A Day in the Life of Project Zomboid
I’m a fickle creature. A childhood littered with neglect and broken promises has left me with a dark, frozen lump of coal where a normal person would have a heart. And while this may leave me with an unprecedented level of resistance to puppy eyes, it makes it extraordinarily hard for video games to grab my attention from the get-go.
Normally a game has to work at me, wheedle its way into my confidences, and coax me out of my shell one shiny feature at a time. Not so with Project Zomboid; it had me at the intro screen, which proclaims “This Is How You Died” in stern white text.
Before I launch into things though, let’s pause while I explain just what on Earth I’m talking about. Project Zomboid is a zombie survival RPG currently in development by developers The Indie Stone. Set in the early days of the zombie apocalypse, players must try to survive in the open-ended sandbox world around them. Although the game is still in development, updated Alpha builds are being released to players (like me) who have already purchased the game. Fortunately, you don’t have to buy the game to play it, as The Indie Stone have released a tech demo which is free to download and play.
I’m extremely excited about Project Zomboid. Not only because of the possible scope of the game, but also in part due to the dogged persistence shown by the developers. The unfortunate team at The Indie Stone have faced financial difficulties, burglaries, and bomb scares, but somehow they’ve managed to keep turning out updates. So, in order to show you just how easily this game can grip you, I thought I’d put together a short series of picture diaries, chronicling my journey through the game. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed making them.
We open on Bob and Kate, happily married in the first flush of love.
Actually no. We open on Bob and Kate, happily married and neck-deep in trouble. They have somehow survived the opening stages of the zombie apocalypse, only Kate’s managed to acquire a broken leg along the way. Holed up in a deserted house, the couple take stock of their situation.
The first order of business? Tend to Kate’s broken leg. The story in the tech demo functions as a tutorial for the game proper. It features little prompts and hints to get you going and familiarize you with the interface and how to interact with the world around you. The little question marks you can see on screen there open into pop-ups which explain how to access you inventory, search things around you – cupboards, drawers, etc. – and access the crafting window.
You can see the crafting window here. Having
looted borrowed a blanket and a pillow from the nearby cupboard, it’s a simple matter of dropping the blanket into the crafting window and left-clicking to create the actual bandages. Another left click to pick them up, and after a final click to use them on Kate’s leg I have fulfilled my husbandly duties.
I mentioned a pillow there, and it occurs to me that Kate might be comfier with a pillow to rest her head on, or even to prop her leg up. I’ll fetch it from my inventory and see if I can give it to her.
Wait, what am I doing? Oh God no, stop it Bob!
Okay, I’ll admit I was a little shaken by that. I’ve just murdered my wife. I pause, wait a few seconds, expecting a fade to black, a game over screen, anything to tell me how horrible a person I am. But there’s nothing. The game continues, the clock in the top right corner of the window ticks along inexorably. I realize that the game isn’t going to end. I can keep playing, even though I’m now a murderer. I can’t undo this. Although you can save your game in later updates, you can’t save in the demo. Kate isn’t coming back.
I quit and restart.
This time I keep the pillow to myself, and manage not to kill my wife. Instead I fetch her painkillers from the adjoining bathroom to help her rest. This is all part of the game’s tutorial. You can be wounded in Project Zomboid, and healing is not as simple as chugging a health pack. Bandages need to be used to stop bleeding, otherwise your health continues to deteriorate, and not in the standard manner of diminishing health points. Wounds to your legs will slow you down and wounds to your arms will reduce your strength, impacting the amount you can carry and the strength of your melee attacks.
These are all concerns for the future though. With my wife stabilized, I need to secure our safe house; I head into the garden to search the shed we saw on our way in.
A hammer, nails, and some planks of wood. Immediately I feel significantly safer. I head back to the house and use the hammer to nail boards across the downstairs doors and windows. Should a zombie horde find us, those boards will provide protection. They won’t stop them, but they will slow them down, hopefully buying us time to escape. I try not to think about how Kate will move with a broken leg.
By now it’s late and we’re both hungry. I suggest that I visit the house next door and find some food, but Kate rightly points out that it’s too dark to see anyone or anything until it’s too late. Armed only with a hammer, I am inclined to agree with her.
