The Misadventures And Mirth Of Project Zomboid

By Adam Smith on July 10th, 2012 at 7:00 pm.

The Project Zomboid session at Rezzed was right at the beginning of the first day and yet it still managed to be extremely busy. Despite the (approximately) seven million people in attendance, if there’s even the slightest chance that one person reading this didn’t see the people of The Indie Stone talking about ‘How (not) to make a game’, I suggest you do so now. With Will Porter guiding the journey from the safety of a podium, the team talk about the origins of the game, copying Notch, living on beans and bread, and a series of extremely unfortunate events. There’s plenty of humour but also memories of robbery, death and the internet being a bastard. Then, for good measure, a trailer for the next version of the game.

Fun fact: I was childishly amused by hearing a PA voice in a proper serious conference hall saying “Zomboid” with a confused inflection.

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65 Comments »

  1. Dominic White says:

    Before anyone starts falling over themselves to try to explain how very justified the abusive behaviour against the developers was, I’d just like to reiterate this:

    A man got death threats because his house got broken into and almost everything of value stolen.

    Read that again, let it sink in, and then think.

    • pakoito says:

      We respect them as persons and are very sorry for their loss. Now, as professionals, they make perfect example of…well…how NOT to make a game. Starting by not using repositories in 2011, where Dropbox or Github give you 2 digs just for registering.

      • Kapouille says:

        Sadly, they are not the only ones in the industry to have worked as badly. I have seen (and worked for) non-indies with similar appalling setups and bizarre mood swings/bad PR.

        • zbeeblebrox says:

          Hell, from my experience, I’d go so far as to say that’s almost EVERY developer. The game industry is held together in the back with bubblegum and duct tape.

          • Kaira- says:

            “The game industry is held together in the back with bubblegum and duct tape”

            Much like most software ever. ZING!

          • Apolloin says:

            Not so. Some Devs have dedicated IT staff and off CONTINENT backups. Smaller teams may make this mistake, but it is generally someone’s job to ensure that this is something that can’t happen to a project short of global thermonuclear war.

          • jrodman says:

            I would generally say it is not the people who write the software who work hard to ensure it is backed up. It’s other people who don’t write software.

            I’m not sure what it is about the personality. Maybe you have to just have blind faith things work or you’d never be able to kick out the features like you’re required to do.

          • lpqwdjh says:

            I asse the good Captain will be getting a promotion after all of this. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fLyLGrbKokI#t=08m45s

          • Ovno says:

            Our ‘dedicated’ IT staff were indeed responsible for backing up of the software from the servers and they claimed to do it quite effectively for years until of course we needed to access the backup at which point we were told it could not be done, for some reason the backups could not be restored without blating the entire server, not really an option to get back one small teams data within a larger company, so in the end our teams director started keeping backups on multiple usb harddisks a system which has never failed to let us access old data, so before you start singing the praises of IT don’t forget every single developer I have ever talks to curses the incompetence, laziness and arrogance of the IT department because all they do is set up stupid rules (like no secure ftp allowed only unsecure) and fail to backup your data.

          • jrodman says:

            Ovno: don’t think I’m saying “IT is teh best!” It’s just been pretty universally true in all the environments I’ve worked that programmers only care about infrastructure to the point of applying enough duct tape that it seems to work.

            I’d say that comment is true about your USB drives and etc as well. Of course, “seems to work” can often be the superior of the alternatives available, where no one even checks if it works in the real world, or where officiousness and politics rule the day.

            I’m a pretty universal pessimist, and also a programmer. And an applier of duct tape and baling wire when the need arises.

    • Adam Smith says:

      Indeed.

      Anyone attempting to justify abusive behaviour is to be ignored until I edit their comments into cheery little missives.

      • Dana says:

        Yet in article comments about Anita Sarkeesian, when few people congratulated the harassers, saying she deserves even more (she received death threats as well), nothing got censored.

