Project Zomboid and you, or how to accept the long wait between major builds (2024)

As the inevitable release of Project Zomboid‘s Build 42 looms somewhere overhead, the community has grown frustrated with the developer The Indie Stone’s apparently slow production pipeline. It’s easy to forget just how long Project Zomboid has been lumbering along, but is the snail’s pace warranted?

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Obviously, nothing could possibly justify some of the worst and most useless “critique” that’s recently been directed in The Indie Stone’s general direction. Things have gotten so dire at some points, in fact, that one of the lead developers even considered selling Project Zomboid off to the highest bidder, just to rid themselves of the burden of its development.

That’s an immense amount of stress to be under, and it’s hardly surprising to see the talk surrounding Zomboid‘s huge new build to get heated from both sides of the equation. I don’t really have a horse in this race, for what it’s worth: I just want The Indie Stone to be able to keep on keeping on in much the same way they’ve been doing all these years. Waiting for new versions can get frustrating, certainly, but it’s a simple fact of the matter that major new build releases for Zomboid basically turn the whole experience inside out and reinvigorate it for years to come.

Here’s what we know for a fact is included in Build 42, just to illustrate my point:

  • Animals and animal husbandry
  • Herd movement of wild animals
  • Massive rendering and performance improvements, including a new lighting system
  • Post-apocalyptic blacksmithing, stoneworking, brewing features with new crafting stations
  • Dozens of new items (clothing, weapons, containers, etc.)
  • Farming systems and an assortment of crops to care for
  • Fishing overhaul
  • Comprehensive overworld improvements, both functional and otherwise
  • Procedurally generated wilderness
  • Discord integration
  • Fluid system
  • Weapon parts
  • Cleaning system
  • Newspapers, flyers, and other UI elements

All that, as per Project Zomboid‘s Wiki. This, keep in mind, is wholly uncomprehensive, and even if you only keep track of Destructoid’s news coverage for Zomboid, you’ll get the right idea of just how substantial B42 really is. Inevitably, it will change everything for everyone playing the game, and it will be a superior zombie survival experience when all is said and done. The question, then, is whether it’s worth the years-long wait.

Project Zomboid and you, or how to accept the long wait between major builds (1)

The long production pipeline of Project Zomboid

It was back in 2012 that I was just unpacking a new gaming magazine – its demo disc, in particular – only to discover one of Project Zomboid‘s earliest builds on it. I’ll be honest: it didn’t look good. Heck, it didn’t play good, either, for many of the same reasons some may feel Zomboid is still not a great game. Slow, janky, and highly unpolished, Project Zomboid has always had a massive early adoption hurdle that filters most players right off the bat.

Here’s the thing, though: I was hooked when I realized just how deep the game’s simulation goes. And that was well before any of the truly substantial content additions and updates drop in, keep in mind. Just the core and the crux of it: Zomboid at its most raw.

In 2024, Project Zomboid can become almost any kind of zombie survival game you want it to be. A Romero-style plod? A Resident Evil-type dread? A 28 Days Later terror? Oh, just tweak a thing or two and you’re golden no matter what your zombie fantasy might be. Project Zomboid‘s gameplay systems are every bit as intricate as they are janky, and this leads to a hugely rewarding gameplay loop of… well, of pure survival. Even if you take zombies out of the equation, there’s still a whole game’s worth of content in Zomboid to parse through.

Why is this relevant? Because I feel that it illustrates the importance of the zig-zagging nature of The Indie Stone’s Project Zomboid production pipeline. There are several games’ worth of gameplay systems and loops present in Zomboid. Build 42 – whenever it ends up coming out – will build on top of this further still. If the developers working on this game hadn’t started on multiple different barely related features over a year ago, Zomboid would’ve been a far poorer survival game.

As it currently stands, instead, we’ve got what is easily the most comprehensive zombie survival game, bar none. It’s got its limitations, to be sure, and it’s certainly an acquired taste in more ways than not, but there’s something special here. I can’t help but feel that, had The Indie Stone been more focused, Zomboid simply wouldn’t be where it is today.

Project Zomboid and you, or how to accept the long wait between major builds (2)

How long is too long?

On the flip side of the equation, Project Zomboid is certainly taking its sweet time crossing the finish line. Not even the finish line, at that: just one of the many checkpoints it needs to go through before the finish line is even on the horizon. We’re that far off, as the project is in its 14th year of active development. The Indie Stone’s current development setup necessitates years’ worth of work before each major new Build comes out, and it’s a given that some players simply aren’t happy with that.

It’s okay to be unhappy, of course, but The Indie Stone is a small team working on an impossibly huge project at their own schedule. As someone who’s been playing Zomboid on-and-off for almost half of my life, I can vouch for the team’s “slow and steady wins the race” strategy, simply because the quality of the product is there.

In the end, The Indie Stone could’ve turned Build 41 into the 1.0 release of Project Zomboid had they wanted to. The fact that they didn’t, I think, illustrates a sense of straightforwardness. Outwardly, The Indie Stone states plainly that Project Zomboid isn’t ostensibly finished. The team is adding more (and more, and more, and more) features into the mix that hadn’t even been on the docket, say, during the Build 40 production process, and this is bound to continue. And you can tell that this is the case purely because Zomboid is unlikely to leave Early Access anytime soon.

Honestly, I don’t think we’ll see a full 1.0 release of Project Zomboid before 2030, if ever. It just seems so unlikely, considering the size and scope of the project. When each major new Build keeps adding a whole game’s worth of gameplay on top of what’s already there, though, does it even matter all that much?

Zomboid trudges on, in much the same way as its tragic, lumbering monstrosities do. It’s been here back when I was a kid, and I’d be willing to bet it’ll still be trucking along when I hit my 40s. What’s one more decade of active development, after all, whether you’re Dwarf Fortress or Project Zomboid?

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