Good day, future zombies! We’re big fans of GSC Game World’s STALKER series and are delighted to see our community make a raft of PZ mods that pay unofficial tribute to “the Zone” and its inhabitants.
MrAtomicDuck, one of PZ’s most popular streamers, recently unveiled a server featuring many of these. Five of the mods were specially commissioned by MrAtomicDuck and, though his server is only for his Patreon subscribers, the mods are available on the workshop for one and all.
STALKER is a first-person series set in a harsh wasteland concerning a fictional supernatural event centred around the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant. A little like a Ukrainian version of Fallout, players explore buildings and tunnels, fight human and mutant enemies, and find mysterious and powerful artifacts.
MrAtomicDuck’s commissioned mods add STALKER-themed factions and food to PZ, along with toxic zones and tradable artifacts, a trading system (cleverly using mannequins as NPCs), and a quest system.
To get more details on these anomalies, we followed a strange radio signal to a glowing bunker, waited until the sky turned red, and managed to make psychic contact with the entity known as “MrAtomicDuck”.
Before we talk about the STALKER mods, tell us a little about yourself. How did you get into streaming, and how did you discover Project Zomboid?
“I started out streaming Counter-Strike: Global Offensive over six years ago, when I was studying at university, just for fun. I moved away from home and it gave me a way to connect with new people. YouTube came a lot later, within the last couple of years. Since then I’ve been through all sorts of games and have been lucky enough to see my channel grow more than I could have imagined. I’ll be taking the leap into full-time content creation come the end of October, which is in large part thanks to the Project Zomboid community!”
“Funnily enough, I first discovered Project Zomboid at uni as well, a couple years before I started streaming. At the time I was in my first year, and the WiFi on campus was so bad on weekdays when all the students were there that myself and a roommate were looking for a game to play on a LAN connection. Project Zomboid looked cool so we gave it a shot. I logged about thirty hours before I put it down, but we had a great time with it. Since coming back for Build 41, I’ve sunk hundreds of hours into the game and don’t regret a minute of it.”
For anyone who doesn’t know the STALKER games, can you explain the series for them? In which ways is it similar to PZ, and in which ways is it different?
“The STALKER games are inspired by the book Roadside Picnic. It drops you into a place known as ‘The Zone’, a 60 kilometre wide area of exclusion around the Chernobyl power plant following the disaster of 1986. In STALKER, there’s another catastrophic event at the same power plant twenty years later. Following this event, The Zone is filled with mutants, paranormal events called anomalies, and artifacts that defy all scientific reason are either sold to the highest bidder or researched for their various benefits. These artifacts are hunted down by stalkers, the term given to those brave enough to enter The Zone to either make a living, contain the mutants within, or for more sinister reasons.”
“There are three official games in the series (Shadow of Chernobyl, Clear Sky, and Call of Pripyat) along with the upcoming STALKER 2, but I would actually recommend STALKER Anomaly, a fan project. It’s a cutthroat survival experience, like Project Zomboid. Death waits around every corner and it can have a steep learning curve, again similar to Project Zomboid. Each playthrough you can try something different, from being a western Mercenary backed by a mysterious benefactor to starting life as an anarchist that believes everyone should be able to access The Zone freely.”
“Where it differs from Project Zomboid is that, despite being an open world, you have an overarching narrative to occupy your time. You’re always looking to the next thing, like in Zomboid, but it’s in the form of pre-constructed mission objectives and side missions. There’s a currency system, trading and various environmental dangers caused by the disasters at the power plant. These are some of the features I wanted to try and emulate.”
Can you talk us through how you worked with the modders, and each of their commissioned mods?
“I started by reaching out to names I knew from popular Project Zomboid mods. Shark put me in touch with other modders and things went from there. I had to identify, with very limited knowledge of modding, what was possible both within a reasonable budget and within game mechanics. It very quickly became a bit of a beast, mostly because I got far too excited about it. Here’s what each of the modders worked on:”
“SoulFilcher – Created the STALKER Artifacts mod. This wires directly to the foraging system in-game and allows players to hunt for artifacts. Soul also made a new version of his Toxic Zones mod, called STALKER Toxic Zones, which is where said artifacts can be found, and act as hazardous radiation areas. This also includes working gas masks with usable filters that need replacing and echo detectors to help find artifacts.”
“Chuckleberry Finn – Created the Shops & Traders mod which brings in a fully functional currency system, player wallet and shops that can be attached to any item by admins and set up to sell whatever we want. We used this to create the traders players would be familiar with from STALKER, with different items available depending on which faction they visit.”
“Hea – Created the STALKER Factions (Occupations & Traits) mod. This replaces the standard occupations with the STALKER factions found in the games.”
“OneLine – Created The Pond Quests mod on very short notice, which works with their existing Quest System mod to provide functioning quests players can pick up and complete for rewards, just like in STALKER.”
“All of these guys were an absolute godsend and each had to put up with me throwing (stupid) questions, as well as a tight deadline to get all this ready for a test run on our server. Seriously, if there’s anyone out there thinking of their favourite video game they’d like to see in Zomboid, contact these guys. I can’t recommend them enough!”
Chuckleberry’s mod adds trading, while Shark’s adds artifacts and items to be found in Soul Filcher’s “toxic zones”. How have you kept the mods balanced? How hard is it, for example, to find a valuable artifact to sell? How easy is it to afford weapons or other powerful items?
