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Ed note: Portions of this article have been removed/changed for as they included too much speculation and/or opinion.

The Dead Linger started as a promising Kickstarter back in 2012, raising over $150,000. An ambitious title, the game promised sandbox elements, procedurally generated maps, multiplayer support, and a variety of other features in a free-for-all zombie apocalypse scenario. The initial funding plans were met with positivity, and the game developed something of a cult following. The Dead Linger was released as an Early Access title on Steam in 2013 and is currently being sold for twenty dollars. However, players have become increasingly frustrated with the rate at which the zombie sandbox is being developed, with recent updates being almost exclusively art assets. The last major update was October 2014, with Build 15. One player who says they have been a supporter of the game for a while noted several issues in the development and managing of the game.

The Dead Linger has gone through three engines since its initial alpha release in 2013. Development started on the Ogre engine using the Havock physics engine. When the game was released on Steam, with Build 10, it was announced that the release would run on Unity. In January 2015, it was announced that the engine would be changed from Unity to the Unreal Engine 4, following the cut in cost for Unreal. The change was promised for a February opt-in update for players on the development line, however the full transition has not yet taken place. In a prior blog, lead developer Geoff “Zag” Keene also spoke on the engine switch from Unity to Unreal. He justified the switch based not only on the money saved, but also the techniques and scripting capabilities offered, and the access to complete source code, were more appealing to the team.

The benefits of Unreal are, in short, substantial. We can start with the licensing fee. Andy from the Project Zomboid team actually asked me on twitter to include some more information about why we switched and why it was a good decision earlier, but is no longer — so this one’s for you, buddy!

However the Steam page still prominently features assets from the Unity version of the game, which is no longer the dead linger timeline 2supported. The current front page offers several videos and screenshots, which are all from the old, Unity powered version of the game. It should be noted that the announcements on the front page, up until the most recent vlog, are mostly art updates, with the build update falling several pages back, and there is no explicit messages on the front page about the engine change. Their FAQ is also out of date, having not been updated since March 2014. As well, the front page does not clarify that one of the major features in the original Kickstarter, the procedural generation of sandbox maps, has been almost completely removed from development. While the current Kickstarter page only refers to “randomly generated maps,” older transcripts of the Kickstarter from other sites show that it was originally described as “procedurally generated.”

Players have been highly concerned about this change, referring to it as a “mistake” in the Discussion boards of the Steam page. Currently, if users go to the Steam page, the front page is riddled with users offering their skepticism on the project and demanding answers from developers. Keene himself seems to not be a fan of the Steam community forums,  calling them on Twitter, “a steaming pile of shit.” One user, noted as a former community moderator, offered their own opinion on the matter.

Keene released a vlog Wednesday – the first one released for the game since February. The vlog is a response to some of the criticisms being expressed on the Steam page, including why the procedural generation was removed and the overall lackluster pace of development. In it, he justifies the removal of procedural generation and map downsizing, claiming he did not intend that to be a major selling point of the game and they had to “decide what The Dead Linger was really about.” At the end of the video, he thanks his supporters and acknowledges those who the team may have “let down.” We reached out to the developer, and he pointed us to prior blogs and updates on the topic.

Criticism has persisted however on whether the game should remain available on Early Access in its current state, or if it should be removed until the new engine is completely installed, and the new version with appropriate assets is implemented on the page. Kickstarters, pre-orders, and Early Access have all been hot button topics for similar issues in how they rely heavily on hype and expectations with only the promise of a good product. A growing number of players are becoming dissatisfied with programs such as these largely for that reason, and it remains a major point of contention. For now though, Keene has said in a statement given to TechRaptor that The Dead Linger will remain on Steam:

We don’t have any plans to take it down from Steam during the engine change. The announcements are shown on the store page and do entail the changes we’re discussing. The current build (Build 15) is playable and available to anyone who purchases the game now, and they will receive the new update when it’s live.

What do you think about the current standards of Early Access games? Do you think The Dead Lingers is in a buyable condition, or should it be taken off until improvements are made? 

Kindra Pring

Staff Writer

Teacher's aid by day. Gamer by night. And by day, because I play my DS on my lunch break. Ask me about how bad my aim is.

  • Steve Creampeen

    Seems to be another example that backing a KS or buying into early access is like playing Russian roulette, except in the case of Kickstarters and Early Access there are 5 bullets in the cylinder instead of one.