    • Bobzer says:

      That said getting drunk on twitter and talking shit about your customers while threatening to run off with the money was not a good move for the lead developer to make.

      • derbefrier says:

        lol damn i hadn’t heard that one. i am glad i passed on this, i almost bought it too. I mean can you imagine jay wilson saying something like that? everyone here would be raising a pitchfork but i guess indies are held to different standards here.

        • doC says:

          If talking about standards, then we should make it clear that there is actually a difference for which different standards should be used.

          AAA studios are behind a wall of their own managers, behind the wall of the publisher and their lawyers, managers and PR guys. So there is different kind of pressure on the developers and most of the time, all the NDA and crazy shit makes the situation such, that you don’t have the slightest idea to post fancy stuff when you are drunk (and even that happens from time to time….).

          Now on the other side, you have the indies made of a few guys that are doing everything on their own. It’s them who write articles, it’s them who are directly affected by our posts, it’s them who write when they are drunk and on one of their lowest point in life…..

          So why if you expect different experience from indie games you are not able to accept different “ways” how you get it? I’m completely ok when a guy in huge trouble/low life situation posts something stupid when drunk and when he says I’m sorry the next day when he is sober again, that is if that doesn’t happen too often.

          Simply said, with different results different ways to get there come along ;)

          • jalf says:

            I think that one is bullshit. I don’t see why indies should get any kind of special treatment. I buy indie games because they’re interesting, fun, worth my money. The exact same reason I buy AAA games.

            Indie developers are not particularly “noble”, or “worthy” of my money. They don’t have a license to screw up with no consequences. If you choose to participate in the “make a game and then try to get me to pay for it” business, then I’ll treat you like any other participant in that business.

            You want special treatment? Find a different business model. If your business model is the same as Call of Duty’s, then I’m going to hold you to essentially the same standards as well.

            Or, if it is ok for a drunk indie developer to do something stupid as long as he apologizes for it afterwards, why exactly should it be less ok if it happens from, oh, say, the CEO of Blizzard?

            If it’s ok to do that, then it should be ok for both of them. if it is not ok, then I think it should be “not ok” for both of them.

          • Mattressi says:

            jalf, the developer didn’t do anything. He said some things that some people wouldn’t consider professional, but from what I can remember of it, he only said them to the people abusing him. He never lashed out at fans, he never said he was going to take the money and run (but I love how people like to word things like that…) – he said that it would “probably finish [them]“. This was literally 6 minutes (yes, I’ve just looked up the twitter feed picture) after he walked into his apartment and realised that things were stolen. With no one else around, he went on twitter and said what was happening. It certainly wasn’t a great move, but I don’t think any but the most self-righteous could blame him for using his personal twitter account to say what he was feeling, in the minutes after the initial, horrible shock.

            And again, the only people I saw him go off at were all of the douches abusing him about lack of security (data and otherwise). No, not people who said “you could have backed things up”, but people who were caps-ing obscenities at him.

            Afterwards, from what I can remember, they repeatedly apologised and offered all customers a refund if they desired it (that is, if a customer wanted to complain about the team wasting their money, they would offer the person a refund). To me, that’s perfectly reasonable and clears them of wrongdoing – if you make a mistake and offer everyone a refund, you’re a great company. Unfortunately, many people still complained (likely because many of the people complaining actually WEREN’T CUSTOMERS). I remember one of the devs actually forcing a refund on someone on the PZ forum, who simply would not shut up about it and leave them alone, as if the dev team had personally afronted him by having their stuff stolen. They gave the guy a refund and told him to beat it, which was great to see.

            In short, they never abused customers, did make mistakes and admitted it, and fully fixed the situation by offering refunds to everyone. Some wankers persisted, because people love to complain when they can’t really complain about anything (they lost no money). Some people are douches, the PZ team are not.

          • callmeclean says:

            Well I am sure no one would care if the CEO of Blizzard got a bit drunk and posted something stupid. He is human after all, and I’m sure many Blizzard fans and people on the internet do similar things. Everyone does stupid things occasionally. I think the point is that the big guys like Blizzard have all these PR guys and lawyers to hide it/help them out of it. While the small guys post something stupid on twitter and suddenly everyone knows about it.

