What I’m about to say might come off as rash or come off as me attacking the game and the developers themselves. But believe me I really care about this game and have been following the development long before it was in 3D.
So what do I mean when I say that Project Zomboid is in need of design changes?
One of the biggest gripes I have with the game is it’s artistic design, I don’t mean the environments, 3D models, or actual artwork. I’m talking about the UI, Loading Screen, Music, and other elements of the game that are outside of the world itself.
I say this because the game takes place in 1993, yet there is not that many definitive indicators that it is. The game looks so stock-like at times that it can be embarrassing from an outside perspective. The UI is not appealing at all, and does not follow the aesthetic that’s supposed to be the game’s core aesthetic. It looks like the Windows 10 desktop interface and it could to be changed to fit something more 90s like. That’s just my preference though, but it’s kind of generic. Why is it such a big deal? Because graphic design represents the game itself, without proper graphic design it makes navigation a chore. If navigation must be a chore do so in a way that it’s stylistic. The art direction seems sort of underdeveloped. It’s safe to say it is absent from the menus and actual in game HUD. It looks really generic, so much so that it makes it hard to get immersed. You could change the font a bit to make it look less generic, take a look at games that came from the early 90s like Final Fantasy, a bit of liberty from everything. or even the first Resident Evil for example; Your player health and inventory is all on the same screen. But please find a way to simplify it. For example, whenever I get injured I don’t want to use a separate injury menu aside from the inventory. If you merge the two it’d make managing your supplies a lot easier. Below are some possible alternative fonts you could use.
For something stylistic maybe you should make the game have a slight CRT filter and post processing for when you get hurt. Fast forwarding, pausing, etc should have VHS effects. Or maybe when you’re about to die the screen goes into a vcr glitch post processing mode. Below is an example of it being done in unity.
Notice how everything is connected to each other? It’s simple and fast. Not saying the current design doesn’t already work but it’s a bit tedious.
Animated heartbeat, a nice touch.
Another example of everything being on one page, it’s difficult when everything is separated.
The music, what’s wrong with the music?
Look I don’t mean to criticize Zach Beever as a composer himself, but it was a poor decision for the compositions to be the way they are. None of the compositions are necessarily bad but they sure can be lacking in some areas. The instruments sound as if they came from Finale’s midi soundfont and it gives off a real placeholder vibe which is very unappealing. I do see that he tried to fix it in the remaster of the soundtrack but in turn it made things seem less intense and more mellow, which in my opinion does not fit the theme of struggling to survive. When getting my friend to play the game for the first time he insisted that the music be muted but then to his dismay there was not that many ambient sounds. What are some other gripes about it? I’m Half-Moroccan so believe me when I say that the Arabic lyrics from the woman is a bit off putting. Why did Zach choose that? I could see it being used for some of the music, but it’s so prominent that it takes away from the actual Kentucky vibe. It’s harsh to say but I found it really annoying and unfitting, so maybe you could ask Zach to find a substitute for it. Also, from a cultural standpoint it’s difficult to see where the use of the Arabic singing is coming from. I don’t know much Arabic aside from Shukrahn and salam alaikum so I don’t know what she’s saying. Though I feel like it gives a bad portrayal of Middle Eastern culture and people as scary. But I could see from the view that it’s supposed to have some flare of mysticism and hopelessness, but it fails to encapsulate me into the feeling that I’m struggling to survive the apocalypse and makes me more confused than distraught. I would like to keep the whole Banjos and Violin ensemble because it’s Kentucky though it should not be used for the entirety of the soundtrack. Because people will be making different maps like New Denver or Louisiana it’ll take away from those public creations and get rid of the vibe those community creators want to establish. If you’re adamant about the current soundtrack then consider giving us the ability to replace the soundtrack without complicated effort so people can have custom server music and custom soundtracks tied to their maps. But if you are open to suggestion on adding a bit more of a John Carpenter dark synth vibe, listen to these playlists and songs. These are all things you could try incorporating into the soundtrack to make me feel like I'm in a zombie flick from the 80’s-90’s. Some of the tracks are upbeat but what I want you to take away from it is the intensity of it which Project Zomboid lacks in it’s now mellow soundtrack. I know 13 more are to be released from Zach Beever but send these links to him, I don’t think he’d be opposed to give the time to experiment with a new style. I even added films and commercials to help with the vibe.
Grunge and Alternative Rock
Horror Movies and Horror Music
This is the music that belongs in Project Zomboid, it’s ominous, it has dark synth nostalgia, it’s scary and it’s intense just like a zombie apocalypse is. If you could pair that alongside the Southern American Kentucky banjo it’d be so badass! But from the standpoint of someone who watches a lot of retro horror movies, the soundtrack is in need of some rework. Maybe I could converse with Zach and give him some opinions as to how to bring a different outlook on sound direction. I could even ask artists I know of if they want to be a part of the project. I’ve listened to some of Zach’s music from his portfolio and thought that he’s had experience with different tones of music, but he still could use a bit of work. I’m no wizard with music myself, but I do have a good ear, and I know I’m playing the devil’s advocate when I say that the soundtrack would sound lacking to new people playing the game. When taking a class on film I’ve learned that music can effectively set the tone and create any vibe you want. But with the current soundtrack it’s much too mellow. The game’s music sounds a bit generic, but the compositions themselves are okay to say the least. To balance out the mellowness of the soundtrack, you could make the soundtrack intensify as the situation worsens. But you don’t have to trash the entire soundtrack at all. If you’re not convinced I can tell you that this sort of style has worked very well for titles such as: Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, Trials of the Blood Dragon, Hotline Miami, Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number, Super Time Force, Dead Pixels 2, Strafe, Manhunt, Manhunt 2, Ruiner, Retro City Rampage, Hyper Light Drifter, and so many more.