  • Dr. Evil’s Brother’s Evil Twin

    Yeah, there should be a limit to how long a game can be in “early access”.

  • CB

    That isn’t the worst idea I’ve ever heard.

  • Arbitrary

    Yeah, I gave them a pass at the first change because Ogre but now the next switch? They didn’t even finish catching up to where they were in Unity..

  • braneman

    Early access should mean “We can’t afford to pay 50 people to QA test our game but everything is there and you should be able to play it” but what it actually means on steam is “Here is a tech demo and some promises we may or may not deliver on can I have 20$?”

    I’m beginning to wonder at this point of the screenshots on the store page in steam are more important for selling an early access game than the game itself.

  • FogHorn

    I get having big ideas when you are starting out, and running the kickstarter, but you can’t keep getting these big ideas and changing everything up every time something new comes out.

    I have owned this game for a long time, and its sad when i come back to check up on it months later only to find no updates, that is why i gave up on it.

  • d0x360

    Looks like they have the same problem the duke nukem forever team did. They keep changing engines chasing something better and having to scrap tons of work. Pick an engine and stick to it. Make an engine change for game 2.

  • Übermensch

    This goes to show you should never Kickstart or purchase the early access copy of something unless you know it’ll be made or the game is already there. I’ve not Kickstarted or early accessed much, but what I did fund was projects I was very clear on with developers that are already established. At the end of the day, if they get funded then take the money and run, or even if they just fail to make it through development and run out of cash, you get nothing and there’s very little can be done.

  • Unbeliever

    That’s why i always tell my friends “If you’re going to back something on kickstarter make it an amount you wont mind to lose.”

  • GrimFate

    The idea of an infinite, procedurally generated zombie survival game sounded awesome and I was willing to risk my money on it. But when they abandoned that, saying it was never a core part of their vision for the game, I lost pretty much all hope in the game. Even as the “game” was never really ever fun – or really a game at all in even its current state – I still held onto my hope that the infinite world would set it apart. I understand why they abandoned it… but I still wish I could get my money back.

    The most frustrating part about it at this point is that they still haven’t clearly indicated what their new vision is, and how it will differ from the masses of competition in the zombie survival genre.

  • Maniate

    I’d rather wait and buy a game made in UE 4 than get one running on unity sooner. Exercise patience. Get your store page fixed, though..

  • Jason S

    Geoffy and his Dad, they’re fucking clown shoes.

  • Niwjere

    As a Dead Linger backer, I’ve got no problems with their decisions thus far (except perhaps the removal of the procedural world generation — I don’t care what they say about selling points; that point is what got them funded, period, and they should have stuck to it). I really don’t think they ought to be selling the game yet, though, and certainly not for twenty goddamn dollars. Early Access has abused to hell and back since almost the very moment it became a thing. I have to agree with some of the other commenters that there needs to be a time limit on Early Access to prevent abuse.

    Kickstarter (and other crowdfunding sites) should be treated as what they are: investment platforms. I am comfortable with investing in a potentially promising game, waiting a few years, and seeing a finished product pop out. The key is in realizing it’s an investment, not an immediate purchase or even a pre-order. If you enjoy playing during alpha and beta, fine. If not, no big deal — you didn’t buy early access, you invested in the game’s finished state. Walk away, come back when it’s done, and see if the final version matches expectations. If it doesn’t, you know where not to invest again. If you don’t have money to burn on a risky investment — which is what crowdfunding is — don’t invest.

  • Anase Skyrider

    It’s almost as if you’re completely ignorant of how many games go through massive changes over the course of their development. The biggest reason for that, I assume, is because most companies aren’t as amazingly transparent about development like Sandswept is about TDL. I’m not saying that this is great, or am trying to piss you off, but I’m simply trying to point out that TDL isn’t as much of a terrible, shambling wreck that people think it is, simply because they don’t understand how a lot of games go through changes over time.

  • Anase Skyrider

    And it’s a good thing that they stopped where they did, because Ogre, nor Unity, was capable of properly handling the procedural generation on the scale and quality that they wanted it to be. Ever since they went to Unreal, their development speed has been lightning fast in comparison.