            Everyone should get over it. The fact that he was drunk and it only happened once should be enough knowledge to do that.

        • Mad Hamish says:

          What a fuckin travesty that would have been for you. Spending that five quid on an indie. Are you for real are what? Are you really holding up an indie company with 3 staff to Blizzard? Really what the hell is wrong with you? Of course indies are held to different standards. Here and everywhere else. You want someone to type out those very obvious reasons why for you?

          On a side note. Not that I think the Zomboid team did this, but I think more devs should treat their fans like the absolute crowd of cretins they are. The fuckin shit they take from the swarms of gobshites that infest their forums would be too much for me. I’m amazed at Indie Stone’s composure.

      • Keirley says:

        Yes, we know. Why do people keep feeling the need to point this out at every opportunity. We know it. They’ve publicly admitted it. Now stop.

        • Fincher says:

          I didn’t know. Thanks, Bobzer, I completely missed that happening. What were they thinking? Keirley, you needn’t try so hard to censor any controversy surrounding the devs.

          • FriendlyFire says:

            Censor the controversy? The entire thing happened ages ago, let it go already. They’ve had more than enough shame to digest since then and punishment enough for their mistake. Forgive, if not forget.

          • Keirley says:

            What is it with you frustrating people and the word ‘censorship’?

      • Dominic White says:

        And to drag this into perspective: A man who had just had his house ransacked got drunk and surly when he started getting hate-mail BECAUSE HIS HOUSE GOT RANSACKED. He apologized afterwards, and got back to work. None of the assholes said sorry, though.

        I’m sure you’d be the very image of professionalism and detachment if I stole everything you had, and then jeered you for sucking enough to let that happen.

        • jalf says:

          How exactly do you know that “none of the assholes said sorry”? Are you reading the team’s email?

          And let’s try sticking to some of the more, well, neutral, accounts of the story, shall we? Like, I’m pretty sure it was a bit more complex that “guy gets his house robbed, then gets hate mail, then gets upset”. For one, most of the hate mail was after he went on a childish Twitter rampage, not before. Second, I do believe quite a lot of the feedback after the “house ransacked” part was not quite hate mail — it is actually possible to point out that a person may have committed errors, or that when something bad happens, it’s not *just* “bad luck”, without it being “hate mail”.

          And, of course, two wrongs don’t make a right, do they?
          It’s hardly a surprise that there are a lot of assholes on the internet, is it? But if you want to run a business, and get people to buy your game, then you need to behave like it, *even* when faced with internet-assholes.

          But ultimately, I think the kicker is this:

          3: the team has a *long* history of incompetence. Yes, it truly, utterly sucked that their house was broken into, and yes, that is horrible in so many other ways than that it set back the development of their game. I’ve never suffered that, but I fully believe that it is a really really horrible, or even traumatizing, experience. It’s not just for fun that people say stuff like “a man’s home is his fortress”. And if that was all their critics had to point to, it’d be a different story. But it’s not. That was one particular event which happened out of sheer bad luck — although various precautions could have mitigated the impact, it’s hard to blame them for having their house broken into.

          But again, they have screwed up in quite a few other ways, in a long sequence of “bad luck” events which had nothing to do with luck, and everything to do with sloppyness, incompetence or ignorance.

          They (or certain media following them) have created a myth that they’re just the most unlucky dev team on the face of the planet, that nothing is their fault, the universe is just conspiring against them.

          And that is bullshit.

          And when that is said, I applaud them for not giving up. Yes, I fully believe they should have prepared more, acted more professionally, and not relied on “luck” to keep their company running. But at the end of the day, whether it is deserved or not, they have run into a lot of trouble, and it’s great that they’re still fighting despite it all.

          And it’s wonderful that they’re talking about it, and sharing what they’ve learned. Hats off for that.

