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The Final Word

Hello Survivors,
Geoff Keene here, project lead on The Dead Linger and CEO of Sandswept Studios. Richard Keene, co-founder and CTO, also signs his name to this as well.

This is one of those blog posts that nobody wants to write, and most of you don’t want to read. Bear with me.

The Dead Linger was started in the infant era of alpha-funded sandbox games, before we even heard tell of similar titles, such as DayZ. We wanted to make a massive, open-ended zombie game with a huge focus on cooperative play. Some of the early response and sales were extremely promising for the game, as was the code and art development, with a skilled staff of about 15 people, some paid, some not – a testament to the penny-pinching we’ve been doing since Day 1. We’ve put every single penny from The Dead Linger’s development straight back into tools, asset creation, and salaries for the team, and it still hasn’t been enough.

Looking at the scope we’ve designed coupled with the cost of engine changes after settling on something that wasn’t sustainable for the scale we had planned, that cost is well above and beyond the sales The Dead Linger has made, both combining the original Kickstarter and Steam sales. We’ve been putting this off for many months, trying to get out what we can with our limited time next to keeping our rent paid, and we’d hoped the latest update would start to turn the tide a little. Some of you have been very excited for the latest updates, but the sales just aren’t reflecting that excitement, and as they say, money talks. The tide hasn’t turned.

The Dead Linger is something we’ve been building for the last 3 years, we have hundreds of unique assets that cost our in-house artists hundreds of thousands of dollars to create, and a good half of those haven’t even seen the light of day because we simply haven’t had the manpower to move the code forward in the timescale demanded by our budget and the community’s interest. The Dead Linger costs more per month to develop than it brings in, with a scope larger than we should have ever attempted, and gameplay focus that is far less profitable than other games in the genre. The reality we face is that we’ve been pinching pennies and it hasn’t let up. The entire team, from current staff to our former staff who were told we couldn’t pay their rent next month, have had to cut some major stuff out of our lives to see the game continue development month to month. We can’t continue it.

I’m not sugar-coating this for you as “this is no doubt a disappointment to the community.” It straight up sucks. It sucks for you guys, and it sucks for us.

As the project lead, my entire reputation as a developer has rested on the swirling vortex of negativity that TDL has become. I completely own that, and I am tremendously grateful for the support we’ve had through our rough development. Despite working a minimum of 10 hour days alongside a team of some of the most dedicated people I’ve ever met, we have been completely unable to deliver on the gameplay we wanted. The scope was too large, and the initial budget was too low. As the project lead, I made a few very key mistakes during development. Engine changes aside, there were decisions made about the scope and tech that cost a lot more than we predicted, as well as some of what we’d call “bad luck.”

I’ll start with “bad luck” and perhaps the most negative part of this entire blog post.

I feel a need to clear this one up because I still get remarks about it daily and it wears me thin. This is truly my final word on it. I don’t intend to continue feeding trolls or airing dirty laundry. It actually really sucks that I have to even address this at all, and I debated not including it in this blog post, but I’d really like it done. Seeing this garbage in an actual TDL review has kind of been the final straw for me. This is not the only reason things have gone poorly, by any means, but it was a major catalyst present in the last 6 months, and I don’t mean to paint it as anything but that. So let’s get this dirty, negative crap out of the way first.

A small butterfly effect that started very early on was when we informed a few of the staff that we could pay them very little, or none at all, with the funds we had at the time. This happens frequently in indie dev, and was done entirely in favor of paying other team members we deemed more crucial to development at the time. This was even something we established as team prior to the Kickstarter launching, at which time no one, including myself, was paid.

It’s never an easy decision to include some and exclude others from pay, but one that had to be made, and one we absolutely did not blind-side anyone with. Up to that point, everyone was there because they wanted to work on something cool. A very small portion of the staff members didn’t believe what we were telling them after we had some money coming in and decided that we had simply left them out to dry in favor of lining our own pockets, despite the checks I was sending our monthly to the majority of staff, and having only funds to continue that action for 6 or so months. To stretch that money as far as it would go, some people were paid little, or none. It wasn’t ideal, but it was where we were at the time. I talked individually with every staff member to get their monthly expenses and cover them on the bare minimum that we could. Some we could not. That’s just the way it was, and we were upfront about this from the start, and repeated it often.

