Lifeless – A zombie co-op MMO

Lifeless, from Rigid-Soft and published by Green Man Gaming is an open world co-operative survival MMO set during a zombie apocalypse and is available in Early Access on Steam.  Come with me as I catch up with the creators to talk about the early release version and indie AAA gaming.

Ahhhh, zombies!  They’re so difficult to kill during a functioning society, with a government, infrastructure, armies, aircraft and nuclear weapons, but strip all that away and plop a lone protagonist in amongst them, wearing nothing but a hospital gown, and in no time at all he’ll start tearing through them like a tornado that’s recently passed through a razor blade factory.  So, what’s so different about the zombies in ‘Lifeless’?  Nothing and that’s great, in ‘Lifeless’ you get to shoot, blast, hack and chop them into bloody lifeless (well . . . even more lifeless) heaps.  What is different, though, is that you are also embroiled in a very human, but no less violent, civil war, between two very different factions.  To survive here you will need to find similar minded allies and work together to fight everything that comes at you, whether it is the undead, hunger, thirst or a crackpot despot trying to take control of your patch of rubble.

two zombies attack in lifeless video game
Me: That zombie has no nose.  You: How does he smell?  Me: Like putrefying flesh. Zombie: Ah, classic bants.

The very moment the title screen for ‘Lifeless’ flashed up I had to reach for my notes to double check that this was in fact from an indie developer and not a larger software house.  The graphics, sound and general feel of the game are very high quality for an indie game that is still in development.  Because Lifeless is still in Early Access, you can only get a feel for what the game will be like but so far it looks like Rigid-Soft are on to a winner.

At the start of the game you get to set up your character and choose a faction; Nova Guard (good guys, I think) or Spartan Phalanx (bad guys).  After this you are dropped into the middle of the wilderness with very little equipment to survive with.  Immediately, you have to scour the local area for weapons, food and water, whilst avoiding the undead (at least until you are armed).  You can then choose to meet up with your fellow online team mates or go it alone.

You progress your character by gaining XP through killing zombies and completing quests.  This allows you to unlock new skills and level up your current ones.  A skill tree, a host of customisable weapons and equipment further add to the layers of individualism your character has.  With promises of an economy, bountys and an immersive story line involving two warring factions (with very different ideologies), it doesn’t seem like there will be a shortage of things to do (or kill) in this zombie filled hell hole.

loading an assault rifle in lifeless video game
Cocked locked and ready to rock!

So far, the graphics are looking very impressive there are lots of moments, in between the action, when I caught myself thinking ‘that looks really good’.  The sound is good and the gameplay is really taking shape and currently plays well.  There are lots of melee weapons, pistols and automatic rifles and with lots of work benches lying around I’m hoping we’ll see some very unique weapons in the complete version.  The co-operative online play will hopefully become more essential as the game develops and I look forward to seeing the co-op quests.  The development road map lists some very exciting features such as an economy, bounties, advanced animations and improved graphics.

All this is pretty advanced for an indie production and I wonder how far off we are from a fully realised AAA indie game.  With the ready availability of high quality game engines (Unity5, Unreal4, CryEngine and Lumberyard to name a few) and ‘Indie’ publishers providing financial opportunities for Indie studios, which in turn leads to bigger budgets and more time/staff to work on a game, surely it’s just a matter of time before we see a AAA indie game (although, by that time, maybe the big studios will be making AAAA games).

sneaking up on a zombie in lifeless video game
If I had a scoped rifle and I wasn’t out of ammo I could make a sweet headshot from here.  Unfortunately, all I have is this homemade sword.  I think I’ll go the other way.

With all this in mind, I thought I’d ask Kristoffer Blasiak (CEO and Co-founder of Rigid Soft, and one of the creators of Lifeless) about his game and his thoughts about AAA indie games.
DrJK:  There are various apocalyptic scenarios that you could have chosen for your game (e.g. war, natural disaster etc)  why did you choose zombies?

Kristoffer:  We chose zombies because we have a deep passion for the genre, and because they haven’t really been done properly in this genre (zombie survival mmo) yet! We feel that the zombies have been played a bi-role in most games that have come before us, and we think that that’s a lot of wasted potential!

DrJK:  Why did you choose to use the Unreal4 engine over the other available game engines?
Kristoffer:   Unreal Engine 4 was chosen mainly because of the technical specifications and the fact that it will fit perfectly for what we want to make. Lifeless has a long way to go, and we feel confident that Unreal Engine 4, and Epic. Will be able to help us get all the way there.

DrJK:  I was recently told that there are no AAA indie games and there never will be, how would you respond to that?
Kristoffer:   That’s really dependent on your definition of AAA. Some people see a AAA title as something that only a big developer can achieve. And some people say a that a game is classified as AAA depending on how well made/graphics.  Personally I often go “Hey that looks pretty AAA” when I look at aspects of our game. So I guess I would say that Indies can definitely create a AAA game. But that’s really up to how you define a AAA game.

DrJK:   How was the development process?
Kristoffer:   The development process has been long and has taught us a lot. The highs are definitely when we make great progress and when we get to interact with the community. Any time we get to go into a stream or talk with our fans on Twitter/Steam it is a huge boost for us.  The lows are usually when we have to sit to 5 am crunching on a patch, but then we just grab a coffee and turn on a Stream in the office. And it all feels worth it.

DrJK:  What are your thoughts on ‘indie’ publishers?
Kristoffer:   The future of the video game industry is going to be a mix of massive publishers pushing out great titles, and self published indie games which will sometimes rival the big guys.  I personally think it’s the way to go for the industry, as it makes it possible for certain individuals to create awesome things, that we would never get to experience otherwise.  We will see more and more independent studios grow up and develop games, self-publish them through platforms such as Steam and survive without the need of a publisher. And this in turn will make the traditional publishers less needed.

DrJK:  What can we expect to see in ‘Lifeless’ in the next few months?
Kristoffer:   Lots! We have so much planned for Lifeless that it’s really hard to tell anyone within a reasonable timeframe, so I’ll refer you to our roadmap!

DrJK:  Whats next for Rigid-Soft?  Anything new in the pipeline that you can tell us about?
Kristoffer:   Lifeless. We are focusing 100% of our resources and time to develop Lifeless and deliver the game we have all been waiting for!

DrJK:  Any advice for inspiring Indie developers?
Kristoffer:   I like to say that if you want to succeed in anything in life, be it game development or anything else you need to be ready to put 110% of yourself into it. If you do that, eventually you will succeed. And don’t be afraid to fail, because if you don’t try you’ll never achieve anything.  And regarding more exact game development advice as an indie, don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. If no one knows your game exists, then no one will ever play it!

DrJK:  Thanks a lot and good luck with the game.

Lifeless, from Rigid-Soft, is out in Early Access on Steam, you can also check it out on facebook.  If you have any questions for the developer you can also tweet @LifelessGame.


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