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World building help Substitute for Zombies


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#1 TechnoGoth   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 2797

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Posted 07 September 2012 - 09:59 AM

It seems to me that zombie fatigue has started to set in for a lot of people. People are tired of seeing zombies in every game, which leads to me an issue. I’m working on the world building for my next project a post apocalyptic survival game with the working title of Day 0. The original plan was to have most of the danger coming from nightly attacks by the hunger zombie like creatures. They were mutated people rather than the walking dead but I’m not sure if I want to go the zombie route anymore.

So I’m looking for ideas and suggestions on what to what to make the hunger so that they aren’t so zombieish.


Here's a brief high level idea of what I’m looking for them to be like:
• The Hunger are part of the terrors of the waste faction known as the forsaken.
• Driven by base instincts
• Practically blind rely on their sense of smell and hearing.
• Drawn to life with a nearly insatiable hunger.
• Nocturnal, thrive in the darkness and night. But can still be found during the day but in smaller numbers.
• Can only be killed by destroying their core or heavy damage to their bodies.
• Infectious they have a way to infect/corrupt/infest survivors turning them in to the hunger if it takes hold within a few days.

Here are some initial creatives in the style of a survivor journal:


Day 1: I came across a gruesome corpse today. They poor guy looked like he’d been torn apart by wild animals. His eyes were the scariest part they were a dull white with greenish veins and something had caused them to harden. But whatever happened to him looked like it had been a long time ago.

Night 1: I managed to find shelter for the night by barricading myself in the dilapidate shell of a building and I’m glad I did. I was awoken in the middle of the night by the sound of something hammering on the wall. It scratched and the clawed at the walls and bashing itself against anything that looked weak. I couldn't see it, I didn't want to I just tried to stay as quiet as possible while it wailed and roared in anguish and frustration. The dawn’s sun drove it off.

Day 3: Another night of restless sleep. More of those things I’ve name the hunger appeared last night. I think there must of 3 or 4 of them last night. I've shored up my crude shelter but I don’t think it will hold much longer. I need a weapon or someplace more secure to stay. I’ve made a crude axe out of what I could scavenge. If I run now will they follow?

Night 4: I made a run for it. I spent all day traveling and spent the night in the trunk of abandoned car. Most of the creatures didn’t follow but at least one did. It managed to break a small hole through the seat of the car leaving me with a few nasty gashes from its claws before I could hack its arm off. Luckily that was enough to drive it off. I won’t be doing that again. I was fortunate to get away with a few nasty gashes and a splattering of its tar like blood.

Day 5: I came across a group of bodies in the second floor of a building. It looked like they had been hiding out up there for a while. I wonder if there is anyone else still alive. The scene was more gruesome then the one I found a few days ago. Most of the people had been torn apart but two were different. Their skin was pale and they were split in half like human shaped cocoons. Had something bursts its way out of them? Was it the same creatures that have been chasing me? Or was it something else?

Day 6: I’ve been feeling like shit all day. I think the food I scavenged from the hideout yesterday must have gone bad.

Day 7: I found a warehouse today that looked like it would be a good shelter but when I went in to it to investigate I almost screamed in panic there was at least a half a dozen of what I can only assume is the Hunger milling about inside it. They stayed mostly to the shadows. I thought they would notice me for sure but even the ones that moved in my general direction didn't seem to see me. But at last I got a good look at them. They were short the tallest maybe 5’5”. Their skin a cracked yellowish brown and their limbs were long and thin. They all also had some kind smooth black growth on them surrounded by thick black veins.

Day 8: I feel numb my skin is almost ashen grey. It’s happening to me isn’t it? I’m becoming one of them. I’ll be hollowed out and become a hunger. Why? Why did this have to happen to me?

Below are some images for the style of world I’m building:

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Edited by TechnoGoth, 07 September 2012 - 11:26 AM.


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#2 sunandshadow   Moderators   -  Reputation: 5059

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Posted 07 September 2012 - 03:47 PM

That could be vampires, aliens, demons, or even mutant insects. From the journal entries though it sounds specifically like a contagious disease.

Phone game idea available free to someone who will develop it (Alphadoku game - the only existing phone game of this type is both for windows phone only and awful. PM for details.)


I want to help design a "sandpark" MMO. Optional interactive story with quests and deeply characterized NPCs, plus sandbox elements like player-craftable housing and lots of other crafting. If you are starting a design of this type, please PM me. I also love pet-breeding games.