When these few staff members’ very short contracts with Sandswept ended, they began to spread extremely negative (and completely false) allegations about where the funds had gone, as well as some strange things about my personality or work habits. As this only came from two or three people while the rest of our 10+ staff were working hard as ever, we would’ve outright ignored these. We actually did, for a really long time.

Unfortunately, months and months (and in some cases, years later) these claims resurfaced and were picked up without verification or evidence by some blogs and youtubers and spread throughout the Steam forums, even spilling on to reviews about the game itself. We do appreciate that some of the blogs/journalists retracted their posts later on when we addressed the issue with them, and we are grateful for their integrity on the matter.

But the damage was done. It’s discouraging to see that on the internet anonymous sources are held in the same regard as the word of someone putting themselves and their work out there, with their names on it. That sort of sucks, and it seemed almost unbelievable at first, until we watched it happen first-hand. What was an upward trend alongside our improvements to the game, quickly declined as people envisioned me running off to Las Vegas with dollar bills spilling out of my pockets.

I don’t even like Vegas.

With that dirty topic out of the way, let’s talk about other things that went wrong, which were fully in my control.

For one, I heavily misread the market. I joked a few weeks ago that we should’ve done what our critics suggested we were doing already — actually gone ahead and cloned DayZ. When we switched to Unity, we might have made some really solid money early on if we’d focused on a smaller, non-procedural world, a little crafting, and a huge focus on PvP, right out of the gate. We know a few other titles did that, and they outsold TDL by leaps and bounds. As a cooperative, non-PvP player myself, I’ve been nothing but shocked over the last few years as I watch youtubers and streamers run around shooting random players for a can of beans. We set our aim high, and we missed the mark. We probably should have settled for less, and listened more intently to the wider Steam market.

We simply lost the climb against others who had similar-but-different ideas. After 3 years of non-stop development and obsession, it’s just not a climb we can compete in anymore.

I’ll be more than glad to share more in a blog post and peel back the curtain on more of our development. We’ve gone through an experience that the majority of developers (hopefully) never have to, and I’d like to share that in order to see they don’t make the same mistakes. I want people to succeed out there.

What happens now?

We are not going to move The Dead Linger into “Finished” state or “version 1.0″ and call it good and done – because it’s not, and it would be dishonest to cut it short and throw a bow on it. The Dead Linger is going on the backburner, meaning it’s effectively postponed indefinitely. We’re not officially shuttering development of TDL at this time, as we love the core ideas of the game and we may yet spur it ahead in the future, but the bottom line and main takeaway from all of this is that we can not keep developing a game that is coming out as a net loss every single month. I will update the various portions of the website to reflect this when I get the chance. Again, we’re a small team, and all of the front-end of these websites are primarily maintained by one guy – me.

As The Dead Linger is not yet a finished game, and we do not have a timescale of when or if it will be revisited and completed, we’ll be dropping the price on steam way down for the forseeable future. (EDIT: Price has been dropped to $5 USD, now in effect.) We’ll be keeping an eye on it to see what we can do to support TDL in the future, even if it’s just small patches to tidy up bugs. The forums will remain open as well.

We’re also debating what we might do with the source code and assets if we do shutter the project for good. The art we made in-house for TDL is extremely high quality and we’d like to at least show it off or share it in the future. There is a lot of really skilled, careful, and caring work that has gone into The Dead Linger, and I don’t think we’ve done a good job of showing that. Our team (and even myself, believe it or not) have had our talents squandered by the crushing weight of a game too large and well outside of our funding capabilities. It’s made us all look bad at what we do, and I take full blame for that.

The game industry commonly sees projects getting put on hold or cancelled – a lot of which never see the light of day – but it doesn’t make it any easier. I can’t muster up the words to convey what I feel right now. This is the hardest decision, and it absolutely breaks my heart.

What is Sandswept doing next?

I actually had a close friend suggest we close down and start a new company, hiding our names from future projects to avoid a bad rep.

I respectfully declined the suggestion. Sandswept will not be closing down and we will continue to make games under the same name. I own my mistakes, and I know you guys want to talk to honest faces in the industry. It’d be a shame for there to be one less of those. My cards are on the table.