“This was probably the hardest part of the whole process. We had to define our own currency values for everything. We were essentially creating a working economy in Project Zomboid. I don’t envy any game developers who have to do this, because we got a taste of how exhausting it is to balance everything.”
“We’ve tried to stagger progression as best we could. Artifact hunting specifically was gated behind some required items. An echo detector is required to find artifacts. A gas mask, plus filter, is needed to survive within the radiation areas they are found in. Soul Filcher helped us set up some more commonly found ‘junk’ artifacts. The rare artifacts, like the Snowflake, were much harder to find and sold for more. We even made it so the Ecologists bought these for a higher price, much like in STALKER Anomaly.”
“Players have a small amount of currency to get them started. They might be able to buy some food, a bottle of water, or even a melee weapon, but not much more. The tools needed to go artifact hunting were a bit more affordable and players could collect jewellery or patches, much like in STALKER, to sell to vendors for a bit of cash. We set it up so guns and gear with lower protection values was cheaper to purchase, but the exosuits or ‘big guns’ would take a while to acquire.”
How does hea’s Occupation and Traits mod change the game? What is the difference between each of the factions? What advantages and disadvantages do they have?
“Hea did a great job with this one. They replaced the existing occupations with the factions STALKER players will know and love. Each choice comes with different stats, starting gear, a unique trait, and a spawn point with a headquarters and an appropriate trader. For example, players of the Freedom factions experience reduced effects from alcohol, as well as gaining happiness and reducing stress when drunk. Ecologists however have a wider search radius, also starting with two levels in foraging and thus are more likely to find artifacts. We hope this gives players reasons to try again with a different approach each time they die.”
Oneline provided you with a quest pack. Tell us about the types of quest players can expect.
“The quests are something I’d love to expand on. I’d also love to see what others can come up with using OneLine’s Quest System mod. Right now, we have dailies and weekly quests. This could be something as simple as delivering a message from one faction HQ to another, which we hope encourages players to go on an adventure, to something more challenging like collecting all five books from a series or catching a particularly large fish. Completing a quest will see you well rewarded by the quest-giver with some money to spend on goodies.”
Tell us about your STALKER-themed PZ server. How much planning did it take to put together?
“A way back, I decided I wanted to create an environment that was both safe for me to stream or create videos without fear of being ‘sniped’ by troublemakers, and somewhere my community could call home. I was also looking for a way to give back to my Patreon supporters, so we hooked a whitelist up to Patreon, and a £3 package gave players access to the server. This allowed my supporters to connect with me in-game and get some unique experiences, whilst covering server costs and projects like the STALKER setup, which is by far our biggest one yet. As I write this we have just over 328 active patrons.”
“This project was ongoing for weeks before we actually launched the server with some late nights, and a delay on the launch itself. We spent hours hand-placing radiation areas, defining values for hundreds of items for traders, and most of the faction outposts where players spawned were built by hand using the new brush tools. It was a hell of a lot of work, but the positive response was worth it.”
“I’m also planning on making a detailed video about all the work it took to make it happen, probably within the next week or two, for anyone interested!”
How have your patrons (or general players) found your mod collection? Have any cool stories arisen from them?
“We’ve had some incredible feedback from my Patrons and various other content creators who tried the server. I want to say a massive thank you to all of them for putting up with the delays, the early-stage bugs and for giving such detailed feedback about the setup. I’m really glad everyone seemed to enjoy it and I’d love to see what other players do with these mods, especially as they are developed for a more ‘plug and play’ experience.”
“As for stories, I’ve got to go with one that blew up on the subreddit recently. One of our players took it upon themselves to setup a mechanic’s workshop at the Diner between Muldraugh and West Point. They were located close to the Clear Sky faction HQ, where they had an exclusive trader that sold everything associated with mechanics, including car parts. They spent hours collecting various banged up vehicles that would be unusable to most and spent their money purchasing parts to fix them up, then sell them back to players. It was things like this that made the effort worth it for us; seeing what players did with the tools we gave them.”
What are your future plans for your server? Would you like to commission more mods in future, STALKER-themed or otherwise?
“We’d definitely like to revisit the STALKER setup again. There was a LOT that we learned, and now that most of the bugs have been worked out, I’d love the opportunity to run it again. We’re planning a ‘spooky’ themed setup for October, focused on giving players extra challenges with the use of some existing mods and setting the appropriate tone for the Halloween season. I won’t give any specifics away, but if anyone wants to join us, here’s a link to my Patreon.”
Is there anyone else in the PZ community (or beyond) you would like to give a shout-out to?
“I’d like to thank the modding community as a whole for allowing us to realise some fantastic visions inside a game that I, and many others, love. I’d implore anyone reading this to give the modders who worked with us a look, they do some fantastic stuff. I’d like to say a huge thank you to my admin team, who have dedicated hours of their time to the project, whether it’s handcrafting faction bases, setting up traders or creating unique events for players to stumble upon.”
“There were so many others involved in this project that I couldn’t possibly thank them all, but whether it was the creators I talked with about the setup or my viewers who watched us showcase the setup, I want them to know they are all appreciated more than they know! Lastly, thanks to yourself for letting me talk about all this, and to the developers who continue to craft a masterpiece of a game for us!”