#3 swiftcoder   Senior Moderators   -  Reputation: 10367

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Posted 07 September 2012 - 05:25 PM

Here's a brief high level idea of what I’m looking for them to be like:
• The Hunger are part of the terrors of the waste faction known as the forsaken.
• Driven by base instincts
• Practically blind rely on their sense of smell and hearing.
• Drawn to life with a nearly insatiable hunger.
• Nocturnal, thrive in the darkness and night. But can still be found during the day but in smaller numbers.
• Can only be killed by destroying their core or heavy damage to their bodies.
• Infectious they have a way to infect/corrupt/infest survivors turning them in to the hunger if it takes hold within a few days.

It seems to me that your requirements describe the familiar characteristics of Zombies.

If you want to name them something else, I don't see why not, but if you really want to get away from the 'Zombie' label, then you need to change their characteristics to be less Zombie-like...

Tristam MacDonald - Software Engineer @Amazon - [swiftcoding]


#4 a Smith   Members   -  Reputation: 135

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Posted 07 September 2012 - 05:47 PM

I kind of agree with Swiftcoder. Skin them any way you like, give them any name you like, but what you've described will still feel like zombies to people. L4D and Resident Evil may call their creatures zombies, but their basically just human mutations with a nasty rage problem. In L4D they actually are the walking dead, but in some of the RE games the zombies aren't corpses at all (Majini from RE5). Even Dead Space felt like a bit of a zombie shoot 'em up to a certain extent.

My real question is; are people really sick of zombie games? I think maybe they're sick of bad zombie games (since there are so many), but I don't think the genre is losing fans.

If you really want to avoid the zombie genre consider removing some of the basic requirements for your creatures.

"Driven by base instincts"--This can easily apply to most zombie critters, but also to numerous other things. How bout a behavioral pattern of some sort? Maybe a learning curve as the game progresses (Think Jurassic Park--the raptors learn to open doors, OMG WE'RE SCREWED!!!). I know this learning curve happens in some zombie games, but usually in a drastic way (zombies go from claws to rocket launchers in one level). It's always a bit unnerving when you're playing a horror game, you see the bad thing, it sees you, you ready to shoot it down as it inevitably charges right at you like all the rest... and suddenly it runs away. Consider a zombie ambush that actually feels like it was set up by the zombies and not the game designers (I Am Legend vs L4D Zombie Rushes)

Practically Blind--Is a pretty standard zombie feature, that's why the swarm is always following the protagonist. I'm a fan of this trope, but it's another thing you may want to discard if you want to avoid the zombie genre. It does make for some awesome storyline (High School of the Dead does some amazing things with blind zombies).

Drawn to Life--Definitely drop if you want to avoid the zombie genre... why not give your nasties a modicum of intelligence and give them a reason for wanting to kill anyone unlike them. "Mutant good! Normie bad!" Is the simplest level, but also consider what it would be like if your creatures were of a hive mind of some sort.

Nocturnal--Again... very typical zombie trope. They always move in larger groups at night.

Can only be killed by 'Removing the Head or Destroying the Brain'--I quoted Sean of the Dead if you didn't notice... probably enough said on this factor.

Infectious--It's very rare to find a zombie game that doesn't feature this.

Either just go with what you've got (it looks great and sounds interesting so far), or you'll really need to make some drastic changes to your game to avoid it being a zombie type game, which in my opinion is totally fine. I'm not sure where you heard that zombies were losing popularity. Walking Dead, Resident Evil, Day Z and many other zombie things are still insanely popular.

Or are you more worried that you're game will simply get lost in the ocean?

#5 Mratthew   Members   -  Reputation: 1581

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Posted 07 September 2012 - 08:39 PM

Firefly made their zombie's fly space ships, deform their own flesh and sowing the flesh of their victims as their clothes to the usual zombie trop and called them reevers, I bought it. Reevers made sense as a monster separate from zombies even though they had almost all the other infected zombie characteristics. Consider the flaws of humanity as a whole and exaggerate the ones you choose. Zombies in a lot of ways are meant to represent our rampant consumerist world. Consider what your monster is meant to represent. The player connects with a monster when they see aspects of themselves in that monster.

#6 ShadowValence   Members   -  Reputation: 380

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Posted 07 September 2012 - 11:02 PM

Zombies in a lot of ways are meant to represent our rampant consumerist world


Wow, I had never thought that far into it... :/

#7 Lauris Kaplinski   Members   -  Reputation: 841

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Posted 08 September 2012 - 03:50 AM

Some quick ideas (but as others have told, your base ideas pretty much implies something zombie-like):

1. Make them fast.
2. Do away with the "mindless walking swarm" trope. Make your creatures able to actually plan attacks, hide, do sneak attacks, jump...
3. If they are fast and flee you can get away with the "only killed by bazooka" trope. They may still regenerate, but slowly - and they flee to safe place for that.
4. Give them high-level controlling mind. I.e. for each swarm of zombies there is some evil mind controlling them and using them for his own goals (evil scientist, alien, mutant...)
5. Make the "infection" active high-tech process - like injecting certain drug and then adding mind-controlling device.