          But it’s not “unfortunate” that failing to abide by the terms of Paypal or Google Checkout leads to them not paying you, and it’s not “unfortunate” that if you pirates will exploit it if you write easily exploitable code. That’s just sloppiness and incompetence.

          I don’t know about you, but I’ve got room in my head for both: I can sympathize with them on a human level for the traumatic events of (1) having your home broken into, and (2) being sent death threats and ridiculous amounts of hate mail, I can applaud them for their persistence, and for trying to turn these screwups into opportunities to learn, and to help others avoid the same pitfalls, and at the same time *also* think they, as a dev team and a gamedev company, have repeatedly behaved irresponsibly and incompetently.

          • Dominic White says:

            “How exactly do you know that “none of the assholes said sorry”? ”

            Because the same jerks who were jumping all over the devs around here were the same guys jumping on them the moment Zomboid was mentioned. Again. And again. For months. Not one of them seemed to show any kind of regret for being an asshole. They kept acting like *they* were the ones who were wronged.

            The victim of the crime made a public apology. And this wasn’t enough for some.

          • zbeeblebrox says:

            How about, instead of wasting your time writing paragraph after paragraph of trite bullshit, you do something actually useful with your life.

          • Keirley says:

            You’re talking absolute crap. They don’t claim that they were simply unlucky. They’ve actively and repeatedly admitted their failings and accepted their culpability. I don’t understand people’s virulence in responding to the subject though. Does anyone really gain anything from these constant, self-righteous diatribes?

          • Sic says:

            They’re indie devs, they make games out of their bedrooms.

            What is this to you? You, the almighty consumer (who spent £5 on the game), needs these people to behave exactly like a large corporation (terrified of stepping on toes in fear of bad PR)?

            They don’t owe you a god damn thing.

            When you pay them their silly little fee, you know that the money goes to a handful of people sitting day and night toiling over a project that is not only their baby, but something that needs to turn a profit if they are to keep doing what they love.

            This isn’t some faceless gargantuan swallowing your money, it’s a couple of dudes trying to make a cool game. Drunken tweets isn’t something you have to accept in a corporate world, but this isn’t it. This is small-time, and you get what you pay for.

            So sit down, shut up, and behave. There is no need to cry “incompetence”. The developers have more than enough to deal with without people spreading hatred every time they piss on the toilet seat.

            … A seat which you agreed they could piss on (on occasion), when you agreed to fund the independent development of a game, I might add.

          • RobF says:

            “But it’s not “unfortunate” that failing to abide by the terms of Paypal or Google Checkout leads to them not paying you, and it’s not “unfortunate” that if you pirates will exploit it if you write easily exploitable code. That’s just sloppiness and incompetence.”

            No, it’s not sloppiness and incompetence at all. Both payment providers do this frequently to many people, from charities to other developers and to people who follow the rules as close to the letter as possible. And funnily enough with at least one of those, it’s *always* when there’s a substantial amount of success that they try to put a block on the funds for a period of time.

            It’s happened to bigger and more business savy folks than Indie Stone and it’ll happen again whilst there’s no real authority over how the payment providers behave. Could both have been avoided? Probably at one instance but they’d catch up in the end over something else, it’s a thing that happens.

            The piracy thing wouldn’t have been a problem if massive amounts of people hadn’t erupted with Zomboid fever. I don’t think anyone expected that to happen so that’s incredibly unfair to pull them on it, y’know? It was a tiny mistake in the grand scheme of things and one remedied incredibly quickly after they’d learnt of it.

            Aside from that? Being broken into and not keeping back ups is about it, isn’t it? Or do we hold them responsible for having a bomb threat outside their flats too? And sure, a lot happened after the rant but that rant was fuelled by the absolute bombardment of shit they got from the gentle folks of the unforgiving internet for whom tact and understanding is a curiously alien concept.

            Was it right? No. Was it understandable from someone drunk, gutted and being abused? Yes.

