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Less is More: A Look at Unturned

Sometimes, the simplest of games can become a phenomenon. For Nelson Sexton, the founder of Smartly Dressed Games, this rang true with his video game, Unturned.

Unturned is a free-to-play video game with an open world to explore and survive in. From the moment you see the title page, in all of it’s Arial fonted, low-quality glory, you know that what you’re about to play has about as much depth as a puddle. However, this didn’t stop Unturned from garnering a large following and positive reception.

The original concept started as a game he created on a platform called ROBLOX. Sexton began playing ROBLOX in 2008 and during that time, he made two successful titles: Deadzone and Battlefield.

He began making the sequel to Deadzone on ROBLOX. However, due to the limitations of its creation engine at the time, Sexton moved on and began creating Deadzone 2 on the Unity engine, calling it Unturned.

Screenshot of Deadzone. Photo courtesy of the ROBLOX Blog.

“The structure of Unity is a lot different from ROBLOX,” Sexton said. “For Deadzone 2, I wanted to have more realistic vehicle physics … Just the jump from ROBLOX to Unity was already a huge step up in that regard.”

At the time of Unturned’s initial release on Steam, Sexton was around 16. Four years later, at age 20, the game has become his full-time job. In that time, Unturned has gone through three versions, all of which were made with Unity. The fourth and upcoming version will be made with Unreal Engine.

Although it is a free title, methods of funding include a five dollar upgrade which gives users special cosmetic perks and server access as well as a feature called “Steam economy.”

For a good chunk of Unturned’s existence, Sexton has been a lone developer.

“I had my recorder and I walked around outside [to make] footstep sounds. The zombie sounds are me, with a cold, making noises,” he said.

According to Sexton, the revenue from the original three versions of Unturned will drastically improve production quality for its fourth version, leaving open the possibility of higher quality sounds than the sniffles.

Sexton keeps his fanbase engaged through weekly progress updates and allowing players to create their own content for Unturned via Steam Workshop.

With the implementation of Steam workshop, creators help to drive the game forward with new weapons, items and maps. Known as curated maps, community members have chipped in to keep the game fresh with new locations inspired by real-life places such as Greece and Hawaii.

An aerial view of the lighthouse on PEI, the first map made for Unturned.

Within the world of video games, the open-world survival genre has been a popular one in recent years. Unturned has to compete with titles like H1Z1, DayZ and 7 Days to Die. Sexton remains optimistic, citing that, unlike the other titles, not only is Unturned free-to-play, but it is one of the few that offers flying vehicles.

“People had been talking about that for so long. It was one of those ‘none of these survival games actually have flying vehicles’ and ‘it’s probably never going to happen for the game’ and then, surprise! Here’s planes and helicopters,” he said.

In contrast to the games mentioned above, Unturned is unique in that it offers missions, quests and NPCs (non-player characters) that can be interacted with beyond combat.

With tens of thousands of people playing Unturned on a regular basis, it’s hard to see this game losing its relevance any time soon. Constantly updated and tweaked, Unturned is expected to keep it’s popularity for some time, especially with the eventual release of a new and improved version.

Travis is a graduate of SUNY Fredonia with a BA in journalism. He has had a passion for gaming ever since he played Pokémon Red Version and Donkey Kong 64. Some of his all-time favorite titles include Halo Reach, Spec Ops: The Line and Fallout: New Vegas. In his free time, Travis enjoys making a hot mess of himself and making situations awkward. Finger guns and puns are his specialties.

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