DayZ Interview - Dean Hall talks the end of the world
DayZ Interview - Dean Hall talks the end of the world
Hidden in a quiet(ish) corner near the far back of E3's South Hall stands a small booth. Five PCs are setup, three playing Arma 3, two playing the new Carrier Command remake. Both Carrier Command and Arma 3 look great - Arma 3's lighting engine in particular is something to behold - but I wasn't here for either. I'd come to the Bohemia Interactive Stand to talk to Dean Hall - the kiwi creator of the legendary Arma 2 mod, DayZ.
While more than 45000 wandered around outside - some no doubt disoriented by the near overwhelming noise emitted from the likes of the Ubisoft, Disney and EA booths - our interview area is actually relatively quiet.
What followed was about 35 minutes of conversation about DayZ - possibly my favourite game right now (and a full blown addiction on my part). We discuss everything from the future of DayZ - think customisable worlds - to how Dean is dealing with feedback (on quite a few fronts). Please note - I had to eliminate quite a bit of me gushing from the text.
GameArena - So DayZ might be the biggest thing to happen to video games this year. What do you think about that?
Dean Hall - (laughs) That is a bold statement... I know that E3 is the place for bold statements. The numbers are huge for us, but if you compare the numbers to other people - like we've got 150,000 people and there's been a lot of positive feedback from what I feel are weird places. I mean, the games media have gotten behind it and a lot of players have gotten behind it - and really weird places like 4chan and reddit. So I think it's really positive, but what we do from here is what will define us.
GA - So what will you do from here?
DH - I can't speak for BIS, but what I want to see happen is... it won't survive forever as a mod - we'll have to move to some kind of a Minecraft model - so we have to make the transition from mod to some kind of gamish-thing. It needs to be something that makes sense, that focuses development in the right place. But I think following on the Minecraft model is pretty good.
So what I'd like to see happen is in three months time, we have run the experiment of DayZ the mod. We've made the mistakes, we've done all the silly things and we've figured out a really good husk of a game design. Then we take that and we add a whole bunch of content. Then we've added enterable buildings, we've added new character models, new systems - tidied it all up, we've made it work for DayZ. Then we pack it all together, add some cool stuff from ArmA 3 like new lighting systems, ragdolls - that sort of thing. Packed it all together, simple installer and pop it out as a paid alpha - low flow content.
GA - So, you'll build it on the ArmA 2 engine again?
DH - That would be my preference, yeah.
GA - Could you see working on any other engine?
DH - I can't, but we don't mean to write anything off. There's been studios and publishers who want to throw money at us and make it work on other engines - but the problem is, that would delay it like 18, 24 months. And it might miss the mark. I think DayZ has hit a cool mark. I still think there's a lot that needs to be done to it, but I think that continuing on where it is really makes the most sense.
GA - What do you think still needs to be done to it? Just sort of moving it to the different level, or do you think there's actual gameplay stuff that needs to be done?
DH - I think there's actual gameplay stuff that needs to be done, but I think probably the most important thing is to make it easier - it's not accessible at the moment. A lot of kids can figure it out - most PC gamers know where to copy stuff and do stuff and they'll tolerate a bit of a problem, but there's no reason that we can't have it as a separate executable - tidy it up and all that sort of stuff. And then also we're not clogging up ArmA 2 servers - you can't find ArmA 2 servers at the moment, because there's 350 DayZ ones so there's a lot of practical stuff that we need to sort. It's easy, simple stuff but it's important.
Beyond that, I want to see the temperature system rounded out properly, because I think that your character being connected to the world is important. The criticism I often level at Skyrim is - I loved Skyrim and the visuals they just nailed, but they have no impact on my character so it felt like it didn't matter. And so I think if we can nail that it brings a whole other level to DayZ. The second thing is the group mechanics. Like if you survive DayZ, then what? We need to provide for the people who want to just play as lone wolves - maybe they get a dog, build a cabin in the woods or something like that.
Then we need to support the people who want to be bandit raiders and get a bandit party and go around and kill people. But we also need to support if people want to get a group of thirty of them together and build some sort of commune in some farmhouse somewhere. So supporting that sort of meta-gaming, that user type stuff, I think that's really important and will help with people who are leveling criticism at the pvp style of the game. At the moment the payback is to go kill players.
GA - Don't listen to the haters - I personally think it's great the way it is - I've got maybe over a hundred hours into it and everytime I die to some random sniper I'm like 'well done'... maybe I should be climbing ladders in Cherno.
DH - Yeah, I don't think it's that much of a problem - if you look at the numbers, it's not really a problem. The problem is obviously a few people had some bad experiences maybe they were unlucky and they had them in the long string and then they post on the forums. And also having the global chat and the side chat doesn't help - I think once we've got direct chat - and that's coming up in 1.61 and the Arma 2 patch - it will flesh it out fully.
