As fans of the zombie genre, a genre that’s been done to death (pun intended), it’s rare to see a game that stands out in the way that Undying from developer Vanimals stands out. Rather than focus solely on killing zombies, or power dynamics between desperate survivors, Undying focuses on a more personal tale.
In the game, a mother named Anling is bitten by a zombie and forced to face the grim reality that she’s not going to make it. With time running out, you’ll help Anling teach her young son Cody survival skills and prepare him for life without her.
Captivated by the concept, we recently reached out to developer Vanimals to ask them more about Undying. We wanted to know the inspirations behind the game, what players can expect from the gameplay, and what the development process of the game has been like in the wake of COVID-19.
The team at Vanimals were kind enough to answer all of these questions, and more, and we’re extremely excited to share them with you!
Interview with Vanimals | How Undying Breathes New Life into the Zombie Genre
What inspired you to make Undying, and how would you describe the game’s concept to someone who may be unfamiliar with the game?
A lot of us in the studio are big fans of zombies, so we wanted to do something within the genre. But we understood that zombies were a thing that had been played out before so we had to put our own unique take on them.
Undying is a survival game where you are not surviving for yourself but for someone else. You play as Anling, a mother who is infected by a zombie bite, who must protect her son Cody in a zombie-filled world. As her time is limited, she must also prepare Cody for life without her by teaching him essential survival skills.
Why did you decide to focus the story on a mother and son team?
We felt that it was something that hadn’t been explored much before but also something that everyone inherently understands. There is nothing quite like a mother’s love for their child. We just thought it was powerful and that there was a lot of potential there.
From the game’s trailer and synopsis, we know that Anling is bitten by a zombie. Is the player aware of how much time they have before Anling turns, and how does Anling’s limited amount of time impact the way the game progresses?
Players will be aware of how much time they have left before she turns. This will be shown through UI as well as through changes of her physical appearance, the change also be felt throughout the game as Anling's skills will also deteriorate. Since the players only have a limited amount of time, they want to strategize which skills to teach Cody are a priority.
How does the game deal with the emotional weight of survival, loss, and grief?
Everyone deals with loss and grief in different ways. We have tried to design the game so that it is the player’s journey. Everyone who plays the game will hopefully experience the game differently through their choices and actions.
There will also be dream sequences which will explore Anling’s mental state and how she is dealing with infection and knowledge her time is limited.
What are some of the survival skills that Anling will teach Cody?
Nearly everything that the player can do as Anling, can be taught to Cody. These are skills such as cooking, crafting, evading enemies, and using certain weapons in combat. Cody even has some skills that Anling cannot do, such as finding hidden items that Anling can’t see.
Are players able to play both Anling and Cody in Undying, or will they primarily play as Anling?
For the most part players will primarily be playing as Anling, but there may be more than that. We hope players pick up the game to find out!
Will the game have local co-op? If not, is this something you’d like to implement in the future?
We have certainly discussed it, but for now we are focusing on developing a single player experience. Though it may seem that our game might perfectly suite co-op, we did feel that if a player-controlled Cody, he may lose his child-like authenticity. Playing as two characters inherently feels different to the idea of protecting a character.
Undying is set in a world full of zombies, what are some of the ways players can fight back against these zombies?
Players can engage in combat using weapons found or crafted. Though since weapons in our game have durability it may be best to avoid combat altogether in certain situations. There are a variety of tools available to the player to sneak past zombies, such glass jars and bricks which can make loud noises and serve as great distractions.
Adding to this, what are some of the settings and areas that players can explore in Undying? Is the game open world?
You will find the usual suspects when you think of a zombie survival game. Farm, supermarket, forest, city streets; but you will be spending most of your time in Anling and Cody’s house as that is a hub that players will be returning to with each supply run.
The world map is segmented into several locations players can unlock, which then can be travelled to freely. The world map is a “player generated map”, as they find new locations to travel to, players decide where those locations go on the map. This adds a bit of a strategic element to building out your map.
What are some of the other mechanics players can expect from the game (crafting, resource management)?
Players can expect all the staples of the survival genre like crafting, cooking, and resource management. Where we think Undying is special in this regard is how you must do all of that whilst managing your son Cody.
Unlike Anling, Cody’s status is not displayed on the HUD. Players must remember to ask Cody how he is doing as well as paying attention to his body language. Failing to keep on top of him may result in how effectively he learns and how much he may listen to you.
Will Undying have any accessibility features such as captions or multiple difficulty settings?
We want the game to be as accessible as possible to as many players as possible. We’ll be looking more into what we will be able to deliver as we get closer to release.
How many people are working on Undying, and what has the development process been like?
Undying is being developed by a team of 10 people. As there are not many games trying to do what we are doing on Undying, there has been a lot of trial and error in the development process.
It can be hard making a game where there isn’t something else, we can use as a reference. But we are happy with the direction we are heading in now, so things should be smooth sailing for us from now on.
Has COVID impacted the development of Undying at all?
When COVID first hit it impacted development quite dramatically. Due to government restriction our Spring Festival holiday was extended and at the time we weren’t sure when we could begin work again.
Also during that time our Creative Director Jin had to return to Australia with his family and he is still unable to return due to travel restrictions, so he is currently working remotely from there.
When the restrictions eased however, to keep up with social distancing only half of the team could be working on any given day. Except for our Creative Director who is still stuck in Australia, we are back to regular working conditions.
Where can people keep up with the development of Undying (Discord, Twitter)?
Finally, when is Undying expected to release, and on what platforms?
Undying is set to launch in 2021 on PC, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation, and Xbox systems. We also have a mobile version planned for later next year. For now, we’re asking everyone to head to our Steam page and give us a wishlist as it helps immeasurably!
We want to thank Vanimals for taking the time to answer our interview questions. We're really looking forward to the release of Undying in 2021.
For more on Undying, be sure to check out the news about Vanimals hosting a livestream event during the Steam Autumn Festival where you can help them design the mini-game that Cody will play in Undying!