Undead Blocks Behind-The-Scenes: Valuable Insights from Grant Haseley and Kevuru Games Specialists
The beta version of the world’s first play-to-earn FPS zombie survival blockchain-based game Undead Blocks is now available for download. In June, the game finally goes live on Uniswap and invites players to the first tournament with the opportunity to earn in-game reward currency ZBUX. In anticipation of such an eventful summer, Kevuru Games specialists who participated in the creation of the game, Sound Designer Glib Pekurovsky and Technical Artist Ivan Barabash, held a joint stream with Undead Blocks CEO Grant Haseley, where they answered the most interesting questions of the crypto community, discussed the game behind-the-scenes, and lifted the veil of secrecy from the upcoming Undead surprises. So, Grant, here’s the first obvious question. Why did you decide to develop the exactly play-to-earn blockchain-based game? Why not just an online game without a blockchain and the ability for players to earn money? Grant: That’s a good question. From our perspective, we have seen how much influence the NFT has gained in the gaming market. The play-to-earn concept has inspired a lot of people around the world, especially in those countries where there is no way to make good money in the usual way. This is not only the Philippines, Argentina, and Brazil but other countries around the world where people can make money on video games for the first time in their lives. From our side, we looked at emerging games and thought, “This game doesn’t look very fun, but people are making money off of it. So why can’t we build something that is engaging and fun?” Of course, we could do something and put it on Steam and get revenue from downloads, revenues, fees, DLC packs, whatever. But we wanted to give the crypto community the opportunity to play and earn so that the game continued to maintain its value over time. It’s very difficult, so we’ve been working on it since July. It took 9 months to get to this point and this is just the beginning. We have a lot of room to expand and want to provide the crypto community with the first play-to-earn game that doesn’t feel like play-to-earn at all. To make it exciting and fun as it is. That’s the crux of the matter, it’s about providing our community with a fun way to play and earn. With play-to-earn, we have another community voice, so to speak. If we just put the game on Steam, I don’t think it would have as many legs as it has with the crypto community. Because the crypto community is growing. And on Steam, there is a large saturation of other games. There are many platforms where you can download other games and play them. We’d be just another number in the crowd. The game is beautiful and fun, but by leaning into the crypto culture we will be one of a dozen or even 5-10 games this summer that is playable and provides an opportunity to earn. This allows you to stand out and become absolute legends, as we will be the first to pull off a sustainable model for play-to-earn likewise elevating your Kevuru platform, because you are insanely talented guys. People come and say, “I can’t believe it’s a play-to-earn game, it doesn’t look like it, it looks like a straight zombie shooter.” This is how it works for us and how we will be able to grow. NFTs have a lot of naysayers. How do you feel about those who consider this trend short-lived? Grant: Well, I think people thought that the Internet would be short-lived when we had a dot-com boom. People thought that electric cars would be a flash in the pan until Tesla came along and changed the industry. We continue to modernize ourselves and observe global trends, what we see is that the world is moving into digital. Barely anyone uses cash much. At least in the United States. Everyone uses Venmo, everyone uses Zelle, does bank transactions and swipes credit cards. And we’re moving digital. And with this digital rise, all assets are digitalized, not necessarily only NFT and crypto, but also other ways you can hold assets in digital form. Tickets for sports and concerts now have the form of a QR code and are being digitalized. Asset ownership in terms of having NFTs on the blockchain is just the next natural progression. Of course, there will be ups and downs, but this is exactly what the gaming community wants. I think all of us here downloaded games and bought in-game items, skins or DLC packs, and spent money on V-bucks and R-bucks. And here the world wonders if it wants to make this digital purchase. It’s a way to finally own a digital purchase instead of just throwing money away. You pay and pay for entertainment and engagement instead of actually owning these assets. Undead Blocks will change that. Is there a zombie mannequin in Undead’s office? Grant: I can’t say that it exists. We have a neon sign behind me and a branded hoodie. We’re going to get some hoodies back to Eastern Europe for you guys. It’s a good idea in general with the mannequin. Maybe we can come up with something on this theme or hang posters of zombies on the walls. Ivan, a question for you. The team worked on the map for a very long time. Tell us about its specifics. Ivan: First of all, I want to introduce myself. I am responsible for delivering all art content created by our amazing 3D artists. I am also responsible for working with the level designers and the technical aspects of creating the map. Right now we only have one map but we have big plans for it. There will be a lot of interesting stuff, but right now we are focusing on this one map to make it look its best and perform as it should. The biggest issue with the development of the map was certain technical limitations. We wanted the game to be available to all players across different types of PCs and Macs. We have been very focused on optimizing to make sure this game runs smoothly on any device and at the same time looks its best. We did a good job of making the lighting on the map and placing all the assets in the right places to make everything look cool. Not everything is done yet. We receive feedback from the players and fix the nuances. But in general, we are satisfied with how it performs on different devices. There’s a lot more on the map than players currently have access to. For example, houses have interiors. The doors don’t let players inside yet, but everything is created there, you can use the stairs and go to the second floor. All this will be developed in the future. Grant: We didn’t want to give way to everything at once. There are a lot of these houses that will be packed with storylines and stuff to explore. Why did you choose