            I dunno, if you can’t forgive someone a slight breakdown after they’ve just been robbed and had certain quarters of the internet go straight from zero to hatred, well, I just don’t know. A bit of empathy and forgiveness wouldn’t go amiss after all this time considering how bastard hard they’ve worked to get everything back up and running and do the right thing by -everyone- even the abusers.

      • Warskull says:

        The threat to give up and run with the money was probably the single worst mistake they made. The worst case fear everyone has for a crowd funded project or alpha funded project is that they decide to take the money and flake out. The second they said that it brought that fear to light and permanently linked the studio to that idea. Now when I hear about project Zomboid I think about those comments first.

        It is nice to see they are still working on it and sticking in there, but I probably won’t be paying anything until the game is complete and those twitter comments have a lot to do with it.

    • Sic says:

      Indeed.

      The worst stuff didn’t happen here, though, but on Reddit.

      The whole thing was sickening.

      Personally, I get more annoyed with the people who aren’t doing the whole death threat thing. I mean, those people are obviously mentally disturbed, so they probably do crazy things like this all the time. It probably can’t be helped.

      No, the worst people are the ones crying about how their measly £5 isn’t producing a game fast enough, or that the project isn’t going in the direction that they personally desire. It’s the same ridiculous people who were constantly whining about Minecraft, and how Mojang (or rather Notch specifically) wasn’t adding whatever nonsense they thought they deserved to have in the game (completely ignoring that Minecraft is a sandbox game that was pretty close to being done even when hitting beta).

      The sheer nerve of those entitled brats is the thing getting my knickers in a twist. Calling it “unfair” or crying “scam” is bloody outrageous. It’s a god damn indie developer we’re talking about here. People making games in their bedrooms. They have already made your god damn product, and now they are polishing it for you, and you are getting this for next to no money at all. Just stop talking, you’re not entitled to jack shit, and no, this isn’t a scam, not even by a long shot. This is all based on goodwill and trust, and you are ruining it. Stop it.

    • Muzman says:

      The internet is like one big Milgram experiment, except where people give themselves the lab coat and hold the button at the same time.

    • RvLeshrac says:

      I like how every death threat that has ever been uttered throughout all of time and space is considered credible and valid, as opposed to hyperbole.

      Do we also believe that when someone says “I’m going to rip off your head and shit down your neck,” they’re actually going to decapitate us and then defecate in the open wound?

  2. Swanny says:

    Wait, what happened? I’ve played it a bit and thought it was great. But I’ve been under a rock I guess.

    EDIT:
    Thanks for the link, Unaco. I’m not sure how I missed that. It really was an unfortunate situation they had. You’d think the net would be a bit more forgiving of what was obviously a few rage-tweets. I’m going to pre-purchase now. I wish that for the rest of Project Zomboid, that all their disgraces remain private. As well as for all of us here on RPS. (que group hug followed by awkward silence, followed by headshots with various TF weapons)

    • Unaco says:

      I assume that this would be at least part of the problems…

      http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2011/10/17/best-wishes-to-project-zomboid/

      They lost some work due to theft of laptops, didn’t have secure backups or whatever.

    • Sheng-ji says:

      “Wait, what happened?”

      Quite literally everything that possibly could go wrong, did go wrong! I mean some things could have been mitigated against, others would have needed a crystal ball!

    • zeroskill says:

      “Wait, what happened?”

      A bunch of internet douchbags got together and held a Captain Hindsight convention.

      • jonfitt says:

        Thank you Captain Hindsight!

      • Asokn says:

        I assume the good Captain will be getting a promotion after all of this.

      • Apolloin says:

        I totally sympathise with that feeling that the world is against you, but having all your gamecode local in the same building is something that you don’t need Captain Hindsight to call you on. Captain Blindingly Obvious would be sufficient.

        And no, I’m not one of the ‘assholes’ who dogpiled them during the incident. This is the first I’ve heard of it.

