11 April, 2006

Why Urban Dead Works

I finally broke down and sent Kevan some money so I can infect my lovely girlfriend with the undead plague and not worry about the 160-hits-per-day limit.

I realized today with full force what exactly it is that appeals to me so much about this game. Not since Subspace has a game so organically woven conflict and incident out of its players' will.

I say woven not because it sounds silly but because for once a massive multiplayer game has not created, but allowed its players to create, its history, its political landscape, and even its rules. We see many of these elements in Eve and on Darktide, and I've always contended Anarchy Online reached for it with occasional success. These are all great games, and their enjoyability argues for the restrictions they've adopted - but I don't love them as much as I could, and for the most part no one will remember what happened in them and say: I made that happen and it changed everything.

Before now, only one game has really let you do whatever the hell you wanted, and more importantly forced you to deal with players who could do whatever the hell they wanted, to such an extent that the game had not rules but ethics and the deadliest weapon in the fight was inventiveness. That game was Subspace. Its successor is Urban Dead.

I'll finish with a story.

At the beginning of 2006, a horde of over a thousand zombies organized and began shambling from one shopping mall to the next. But for one such they found abandoned, throughout January they laid siege to and in time overran nearly every mall in the city of Malton. At the beginning of february they reached Caiger Mall and began their final attack.

But this mall was different. Bolstered by refugees from the fallen malls and a powerful, well-organized police department which ruled the neighboring suburb of Dunell Hills, Caiger Mall stood against the zombie threat. For six weeks the throng clawed at the barricades while breaking into nearby support structures and safehouses. Finally the zombies conceded defeat and moved on.

Caiger Mall was victorious. We made t-shirts. The Mall Tour '06 took their loss out on Dunell Hills, quickly moving through the neighborhood and destroying it block by block. If no good deed goes unpunished in life, it certainly should not in a game. I'm proud to have been a small part of the Caiger Mall defense, but creeping through the ruins of Dunell Hills searching in vain for any sign of life is something I can tell my grandkids about.

How did you spend the winter, you frightened little night elf?


Anonymous said...

I don't think Urban Dead can be called a successor to SubSpace insofar as it fails to achieve the same level of in-game communication. SubSpace is chat with spaceships, which at one time had a strong community as opposed to fragmented communities of zones. Urbandead doesn't have free chat unless you post in a half dozen forums. However it is a good social experiment of a zombie simulation. The only thing that is missing is some sort of analysis of various townships, deaths, etc ... over time. This may be a good suggestion for Kevan.

I would like Malton to be smaller and be reset every month. That way there would be an increase in demand for supplies, kills, etc ... You would see some distinct patterns in zombie & survivor behavor.

einexile said...
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einexile said...

I'm not sure why this is, but to my mind UD's lack of ingame communication enhances the community aspect by forcing it almost entirely into an arena created and controlled by its players. I wouldn't say there are half a dozen forums; everything pretty much centers around the wiki and the desensitized forum.

Maybe its that this is the first game (I know of) where all communication has happened on an outside forum and all organization has happened on a wiki, but Urban Dead has the most impressive array of player organizations and organized activity I have ever seen in an online game. It is vibrant, multifaceted, sophisticated, original, close-knit, and positive.

Back when the chat in Asheron's Call 2 went haywire and the problems dragged on for months, I argued strongly that because of the uncertainty involved - because it sometimes worked and sometimes did not, it should be taken out entirely. I still think this would have saved the game by forcing all communication into whatever IRC or IM the players might choose, as interconnected or separate as we liked. The way UD handles things reminds me very much of what I once hoped for AC2. I can understand your frustration with it, but personally I really like it.

You looked forward to resets in Subspace, didn't you? ;) Me, I never noticed them until someone mentioned it had happened.

Anonymous said...

Nah, resets didn't really bother me. I just like looking at the whole picture of UD in the frame of a zombie simulation. What townships held out this time? How and why did zombie clusters form in this area?

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