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Urban Dead: The Zombie Apocalypse 13 years

A Low Tech Legacy:

Urban dead is a game that causes a fair bit of head-scratching when I try explaining it. It’s something I’ve yet to see replicated successfully in the gaming sphere. At its face, the game is nothing but a plain-HTML interface with some buttons to take actions, move about the city, and interact with its denizens. What sets UD apart is its focus on emergent player-driven gameplay.

So What is it?:

City stats page

It’s an old free browser game that’s been running since late ‘04, created by one Kevan Davis of the UK. It’s essentially a MUD (Multi-User Dungeon: Precursor to the modern MMO) with a GUI. Due to player persistence, the games pace is moderated by an action points system, 1 each half hour, 50 max., to keep things fair. The game very easily runs in even a mobile browser. It’s my favorite mobile game!

The game’s seen better days… It stands today around 5000 unique players; which is weak compared a total of some 2 Million players over its entire history, 100,000s concurrent at one point.  UD is a game about the survivors and zombies of the quarantined City of Malton. Malton is the game-map and its borders are guarded by a military instructed to let no one in or out. Malton has existed as its own little bubble the whole time. Life in Malton can get dangerous; This is a game where your character persists in-world even when you’re offline. It leads to an interesting cat-and-mouse game between the living and the dead. (And sometimes the less-nice living!)

Emergent Player-Driven Gameplay:

A PKer cuts down a local pro-survivor leader

What sticks out immediately in this game compared to most MMOs is that there is no locked in choice to a side or a faction. Players can choose their starting class, which will determine your early skills and progression speed. But EVERY character in Malton is a human player; Even the zombie hordes. You’ll ping-pong between the two quite frequently. This is facilitated by a system of rising from the dead as a zombie when killed, and making use of a special super serum syringe to bring the undead back to life. Killed zombies in this universe can just stand back up (To the tune of an AP penalty). No matter your class, every player has access to the same skillsets. Though different classes acquire the skill-sets at varying rates (A soldier will have a way easier time getting firearms training than say… a doctor.)

A typical player in Malton has swung for both teams on multiple occasions. Though players do form loyalties; Some play exclusively human, setting up local revive networks to get back on the right side of mortality ASAP. While ardent zombies have been known to leap from buildings, Or go on a rage-induced axe-murder spree!, if they get revived. Or they go the route of brain-rot, becoming unrevivable (Except under very difficult circumstances). Some players make a point of having NO loyalty; Playing each side convincingly and calling themselves Dual Natured.

There’s no in-built rules against “Team killing” and teams aren’t enforced by the game.

Only social convention dictates the consequence of such playstyles. Humans killing other humans is generally frowned upon by the survivor populations, to the point that some players take on a life of bounty-hunting the murderous marauders among them. Whereas old-school zombie players are generally OK with baby zombies eating them; It helps them level up! (Zombies are less inconvenienced by death, after all.) Some groups even dedicate themselves to a life of murdering their fellow humans, either in service of zombie causes or just for their own kicks… The games creator didn’t anticipate or intend for PKers and their bounty hunters, but he didn’t patch it out!

 

Members of the RRF Gore Corps (A death cult) mow down a crowd of Roftwood Local survivors

So How’s it Played?:

A zombie break in is handled in an… unorthodox manner.

If you’re a human, you’ll spend your AP building barricades for protection from the ravenous hordes while searching for supplies among the many buildings of the city. Barricades will keep out zombies but not humans, unless it’s a fortress of plywood. In the more useful buildings you’ll find the typical supplies. Guns, ammo, medical supplies, weapons, tools, and other useful (and some useless…) bits, bobs, and consumables. The city is full of useful structures, the most useful among them the malls and military forts, and they’re chock-full of the goodies you’ll need to not die. There’s no WRONG way to play…

If you find yourself on the wrong side of the mortal coil, your options become limited. Zombies can’t speak, without some effort; see culture below, and they’re near useless alone. Zombies derive all their power from the group, they groan to one another to highlight feeding targets, and generally travel in clouds. You’ll likely spend your days with a small horde smashing barricades to scoop soft sweet brainz out of the buildings.

