While the indie zombie survival RPG Project Zomboid has been available in early access for several years, its developers aren’t even close to done working on it, and it appears to be as popular as ever.
Recently, they have posted on Steam spelling their roadmap for development in 2022 and beyond, including the implementation of the much-anticipated non-zombified NPCs.
You can find a handy infographic below, alongside the full message from The Indie Stone.
Long ago we stated (informally on a forum post) our planned features for future builds, starting with hunting for build 42, and then numerous NPC builds for build 43 and onward.
However, many changed circumstances and much ponderings later, we’ve decided that this is not the best approach to take. First of all, its very clear that human NPCs have long been the most requested feature that is still outstanding, and the source of most of the frustration and bad feeling from those who consider the game to still be incomplete.
Not only this, but in slightly more selfish reasons, a big reason for not being comfortable with hunting and pets being first, is they are still NPCs and would necessarily leverage all the technology we’ve being working on for years at this point.
We have such amazing and peskily talented modders out there, we know fine well that as soon as we released this tech within their grasps, we would end up seeing extremely powerful NPC mods appearing, using our NPC tech heavily, before we had the pleasure of seeing this hard work paid off with our own NPCs.
It may be the initial build still contains hunting and wild animals, they ARE NPCs after all. It may be they drop into a subsequent build or later on in the unstable beta cycle, its not clear yet for reasons we’ll discuss in a bit. But the next BIG thing will be NPCs and we’ll have a dedicated team working toward this goal going forward.
However, NPCs will still, technically, be build 43. This is because we’ll be running a second dev team exclusively on a quicker, less risky yet still super cool content patch before the NPC work is complete, and then ongoing alternately between the other NPC patches to keep the content train going.
Behold this fancy graphic we cooked up! Now that we’ve blown up a bit we need some fancy graphical charts in our Thursdoids!
Hopefully the chart shows that, in very real terms, NPCs will be coming out as quickly as they can, uninterrupted, and the other builds are there to help bridge the gap. No build will ever take as long as Build 41 did, it was a practical rewrite of large portions of the game, but non-the-less NPCs will take time to emerge, and we don’t want to leave the community without new content in those waits.
There is still a lot of polish and fix work to do on 41, primarily for the MP team but also with a side-salad of bug-fixing issues in both online and solo.
Beyond this, however, is a much ‘smaller’ but still extremely cool update that’ll drop before NPCs, that will release during the push toward an NPC release.
I say ‘smaller’ only because no major functionality or new fundamental systems, and it will be more a balancing and content patch while NPC team’s work is underway. However it will still be pretty beefy in terms of what it brings to the game.
It will serve several important purposes:
1) To balance a lot of the existing mechanics, particularly in relation to traits, professions, skills and other areas of the game that have been neglected or suffered some degradation during the years of development since they were introduced. Balancing traits and professions, medical system, and other stuff where it comes down to essentially tweaking numbers to make more builds viable or close up ‘free points’ exploits in character creation. Loot balancing and anything else that’s an easy balance but will help improve the game also fits in here.
2) To begin the expansion of the ‘tech tree’ of the game significantly to provide a more rich end-game experience. While until NPCs exist, some of this may be slightly less impactful on single player (though we’re sure will still add a lot of potential), it will significantly improve the MP experience by servers being less pressured to wipe or have loot respawning, providing players and communities ability to create more items that at present can only be obtained through looting.
While we may not hit this spot in our first build, our ultimate goal is to provide significantly extra crafting potential to allow players to effectively create a post-apocalypse nu medieval community, to provide plausable alternatives to any of the lootable items in the game that would logically be plausable with the correct skills and resources so players don’t feel pressured to restart the early game repeatedly to get long term fun out of the game. Want to be the person who makes clothes and sells them to a neighbouring settlement? Build brick walls and create something that resembles an actual house? Maybe even build a windmill? Who knows.
These are all examples of things we could do here, and may not all appear in Build 42, but hopefully our intended direction is clear. Ultimately to build up to the point that Alexandria / Hilltop / Kingdom style communities can form years after the apocalypse, giving more incentive to keep playing and building on existing worlds instead of intentionally replaying the early game because there is no real late game.
All this would be a time sink and require a group effort and wouldn’t be compulsory for those who prefer to just die repeatedly in the early apocalypse days, but the hope is to allow for a much greater level of community building, and facilitate trade and potentially years of stories and rich history from within a single world, be it NPC populated or an MP server, spanning numerous player lives (so it can still be the story of how you died).