  • Anase Skyrider

    What you’re suggesting is that they keep peeling their skin off trying to turn something that doesn’t work into something that does. And no, Duke Nukem isn’t the same as TDL. At best, the only thing being scrapped are engines and code-work, but most of their model assets remain in place, with the remaining things being reworked for improvement. And the reason I say that it’d be like peeling their skin off is because the engines weren’t working with their features (Mostly procedural generation), and it was sucking too much of their time and effort to make work.

  • Anase Skyrider

    I’m pretty sure they have, and it’s a fun, open-world zombie apocalypse game where you can play with your friends and do all the things you’d expect to need or have to do to survive. Something that takes “realism” and uses it to add more and more useful, fun features that keeps you playing, and then abandons it to make the game funner when necessary.

  • Anase Skyrider

    Which is why Unreal is awesome, as well as their increased development transparency, because they’re cranking out lots and lots of updates. Although you have to follow them on the proper channels, not the Steam forums.

  • Anase Skyrider

    I pretty much agree with you, except for keeping the procedural generation. Would you have preferred that the game’s features be chained to the procedural generation? Because that’s what was happening. Trying to make it work was something they could not do with their limited time, funding, and manpower. They overestimated (and admit this) how easy it would be to do in their circumstances. Trying to stick to it would mean, and I’ve said this in other comments on this article, peeling off their skin trying to make it all work. Procedural generation was a vampire on the rest of the game’s goals.

  • Anase Skyrider

    This is why people should also be aware that crowdfunding is an INVESTMENT, not a preorder or… I’ll just quote the dude a few lines above me.

    “Kickstarter (and other crowdfunding sites) should be treated as what they are: investment platforms. I am comfortable with investing in a potentially promising game, waiting a few years, and seeing a finished product pop out. The key is in realizing it’s an investment, not an immediate purchase or even a pre-order. If you enjoy playing during alpha and beta, fine. If not, no big deal — you didn’t buy early access, you invested in the game’s finished state. Walk away, come back when it’s done, and see if the final version matches expectations. If it doesn’t, you know where not to invest again. If you don’t have money to burn on a risky investment — which is what crowdfunding is — don’t invest.”

  • Arbitrary

    Kind of a moot point though isn’t it when they dropped procedural generation in favor of randomized lots though isn’t it?

  • Anase Skyrider

    What difference does it make? The way they were handling procedural generation–planet-sized worlds with things like terrain generation too–was killing their ability to finish the game and complete most features. It was mostly the terrain generation, I think, that was killing them. So things like “Randomized housing” and stuff doesn’t really stack up to what they were doing before. So it’s kind of a moot point.

  • Niwjere

    If they’re going to retool the game’s core feature — and yes, that was by far its core feature, regardless of what they think — because they, by their own admission, overestimated their ability and underestimated the time and effort required, they should allow backers to back out. I’d gladly step away at this point. As I said, the idea of an infinite, procedurally-generated zombie survival title was tantalizing to a lot of folks. Taking away the qualifying adjectives just leaves you with “zombie survival title”. Those are a dime a dozen these days, and I certainly wouldn’t have invested my money in the project had they promised “zombie survival”.

  • Anase Skyrider

    That didn’t really answer my questions, but whatever. I think it sucks that the people who’s ONLY attraction to the game was the procedural generation now think that TDL has nothing else worth spending or investing that money in. But unfortunately, the refunds just aren’t gonna happen. Should they give refunds? The agreement when you spent money was that refunds weren’t an option, when you bought it or when you donated to Kickstarter, and they can’t afford to refund people in the first place. That money was needed to develop the game, even though that money for some people came only because of procedural generation (which is now gone). There isn’t an option to fund the game only if XYZ features are included, or fund only the development of that feature. You took a risk, and it bit you in the ass. I think that’s really terrible, but unfortunately, that’s life. I didn’t donate on Kickstarter, so I only bought the game, but I bought it around build 009 when I was still really eager about the game. I think that the removal of procedural generation of that skill is terrible, and I wish they could’ve completed the game with it. But I understand the reasons, so I’m not upset about it. I’m still confident that the rest of the game’s ideas and features, if they are able to complete them, will still deliver on a game that is worth playing, because the whole concept of an ultimate sandbox zombie survival game where you could do all the things you’ve ever fantasized about in a zombie apocalypse wasn’t necessarily contingent on the world generation.