Well it’s certainly been quiet on the ZDay development scene. For the past 8 months or so the Dev Team has been all busy with work, study, school and general day-to-day stuff. If we were getting paid for developing ZDay we would have sacked ourselves by now.
A large part of the problem is that ZDay has grown to such a point that it really does require a team effort to move forward, so when most of the lead developers are not able to dedicate time to ZDay development grinds to a halt. There is only so much an individual developer can do before they require help or input from the other developers.
We’ve also had a bit of a turnover in the members. Braveheart, our founding member left the team some time ago (although he does visit the forums). Watson has also been missing in action since before Christmas. Bryger has dropped off the scene and Arrowofdarkness turned out to be a false start, although I must admit he didn’t get much direction as he joined at a time when we were at our quietest. Dswal had to leave due to school commitments.
While we’ve had a few offers from people to join the Dev what we really need are people to join with a reasonable amount of experience in games programming or modeling. Unfortunately the game engine we’re using, Torque Game Engine Advanced (TGEA) has now become somewhat old-tech and to make things worse you can’t even buy licenses for TGEA anymore, which means that any new coders would have to already have their own copy of the engine.
The new Torque Engine – T3D is out which is much more advanced in both terms of NextGen-ness and editors that make building maps so much easier. Because of this we’ve been having difficulties attracting new developers with the right skill set. Everyone wants to use the latest and greatest.
So in all ZDay has become lost behind enemy lines, left to fight the hordes with only a few disheveled and time-weary developer’s left to support it, the slow infection of apathy and vision lost spreading inevitably through it’s tired veins.
Is it Time to Die?
So what do we do? Is it time to give up and let ZDay die? Do we stick the knife in now and make a clean kill before it can infect other indie studios? or do we let ZDay die that slow and agonisingly cynical death of neglect that has befallen other Zombie MMOFPS games? Over the past month we’ve been having an online meeting to discuss what to do, and we did consider both of these options. Another option was to put ZDay in a cryogenic chamber with a sticker on it marked “To be woken when the Devs have time”.
Throughout our meeting the desire and passion to keep ZDay alive became obvious, none of us really wanted to see it die. The main problem of why no-one seemed to have time to put into ZDay was ultimately due to frustration with the TGEA engine. Modeling for TGEA and mapping in TGEA can be a complete pain. This coupled with the lack of new devs and not enjoying the thrill of working with the latest tech led to disillusionment and doubt spreading through the Dev team. It’s hard to stay motivated when those around you aren’t.
Let ZDay Die? Never!
Patton once said “Better to fight for something than live for nothing.” and ZDay is something we’ve fought to bring to life for nearly 4 years, and when we look at ZDay, weak and struggling to make it back to the safe house it’s the words of Tyson that come to mind, along with a determination to shove them down the throat adversity.
“When I fight someone, I want to break his will. I want to take his manhood. I want to rip out his heart and show it to him.”
The Contenders Appear
While there are many game engines out there to choose from, portability is a big issue. We’ve come a long way with the art assets that we’ve created so far and it would be a real set-back to have to completely start again. We also had to consider the program modifications and scripting that we’ve created using TGE/TGEA.
In the end there were only really two contenders – T3D and UDK.
T3D would be the easiest to port to since it was developed by Torque to replace TGEA. The engine itself was completely rebuilt with new features and tools. It strives to have as much backwards compatibility as possible without compromising the new tech. Plus, the scripting language, TorqueScript is pretty much the same. With a bit of fiddling we’ve managed to get parts of the map working, but overall there will need to be a bit of reworking of the map itself to get the game to the point where it was in TGEA.
The main downside to T3D is the cost which is $1000 per seat for access to the source code ($705 if you have TGEA already), and $100 a seat for artists and mappers. Fortunately our coder already has a license.
UDK on the other hand, while it would have a bigger community from which to draw developers from, would pretty much require remaking the game from scratch and learning how to use the engine from start.
There are two more big downsides to UDK. One is the limit of 64 players, (meaning that if we went to UDK ZDay would only ever be an MO). The second downside is Epic would want to take a huge share of any profits if we make money from ZDay, including money raised from advertising to pay for a game server. This would make the goal of keeping ZDay free to play that much harder to achieve.
In the battle of T3D vs UDK, T3D walked away as the winner – the main reason being that none of us wanted to face having to start building the game again from scratch.
So armed with our new engine and renewed determination we have now regrouped on the outskirts of Furor City, preparing to fight once more. If there’s no more room in hell, we’re just going to have to smash them back to some other Godless place instead.
The New Dawn
It’s surprising how much of an energy burst the Dev Team has received in the last few weeks – T3D promises to make development a lot less frustrating and it’s easier to find time in a tight schedule for something that you enjoy doing. Currently we are all getting a feel for how T3D works and what its full capabilities are. Bariel has had a bit of head start on us, as he got hold of T3D at the end of last year. It works well for us though to have someone’s brain to pick on the new engine. This will hopefully save us several months work in the transition.
“What? Another transition, just how long will it take before we can play?” Hmmm, just let me go and read the goat entrails… Well as you’ve probably got used to hearing by now, we just can’t give you an accurate answer as to when the game will be ready, however we do promise this…
We are going to work on the basics first and aim to start alpha testing, involving community members early on. Initially this will be with the testing team but we really want the rest of the community to see what we’ve been working on all this time.
You may have noticed more advertising lately. This will be going toward renting a dedicated game server so you can all play. In the past we’ve used Watson computer as the game server – which he said got hot enough to cook his dinner on. Then there was the time we used Bariel’s shared hosting server, the hosting provider got pretty annoyed with us for chewing up all the CPU power on the server and promptly choked us back making the game unbearably choppy.
As part of ZDay’s new dawn we want to start involving the community more. Not just for testing but for ideas, feedback and of course motivation. Having a community that wants this game released is by far our biggest motivation to develop it, and we want to thank you all for being so patient. Anyway… not getting emotional (after all we’re here to kill zombies) – Gar and Viper will be talking to you all in the coming months, letting you know what’s going on and getting your thoughts and feedback.
The battle for now is won, but the war is not yet over. For now we have managed to stare down the enemy of doubt that always lurks within. The only way for us to survive is to remain vigilant, stick together and watch each other’s backs.