These professions and expanded tech trees would be heavily gated and require specialization, often in case of the more complex crafting paths requiring pre-apocalypse skills that while it’s possible, are extremely difficult to attain to high levels after the apocalypse without a character specced toward them. We long ago ‘nerfed’ a metalworking system that was added to the game due to the implausibility of some random survivor crafting spoons and katanas in the apocalypse, however we’ll be expanding this again to include better items available through sufficient mastery and enough plausibility with the character build.
We’ll increase the amount of recipes that’ll be unlockable within the world through books, magazines or VHSs, and try and accurately model more advanced and multi-tier crafting professions to allow survivor communities to thrive and provide much more diverse activities for players who like to stay in the safehouses.
Finally, and vitally, we’ll be introducing the concept of ‘crafting surfaces’ to further restrict where some crafting recipes can be used. Some more complex recipes will require specific tables or equipment, some will just require a table or surface of any kind, while others can be carried out in your hands with no surface at all.
This will add an extra level to the crafting, as making a place suitable for crafting the more complex multi-stage recipes, and potentially upgrading your crafting station and equipment, would become a more fulfilling experience than standing in the field and being able to make a stir fry.
We have many and varied other things we want to inject into the game also – we’re currently working on seated / reclining characters for example, and also want to expand on in-game events and tie them to the map. We also need to do some work to improve guns, and PvP, at some point. It’s not clear when smaller features will start appearing, however, so will report on them in blogs as the year progresses.
Worked on concurrently to the balancing and crafting update, as well as discussed and shown within our blogs going forward, will be the first version of NPCs. We’re still deciding what should, could and would be present in the first NPC build. It could include autonomous NPCs that the player can group with, it could primarily include the reintroduction of the story mode, it could have NPC animals, or that could come later.
We really need to look at what we have, and what’s feasible to deliver in a reasonable amount of time, as well as what we could release as a first build and not have people who’ve waited years for them to appear be disappointed. There’s a lot of plates to spin, decisions to make that require more brain power than we’ve had to spare during B41’s development, so we’re going to take some more time to discuss what would make the most satisfying and manageable first build, and take a stock check of what we have.
We’ve got a LOT of NPC code, lots of cool systems, from Rimworld style priority and jobs system, personality systems, procedural story event systems, combat systems, autonomous survival behaviours, advanced group behaviour systems, vehicle driving systems, and a whole bunch more. While nothing could be described as 100% complete, the vast majority of the hard work has been done, is functional and is extremely cool.
But B41 has taken a huge amount of our time and resources, and also taken some elements of the PZ workings in a different direction to things our NPCs were using, and so they need some time to be reintroduced to the most current build and made MP compatible. And when we do that, we’ll be moving stuff over in stages to release, rather than try and get everything functional and release ready at once.
A good analogy is we’ve got two rooms, one full to the ceiling of extremely cool and complex circuit boards and wires that we’ve spent years making, one room is empty.
Trying to tidy and assemble everything in the first room will be a nightmare. So we’ll start moving bits into a new room, setting them up, plugging them in together, and making something cool out of them to release. After release we’ll continue bringing in more pieces and attaching them, and so on for perhaps 2 or 3 builds until the first room is empty and our vision of NPCs is complete. It doesn’t mean that’s all we have, far from it, just sorting that entire packed room out would take too long and we want to finally start pushing NPC content out as soon as possible.
We also have some big plans for a gun mechanics rework at some point, to provide a more solid gunplay experience that will make guns not only more interesting to use, require more a player skill element, but also make PVP encounters a lot more interesting for those who enjoy that kind of thing, as our PVP component is still one of the more lacking elements of our multiplayer experience. But for now we are not committing to where this will thread into the release schedule.
The process of moving stuff over will take some time, and so we may be quiet for a couple of Thursdoids until we start getting stuff moving in the current build. As soon as we are though, we’ll be talking about the ongoing NPC development, alongside the concurrent crafting and balance patch, until they drop. Exciting times!
It shouldn’t go unsaid, however, that if a big new feature is not ready then it’s not in our DNA to push it out of the door uncooked. We’re confident that this will be a great year for PZ, and feel we can keep the content pipe flowing, but also won’t be abandoning our accustomed position as the tortoise in the ‘tortoise vs. hare’ race which appears to now be paying dividends for both game and community.
Project Zomboid is available exclusively for PC via Steam and GoG.
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