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For the second Monday blog penned while Will tends to his budding QPR supporter offspring -- and tries to remember what REM sleep feels like -- we will talk a little more about the meta-game. What it is, what it will do and why it excites the pants off us.

Posted by Batsphinx on Jan 7th, 2013

For the uninitiated, the meta-game is a high-level simulation of the game world that allows for much more in-depth character interactions in the game, linked together by story events scripted for certain circumstances, and allowing us to have these in-depth character interactions across the entire game world, way beyond the loaded area of the map around the player, without the game slowing to a crawl.

Some of this may overlap earlier blog posts, and some of the conversations in our podcast on RingoD’s channel, but what the hell.

While we’re still not quite at the stage we can show the in-game workings, we have some shots of the meta-game in action and explain in detail what the ramifications will be in the game. We're tantalizingly close to being able to grab some awesome uninterrupted footage of it working in-game, and in the run up to release we hope to do several videos showing it off.

To start, we’ll do a little make believe story involving some random characters. These are NPC characters within a game of Project Zomboid, and everything you read is taken directly from the functionality of the current meta-game system as it stands now.


Jack is a police officer. He’s been thrust into the role of leader to a bunch of survivors in Muldraugh. With him is his wife, Lisa. Others include two brothers, Bobby and Darren, and Shawn, Jack’s best friend, also a police officer.

Our characters are situated in a farmhouse north-west of Muldraugh, and exist purely in the meta-game, along with numerous other survivor groups all around Muldraugh.

The first day is rather uneventful. Darren and Bobby exchange a few insults, Shawn gets to know Lisa better (not like that) while Jack spends the day patrolling around the farmhouse to keep an eye out for zombies or other survivors.

Jack decides to call a meeting. The group gather in the living room. Low on food supplies, he plans a looting mission, telling Shawn and Bobby to come with him.

Jack, Shawn and Bobby leave and make their way south-east into Muldraugh. Jack decides they should head to Spiffos as they are low on food and a fast-food chain seems like a valuable target.

They make their way to the restaurant, picking off zombies as they go.

Spotting movement inside, Jack forms a plan. “I'm thinking that me and Shawn can make a frontal assault. Bobby - flank 'em. Windows and back doors.” - Bobby begrudgingly heads around the corner to the back door.

After a moment, Jack and Shawn quietly push open the door and step inside. At the far side of the restaurant they hear glass smashing, and Bobby shout “Who the fuck chose this place to loot?” and notice a sea of the undead swarming in front of them. Bobby is surrounded.

Back to the farmhouse, Darren is sitting guard at the window when Jack and Shawn burst frantically through the door.

“They got him. Christ. They got him. I'm so sorry Darren.” - Darren isn’t happy, to say the least.

That night, while Jack continues his tireless patrols of the farmhouse, Shawn spends more time with Lisa, becoming closer to her. He starts to get jealous, growing resentful of Jack being Lisa’s husband, and being leader of their group. He has a quiet word with Darren, who now blames Jack for his brother’s death. Together they decide to dispose of him.

Day 4 - Everyone is hungry. Jack plans another trip into town. Darren and Lisa will stay back and help protect the farm in their absence. Shawn goes with Jack.

Arriving at a small grocery store, Jack thinks on what to do, and turns around to find Shawn pointing a shotgun in his face. Shawn pulls the trigger, and heads back - head full of lies to tell Jack’s widow.


It should be noted that in some circumstances we don’t currently have all the dialogue to represent some of the meta events. stuff like the conspiring may be more ‘gameified’ in the initial release, though this depends how much time we have and if there is scope for additional dialogue to be written once Will returneth. Where looting missions, characters reactions to zombies, and others already have a ton of variation depending on the traits of the characters.

Either way, the goal is to expand all conversation related character interactions with actual dialogue in future updates, having characters insulting, bonding and confronting each other based on their traits and the situation..

What you read above is directly possible with the new meta-game system. Completely emergent story-telling using events and relationship modifiers.

The player will also have the option of interacting with other NPCs in the same way as they can with each other, right clicking them to insult, befriend, order or plot with anyone they choose. Initially this may merely result in a gamey ‘you insulted Joe, he sadface :(‘ and opinion modifier until we get a whole array of insulting comments for your character to spout. But that aside, the story above could have involved the player as any of the roles.

So how would the story above evolve naturally in the gameplay?

Each character has various personality traits, and a calculated opinion of every other character. Weak and Aggressive people don’t get on. Trusting people like everyone more than they should. Brothers, sisters, husbands and wives get a substantial bonus to relationship between each-other.

Envious people, like Shawn, covet leadership, as well as dislike people more if they envy their friends, lovers or possessions. Insubordinate people have a severe opinion penalty for a leader, no matter who it is.

