DayZ, when it launched, wasn't a new idea. I remember playing an Operation Flashpoint mod where a team of 10 did their best to escape a Kolgujev overrun with zombies. It was a co-operative survival-horror, it was brilliant, and I only played it three or four times because like anything Operation Flashpoint-related it was buggy to the point of BSODing my PC.
Still, the heavens aligned to make DayZ a success. It came at a time when people were crying out for new ideas, when we were playing the same Call of Dutys and the same Battlefields constantly. It was created by a member of the Bohemia Interactive team, which to me hinted at the idea that it'd probably have bugs, but those bugs wouldn't outright break the game. And it came at a time when people had become enamoured with the idea of telling their own story in a game -- Minecraft and Skyrim were still front and centre in the mind of the Zeitgeist, and DayZ capitalised beautifully.
Games like WarZ (now known as Infestation: Survivor Stories), Nether and Rust all attempt to capture that same glorious feeling delivered by DayZ -- all with varying levels of success -- and it's getting to the point where, just as Minecraft became a genre in and of itself, DayZ is becoming metonymic for these adversarial/cooperative zombie games.
It was only a matter of time before a big publisher got in on the act.
Sony Online Entertainment has experience with two things that are pretty big in the DayZ space right now -- it's done Massively Multiplayer Online Shooters before (PlanetSide and PlanetSide 2) and it has successfully handed over significant portions of world control to the player community (Star Wars Galaxies).
If you're not yet aware, the end-game situation envisioned by Dean Hall is one where players create their own spaces in the world, allowing them to control areas and shape cities their own way. In an interview I conducted with him just months after the mod's launch he signposted his intentions, saying, "I would like to see us move towards a more ambitious... almost like a mature Minecraft survival mode, where you can alter the world. A lot of that stuff is actually possible in the engine, but it's not really fully enabled in development".
Meanwhile, over at SOE they're doing that already with EverQuest Next -- a voxel-based destructible world where players will create and change the world around them (all while enjoying a high fantasy adventure about elves, or whatever).
This all bodes well for H1Z1, SOE's unashamed attempt at a DayZ game. In numerous streams and interviews, the team at Sony Online Entertainment has repeatedly talked about how they intend to create a world that players can manipulate and destroy at will (through building houses, not destroying terrain ala Minecraft).
From the streams you can see there's a solid understanding of what makes DayZ so damn good, too. They talk about how firing a gun will have far-reaching implications for your safety in the game-world -- from both zombies and players -- and it looks like zombies will be a threat, but only a secondary one compared to the threat other players pose.
There's a great deal of ambition in the game. Long-term goals include allowing players to become zombies themselves, advanced temperature management and fully creatable player housing systems. Weapon maintenance will apparently eventually be a thing too, with players needing to clean their guns lest they jam.
H1Z1 isn't bogged down by the Arma engine. I love Arma 2 and Arma 3 -- I've got hundreds of hours in both games -- but the engines they run on are bogged down by a lot of awkwardness. The Arma games are good despite their foundations, and this impacts DayZ as well. Animations are rigid, the games treat running up hills weirdly and the controls are often complex to the point of amusement. The Bohemia Interactive Studios’ adherence to realism is the strongest element of their games, but it often comes at the expense of gameplay. Try doing anything without NVGs on a cloudy night in an Arma game and you'll know what I mean. H1Z1, on the other hand, is running on the Forgelight Engine -- the same engine SOE is using for PlanetSide 2 and EverQuest Next.
That doesn't mean there aren't potential issues on the horizon for H1Z1. Player character management is one of the key elements that makes DayZ so special -- you have an ever-changing and always moving set of priorities that you need to take care of to survive. You need food and water, so you head into a town and loot it. You need a backpack so you can carry the food. You need a weapon to fend off zombies. If a zombie hits you, suddenly you need to find a blood test kit and a willing and compatible donor. You don't want to be robbed, so you need a gun. You want to rob some other people, so you need some camouflage gear.
H1Z1 needs to make sure it nails this cascading list of priorities or they'll find players will get bored too quickly. If finding the right gear for the situation isn't tough, the game turns into a deathmatch. That's what happened in the mod, after tent cities became popular. If it's too tough then the players with gear have too much power and it turns into a murder simulator. That's the case for Rust, which gives starting players far too little power.
For Australians, though, the biggest thing H1Z1 needs to do is include Aussie servers, because nobody's going to spend four hours gearing up only to lose it all to the first LPB who comes along. Local servers are even more important in H1Z1 than they are in PlanetSide because you're not just pew-pewing, you're investing time and effort into a perma-death character.
Still, I have faith that Sony Online Entertainment can deliver the goods with H1Z1, and it's the first DayZ-like game that I've been excited for since DayZ. According to my research the game will hit Steam's Early Access program soon (within the next two weeks), and while you'll have to pay $19.99 to enter the Alpha the final game will be Free to Play.
Joab "Joaby" Gilroy is a huge fan of sports games, racing games, first-person shooters and 4X strategy games. He's awful at fighting and real-time strategy games although he'd love to get better. He thinks the Halo universe is hollow and that Arkham City was the real game of the year in 2011 and that AusGamers' managing editor Stephen Farrelly only gave Skyrim the nod because he is a filthy Marvel fan. His top three games of all time are (in no particular order) Deus Ex, GTA: Vice City and DayZ.
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