Edited by Lauris Kaplinski, 08 September 2012 - 03:50 AM.

Lauris Kaplinski

First technology demo of my game Shinya is out: http://lauris.kaplinski.com/shinya
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#8 Mratthew   Members   -  Reputation: 1581

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Posted 08 September 2012 - 12:14 PM

Something you might explore is the apocalyptic environment, every creature is shaped by their environment. Southern States zombies are usually connected with superstition and voodoo witch doctors. Desert walking dead are often linked with its history of the dead were considered and worshiped aka mummies. Presumably your environment went through some horrific event to look so barren and decayed and the dead would have been handled a certain way during or after this occured, this could have a major influence on the characteristics of your monster's as well.

Lastly I think with almost every monster, the question of immortality looms which could be a consideration in the construction of your non-zombie.

Edited by Mratthew, 08 September 2012 - 03:04 PM.


#9 jefferytitan   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 2243

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Posted 08 September 2012 - 08:42 PM

My suggestion is to look at sources like Resident Evil and Fallout. There's also some good advice here, e.g. drop at least one zombie attribute and add something new. Personally I feel that cannibalistic + infectious + no pain + headshot only are the most obvious zombie attributes.

#10 ShadowValence   Members   -  Reputation: 380

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Posted 09 September 2012 - 07:18 PM

5. Make the "infection" active high-tech process - like injecting certain drug and then adding mind-controlling device.


It would be interesting to have a 'zombie-type' swarm who only inflict non-lethal damage. So that they may drag you back to their master's layer and he injects you with the zombie-infection that makes you completely compliant and unafraid of pain. *chuckles* sounds kind of a like a mix between I Am Legend and G.I. Joe : Rise of the Cobra. :D

#11 TechnoGoth   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 2797

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Posted 09 September 2012 - 09:10 PM

Hmm. Some good suggestions I guess part of the problem is I’ve already had zombies in mind when I was thinking of the hunger. And while zombies are still popular I don’t feel they are right for me.

So, if I go back to what I’m looking for them to be role wise. Then the hunger should be an omnipresent threat. They are the main inhabitations of the ruined cities. And the idea is that the player will only have a few hours of relative safety to explore, gather supplies, and find shelter. Wanders will be continually pressed to continue moving while leaders will have to continually strengthen their defences and find other survivors to defend their shelter against ever increasing numbers. There needs to be a way for survivors to be infested when injured by the hunger. That way you’re not sure if someone is infected or not until it’s too late.

What if I scrap the blindness, and kill spot aspects and instead make them feral humanoid stalkers. Crawling out from the dark spaces, and underground tunnels. Twisted abominations that began to appear as a precursor to the collapse that ravaged the world. They stalk the ruins of the fallen cities hunting for people who fall through the cracks and find themselves in the broken earth. They feel no pain and those they don’t kill they infest with their black bile like venom, transforming the victim into another of their wretched kind. Leave no gap in your walls or basement left unsecured lest the hunger find away in.

Something like a more desert version of this:
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with a bit of this throw in:
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I’ll have to do some rethink about some of the creatures that make up the forsaken but I think by making them more creature like and less zombie like, it makes them more like something that could have existed elsewhere. I’ll also have to rethink the base building side of the gameplay as it one thing to build walls and secure the perimeter against a zombie horde it’s another when you can have creatures crawling out a sewer grate or hidden amongst the debris.

The other forsaken I was thinking of were:

Prometheus: A biomechanical monster created before the collapse in an attempt to weaponize the hunger. Their body is reinforced with a metal exoskeleton with a flamer throw and buzz saw where their hands should be. The Prometheus tirelessly pursues it targets and anything that gets in its way.

Siren: There relationship with the hunger is uncertain they possess no eyes and seem to glide across the ground. Their haunting song draws the hunger to them even out into the light of day where the intelligent siren can command her minions as a single entity.

Levitation: Almost nothing is known about the great living ship known as the leviathan it mainly roams the barren wastelands rarely coming near the fallen cities. It purpose and origin unknown but where it goes death follows. In its wake is leaves hundreds of spore that develop into a horde of the forsaken.

Patriarch: The great beast and destroyer of worlds. A monstrous entity over 50 meters high said to be the combined mass of thousands of the forsaken. More myth and legend then fact the Patriarch only appears in the final days when the concentration of life is so great and the forsaken have gathered in such a multitude to call it forth. Like the calm before the storm it is said that the forsaken will flee at its arrival and so great is the instinct of fear it exude that should one of these great beasts be slain then the forsaken would never return to that place.