This leads to some characters having an inherent like or dislike for other characters, which can be altered over time with events. Characters deemed responsible for a beloved or friend’s death will have a severe penalty, where a character who saves another’s life could become a lifelong friend.

A character with exceptionally low opinions of another may start conspiring to either take leadership away from them, or quietly get them killed. Devious characters are more likely to involve themselves in such plans. In the future this could expand to many other things, spreading rumours and poisoning relationships, getting them thrown out the group for misdeeds they are or are not guilty of.

As characters get more touched by the desperate world around them, they may become unstable, depressed, and a variety of other maladies that will further drive a wedge between your group. No longer will the emotional traits and moodles (which will themselves be getting a UI and conceptual makeover post RC3, before Steam) impact on the game be mild, the emotional states of characters could cause massive rifts that tear apart a group, or end in piles of bodies and bitter rivalries.

This system is being built upon, adding events that occur when one survivor group meets another, or zombies attack a safehouse, and numerous others. And each one added provides more power to make future events quicker and easier to add, which will enable a massive swell in game content over future releases.

Meta-Bob and Meta-Kate

With the necessary transplantation of the Kate and Baldspot story into the new map, we’ve also redesigned it to fit within the meta-game. If Bob is told to go to the shed, as a player this will appear as a quest. As an NPC, Bob would just run to the shed. Does he leave the cooker on? If it’s a player, it’s up to them. If he’s an NPC, it’s probably 50/50.

Playing Survival mode after completing the K&B story will mean, like any completed story (mod or official) it will be transplanted into the world’s meta-game. These characters are now real citizens of Muldraugh. If you travel to the tutorial house, will you find it in flames? Will you find a zombified Bob and Kate trying to munch on your face? A dead Bobby Collins, killed by a hammer to the head and a distraught widowed Bob to team up with?

As we expand the K&B story, and add other stories into the mix, eventually Survival mode (Sandbox will be able to disable these, do not fear) will be more and more populated with real recognizable Muldraugh citizens whose stories start in one place, but can branch off into the meta-game at any point.

Beyond RC3

The plan is, ultimately and beyond this update, to allow the meta events that occur to a group to be logged by the individuals experience them as a first person recounting of the events, to allow the player to query characters on their histories before they met, or to get feedback on the events of a looting mission.

Not only this, but further to allow for events to be fabricated in place of others, so ‘I blew his brains out with a shotgun’ would mysteriously transform into ‘I was cornered and he saved my life, but got overrun in the process. He’s a hero’.

This would open a fundamentally different play-style to the game, where the player may opt to send other survivors out to do their bidding, and focus more on the management of the group and security of the safehouse, rather than looting and fighting zombies themselves, trying to keep everyone happy and sane, commanding your group to gather resources to build, to recruit new NPCs with skills you need, and to look for warning signs of conspiracies and lies.

As more and more events are added to the game, linked to dialogue scenes and tied into character traits existing and new, particularly when the modders get a hand on it, will allow for such rich, involved, emergent and persistent stories to form from the web of character relationships, events, grudges. That NPC you team up with will no longer just be a blank face with a name, but a character with a history as long as the time you have played in the world.

Maybe he brutally killed a group of six helpless survivors, one escaping and vowing vengeance. What will happen if they meet up again?

It’s perhaps cliche to say the possibilities are endless, but with this system in place, the potential for extra content to be quickly injected into the game is very exciting. Each additional event, or chain of events, triggered in the right circumstances, will exponentially multiply the variety of story events a player can have in Survival or Sandbox modes.

Our ultimate goal is for people to be able to watch a Lets Play of a Sandbox game and assume it to be part of a story mode. It’ll take a good while to get there, but with this system in-place, the work required to add quite involved character events into the game has shrunk dramatically, and require little coding time at all.

Hopefully to the point that, especially with mods, there will be so many variations of events that could occur that no two games will be even remotely alike, and truly reach the emergent story-telling we feel the game requires to be fully realized.

Post comment Comments
JRCOBRA Jan 7 2013, 8:13am says:

Like the Female characters adds some variety.

+6 votes     reply to comment
morder553 Jan 7 2013, 8:45am says:


+8 votes     reply to comment
Lacedaemonius Jan 7 2013, 4:06pm replied:


-2 votes     reply to comment
vol4ok Jan 7 2013, 5:08pm replied:

So what ?

P.S To indie stone-"Stop teasing us"

+3 votes     reply to comment
Zollec Jan 7 2013, 9:02am says:

hmm. So much intrigue and poison... Its ok but, it is end of the world. Zombies everywhere and the only chance to survive (a little longer) is to keep in group. Isnt this the rigt time to put aside hateness and try to work together ?? The NPC should have this in they minds.

And I hope RC3 will be out soon. I played RC2.5 a milion times and not fun for more....

+11 votes     reply to comment
Roh Jan 7 2013, 1:07pm replied:

I gotta say people are people. They are possibly more likely to let greed, hate, and fear drive them to do foolish things when they feel they have less to nothing to lose. Not many are going to lose everything and decide to become better people.