We’ve learned enormous amounts from the successes and failures of The Dead Linger. Forging an open-world sandbox survival, diving into procedural generation, submerging ourselves into not 1 but 3 different game engines, and building a strong core team along the way. We are now experts in Unreal Engine 4, having delved deep into the engine’s source code to allow TDL’s Pepper Valley to sustain such a large number of items and beyond. The next thing we do will be powerful, playable, and most of all — fun. What we do in the future will be functioning and fun before you get your hands on it in any form.

With a team holding two decades of experience in game development, we’re moving on to something new. We are shifting all of our team to a new multiplayer game, which we’ll announce later on through our twitter. @Sandswept

We really love making games, and I’m deeply sorry that The Dead Linger has turned out this way. I’d be more than happy to answer any questions on the forums.

Thank you for all your support.

- Geoff Keene and Richard Keene
Sandswept Studios

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The Weekly Dead 60: Update 5 Released!

Welcome survivors to another edition of The (Insert unit of time) Dead! Past weekly deads were skipped because updates were close to release. Speaking of updates being released, we’ve released 2 updates in this past week!

Update 4

Update 4 was the inclusion of barricading, and was talked about in a vlog containing information about both Update 3 and 4.

The patch notes for update 4 posted for posterity’s sake.
Update 4 Patch Notes:
- Barricading is in, in basic. Hold middle click (or C) to grab a 2×4 board. With a hammer equipped, click to nail it to a surface.
- Various fixes to the way inventory works with networking
- Potential fix for a footstep sound bug

We hope you are boarding up your windows and doors. It won’t save you, but it may buy you time.

Update 5

Update 5 was released this week as well. A very small update adding scopes to scoped weapons and some bug fixes. Patch notes as follows.

Update 5 Patch Notes:
- Scoped rifles now have visual scope overlays
- Some very small bug fixes related to aiming/zooming with scopes and various rifles.

2 updates in one weekly dead is pretty meaty I’d say. I mean, we got a whole game mechanic, and an immersion feature in one week!

As always, be sure to follow us on twitter @TheDeadLinger for more development news!

Linger on, Survivors!

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The Weekly Dead 59

Hello survivors! This week’s Weekly Dead is just a reminder since something big happened recently.

Update 3 on Unreal Engine

3 days ago update 3 on the Unreal Engine version of The Dead Linger was released. You can read the change log in the blog post we posted that day.

Today, we’ve released it to the live build. So even if you chose not to opt-in, you will have the same build that the opt-in survivors have. As always, if it doesn’t download, verify the integrity of your cache, and restart steam. Sometimes steam needs a little jarring to make sure it works correctly.

If you haven’t been following the opt-in updates, it’s worth it to read the various change logs starting with the Opt-In Survival Guide and then the change log for update 2.

If you want to see some of the zombie death and animation improvements, here’s a video of that from awhile back.

As always, be sure to follow us on twitter @TheDeadLinger for more development news!

Linger on, Survivors!

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Updates 3 & 4

Hello Survivors!

Sorry for the wait. Update 3 has been released! This is a rough cut, but we decided to throw it out there and let you guys enjoys it while we tidy up some more and get barricading in for the upcoming Update 4.

If you have chosen to opt-in to B15-UE4, you should receive the latest update. Restart Steam to acquire the update if it does not download automatically. If you need information on how to opt-in, check out the Opt-In Survival Guide!

*NEW* Update 4 Patch Notes:
- Barricading is in, in basic. Hold middle click (or C) to grab a 2×4 board. With a hammer equipped, click to nail it to a surface.
- Various fixes to the way inventory works with networking
- Potential fix for a footstep sound bug

Opt In Update 3 Patch Notes:

