Battling the Undead on the World Wide Web

arrgghhh zombie!

I’ve been doing some research this week on online games for a possible project at work and whilst trawling through the confusing pile of acronyms that this throws up, I came across Urban Dead, an HTML text based wonderfully low-fi MMO (massively multiplayer online) game.

The premise is that “you play the survivor or victim of a zombie outbreak in a quarantined city centre, alongside tens of thousands of others”. Intrigued I investigated further.

Whilst the game is overseen by a number of dedicated admins, it’s mostly shaped by the players, all 1,162,854 of them, and as the game is based on descriptive text rather than flashy graphics the scope and depth as much about the collective imaginations of the players, as it is about a planned and contained game engine. The interaction with people within the arena of a role playing game appeals to me, I really want to see how people react to what is essentially a chat room set in a George A Romero film.

Further delving revealed a whole wealth of information written by participants on subjects ranging from best tips on game play, a lexicon of zombie communication (Grh. – Sometimes used as a casual greeting between zombies) (http://wiki.urbandead.com/index.php/Zombie_Lexicon), through to a complete history of the town where the game is played pre-zombification. It seems that a lot of people really get into the part of post-apocalyptic survivors/zombies.

My favourite piece so far is this WordPress journal written by a games developer from the perspective of his character. The level of involvement the players have with their characters seems to be the secret of the game’s success, as well as adaptability to the actions the players take. Urban Dead has just celebrated it’s 4 year anniversary.

Urban Dead is free to join in and play so that’s exactly what I did. When first you sign up you’re confronted with a number of choices about what type of character you’d like to become, ranging from a well armed soldier, through to nerdy scientist. I opted for the “realistic” approach, selecting a Consumer character, with no particular special skills apart from shop-lifting. Selecting the name Argus Mcphee, I was dropped into the forbidding city of Malton.

urbandead screenshot

Despite rather enjoying fantasy action/horror as a genre (well who doesn’t love a good zombie movie?), I was ill prepared for my first foray into the world of MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role playing games).

After using my ‘Action Points’ to wander around the neighbourhood a bit, I found myself in an isolated part of town and unable to get inside ran out of AP and my character promptly fell asleep. This is a cardinal sin, leaving yourself stranded outside leaves you easy prey for zombies, and so it proved when I logged back in to check on my character a few hours later, he’d been torn to pieces by a pack of flesh-hungry ghouls.

Bugger – I hadn’t even survived a whole weekend.

I really got drawn into the world of Urban Dead and, albeit briefly, I really cared for the fate of young Argus Mcphee, and despite the fact it was a text based game I got quite involved, seeing in my mind’s eye the ruined buildings and rubble strewn streets of a fictional city.

Apparently my newly zombified character can be returned to human status by a scientist with the correct injection, so I’m going to log in and shamble off in search of one. Now how do zombies go again… ah yes… “Grrrrrhhhhhhhhhh!”

UPDATE: changed post header but still check out Timo Grubing’s zombie-a-day blog.

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