Published on July 17th, 2012 | by Adam Vjestica1
DayZ Interview With Project Lead Dean Hall
Dawn Of The Dead
Zombies. Love them or hate them, developers have flocked to the undead like soulless corpses flock to a buffet full of brains. There’s plenty of zombie inspired games out there, but arguably, there’s yet to be a true, realistic survival zombie sim for fans to play.
Sure you can enjoy the fantasy fun and silliness of Capcom’s Dead Rising, relive the glory of days of the early Resident Evil’s or even chop up a few of the famous rotting flesh bags in Lollipop Chainsaw (though I wouldn’t recommend it). But sadly, nothing has come close to capturing the feel of George A. Romero’s classic, Dawn of the Dead.
Who’d have thought it then, that the release of the popular military simulator ARMA II back in 2009 would eventually give birth to a zombie apocalypse – all thanks to a mod.
Yes, DayZ originally started out life as an ARMA II mod. It became so popular with the PC gaming community that it managed to shift 300,000 units of ARMA II and propelled the three-year-old game back into Steam’s top selling charts.
The mod even received praise from the CEO of Bohemia Interactive, Marek Sparel, who said the mod created a thrilling and addictive experience, and that it could stand as a gaming experience on its own.
Well, that’s exactly what DayZ’s concept creator and project lead, Dean Hall, is trying to do; with a lot of help from the game’s active and dedicated community.
The message is simple: scavenge what you can, slay any zombies or bandits you encounter, and attempt to survive.
I decided to try my hand at surviving the apocalypse, instead of the future protocol of locking myself in my room and hiding under the covers. Needless to say, I did not survive – but I thoroughly enjoyed trying.
DayZ is still very much in the alpha stage of development, however, the game’s appeal is instantly obvious to any zombie or survival horror fan. A massive open world, a focus on realism and an ever expanding community, all pulling together to create a pulse-pounding survival game as players pit their wits against the hordes of the undead.
I managed to survive a measly 8 minutes during my playthrough (the average player life expectancy is 35 minutes), however, I proudly took seven of the walking dead down with me. If I hadn’t wasted all my ammo and cornered myself against a fence, perhaps I would have done better.
The combat mechanics were solid and the graphics were impressive thanks to the ARMA II engine. I was surprised by how unique the game felt, despite the tired out subject matter.
It was clear that there’s a focus on an unforgiving difficulty, rewarding the efficient, cautious and astute. Each second you survive has to be earned; each bullet has to be cherished; each zombie has to be feared.
Eager to find out more, I sat down with Dean “Rocket” Hall and discussed DayZ.
For fans who many not have heard of DayZ, the game originally started out life as an ARMA II mod which grew in popularity. What kind of game is it?
DayZ is an open-world, zombie survival mod for Arma II which is a military simulator game.
DayZ features an absolutely huge open-world map, just how big is it?
It’s 225 kilometers squared.
Are there buildings that you can enter?
Yeah there is. Not all the buildings can be entered yet, but that’s the idea: that you can explore the buildings and find new stuff to help you survive.
In terms of refining the game, a colleague of yours mentioned that you’re working on a shoe-string budget. How difficult has it been to sort out all the bugs and kinks? The development process for DayZ is still very much in the alpha stages, right?
Yeah and I guess it’s an alpha mod. It is difficult to go through each bug ourselves, that’s why the community involvement is really good.
People have really got into it and that’s why sessions like the one here [at Rezzed] are great. This is an unreleased build at the moment so we can get people’s feedback on how the changes are behaving and things like that.
DayZ seems to be a fan-driven game. Obviously you guys seem really passionate about it too, so what was your overall aim? To please the fans who were behind the mod from the beginning?
Well I don’t really like to use the word fan because in order for DayZ to be successful, people have to get involved and help create the world.
The idea is that we’ll create the scenario of the post apocalyptic world and then we give them the tools to populate and change it. And then in the future, they will take over it. We want them to survive DayZ and then rebuild some other kind of world behind it.
That’s the aim of the project. Calling people fans, I keep telling off our representatives when they do it, because really, I feel the project will only be successful if people get involved with it, which they are.
So you’re not just a fan, you’re a designer as well?
