Turn-Based Zombies Project: Part 1

For a while I’ve had an idea for a game which I really want to make. However, for the purposes of showing design skill and proficiency with UE4, disappearing for a couple of years (or five?!) then reappearing with a finished game doesn’t really do me any favours.

What I thought I would do instead is write up the pitch for the game, then start working on a series of design documents which highlight the individual features/elements of the game. Once these short design documents are written I can then use UE4 to make small to medium-sized prototypes of the individual features. Where that is beyond me, or I would need code/art/audio support, I will flag that up and just present the design document.

The aim here is simple; show original thinking, show that I can write clear, concise design documentation, and show that I can turn an idea into a high quality design.

zombie_horde_by_joakimolofsson-d5mudbk

So, what’s the pitch?

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The one line idea is this: It’s Walking Dead meets XCOM, a turn-based strategy game where your goal is to make smart decisions and survive hordes of zombies and stave off the end of the world.

The elevator pitch (50 words) would be: Imagine a turn-based strategy game where the goal wasn’t to kill everything you see, but rather to survive in the face of impossible odds. Strategy that isn’t just down to “how should I kill” but, rather, “should I kill … or should I run”. Completing missions against overwhelming hordes of zombies in order to find the necessary resources and people to strengthen your base camp. Then, between those missions, spending those resources on outfitting your camp, rearming and tending to your soldiers, and bringing in new survivors who can help, hinder, or just live with you.

Genre Definition:

The game is made up of two distinct, but closely intertwined, core components:

One part of the game is a third-person, squad, turn-based strategy. The other is a resource management/tower defence game where the player builds their base in order to fend off the zombie hordes which attack at semi-regular intervals. A good touchstone for this type of structure is XCOM, which has the turn-based missions separated by the sections in the ant farm base.

Big Loop:

In this game I: take a team to fight hordes of zombies in turn-based missions

To: gather resources

That helps me: Build my base (the last human settlement) and enhance my armoury

That lets me: Take on more challenging missions, fortify my base and (perhaps!) halt the zombie apocalypse

Key Player Goals:

  • Moment-to-moment survival.
    • Particularly in the early game the player will be going out on missions in order to find resources needed for base and troop upgrades.
    • This is a balance of taking enough missions to get the materials required, but not so many that your survivors get fatigued and wiped out.
    • This is also true of the individual missions. It is not necessarily a question of wiping out all enemies (as in XCOM), rather just making it out alive will be the test of player’s skill.
  • Building and Sustaining a Settlement.
    • The player’s settlement will be key to their survival. If it gets destroyed, that will be game over.
    • The player will need to use resources gathered on missions to upgrade this settlement.
  • Completing a fascinating story.
    • The missions will be sustained by a narrative which will give the player a reason, beyond building their base, to play through the missions.

 Secondary Player Goals:

  • Protecting Individuals
      • Individual survivors can die (a la XCOM), so nurturing these survivors and helping them to reach the end of the game will be an emotional pull for players.
  • Building the type of Settlement they want.
      • Settlements can be small and militaristic, with little space to hold non-useful people, but the player can also choose to save non-useful personnel and create more of a community. This will come at a cost in terms of resources in the short term, but might allow for more positive outcomes in the long term.
      • There is an emotional aspect to this, where players feel rewarded by saving the weak, even though it comes at a personal cost.
  • Research.
    • Players can channel research into various avenues.
    • There won’t be enough resources to research everything, so players must decide their playstyle and priorities.

Market Opportunity

  • Zombie fiction and films are really popular at the moment.
      • However, gamers looking for a first class experience only really have Horde-style shooters and The Walking Dead games. My game fills the void of a high quality, narrative driven strategy game filled with zombies.
  • This is a tried and tested formula across multiple platforms, re-packaged in a (rotting) skin which is very popular right now.
    • XCOM did well on PC and console.
    • Walking Dead and other zombie titles are a proven success.

Therefore …

  • There is a large demographic of players who would be drawn to this game just based on its components.

Player Analysis

  • Players looking for an engrossing, complex strategy game set in a zombie apocalypse.
  • The numerous fans of other zombie fiction and games.
    • This could be Walking Dead, World War Z, DayZ etc.
  • Fans of other turn-based strategy game, such as XCOM: Enemy Unknown.
  • Fans of board games (particularly games like Zombicide) which offer a slower paced strategy experience that still manage to ratchet up high levels of tension.

Competition and Inspiration

XCOM: Enemy Unknown

Civilization

Dead State

Invisible Inc

Wasteland 2

Killing Floor

DayZ

Prison Architect (for the base building and maintenance sections)

Dead State is the only game on the list which is a pure turn-based zombie game.

It’s not a direct competitor, but the board game Zombicide does a great job of presenting the player with an escalating survival scenario and is a direct influence on this pitch.

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So that’s the pitch. Love to know what you think. It’s light on detail but I think it communicates the core concept pretty clearly. I’m looking forward to adding more detail in future blog posts. I’m sure that I’m not the first person to have this idea, but I’ve never seen a finished game with all these aspects. Next blog post I will show you the UE4 template I will be basing this off and go into a bit more detail on the big feedback loops.

See you next time.

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