- Fixed issue where punch could damage a target multiple times
- Hitboxes and bullet raytraces now use dedicated physics channels, making them easier to adjust and control, as well as a bit better performance.
- Ladders have received multiple improvements. These are not final, but make using ladders much simpler and easier, as well as more understandable.
- Ladders now automatically pop the survivor onto them if they approach from the upper surface.
- Ladders now automatically pop the survivor off of them and onto the upper surface as they near the top of the ladder.
- Reminder: W goes up, S goes down, and Space Bar detaches the survivor from the ladder.
- There’s a random tip system in place now. It pops up on the top middle of the screen every once in awhile.
- Stamina has been tweaked and improved.
- Stamina has received some changes and bug fixes, resulting in it feeling all-around more dynamic and realistic.
- Stamina no longer drains when simply holding Shift. Now it only drains while actually sprinting.
- Stamina now regens much quicker when stationary, and much slower when walking.
- Reminder: You can still continue to sprint with no stamina, but you will move quite a bit slower than sprinting with stamina available.
- Corpse retrieval is back in and should be working mostly as intended. If you die, find your corpse — all your gear is on it!
- Fixed a bug where some survivors could loot the wrong corpse. Survivors can now only loot their own corpse.
- Fixed a bug where guns wouldn’t actually fire if the bullet wasn’t going to hit anything, i.e. aiming at the sky.

XP & Leveling:
- An XP and leveling system for your survivor has been added to the game. Currently does not persist between games as it is entirely just in the testing phase right now.
- Zombie and wildlife kills earn XP. XP is displayed in the bottom right, and below your Stat Organs in the backpack.
- Some zombies are worth more XP than others based on what they’re wearing.
- Level cap is 30 for the forseeable future.
- Leveling up currently does not grant any specific increases as of yet.

- Big under-the-hood refactor to how we handle hosting Internet and LAN games. To host a game, simply go to Multiplayer, select the tab for the type of server (LAN, Internet) that you want to host, and press Host button at the bottom of the server browser.
- Doors now work for everyone. Everyone can see and use doors properly.
- Clients now have their health display properly
- Clients now receive hit/pain effects properly
- Survivors can now properly deal damage to one another in multiplayer games. We will add a server option for this later, based on chosen game mode. (PvP, Coop, etc)
- Clients can now properly reload in multiplayer games.
- Clients can now see zombies die properly.
- Clients can now properly shoot weapons of all kinds and these will be reflected on the server.
- Fixed a bug where the wrong player would die when another dies.
- There are actually too many random fixes to list, but there’s not much benefit in putting them here. Stuff that didn’t work just works much better in MP now, across the board.

Menus and Settings:
- There is a brand new 3D main menu screen that moves around and has your character standing there and all sorts of stuff like that.
- Alpha disclaimer splash screen now has big buttons on it, because buttons are cool.
- Fixed a bug where the Alpha disclaimer splash screen required 2 clicks to access the main menu
- Refined the entire splash-screen-to-menu process. Mostly under the hood.
- There is now an FPS counter on the graphics settings screen.
- Some improvements to saving/loading your settings. May be a bug or two here still. We’ll get to it.
- Celsius option added to Gameplay Settings menu, for survivors who want to use that instead of Farenheit for temperatures.
- Rough implementation of a real and proper loading screen now exists. If you see some dots throbbing in the middle of the screen, that’d be it. We’ll put some custom art on it later.

- Zombies can now be shot in all of the correct hitboxes, including torso, arms, pelvis, and legs. Blood will be produced, but this has no effect on the overall health of the zombie. This does however add a good visual effect, as well as lay the groundwork for dismemberment.
- Zombies now have ragdoll on death. Still tweaking how this looks, but overall improves the look of death
- Zombie corpses will no longer turn into “far” zombie proxy models. They will stay dead as a ragdoll should.
- Zombies now have randomized clothing. Some clothing and gear now changes the way you have to deal with a zombie.
- Major improvements to zombies after death. Zombie corpses are much less CPU intensive. Zombies now use about half the computation they used to when pathing about.
- Zombies have loads of new animations, including multiple new walk styles and death animations.
- Found the root cause of that weird zombie twitch when walking. That is now fixed, for the most part.
- Fixed a bug where zombies sometimes did not stay dead after being killed. The correct kind of dead.
- Zombies can no longer come back to life after leaving the area and coming back
- Zombie corpses now go away after about 120 seconds. We will adjust this later, and we are still looking into various things regarding zombie corpses, such as infection risk, looting, and moving them about.
- Zombies are a little more dramatic and generally turn towards you before they go after you. They feel a bit more natural now.
- Fixed a bug where zombies were commonly getting hung up on corners.
- Fixed a bug where you could ‘kite’ zombies backwards and they would never hit you. They’re a bit more agressive now.
- Reminder: Zombies can only be damage by getting hit in the head. All other locations are ignored. Knockback is still dealt, but no damage is dealt, unless it’s the head.

