DayZ is a game that set the PC gaming fraternity alight earlier this year. A mod made for military simulation ArmA 2, it places the player in a world that has been overrun by zombies. Hey! Where are you going? No, no, it's not like every other zombie game! This one is a very unforgiving simulation of what the world would be like if the undead were a common sight. Armed only with your wits, a tin of baked beans, a water canteen, some bandages and 10 flares, the aim of the game is simply to survive.
We caught up with Dean Hall at E3 2012, the man who developed DayZ
as a side project outside his normal duties at Bohemia Interactive and asked him about the mod, how it came about and what are the plans for the future.
Exploded from nowhere and you developed the game in-house, is that correct?
Dean Hall (DH):
Yes that's right. I started working on it before I joined Bohemia Interactive. I hadn't told them about it when I joined. My history is a complicated one as I used to be in the New Zealand Airforce, which got me through university, then quit and went into the video game industry. I moved on from that in disgust and went back into the services into the New Zealand Army. I then went back into the video game industry via Bohemia Interactive. So yes, my history is complicated.
Could you tell us what triggered the creation of DayZ
It all started from watching horror films and seeing characters doing silly things, and it becomes frustrating to watch. I was getting that same feeling from video games. I asked, 'why are the characters I'm controlling in these games doing these crazy things?' Taking Left for Dead
as an example, why are these four people running around pulling switches and jumping around platforms? It made no sense to me. While these games are fun, you don't feel any sense of connection with the character you are playing and you don't feel any emotion for them. To me it does seem the video game industry is currently obsessed with excitement. There are exceptions to this with games like Journey
So I set about designing a game that dealt with this subject completely differently by exploring how players felt. Emotions such as anxiety, frustration, fear, particularly those balancing around survival. During my army training I got posted to Singapore and did a survival course in Brunei. It was really brutal, I got badly injured but it was also an amazing cathartic experience and my life changed completely after it.
A lot of it was based on having no food as I had run out of food and water, and with a bunch of seven or eight guys the moral choices we face during such an experience. What's generated are conflicts and very subtle layers of tension that are built on top of you and I wanted to explore those in the game.
So you wanted to expose people to being in a life or death situation, without actually doing it in real life. It would appear that with DayZ
you're assuming a lot more intelligence of the video game player than the industry tends to, which supposes very little.
I think you hit the nail on the head there - the way I describe it is that gaming has matured. Now I don't mean that the age has matured, I mean that gamers have matured. We had a couple of young guys at the booth playing ArmAIII
and they just – 'BAM' - got it with no problems.
I've pitched the idea to DayZ
to other studios and I was laughed at me when I was working in the videogame industry before I left to go into the army. The view was that what gamers want, isn't what they want, and I think that's wrong. There's a lot of dumbing down, with some exceptions. People are prepared to feel real emotions. They want to identify with their characters and live stuff out with them.
The thing about DayZ
is the emergent gameplay that it creates and the stories people tell of their experiences with the game. Is that something you wanted – for people to regale their stories of their time in DayZ
To be honest I hadn't done much research into emergent gameplay before. I started making games on the Amiga and the first one I made was called Submarine. Ever since then I always wanted to make games that allowed me to tell stories. With DayZ
, its tagline is 'This is DayZ
, this is your story', so that's what the mod is all about. So yes, story creation is a key part of the game, but it does leave the developer naked as there is no story within the game itself. Maybe there is a narrative, but there's no story. We just put the players in the game and let them do their thing.
Let's talk about how DayZ
is set up. The fact that you have this character that is persistent as it's logged onto from a central server, and all the privately run servers feed into the central server. This has created a bottleneck for people trying to play the game due to the sheer weight in numbers. How are you addressing this?
A lot of this is due to the fact that the base game of ArmA II
is being asked to do things it was never designed to do. Thankfully Bohemia Interactive are supportive of modding and have done a lot to make sure that all mods, not just DayZ
, work on ArmA II. As part of that, there has been a focus on addressing the server issues as we can't have people not being able to play the game.
Originally the server was crashing as it had to deal with the requests for the website as well as character management. So we've moved the website off of the character server to fix that. As we are speaking now the central database is doing alright, and the bottleneck has been pushed back to the game servers themselves. From there we are working with Bohemia Interactive by tidying up the network code.
Check back tomorrow for Part 2!