+3 votes     reply to comment
Zollec Jan 7 2013, 2:14pm replied:

and so I wrote 'it is ok' . And not better people, hell no. They just do not have time to intrigue. I mean in PZ we have increasing danger. Fcorse u can kill anyone in 'brainshortcut', but just in extreme circumstances. And to headshot someone, just for jealosity, u must be a pretty psychopat. So I hope, there we dont wahe many of them. :)

+3 votes     reply to comment
Jesusfreak Jan 7 2013, 9:43pm replied:

I agree with Zollec. Many People are stupid, but during a dark time such as this I seriously doubt people will go and kill each other because of dumb jealousy (knowing that human numbers increase chances of survival.) Or... maybe I'm just blissfully ignorant.

+1 vote     reply to comment
Zollec Jan 8 2013, 10:03am replied:

true. we can look at real historical examples. WW2... Germans hiding judes etc. But som hidden psychopats between survivors will be a lot of FUN! "why you point that gun on me? Coz the voice told me to kill u" :D

0 votes     reply to comment
AFellowStalker Jan 8 2013, 4:50pm replied:

In the end, there have been very few times this has happened during history. Just look at what happens when there is a tsunami or earthquake, people don't band together and try and evacuate; there was instead mass looting and murder.

+2 votes     reply to comment
Humungusungus Jan 10 2013, 7:51pm replied:

Exactly, people are screwed up, and more so under stress. Most people will do anything to get what they want as it is.. take morality and law from the equation... Recipe for disaster

+2 votes     reply to comment
fra403 Jan 7 2013, 9:08am says:

Are you freaking kidding me!!? The game was awesome arleady but now!? How can you make it even more awesome!!? By wich i mean how where you capable of such a thing i did not believe it was posible!Great job!

+3 votes     reply to comment
Renay Jan 7 2013, 9:12am says:

That story sounds a bit like The Walking Dead :D

+9 votes     reply to comment
Winged_Hussar Jan 7 2013, 9:22am replied:

Rather more than a bit...

+8 votes     reply to comment
DoctorSpanky Jan 7 2013, 10:43am replied:

Yup that's what I thought.

+6 votes     reply to comment
ilmalto Feb 4 2013, 9:25am replied:

the background is the same. we can also say that TWD sounds like project zomboid :P

+1 vote     reply to comment
lemmy101 Jan 7 2013, 9:13am says:

Just a phenomenal coincidence that, of course, Renay. :P

+8 votes     reply to comment
DaggerClassStudio Jan 7 2013, 10:31am says:

I am very impressed with the continuous updates and love playing the various test build versions that have been uploaded to the IndieForums to give us a more updated version to play. I cannot express just like we all can't express just how desperately excited and how much we are dying to play this. We get more and more excited by the new announcements and ideas that you put forward that it kills us on just how much new stuff is coming. I personally am from the UK and develop using TileSets for game develop and for my graphics course am working on a live client project to design for a game so I know and can understand truly on how much work you lot are putting into this. Ever need a hand in the future you can always drop me a message by the way. But good work all the same! We are all very, very excited for the release.

+6 votes     reply to comment
NeuerOrdner Jan 7 2013, 4:42pm says:

I think that feature will definatly improve the game a lot.
This will bring a whole new dimension to the game, as it offers a wide variety of situations, that will need ad-hoc decisionmakeing. Will I take this survivor into my group, risking my probably well working groupharmony or will I just leave him with the possibility that he'll remember me and come after me?
Is the Trip we're takeing safe or will there be a trap waiting for me, since that last trip really went sideways.
Just remember what made DayZ so thrilling, the notion, that despite the zombieinfection all over the place, there is still a more dangerous and cunning predator around, other humans ;)
Really looking forward to that.


0 votes     reply to comment
Guest Jan 7 2013, 5:51pm says:

This is amazing. I had a similar idea for a game I'm currently working on, procedural generation of social interactions - it seems you guys have done that and much more already :D I'm grateful for this excellent blog post, as it has been a great source of inspiration for my own game. Also, I most likely will end up buying your game eventually :D

+3 votes     reply to comment
LordDarkNight Jan 8 2013, 7:23am says:

нууу когда обнова выйдеееет! аааа!!

-1 votes     reply to comment
Foof898 Jan 9 2013, 12:57am says:

Can't wait for the dynamic NPC interaction to be implemented.

+3 votes     reply to comment
GR00V3R Jan 12 2013, 9:52pm says:

PZ is already one of the best games I've played in a long, long time. Between discovering PZ just now and FTL last year, it's been an incredible few months for indies everywhere by association, and you guys are leading the charge. Keep up the great work -- I can't wait to play RC3 to death like I have the current build. :)

0 votes     reply to comment
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