This highlights two other in-game mechanics: the day/night cycle and your need to eat. The sun rises and sets every day in Project Zomboid, and the light levels reflect that. Go outside at night and, although you’ll be harder to spot, you’re much more likely to run face-first into a pack of zombies. You can see from the screenshot above just how dark it can get. Hunger also plays a big part in the game; you’ll need to eat regularly to survive, and you can starve to death if you’re not careful. On our first night in our new safe house, we go to sleep hungry.
I rise bright and early the next day and head next door in search of food. The streets are empty, and I don’t have to use my hammer on anything other then the boards on our front door.
Unfortunately, that state of affairs changes as soon as I enter the house and run into my first zomboid. Being a regular guy and not a gruff soldier-type, the sight of the walking dead has an understandable negative effect on me. You can see in the screenshot an icon representing the fact that I’m currently scared. Being surprised by a zomboid will do that to you; you don’t have 360 degree vision, nor can you see through walls. Before entering a building, scouting it from the outside by looking through the windows is going to be a good idea.
Regardless, I manage to overcome my shock and bring my newly-acquired hammer to bear. My new zomboid friend goes down hard. If you look close, you can see an eyeball on the floor there. I proceed into the kitchen and help myself to some cans of soup from the cupboards.
Spoils in hand, I head back to the safe house and get to grips with some cooking. Doing so is a two-step process. After acquiring a pot and a can opener from the kitchen, I drop the can of soup, the can opener and the pot into my own crafting window, and am rewarded with a cold pot of soup. Edible, but neither satisfying nor nutritious. Rectifying this means using the cooker. Simple enough. I place the pot of soup into the cooker and switch it on. Job done.
At this point in the game’s story, the zombie outbreak has been contained in one small town. The city’s infrastructure is still relatively intact, providing water, gas, and power. According to The Indie Stone, that will change as the in-game time passes, meaning players may want to stockpile canned goods and bottled water.
I have little time to revel in my culinary successes, as Kate manages to get the bedside radio working.
I dash upstairs to hear the news, the first we’ve had in a while. There’s a nice touch here, with the game making the text of the broadcast patchy and broken if you’re not close to the radio itself. Upstairs, I can hear it perfectly, meaning the words appear clearly on screen.
In short, the town has been closed off by the military, with little or no explanation as to why. Politicians are using it as an excuse to bicker and fight, and the press is speculating wildly on what exactly is going on, mistaking satellite images of the zombie hordes as people going about their business.
Our musing is interrupted by Kate’s nose. She smells burning. Uh oh.
What? No, of course I didn’t. It’s only a pot of soup, what’s the worst that could happen? A burnt pot? Relax, I’ll go sort it.
Oh balls. My little scared-face icon is back, and no wonder. The fire is everywhere. What do I do? What do I do? I try flailing at the flames with the pillow, chucking soup cans at it, nothing works. Hell, I even try to hit it with the hammer. Strangely, none of this works. We may be in trouble.
I abandon my pitiful attempts at fire-fighting and run upstairs. Maybe I can grab Kate and carry her outside. There are other houses around, maybe we can start over.
Oh God, the fire’s spread up here already. Thor! Why have you forsaken me!? I’m in the process of trying to figure out how to pickup and carry Kate when I hear an the sounds of wood being smashed and splintered, followed immediately by the unmistakable sound of zomboid moans. Lots of them. The fire must have attracted them. I’ll need to clear them out before we leave. I run downstairs, hammer at the ready.
Sweet Zombie Jesus.
I start swinging, and for a moment it looks like I’m making headway; one of the walls is soon coated in blood and brain matter. It’s a false hope though; they overwhelm me in seconds and I disappear underneath a sea of dead flesh. I can only hope the smoke or flames kill Kate before the zomboids make it upstairs.
I quit and restart.
But I think we’ll leave it at that for today. Join me over the next few days as we see Bob and Kate’s further adventures in the town of Muldraugh, including their run in with another survivor, and Bob’s attempts at making barricades in an effort to make their safe house actually safe.
Follow Craig’s intermittent tweets @d20shapedheart