Please rework the leveling system! From the level up sound to how levelling up feels like. Every time you level up you get those Arabic vocals, but it’s sort of out of place for a fanfare. It doesn’t make me feel like I accomplished anything, hell I didn’t even know that it was the level up sound because you just can’t tell without any indicators. Without any indication that I did level up it took me awhile to figure out that I actually did so why not add a notification either in the text bar or above the player. You could even go with the player status icon lighting up. The player should feel rewarded, it should feel like crossing a milestone and be apparent that you have, instead of the current “Why the hell do those noises keep coming back?” To shorten it, change the noise and add an some sort of indicator. The voice clip doesn’t serve that well as a fanfare and sounds more like something you’d see from Man Vs Wild than a survival horror game. I know you got the Arabic sample from Arma II it’s really not needed. Every game has a fanfare to remember, Project Zomboid should have one too in my opinion. Below are some examples of fanfares. Why not have an ominous banjo strum?
Loading Screen and Title Screen
The loading screen is quite redundant and could use some work. Sure it was cool seeing it for the first time but after further analyzation I noticed that it was a bit flawed. If you show the text of things that are loading with the narration above it’s confusing because both are battling for your attention. Plus some of the sentences are a bit meaningless i.e “There was no hope” The loading screen is also a bit annoying when you are restarting a game, joining a game, etc. Because you have to wait for the whole narration that you’ve seen over and over before you start the game. I opt for something like a VHS tracking screen to fit with a 90’s vibe and then whenever you click to start it’d be like playing the tape. For first time playing you could do an FMV of a television news broadcast, though it’s still not a good idea to use the same loading screen for everything.
The title screen has gotten really old, and if I was someone booting the game up for the first time in awhile I’d think that it hasn’t been updated for long. For one, Kate and Bob have not been a part of the game for some time now, so maybe put something else. Though the loop is cool, if you are keeping it at least enhance it because the animated background appears to be really jagged on most monitors. The title screen music is also kind of generic too, it’s a bit too generic for my taste. It sounds sort of like a bland copy of 28 Days Later (No offense). Most games have a theme to remember for its iconic nature. Think of it like an elevator pitch, a first expression. Also, for the title screen options you should have noises tied to highlighting your options, it gives a sort of reinforcement satisfaction so to speak. Below is the example of post screen load that I feel would be a nice addition to the after loading screen.
If used enough VHS Post Processing in a game can give off a real nice nostalgic vibe and when used subtly it won’t take away from the gameplay. You could also have it toggled on or off.
Maybe this screen could be an example of what the screen looks like after death, though instead of the complete blackness you have this as an overlay over your death or have this fade in, where it says “You only survived for … Had Killed…. And etc”
Screen spazzing out before death
When I talked about the post processing effect...
The title is the main focus because of where it is placed, being more prominent to the player.
(In this you’ll notice the menu sounds)
Small Suggestion But Maybe Change the Name of The Game?
I know a lot of people are going to oppose this but maybe find a different name for Project Zomboid once the game rises out of Early Access. Maybe “Zomboid 1993” (Just an idea) or just Zomboid or even Zomboid: Isometric Zombie Survival Sim. “Project” sort of has a negative connotation of something never being finished. I’m well aware that it would basically wipe all search results off Google but this is just a small suggestion. Just consider that if you did change the name it could mean a new beginning for a finished legacy of a game which is the contrast from the non three-dimensional sprite-based game.
Please Update your Steam Page!
Being the fan I am I try to mention Project Zomboid to every friend and they love the idea of a zombie apocalypse simulator that factors in more than just your base needs. But when I send them the Steam page they always have second thoughts as to buying it. It’s superficial I know but I was kind of hurt when someone said “This presentation looks like a high schooler’s project for Unity”. Then, I realized that they did have a good point. Sure the trailer shows the game mechanics, barebones information, and everything that you need to know about the game. I don’t mean to offend whoever was chosen to narrate it, but it is not well voiced at all. It’s a bore to watch and it fails to hype anyone up for the game. Maybe it was acceptable about 4 years ago, but for the amount of time the game has been out and the things that have been added you should hire someone to redo a trailer or maybe have your fans send in some trailers to become the official video for the Steam page. I had an idea for a 1990’s style horror commercial in live action, kind of like the comical “Strafe” trailer. Or the badass Dead Pixels 2 Steam video that pans from action to action. Those have beautiful steam pages and screenshots. If you show anybody Project Zomboid’s current Steam page they’ll put it on the same level of those mobile game ports.
There’s already so much to do in development we can’t focus on this right now.
Look I know you guys at The Indie Stone are busy, but please do pay some mind to this. Because if you don’t you just may not be getting any new players to play this great simulator of a realistic zombie apocalypse. With the game having gone through so many changes, it’s a shame that it looks like nothing changed on the outside looking in for anyone considering to buy it. Your efforts may be going to be waste if people don’t want to play the game because it doesn’t look finished due to it’s underdeveloped aesthetic. I’m saying that I love the game still, this is your team’s passion and you’re working hard to create it. But listen to me when I say that the best way to get people interested is to work on the small things that make the big picture.
Look if you agree with what I’m saying, I wouldn’t mind discussing what would be good alternatives to the current aesthetic of the game. Please just come to this with an open mind, because I want to make this game more engrossing for new players. I don’t want to see the game die because of a lacking player base due to the generic style it has . I have so many ideas for the game. You could ask me for more advice or even ask the community collectively.
Thank you for your hard work at The Indie Stone! I really appreciate what you guys do!