A sequel to the hit zombie game State of Decay was announced last summer for Xbox One and PC. Since then, developer Undead Labs has shared a lot of concept art, but has not said much about what fans can expect from it. Now, CEO Jeff Strain has opened up on the sequel’s ambitions and more.
Speaking to GameSpot at PAX East 2017 in Boston this week, Strain talked about what the team learned from the first game and discussed how the sequel will still focus on entropy, the idea that you’re up against a monumental task of staying alive in a harsh world.
With the sequel adding four-player co-op, we wondered if there would be any form of competitive multiplayer. Strain confirmed there won’t be, though of course players can freely grief each other.
Also in the interview, Strain revealed that the development team is four times as big as the first game and that State of Decay 2’s map is larger as well. He also discussed why Undead Labs decided to abandon the State of Decay MMO, Class4, and said you can expect the studio to continue to make zombie games in the future, though he hasn’t ruled out projects in other genres as well.
You can read our full interview below.
State of Decay 2 launches this year on Xbox One and PC. It is an Xbox Play Anywhere title, so buying it digitally on one platform provides access on the other at no extra cost. All progress, including save data and achievements, moves between platforms.
GameSpot: Are there any particular lessons that you took away from the first State of Decay that you were looking to improve upon?
Jeff Strain: Oh yeah… When we started working on State of Decay 2, we sat down and put everything into three buckets. We had [to think about] what are things that work well the players loved that we’re gonna double down on, what are things that we want to innovate on and bring new things to it, and then what are things that didn’t work well that we either need to completely overhaul or ax? Of those, the offline progression system was by far the most…the feature that players were most ready to see go, because the thing about State of Decay is, it’s permanent.
The way that works is we have a contract with players, and that contract is: “If you die, it’s your fault.” It’s not the game throwing some random thing at you. You have all the tools at your disposal to see the threat, to make your own decisions, and if you die, we want you coming away from it thinking, “Ah, if only I’d done X or Y!” Or, “Here’s where I made the mistake or stayed out too long.” The offline progression system kind of broke that, because that stuff could happen while you were logged out of the game. It violated the contract, and it didn’t work well. That was probably the biggest area that we had to address.
Have there been any games that have come out since State of Decay that you’ve looked to for inspiration for this one?
You know, inspiration for us is always the really well done, big, open-world games. Red Dead Redemption, the GTAs–those games do a phenomenal job of making you feel like you’re in a world that’s believable and real. Beyond that, we’ve actually been a little bit surprised that this genre we’ve built, this survival fantasy genre, is still very much home for State of Decay. There’s no other games that really bring that blend of role playing elements, third-person action, and the simulated world and community-based character development. Lots of inspiration, yes, but we’re also very happy that we still feel like the State of Decay experience is fairly unique within the industry.
With co-op, what does the game do to balance or compensate if you’re playing four players versus just one or two? Does how many players you have affect how tough enemies are, anything like that?
You know, there’s not, and that’s very much intentional. The thing about State of Decay is that, and State of Decay 2 in particular, it’s a game of entropy. We’re modeling a real world. Resources are finite, your stamina is finite, gasoline is finite. All of the resources are finite. If you have friends playing with you, that should be a bonus. You should be able to get farther and do more in a similar amount of time. We don’t want to just automatically up the zombie density or adjust things so that you feel like, in terms of how much progress you’re making or what you’re able to do that, it just all balances out in the end.
Playing with your friends should be more fun, and you should be able to do more things. All of those entropy rules are still there. Eventually, mistakes will still be just as costly, and now you have more people to possibly make mistakes.
And it’s still entirely cooperative–there’s no adversarial type of multiplayer mode?
That’s right. As far as the multiplayer component, it is very joyfully cooperative multiplayer.
I remember hearing previously that, if you wanted to screw with your friends, you could try to attract zombies or things like that. You could, in a way, grief your friends.
You can playfully grief each other yes. Can you line up and make a headshot on your friends? No, it’s just not that kind of game. There are some great games out there that really focus on that hardcore PVP experience, but that’s not what State of Decay’s about.
“State of Decay 2 in particular, it’s a game of entropy. We’re modeling a real world. Resources are finite, your stamina is finite, gasoline is finite” — Jeff Strain
What’s been the most challenging aspect in development? Has it been incorporating multiplayer, or is there something else that’s been really challenging?
The challenging aspect of development is, because the game is so strictly simulated, we work very hard to make sure that nothing is deterministic–that there’s no tripwires, there’s no trigger sequences. All of the behaviors in the world are modeled for both the zombies and the NPCs that inhabit your community. There’s 14 to 20 different interlocking systems that contribute to all this. For AI behaviors and world conditions, those all have to be perfectly in sync in order for the experience to feel believable and right. Constantly tuning all those knobs so that everything is working well is a real challenge.
How big is the development team on this game versus the first one?
It’s about four times as large.
On the same note, do you have an estimate or rough idea of how much bigger this world is than the first one?
We’ll be talking more in detail about that, but you can bet that it’s still to scale, the size of the development team will give you a feel for probably how much larger things are
Do the multiplayer aspects at all draw in what you had done with the Class4 MMO that you were working on previously, or does that not carry over at all?
This is not Class4 as it was originally envisioned. That was to be more of an MMO type of experience. What happened was that State of Decay did really well. Over five million people have played it at this point, which far exceeded our wildest hopes, dreams. What we did when we started on State of Decay 2 was we were like, “Okay, let’s do Class4.” We took a step back and really looked at what people were asking for. People were not asking for a completely different type of game. What they were asking for was, “We want it bigger, we want it more polished, and we want to play with our friends.” That is literally 95% of all the feedback we got on the game. At some point we just decided, “Hey, you know what? Crazy idea. We should probably just build the game that people are asking for.” That was the design genesis for State of Decay 2
Has Project Scorpio support something that you have in mind, or is that not gonna come until later?
[PR person] It’s something we’ll talk about at E3.
You’ve been doing the concept art releases over the last few weeks. Is there anything else that you’re gonna do between now and E3?
We’ll continue that. We didn’t start that stream in order to just dry it up. We will be releasing selective tidbits about the game and pieces of information like that just so that people can see that it’s coming and get excited about it. I think that it’s fair to say that at E3 there’ll be a lot more information.
Is it still coming to PC in addition to Xbox?
Yeah, it’ll be on Windows 10 and Xbox One. That’s what we’re talking about today. It will support the Play Anywhere initiative: buy once, play on either platform, and players on both platforms can play with each other.
With a name like Undead Labs, you would safely assume that you’re probably going to make more zombies games in the future. Do you see yourself branching out at all in terms of either genre or theme, going beyond zombies? Is it just kind of the identity of the studio?
When we formed the studio we had State of Decay on mind. I would say that our gig is survival fantasy. That’s what makes State of Decay unique. It’s not zombies; it’s survival fantasy. I think that future projects would probably play into that theme. But no, it’s not necessarily always gonna be zombies.