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 supported. 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?