’s a very large font file, you can overwrite the smaller font files with it to get something that you can read. Hooray!”, and that worked.

    Any of the above would be fine. Completely fine. Hell, if the font is an image then just provide the image map of the font and a configuration file saying what size the grind is (X/Y for the letters), and that’ll be okay. I’ve worked with that before too, come to think of it. I know I have.

    You may even have these options somewhere already, regardless of how hidden away, in which case… yay! I’ll just buy the game. But I need to know they’re there, first.

    Interested in this. Buuut… no point me picking it up if I can’t follow the story, yeah?

    Accessibility is nice though, and should you put somewhere that you can modify the font size, it’s going to make the game more appealing to those with accessibility issues.

    /ramble_mode OFF

    • lemmy101 says:

      There’s already a magnifier that double sizes all the pixels. :) We can look into making a bigger font option too.

    • Dozer says:

      There must be some kind of standard guide to making software (including games) accessible to as wide a range as possible of people with visual disabilities – colourblindness etc.

      Or perhaps emulators that show a normally-sighted UI developer what their work looks like to a colourblind person, or to someone with various kinds of optical degeneracy.

  21. Jeremy says:

    I accidentally smothered my wife with a pillow.. I am a monster.

  22. Zelius says:

    “I guess the two big camps in zombies are ‘fast vs. slow’, and we already lost all the fast guys, so we’re a united front now!”

    Hey, some people actually like both!

  23. Zarunil says:

    This game has massive potential! It brings out more emotion in me than most big budget titles, which is kinda sad come to think of it. I hope RPS keeps track of PZ’s progress.

  24. OctaneHugo says:

    I love the music. I think it’s the best part of the game so far.

    Someone get this Beever man a round.

  25. MCM says:

    Based on the interview, names they should have picked:

    The Zoms
    Z-COM
    … others?