Unity to develop the game? Grant: For play-to-earn games that are optimized and accessible for different types of machines, it is important to have the right engine. We love Unity for all of this. We have a saying in the team that Unreal Engine is unreal because it is not real for play-to-earn. No one was able to create a play-to-earn game on Unreal. Because the game needs to be optimized for low-end machines for those countries where play-to-earn is exploding. It’s all about optimizing so that everyone in the world can play this game. It looks amazing and feels great, Glib did an amazing job with audio and sounds, and Ivan did a great job on technical optimization. We will have more maps soon. This is just the beginning. Ivan: There are many things in Unity that are not used in the game. Many gameplay features and mechanics were developed. We also have many other types of zombies that players haven’t seen yet. Grant: Important updates will be coming soon, for example, we are planning tournaments. It is important for us to make sure that the map goes smoothly. Kevuru’s team said it would take about 9 months to create the zombies and it all came together, we’re right on that timeline. Recently, we also came up with the idea to introduce a football zombie into the game. Players will be able to see it as an Easter egg. I’m a big football fan myself. And in general, there is still a lot of new things to come. In June, people will get the first opportunity to actually make money on the game to physically come and say, cool, today I made 50 dollars. I finally made money on a video game for the first time in my life. Ivan: In addition to the football zombie, we have created many others that players do not see in the game yet. We use default zombies to test game mechanics. This is an important aspect of the job. But we have a lot of cool zombies created and plan to add them to the game in the near future. It will be incredibly cool. The player will have the opportunity to tear them apart, so it will be a very juicy visual. Now, according to the players, the mouse and keyboard perform better than the controller. Do you plan to balance them so that they are equally competitive? Grant: This is a good question and we are working on it. The game is more of a strategic FPS where survival is important, you have to be sure that you can escape and save yourself. We need to increase the performance of the controller against the keyboard and mouse. Playing FPS with a controller is always more difficult. We’re looking at ways to make things easier for the user controller, like auto-aim. We have received a lot of feedback from people who play the controller and they are generally satisfied. There are minor technical nuances that we will fix in the near future. People often ask why we don’t do tournaments right now. But we still need time to polish everything. We shared the beta so people can see that we put our money where our mouth is. We want to do all the final details like good controller performance and good AI for the zombies to make sure they don’t crash or get stuck anywhere. We want to fix bugs and glitches. For example, on the first day of the beta release, someone climbed onto the roof. We tested the map, but someone was able to climb onto the roof of the house, and we didn’t understand how this was even possible. When playing for money, it is important to ensure that there are no glitches and the possibility of hacking the system. Ivan: Continuing the theme of system hacking, we were asked questions about whether vertical gameplay would be available. This will not happen, because it will add the ability for players to avoid zombies. All players must be on an equal footing and not use glitches to win. I must say that in a short time we have developed a decent game. 9 months is a really short time to do such a good thing. Plus, as we have already said, there are many hidden things, a lot of work is being done on the multiplayer, and so on. We’re not ready to reveal the details yet, but it will be cool to play with friends. We hope the community will help us because every feedback is important to help make the game even better. Grant: Yes, we did a great job of making sure everything was spick and span, that everything was clean. We want to make sure everything is ready for multiplayer so that players have fun teaming up with friends. For example, in a couple of months, you and I will be able to play a game together and talk. This is the next step and we are close. It’s gonna be the Undead summer. Glib: In addition to fixing technical nuances with controllers and the availability of different parts of the map, the game is also changing in controls. It is constantly acquiring new features. I was surprised when I launched the final beta and found that I could no longer crouch. Sometimes the game surprises even those who are involved in its development. Are there any plans to add new maps? Or an opportunity to expand an existing district? Ivan: There will be no new districts as an extension of the existing one. The ability to enter all houses will be added. Players will be able to find perk machines, Easter eggs, and so on. It’s not in beta yet. But the size of the map is final, it will not be enlarged. Now we are prototyping the next map. But we can’t talk about it yet. It’s not rocket science that the inspiration for this game is Call of Duty: Zombies. But maybe there are other sources? Grant: As a child, I really enjoyed playing Left 4 Dead, and I wanted some kind of similar universe. We wanted to make a map similar to COD and add Left 4 Dead and Resident Evil traits to it. In the end, we wanted to take the best of all the games, for example, the battle royale mode from Fortnite. That the last person standing wins. But I really wanted a game about the destruction of zombies, because I played it growing up, I liked Easter eggs, strategies, concepts, and attempts to survive. I didn’t want it to be the kind of game where you get frustrated because someone killed you and you feel like you can’t go any further as the average player does. But cutting zombies is always done with pleasure. It’s more about strategy. A fast game loop is also important. You play it every day and you don’t want to get tired of it. Having a game that allows you to boost your adrenaline by surviving waves of zombies which are now five it’s a way to keep it fresh and allow players to keep engaging with game content. By the way, let me tell you another secret. We have already mentioned the football zombie from the Easter egg. So, we want to add him as a boss. He will be huge and