Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Dead Zone and Apocalypse Rising: The Terrain Dilema

Don't get me wrong, Dead Zone and Apocalypse Rising are both great zombie survival games. The guns (especially ones on Dead Zone) feel really nice, the loot is interesting and refreshing, the tension from the atmosphere makes me jump when I see another player, but one thing is lackluster in both games. The map.

Now, the reason I wanted to write this article is due to Apocalypse Rising's announcement that a new map is coming so I wanted to make some issues apparent. So let's start with Apocalypse Rising's map, which I consider to be the worse of the two. If you load up the game right now and play for just a short, 15-minute session, you will notice two distinct "biomes," if you will: the cities, and the "there's nothing here worth your time" zones. Also, there's nothing really unique about any section of the map, no weather changes, no elevation changes, no style changes, nothing. The cities are all monotone too, no significant landmarks to tell you which city you are in and very little difference in density and height of buildings.

SO FLAT! Small hills help, but aren't enough
Next, let's look at Dead Zone's current map, I say "current" because there was a much better map before ZackZak decided to change it back for whatever reason, which was also the map I did the review on. This might seem odd at first, but the current map is better than Apocalypse Rising's map because it slightly restricts the player's movements through the use of impassable mountains. These days, people are looking for a lot of freedom in games, but a little bit of restriction helps create a more natural environment (you can't go everywhere in the real world, can you?).
Old image of Dead Zone I had left form the review. Note the hills and mountain range, so much  better!
There is one super duper important feature which is lacking in both maps, that is elevation and terrain differences. I saw Gusmanak posted on twitter an image of a radio tower along with a message which implies that the elevation problems will be solved, however, it won't be unless large amounts terrain gets elevation differences. Not to say adding a radio tower or a small hill is a bad thing or it's not an improvement, but it's just not enough to fully immerse a player.

To be honest, I'm not too impressed with the alpha version of the new map Gusmanak posted on his twitter. Sure it has some nice hills, sure it has a larger city, but the terrain still screams "BORING!" A mountain range right smack in the middle of the map which separates two sides of the map, or a canyon which houses a top secret military outpost could provide so much in terms of gameplay.

Alpha version of new map, note the flatness
(As a side note, since it strays from the point I'm trying to make, the number of small towns is way too high. They seem like fillers and can be replaced with terrain features. No one loots there past the first 5 minutes anyways.)

On top of this, the map still provides no flow. There are way too many roads and not enough restrictions which will force players to encounter each other more often in the wild. Reducing the number of roads and increasing the number of terrain features which block certain paths to cities will create way better flow. Being able to walk in a straight line to any city is boring and requires a larger map to elongate the travel time. But impassable terrain like a canyon or a wall (perhaps for quarantine reasons) will make the travel time longer and make the map feel larger than it really is. Non-flat terrain serves to accomplish 5 major things:

1. It improves uniqueness of a particular region, you will no longer have to guess which part of the map you spawn on. When you see a canyon or a mountain in the distance, you will immediately know where you are and what routes to take to get geared up.
2. It gives more "flow" to the map. Obviously, you can't fly over a chasm, so smart placement of different terrain elements can force chokepoints and dangerous areas to occur naturally.
3. It gives more options to the player in terms of PVP options. Currently, when you see a player in the open you want to kill, you both will engage in what I like to call "the dance of the derps" in which both of you fire rounds at each other, jump around, and pray to god they hit. With terrain features, you could, hide on a mountain and setup an ambush, snipe noobs in a city from a mountain, or shoot down at people in a canyon camping for loot.
4. It allows the fog to be pulled back. No one likes fog. For fog to be in the game to purposefully prevent you from seeing all the way to the other side of the map is really annoying. Terrain features will limit your vision naturally, not artificially. Fog still has to be there, it just won't be so "in your face."
5. Make the map feel larger than it is by making the player work around the terrain in order to get to their destination, thus, increasing travel time.

I really want the maps to provide more than just locations for spawning loot. I want to be able to use the terrain for more than just running in straight lines. Also, just bring the old map back ZackZak, it is much better.

TL;DR Mountains, canyons, and other terrain features will make maps of Apocalypse Rising and Dead Zone much more interesting. No one likes flat things.