    • Stardog says:

      Basically, people paid £5, instantly got their money’s worth, but continued to whinge and complain when they weren’t going to get the updates they desired as fast as they expected.

  3. HexagonalBolts says:

    Haha! Mash is the sweetest thing ever!

  4. RetroVortex says:

    Man, the progress those guys have made, considering the circumstances, is pretty amazing really.

    Makes me feel guilty that in that same year, I have done nothing really.
    (But watching the video, the do’s and the don’ts and the experience, it definately gives us wannabe’s some hope! X’D)

    Darn! I wish I was able to go to Rezzed. Maybe I’ll go to the next big indie meetup.
    (Never been to a big gathering like that. I always find an excuse not to go)

  5. Drake Sigar says:

    I’m just surprised they’re still at it despite everything that has happened. If I were in their shoes, I would have thrown in the towel and accepted that the universe does not want me to make this game.

    • grundus says:

      I’m surprised that Rezzed didn’t end in a huge firey explosion just because Indie Stone were attending. I have a lot of respect and goodwill for those guys after everything they’ve been through.

      • Drake Sigar says:

        Nah, they’ve already had an explosion-themed incident with the bomb thing. I suspect whatever cosmological force has it out for them wouldn’t do the same thing twice. There’s a lot of rain in the UK lately (wettest summer in decades?) so flooding their home seems to be the next logical choice.

      • Caiman says:

        @grundus Because when you can’t hide cowardly behind the anonymity of the Internet, the opportunity to be a douchbag towards someone is more likely to get you punched in the face.

  6. SockDog says:

    These guys are great, I paid to give them an opportunity to make a game I loved the sound of and they’re doing just that.

    As for the haters, you pay 5 quid and that makes you Alan Sugar. If you’re all so smart why you crying over a fiver and why can’t you tell the difference between funding development and buying a retail product.

    • RetroVortex says:

      I know right?

      I paid for a few keys, just to support them really.
      I don’t even care about the final game, I have hundreds of games to play, so I got all the time in the world really.
      Its done when its done I say. :D

      Plus, I would give a whole leg, for talent like these guys have!
      (Seriously, I’m useless at everything really. I just have ideas. (and not even good ones! XD))

      • SockDog says:

        Yup, I actually found the early builds to be a little frustrating so I just hung back, kept a finger on the game via twitter and blog updates and will come back it it when it’s more mature. If it’s not for me when it’s done and if mods don’t fix that then at least I know I contributed towards a game that made many others happy. I’ve certainly wasted a lot more than 10 quid on far less. :)

  7. JFS says:

    I hope this ever gets finished. And I hope I find my original pre-Desura backer key then to download it :)

  8. S Jay says:

    It seems that they got it dead wrong how to make a game.

  9. Apolloin says:

    I do sympathise with their early industry experience a little, but it sounds like they never really were a good fit for the mainstream industry. I have, myself, sunk a couple of years in a game that wound up never coming out and it is soul destroying, but you really can’t expect to just parachute into a lead position on a AAA team – you need to build your resume and skills.

    Maybe Indie games will be a better fit for them – although from the sound of it, they’ve had problems with Indie Dev too…

  10. Cpfoxhunt says:

    Is that who I think it is? Porter’s a good boy really?

  11. The Random One says:

    Fun fact: I was childishly amused by hearing a PA voice in a proper serious conference hall saying “Zomboid” with a confused inflection.

    Under Section 3, Subsection 9, Paragraph 7 of the RPS Statute of Predictable Posting, I am forced to reply: that is is a perfectly cromulent word.

  12. Josh W says:

    One of the fascinating things is how they were able to get started off something I normally disrespect; people getting rabidly enthusiastic off a few screenshots and a feature list.

    Aside from some procedural problems, that gut emotional reaction, and the money behind it, actually got them off the ground! I’m personally going to be a lot more cautious about dissing people who chuck money at new projects, yes they’ll sometimes waste their money, but they’ll also make things possible that would be completely impossible otherwise!