Here I will be documenting the development of a new project im calling “The Willows”. It is my first foray into the world of single player modding. Well, its not so much of a mod but it will have some small code tweaks to help the source engine adapt to my needs. It will be crafted in a similar manner to that of the mod Minerva, in which the game will be set on one large map with a lot of gamplay crammed in.
Im currently ironing out all of the details of the gameplay, but I’ll post what I have so far to give some indication of my progress. Here is a brief overview of some of the game elements:
You are a writer who has been working on a novel for the past few months at a secluded retreat deep in the countryside known as “The Willows”.
The Willows Retreat:
The Willows is a simple log cabin retreat with only basic amenities such as running water and a simple generator for power. Far away from civilisation, there is no TV, telephone, or computer, just you and your typewriter. It’s a retreat for those who really want to experience living close to nature. It’s perfect for you as a writer as it offers you a peaceful, distraction-free environment while you work on your novel. The retreat is stationed a stone’s throw from lake Genevieve where you can take a boat out and explore some of the surrounding areas. On dry-land there are some great places to explore, including the vast Pinebrook Forest, the old Kentsville abandoned mining town and the Willows marshes which are home to a great number of bird and plant life.
You wake one evening hearing what sounds like something scratching at the walls. Being in bear country your first impressions are to be safe and grab your flashlight and gun before heading outside to fire off a few shots in the hopes of scaring off any unwanted guests. Outside the air is thick with fog with only the faint glow of the moonlight to illuminate the darkness of the retreat. Fumbling for your flashlight you catch a silhouette of what looks like a person standing by the woodshed. You turn on the light on to see a man, his face and mouth bloodied and his eyes bloodshot and glazed. You instantly realise something is not right when you approach him and he bears his teeth like a wild animal on the kill. Stepping back your first thoughts are it could be rabies or some kind of serial killer on the run. Stepping back you raise your gun and warn the stranger to not approach but he lunges again. You step back only to trip over something, dropping your flashlight and setting off your weapon. Picking up your flashlight reveals the body of the stranger, dismembered from the gunshot wound, but before you have a chance to contemplate that you just murdered a man you hear an eerie moan echo through the retreat, then another, and another…
It soon becomes apparent that the retreat is slowly becoming overrun by the undead and you must find a means of safe escape. The forest and what is beyond is now riddled with zombies and with no civilisation for miles around escaping on foot would be suicide. Your only means of escape is a banged-up old boat docked at the lake which you have been renovating over the past few months as a hobby away from your work; however it is not yet sea-worthy.
Your primary goal is to stay alive and scavenge what you can from the surrounding area to get the boat operational. On the way you can pursue many other optional objectives such as finding all of the various weapons and ammo caches which are scattered throughout the area, finding clues as to what has happened to the outside world in the months since you came to The Willows.
Game play and strategy:
Set within one medium/large map, I want the game play to feel as open as possible without being too vast and disorientating. I plan to do this by designing the layout of the locations in such a way that it is essentially one huge circle with the locations arranged around the inside. This circular route will be the easiest option and always takes you back to the retreat but will be the slowest route and will leave you in plain sight for any zombies to attack. The more confident and familiar player can take their own shortcuts and routes using various landmarks and signposts as guides. I also plan to give each area a unique look to make it easier to recognise your location and to keep your bearings, however I do like the idea of the fear of being lost and surrounded by zombies.
Dangers lurking in the dark
As mentioned there will be many routes that the player can take to get from one place to another, but each time they stray from the main path they will increase the danger of being ambushed by the undead. Your vision will be limited by the darkness of the night and the thick fog and encompasses the area so straying through thick vegetation or through abandoned buildings could lead to close encounters or ambushes.
Along with this open-endedness will be a consistent world. If you decide to save your ammo and run past some slow shambling zombies instead of gunning down your foes, you better remember where you left them, as they will most likely be there when you go back, sometimes with friends!
Avoiding zombie encounters completely is not a bad Idea, however the trade-off is that as time goes by more zombies will continue to fill the area making it harder to find safe routes to your destinations.
Adaptive difficulty curve
Finally zombies may be stupid and easy to outsmart but they are resistant buggers! The more you kill the more resistant they will become and the stronger they will get, so if you’re thinking of doing some zombie housekeeping you may have to think again!
There are several types of zombies that will be introduced as the game progresses and you become closer to your goal which will add more danger and tension and make things increasingly more difficult.
These slow types are pretty easy to outrun, but there advantage comes in numbers, let your guard down too far and you could be surrounded before it’s too late
These zombies are a little more dexterous, moving slightly faster than their shambling cousins. These guys have been un-dead for a lot longer and as a result are a lot more rotten and generally insane. If over stimulated, they have the unique ability to self-destruct in a fleshy explosive shower risking injury or infection to the player. If you notice them going nuclear, a good strategy is to lure them into a crowd of zombies and use him to clear out areas.
These zombies are unique in that they do no seek the flesh of the living but actually fear it. They dwell in dark places away from other zombies, and if disturbed will attack by ripping the flesh from there own bones and hurling at the player. They are incredibly resilient and are best avoided at close range.
These are the most agile and most deadly of the entire zombie hoard. By some fluke of infection they have powerful agility and a lethal attack. A couple of swipes from these ugly buggers and you’ll be joining the family for some fava beans and a nice chianti.
More to come soon, I am also working very closely with a coder right now to implement some important features for the mod which includes optimising the AI so that I can potentially have hundreds of zombies roaming the area. More details on that later!