But I do think that having some wider contextual type stuff happen - and it's just simple stuff at the moment, like you can build fortifications - we want to have it so you can alter the environment and have ways to make things - and I think having that... we should never force people in some direction with the game. But I think having those kinds of esoteric type expanded stuff will really kind of add a little something else.
GA - Has DayZ made BIS understand how bad their server browser stuff is?
DH - Yes. It's hard for BIS. I think they're a fantastic company - that's why we flew all the way around the world to spruik for them. And Marek [Spanel, BIS Big Boss] - I don't know if you've ever talked to him - but he's really awesome to deal with, he's very realistic and matter-of-fact. He was the guy who was pushing 'we need to fix this, we need to fix that.' Because he was playing DayZ and was saying 'I hated it, I hated it, why is it doing this, this is silly' So there's a really good driver and a real invigoration in there and that's really good - that helps not just DayZ players but ArmA players as well. And so I guess previously we never really had ArmA 2 servers that were operating at capacity and so what it's done is identify all this stuff that we need to fix. And that's why we're pulling it out, tidying it up, polishing it up and getting it working and then get it out there.
GA - I was reading the [official] forums the other day and someone found a radio. I didn't see you comment on the radio - do you have any comment on the radio?
DH - (laughs) No, I have no comment on the radio.
GA - Is it real or is it a made up thing? I'm reading it and thinking 'He's pulling everyone's leg, there's no f***ing radio.' right...
DH - (laughs) This is a bit of a tangent but it comes back into it. I think... synaptic game design is what we've got and there are a lot of times when I was going through it that I want to write a story and that sort of thing. It's important to have a narrative I think and once we get out of alpha that's where we'll be able to bring that in. Not a story, but if you want to explore the world and find out about what it is and what happened, you can do that. And maybe you can find the tools to do that.
Exploring that is hard though and I think if we can follow a Minecraft model - it's not about buying hats to play the game - if you can buy hats to play the game, we'll end up focusing on making more hats. But if we focus it on needing to make it cooler, to make it more exciting - then it keeps it alive and we'll be ok. Sometimes I think that means we'll be doing some pretty cool and cryptic stuff - like endermen a little bit.
GA - What possessed you to make Dayz?
DH - Well I was previously working at Sidhe Interactive as a producer quite a while ago - I loved Sidhe and we did a project I didn't like for another company and I just had enough of being a producer so I quit and I ended up joining the army for a couple of years and I ended up coming over and working at BIS.
But programs like Skyrim, I'd play that until 2 in the morning - I loved it. That connection between me and the world and I found it was frustrating me when people say like 'gamers, ah, they say they want this stuff but they don't actually want it.' And I think gamers are mature - and I don't just mean in age, I mean that we have matured. Even the young gamers, you have people as young as 7 or 8 playing Minecraft - they do crazy amazing stuff with that. So I think that as a game designer I felt like I was selling the players short and being a player myself I was like 'Why do we keep doing this?' That's probably the most interesting thing - all the professional industry people [at E3] keep coming over from EA or Ubisoft and saying 'wow this is amazing, I hate what we're doing, why do we keep doing it it's crazy.' And that was why I wanted to mod it because you have the freedom to do all the stuff. I was lucky - because I was a contractor with BIS I had the freedom in my own time to do whatever the hell I want.
GA - Do you get hammered with emails from people telling you their stories?
DH - Yeah, the stories I don't mind - most people post their stories on forums and I read them as often as I can because they're amazing and I can't get enough of them. And that's why I love reading on 4chan of all places - even those stories are unreal. Like reddit and GameArena and that, there's amazing stuff. The New Zealand forums like the GP forums - I can't get enough.
GA - Games often don't let the player tell the story any more - more often they just tell us a story. DayZ is all about player stories though - do you think it's good that it's an exception?
DH - No, it shouldn't be and that was what was so maddening for me, why I finally put it in a mod was because people couldn't get it. And this all makes sense to me - you've got movies and books and they do explore pretty interesting areas, but games are trying to emulate the really simplistic stuff - they aren't exploring any of this interesting stuff. I was talking about this with a couple of guys from different companies and they were agreeing. I don't really feel bad for the companies because they're about risk. Game development has just exploded and it costs a lot of money to make a game now - they haven't really been able to figure out how to angle that so they're just churning out the same stuff.