The hard part of Urban Dead is that it’s tough to do anything of consequence all by yourself. ESPECIALLY early on in your game. Teamwork is how you make big moves on the map.

Variety:

The key to this game is that it’s all a matter of finding your own enjoyment from it. In my time in Malton, I’ve had the pleasure to see many playstyles and competing groups fighting; Sometimes even setting aside differences to work together. You’ll find groups dedicated to providing medical care, healing at local hospitals. Or groups dedicated to clearing mobs of zombies out of ruined buildings for reclamation. I even know of a group whose sole objective is keeping the Mobile Phone network in the city operational, yeah, there’s a network, and phones! Not to mention bounty hunters and the mad killers they chase around town, constantly outwitting one another.

There’s something to be said for using the right tools for the job to clear a mall…

One of Maltons most famous historical groups, The Channel 4 News Team; Was an RP group dedicated to radio news (The game has a whole built in radio system!) And this fun was had alongside the typical local police departments, fire crews, medical services, and army squads formed across the city. I’m even privy to a group in the north-east of the city whose sole mandate is to tag every wall, landmark, and billboard in the city with their name.

There’s something to be said for using the right tools for the job to clear a mall…

The Malton Graffiti Bombers are the uppest graffiti crew in Malton. Or the Creedy Defense Force, dedicated to occupying their fortress at all costs.

Or maybe you’re a rabid fan of Maltons #1 Sports team; The Malton Globetrotters. Sure to best you in murderball 8 days a week(sic). Or you wish to wander the city in search of action as an errant Knight of the Templars of Kempsterbank.

And that’s just the survivor side. The zombies also band together into hordes. Such as the old-school Militant Order of Barhah, the Territorial Ridleybank Resistance Front, or the ever-infamous nomadic megahorde simply known as… The Dead.

Point being, you’ve got to make your own fun to an extent, and there’s lots to do, but doing it with friends helps. Get to know the community, living or dead.

Game Culture:

When a community exists for a long enough time in isolation, it forms its own vocabulary and culture. Urban Dead is no exception. Got a character who’s your typical action hero? You might just get called a “Trenchcoater”. Are you a human who sympathizes with the zombie cause? You might get labelled a “Death Cultist” and killed by pro-survivors. Seeing the culture play out over the radio waves and tagged on the walls is fun in itself. Especially in landmark or historical buildings. That’s right, some buildings are historical; Holding a special place in the hearts and minds of survivors or zombies. The Zeds, as zombs are affectionately known in Malton, even have a homeland which they have defended tooth and claw for years and years now.

A brief ceasefire as zombie envoys join the living to celebrate a local leaders birthday. Hostilities resumed shortly after cake was cut.

A prime example is the language of the zombies. They call it “Zamgrh.” The game has a special text filter for zombie “Speech”. Clever use of it can allow for useful information to be shared. “Mah zambah nah gab mrh. Gab GRAAAAAGH!” is an expression of pride among zombiekind. Along with their signature war cry “BARHAH!”

DO ZAH ZAMBAH MAMBAH! HRAHAH!

Why Should I Care?:

You don’t have to! I just wanted to shed some light on this overlooked slice of the online world. If you’re interested in the old, worn, and esoteric. Give it a look, read a guide, and  dig into it. It’s not an intensive experience. It takes about 10 minutes a day of playtime unless you’re super serious at it. But it’s a wholly player centric game! Player centric games are important to me because they write their own lore. It’s like a crowd sourced writing room. Through my time here I’ll likely drop articles about the history or happenings of this venerable community. When the players make the fun, the fun gets…. FUN. Mall sieges and battles for the city zoo, a marathon race around the perimeter, and more! Lore built by the players themselves; Coming soon!