Friday, April 28, 2017

Play as Prepping

I know we cover a lot of serious issues on this blog, staying alive tends to be a serious thing to most people. Having done my share of doom and gloom posts, it's time to change things up a bit. I do like to have fun once in a while. Here are my thoughts on an unconventional way to improve your prepping skills or at least get a chance to explore possibilities without risking your life. It may even be a way to introduce a non-prepper to the lifestyle.

Video games are popular and most households have a computer or console for playing on. I never caught the PC gaming bug, I prefer to use a dedicated console for recreational gaming (currently an Xbox One S, the Xbox 360 got demoted to Netflix service). There are thousands of games on the market and most of the “survival” themed games involve zombies since it is more palatable to kill undead monsters than realistic human beings. The graphics on the newest consoles are getting close to photograph quality, depending on the artists, so it's an issue that the developers have to consider before going to market. Killing people is still frowned upon outside of combat games so zombies are the default targets.

My personal favorite ZS game is an indie game that got picked up by Microsoft back in 2013. Originally released on the download-only market (Xbox Live Arcade), it got remastered and polished for release on the Xbox One in 2015. The name of the game is “State of Decay” (SoD) and it is not your usual zombie survival (ZS) game. I've played through several ZS games like Dead Island, Dead Rising, Dead Space, and Left 4 Dead and they all focused on combat and super-powered zombies. Willful suspension of disbelief is fine for entertainment, but when I want a mental challenge the game has to be believable. That's where State of Decay shines.
  • Supplies don't respawn, so you have to keep looking for food, ammo, and other survivors. Food can be grown but it takes time and a lot of space to grow enough to feed people. Cars and pickups are available, but take damage that requires a mechanic to repair.
  • The weapons are common items, no rare or experimental super weapons to tip the balance in your favor. The game developers actually went to a gun range and test-fired several weapons and got training on their use before making the game, so firearms are close to realistic in use. This is a refreshing change from most video games.
  • Weapons wear out. Maintaining things becomes very important when you can no longer just go to the store and buy a new one.
  • The zombies are basically human, no super-strong exploding screamers that tip the balance towards the zombies. The exceptions are things like police/military in body armor that got infected, they take more fire power to stop. I find that believable, a head shot on a target wearing a Kevlar helmet would take more than a 22LR to be effective.
  • Your reputation is used as a form of currency. This makes sense to me, being an ass towards other people is not a survival trait in most situations. There are times when you will run into people you don't want to have around and how you deal with them affects your reputation with various groups, kind of like real life in that respect.
  • Death is permanent. If the horde catches you outside your fenced-in compound and makes a meal of your character, there is no respawn point. That character is dead and gone, along with his reputation, and everything he was carrying is left lying on the ground. To continue the game, you need to switch to a different character in your group (something you do to improve their stats anyway). If you run out of people in your group the game ends.
  • Community is important. Loners don't last long, so you have to look for and recruit other survivors. Gathering a balanced group that has overlapping skill sets is important to making a viable community, just like forming a tribe in real life.
  • Dealing with other groups is an integral part of the game. How you treat other groups, from the family of moonshiners on the hill to the remnants of a city government changes your options for survival. Trading with other groups, large or small, affects your reputation.
  • Stealth is important. The zombies in SoD are attracted to noise, so being stealthy will allow you to avoid battles you might not win. Distractions like firecrackers and friends drawing their attention from a distance are also part of the game.
This is a game, but some of the options and decisions are going to be life-like. Being a game, the developers had to balance things like weapons effects and food usage, so expect a measure of “artistic license” in some areas. The main complaint from reviewers was that the game was too difficult, as if surviving a zombie outbreak was supposed to be easy. You play through a “third-person” point of view, which means your “camera” is above and slightly behind the character most of the time.
There are two add-ons for the base game, “Breakdown” is an open-ended sandbox version with no story line or objective other than survival and “Lifeline” is played from the military's point of view and is more defensive and time-based.

The next generation of SoD has been in development since before 2013 (SoD was released as a way to fund the development of the game they really wanted to make) and a 2017 release date will be announced soon. Expect multiplayer and much larger maps for SoD2, but not much else is being released before the E3 expo in mid-June 2017.

I have no financial interest in this or any other video game, I just like the way it makes me think about actions and their consequences. I am not being paid to say nice things about this game, nor am I a professional reviewer.

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