- Huge improvements to inventory tooltips. Tons more information on items. Some items will say “0%”, the tooltip just isn’t hooked up for that specific attribute yet.
- Tooltips can now be found on items when you look at them in the world
- Option added to disable world tooltips entirely for more immersion, if that’s your thing (found under Gameplay Settings)
- Option to make world tooltips complex or simple (requires them to be enabled first!)
- Right click on items in the inventory to bring up a context menu for that specific item. You can drop items from here, or eat a food item.
- Item quality levels now properly display, but most items currently don’t randomize item quality just yet.
- Durability is in place for items, but it doesn’t go down just yet.
- Defense now properly reduces damage taken.
- Defense now shows up in the stat organs and is explained there. Read the tooltips!
- Many fixes to the way some items are held, including bug fixes on many items that weren’t being held properly
- Items can no longer be able to be stepped on by NPCs, Zombies, or the Survivor. You should walk right over them, but they should still have physics and be interactable. This makes navigation quite a bit less messy around piles of junk.
- Stat Organs have been generally improved.
- Stat organs are now black-themed instead of white-themed, more befitting of the theme of the other UI elements.
- Improved grungey look of the inventory and stats.
- About a dozen inventory items have received artwork and inventory icon artwork.
- Tons of items now have proper inventory grid size, inventory icons, and world meshes

- There is now a basic water volume in Kaizer Lake (the South, large lake), but you still can’t swim or drown just yet.
- A day-night cycle has been added. It is on a fairly fast cycle. 1 in-game day = about 1 hour. Night time will be darker in the future, along with more lighting improvements planned.
- Many buildings have been added around Pepper Valley’s south areas, but the majority of them are outside our containment zone for the time being. These buildings are placed on what we call a “Lot pass,” which simply dictates where we plan to put things. This means leveling of terrain is not present in these areas and the structures are not intended for actual gameplay yet.

- Some animations are still missing, such as reload animations, some idle, and some melee animations, or weapons use the wrong animation. Feel free to report specific cases where these are missing.
- Melee is a bit finnicky, and definitely will be getting some more love in the future.
- Multiplayer is still a bit rough. The best (or at least, more bugless) experience will still be found in solo mode. That said, MP is much better than it was in Update 2.
- Lots of other obvious stuff that Mathas can make at least 3 more videos worth of content with.
- There may be some issues saving and loading graphics and audio settings, as well as your survivor inventory. These will be addressed.

Thanks to all the survivors who reported these issues. The majority of issues fixed in this patch were reported by the community. :)

Please continue to report issues in our bug report forum so we can track them and fix them; http://www.sandswept.net/forums/viewforum.php?f=25

Linger on, Survivors!

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The Weekly Dead 58

Hello survivors and welcome to another edition of The Weekly Dead!

Where Were We?

I’ll bet you are wondering, what happened last week. Well, Geoff was stranded without internet due to a recent move, as were a few others. The one who stayed, Richard, was knee deep in code for loading, storing, spawning, and dropping. Given that everyone was moving, moved, or in the process of moving, we decided to skip last week’s update for the most part.

This Week

So this week Geoff got his internet back, tweaked with the damage of a few weapons, fixed a few bugs, and things of that nature. You didn’t hear it from me, but he may, or may not have also been working on a devlog.

Richard has been doing something insane. He’s been digging around in the code of Unreal Engine 4 so that it could be made to work with our level load order. The less fancy way of saying that is we’re doing some custom engine-level stuff to ensure our sub-levels (the levels holding loot and furniture inside a given block of buildings) always load after the building itself. Since UE4 doesn’t natively respect the order you load levels, sometimes you’ll load in the entire build worth of furniture and it will all fall to the ground, because, well, the building didn’t load in first.

Fun stuff! In addition to that, the guys have also been on bug fixing duty, trying to get everything cleaned up for the most reliable build of The Dead Linger ever released.

The least visual friendly work is often the most important.

As always, be sure to follow us on twitter @TheDeadLinger for more development news!

Linger on, Survivors!

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