#12 ToddF   Members   -  Reputation: 161

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Posted 11 September 2012 - 10:43 AM

Interesting that you've displayed some D20 artwork here, because actually the monster you're starting to come closer to is similar to a D20 Ghast or Ghoul.

Think of them as a midpoint between zombie and vampire - they are undead and do seek to eat the flesh of the living but they are not so utterly brainless as a zombie.

Nor are they properly human-level intelligent though - they are described as having base, animalistic cunning, capable of primitive ambushes.

This could be a nice direction for you to go - credit them with sheet wicked cunning, things like simulating baby cries to lure the living into basic traps like natural pits and drops....

#13 DaveTroyer   Members   -  Reputation: 1052

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Posted 14 September 2012 - 03:26 PM

So, I'm just spit-balling here and you might not like it, but here we go...

Just make them humans. Humans with a horrible, terminal disease that has a cure, but is incredibly rare in your waste land.

The infected could beg and scream for help when they chase after the player and tear away at them looking for the cure.
And this way, you get to keep nearly all the things you want!

They can be weakened by the disease to the point of having virtually no sight and horrible body aches that slow them down.
They desperately want the cure, so the go after humans as fast as their dying bodies can move.
They chase humans down since anyone could be hording a cure.
They group up at night for protection with other infected, making running into them at night more dangerous.
They might have open sores and infections on their skin, making them toxic as all heck.

That and I just think it would be more jarring to the player if they have to fight off these people that are pleading for help so desperately than the same old zombie parade. A bit more dramatic I guess.

Whatcha think?

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#14 lTyl   Members   -  Reputation: 135

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Posted 16 September 2012 - 04:50 AM

Have you ever read Justin Cronin's novel The Passage? Reading your current characteristic traits for your post-apocalyptic creature really got me thinking about that book again. The creature in his book are vampire-like superhumans who hunt only in darkness for fresh blood, develop immortality and are driven by a primal-instinct to feed constantly. However, they still retain some form of human intelligence and later develop pack-like hunting behaviors and strategies to trap an ever-dwindling food supply. So if you have never read his book before, and are facing a mind-blank, try giving it a read and maybe it will help get your creative juices flowing :).

In the end though, you can skin your creature to look like the hideous monster from children's nightmares and call it a cat, and in your world at least, stay the hell away from cats.

#15 Unduli   Members   -  Reputation: 1059

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Posted 22 September 2012 - 11:26 AM

If I were you I'd consider an evil scientist / gotten out of hand experiment / alien related mind control thing exposing very basic instincts (adds something to destroy as an object?) or something like HG Well's Time Machine Morlocks vs Elois where mind control takes place once again with some details.

#16 Waterlimon   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 2638

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Posted 22 September 2012 - 01:27 PM

I think biological creatures are kind of boring...

What about some fancy nanobot like matter that forms creature like colonies that can consume burnable stuff (and dump the wastes somewhere?)

o3o


#17 LorenzoGatti   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 2764

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Posted 26 September 2012 - 01:27 AM

As swiftcoder said, you have described zombies. If you call them mutants or something of that sort, they are going to remain zombies; narrative tropes rely on duck typing.

If you want the game to revolve around fighting these monsters, I suggest making them much more monstrously inhuman than zombies; extraterrestrial parasites or symbiotes deforming their human hosts might be a suitable excuse (which retains the infection element of a zombie disease).
Monsters with alien elements could have highly arbitrary body shapes (to underline that they are monsters, not undead people), unnatural natural weapons (like the "bugs" in Starship Troopers), unclear motives (more suspenseful than zombies being attracted to people), strange and/or complex tactics and behaviour (unlike overly predictable zombie swarms)
Produci, consuma, crepa

#18 Ashaman73   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 7991

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Posted 27 September 2012 - 06:34 AM

Nobody would ever consider to rename cars in a racing game to be creative.

When you build a new world, the reader/player need some links to connect his knowledge with your world. Having too many unknown elements always bears the danger to alienate the reader/player. The term zombie, in its current state, has nothing to do with its original meaning. Nowaday it is the short form for human-brainless-hard-to-kill-creature, so there're many variations possible without alienating the term zombie itself.

I would not take a new,unknown name. Personally I was always disappointed when reading a fantasy story with some new creature, but eventually learning that it was just a modification of creature X with a new name. The good meant creativity led only to an harder imagination of the world.

If you have so many parallels to zombies, then call them zombies. Posted Image




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