At the moment, DayZ is going to be released on PC. Are you thinking about other platforms in the future?
Anything’s possible, but there definitely would be a lot of work involved to do so. The original ARMA: Assault did make it’s way to the Xbox.
Have you found it hard to deal with the “just another zombie game” tag that people may throw at DayZ? What separates DayZ from the other zombie games out there?
Well, I guess we don’t really have to compete [against these other games], that’s been the curious thing. DayZ’s had no announcements or marketing, it’s all been marketed by the people who have played it.
People were drawn to it because of their interest in zombies and I guess it’s because people were publicising the fact that they thought it was really different.
That’s why I guess it managed to stand out. It’s known as being a really brutal world, not like any of the other zombie games out there.
I noticed the game features head tracking technology. What was your thinking behind the decision to implement head tracking in DayZ?
The people at Track IR were really great and took to us early on. ARMA was one of the first games to support Track IR and because DayZ and ARMA are all about immersion, the head tracking’s a really key part of it. Certainly for me, I use it all the time.
Players can change their viewpoint perspective in DayZ between third and first person. Do you find that people stick to one particular viewpoint or is there a strategic benefit in switching between viewpoints on the fly?
There’s a lot of people with different opinions about which viewpoint they prefer. Sometimes when I’m going around I like to be in third person just so you can see your character and their interaction with the world; and then at other times, it’s really good to go around in first person. I know that a lot of people have different opinions on the viewpoints, and for us the jury’s still out [on which people prefer].
DayZ is obviously a work in progress. Do you have any idea on a release date for the game? Are you still searching for a publisher?
There’s been a lot of interest from people. There’s no announcements as of yet, but I’m confident it will become a standalone game at some point and we’ll try and follow the sort of MineCraft model.
Is there going to be a single-player campaign? Or will the game focus primarily on multiplayer?
I think there are projects out there that are already doing single-player experiences quite well in terms of this genre, so I really want DayZ to be a really serious look at the zombie apocalypse survival genre… Beyond just the zombies.
Surviving DayZ, surviving the other players and then thriving – building a world – we’re just going to focus on that.
How long can you survive?
Me? I don’t really get to play it properly anymore! I’ve just been so busy. What I do get to do is watch the live streams and read the forums. I devote around 6 hours a day to reading all the forums I can find as that’s a really good source of information.
Sometimes you get really brutal feedback from people but a lot more honest. Here, when you’re showing off a game, people tend to be pretty nice. But on the forums, rightly or wrongly, they’ll rip you to pieces and that’s what we need to hear.
One of the things I noticed when playing DayZ was that it felt scary. The majority of horror games these days aren’t, so that’s a good niche to have?
I don’t really think it’s that scary but that’s because I’m a super horror fan. There’s definitely tension in it, which is deliberate. The idea is to lay out several subtle layers of tension in the game. I think we’ll want to ramp up the levels of tension quite a lot more in the full release.
How many people can a map hold?
At the moment the sweet spot is around 50 players. Anymore than 100 on this particular map (Chernarus) could cause a problem, but the maps can get much bigger than this one. And with the optimisations that are coming we can possibly push out to 100 players or beyond on bigger servers.
Are weapons open for modding? Can people make their own weapons? Or is that going to pose too much of a balancing act to ensure that certain weapons aren’t overpowered?
What we want to do is focus people on building the world of the game rather than specific objects. It pains me to say it, but it obviously has a player versus player component: there needs to be established rules. That’s why user created content presents difficulties because everything can get hacked and exploited as much as it can.
We do need to lock stuff down a lot more and that’s going to be a real focus going forward. We’re not in the adding new content stage either; with alpha we’re just adding features at the moment to see what works and what doesn’t.
Any modes in mind? Deathmatch mode? Team based modes?
In my opinion I just want to see DayZ focus on one area. Too many games have tried to do too many things. I really just want to see, almost, a mature MineCraft.
Obviously in a year or two, maybe someone else will look at doing some other things with it but now is the time to try out something that we all want. The idea isn’t new, not at all, but we have to take this current popularity and deliver the game that everybody’s always wanted to have.
Thank you very much for your time and best of luck with DayZ.
Cool. Thank you very much.