challenging. Ivan: I also like Left 4 Dead. But we don’t make a copy, we do it differently, we hope it will be no less fun product. As for the integration of physics, we don’t plan on it, because physics hurts performance. We wanted to do something like this, but it won’t work for all the devices we’re targeting. In any case, zombies will have physics when they are blown to pieces by the player’s attack. Question to Glib: is there anything you would personally like to add to the game in one form or another in regards to any sound work? Glib: Sure. There are certain things that would add realism. So far, this has not been implemented because there were more priority tasks. I don’t like that, for example, when I shoot at a garbage can, I don’t hear the sound it should be. It must be a metal clang. The same goes for the tree. There is also only one type of footstep sound and it does not change with different surfaces, be it grass or concrete. I would like to change it. Also UI sounds, we don’t have them yet. They are not so important, but they should be in the final version. Players note that the decals look strange. Graffiti is too bright. What is it connected with? Ivan: Yes, there is such a thing, but there is a technical detail. We are using Unity 2020 because the long-time support version was released in April 2021. We are not using the latest version of Unity to ensure full stability. It doesn’t include decals methods, so it was a job for us to make decals work. We are investigating this issue and have already developed new methods for placing decals, so in a couple of weeks this will change and the visuals will be fixed. But there is no native way to place decals in Unity, so it’s a limitation. We like to face such trials and overcome them. If you could add any perk into the game, what would it be and what would you call it? Grant: In the future, we are planning various integrations with brands so that they can advertise their products in the game. It is also possible to link perks to themed events, for example, on St. Patrick’s Day, there will be a special Irish drink. We have high hopes for the appearance of sponsors and official partners in the future. Ivan: It could be a perk that, like in the famous ad, gives you wings and you fly like a badass and you destroy everyone with a gunshot weapon in each hand like Max Payne. Will there be battle royales and other similar modes in the game in the future? Grant: The zombie royale mode will be interesting, we are thinking about it. We want to try something like this, but the map won’t shrink. We are also thinking about something like PvPvZ where people kill each other and zombies attack them too. We think it will be cool. The game features a very creative main menu. Players note that it looks at the level of the best AAA. How was it created? Ivan: Yes, this is a menu with a smooth transition between screens. The concept artists made 3D concepts and gave them to me to integrate into the game. Here, fine tuning of the lighting and all materials and objects were needed to make the scene look apocalyptic. Smooth transitions of the camera from one screen to another were also important. 3D objects in the scene add volume and atmosphere. This is important for the player to like the first view they see. Now on these screens, players see the default zombies. When we add our zombies, the videos in the menu will be even cooler. Have you implemented any marketing activities to attract an audience of players who have not played play-to-earn games before? Grant: Yes, we will do it. Already this week we are going to launch a $100,000 TikTok challenge. It is important to understand that this is not a game where you have to pay to play, but you will not be able to play if you don’t have a crypto wallet. In particular, the game will teach the community how to play such games, set up a wallet, and so on. First time seeing a play-to-earn game, people are like wow, this is a game to earn, when can I start? We are planning a tournament in June, as I’ve said, where people will be able to earn the first real money. We’re going to be spreading the word about the game wherever we can: social media, YouTube, Insta reels, TikTok, and Twitter. We’ll talk about play-to-earn. You know, millions of people play Axie. We have many rooms to expand. This is a game that will change the industry forever. The future is already here. In terms of marketing, we do not use paid advertising. It’s not as effective as one might think. Word-of-mouth marketing is much more useful: organic posts, YouTube, tweets, Insta reels, talking to people through group chats, Telegram, and Discord, it gets the ball rolling. People perceive ads like “Oh my God, they want to sell me something again.” The day when the first person earns money and shows a screen to prove it, everything will explode. Then everyone will want to play, it will be a catalyst for a mass movement. Let’s talk about sound. Tell us how the soundtrack was created and what inspired you? Glib: I analyzed some post-apocalyptic products, the best of them. And what caught my attention, theoretically apocalyptic sound should be aggressive. But most products, like 28 Days Later, my favorite apocalyptic movie, The Last of Us games, they have a rather melancholy lyrical sound. It works in contrast, an aggressive setting versus emotion. I tried to do so. It started as a simple piano tune and grew into the epic sound as it is today. What do you remember and like most about working on the game? Ivan: I’ve worked with the integration and I really like the visuals of the skins. But in the future, I want to finish all sorts of new things with the VFX team, all sorts of splashes, explosions, and cool visual effects. I really like to work on the implementation of such things. Grant: I enjoyed working on crypto voice lines. I remember when we started, you wondered why all this was necessary. All those moments when you are recording the voice, first you need to tell the voice actor how he or she should say something and all that. But this added a creative genius to the game in developing a full-fledged crypto product. And of course, all the skins look fantastic and the cool thing is that all the assets can be seen as NFTs. Glib: Personally, I really like the main menu. I can flip through it for hours, it’s so well crafted and atmospheric. And, of course, work on the soundtrack. It so happened that the music for the game, the one that we hear in the main menu, was composed and produced just at the moment when bombs were flying over my city Kyiv. Therefore, it has such an emotional touch and sentimental notes.