But the people in there don't want to do that, but they have to. Of all the game companies that I've worked at - and Bohemia Interactive is no different - they've all had these amazing, awesome ideas that die and you end up having to fall back on... crap. I saw a great post on 4chan - of all places - quite early in the DayZ experiences, and they were saying “why is it this is better than all of the other professional stuff that's come out in 2012?” and the post below it quoted it and said “because it's not the product of a billion ****** marketing ploys.” And I thought you know that's actually a good point - it's not the product of a bunch of crazy meetings and hype and ego and that.
GA - There's a quote out there... 'The whole world's going to ****... well it's the zombie f**king apocalypse!' or something...
DH - Yeah I did kind of regret that quote, it's been quoted all around the place.
GA - That is a spectacular quote
DH - I was a bit angry at that, well not angry - and that's what's good about the forums. I think sometimes people think I've gone too far or I'm being a **** or something, but I think it's really important [to keep talking to people] - and I've got full license from Marek to just stay engaged. That's a bit of a rip because sometimes I'll say the wrong thing or I'll upset people but what I think people realise is they need to say - do they want me to be in there, being honest and saying 'this is what I think', or do they just want me bringing some kind of community management. I think I need to be in there and saying 'Look, honestly this is what I think, this is what we're trying to do here. This is an apocalypse - there are no rules! If you want them you're going to have to build them!' And being able to have a proper dialogue and discussion is important - because that thread that that's in, where I finally posted that, I read some great arguments and discussion! And then that one bit gets quoted and it looks like I was like I'm telling them all to **** off but I wasn't. It was like "The whole world's gone to ****? Good, because it's the ******* zombie apocalypse."
GA - It should be the tagline of the game.
DH - It kind of frustrated me a bit and I can see their point, but there's no point in trying to redo what Left 4 Dead and Dead Island did - they're good games and I enjoyed them - why do that again? And I think maybe the video game industry feels like it's a bit stuck on.
GA - I managed to get a cool gun off a dead body - a silenced smg - and I was just about to go into the barracks and about 40 zombies spawned... I was dead in like 15 seconds - and I thought that was hilarious. Other people go and complain so much about things like this, but I thought it was amazing. It's probably not working as intended, but it's still a magic moment in a game.
DH - And that's the attitude I have - I think it's a Kiwi and Aussie thing - you've got to have a bit of a sense of adventure, a sense of humour when you're playing something in alpha. I think maybe Kiwis and Aussies are best for alpha's because they've got that - a sense of humour and a sense of adventure - and that's what you need with DayZ. DayZ needs the players to understand we're going to change stuff - some of the stuff is going to be a really bad idea. Some of the patches that we release will be like 'What the Hell' but we need to try that stuff, because everybody said the whole concept was crazy from the start - so we need to carry on with that and maybe there's some real gems out there that we can find.
One thing I want to see is more content - more items. We've got a really good Russian artist who's been working with us, he created a really good bear trap and we've been meaning to get that into the last few updates. A lot of people don't want to see it diluted with billions of items, but I do! Why not? They don't have to be required items, but you don't know what the players are going to do. They could set up some cool bear trap thing - I find the idea of that awesome - like you place it where a guy can run in - bam, he breaks his leg. But that will be reasonably rare to find and that's what I want to see - little items that you don't need to find, but you might occasionally find them. I think that will be a really interesting thing that we can introduce for people who like exploring and finding stuff.
GA - What do you do about disconnectors?
DH - Well we know that they're doing it. So I think looking at the PVP damage system at the moment doesn't work very well, but we can expand that and we can actually track if you point your weapon at someone, or if you fire it. I think we'll play with a couple of mechanics there, we'll have to figure out the best way to make it work. I think what we'll do is we'll have if you go pick abort it will warn you and say do you want to disconnect, if you disconnect you'll suffer a penalty. We need to be careful because people will crash - so if we kill them, I think that's a little unfair. So we need to maybe have it that you'll lose like items or something - we need to play with the mechanics. I think probably that's a couple of weeks away. We need to get server stability up and tidy up the mechanics we've got at the moment.
GA - So pie in the sky, what is the ultimate thing you want to have?
DH - For our future, what I want to see happen is follow the Minecraft model - so cheap alpha, get a few people in and if we're really successful and we really push a lot of units 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. So we can start exploring stuff like all the cool and crazy stuff. That's pie in the sky where I'd like to see it go, more mature Minecraft survival type thing - a non-stylised world with chopping down trees and actually doing real esoteric type stuff. But I think we need to nail where we're at before we start doing that.
GA - Thanks very much for chatting with me today!
DH - No problem.
The experiment continues today - the team released DayZ 1.7.1, wherein the player spawns with no weapon. If you want to get in on the action - and you're the sort of Aussie/Kiwi minded person who can handle an Alpha released mod with its own share of bugs - you'll need a copy of Arma 2 and its expansion, Operation Arrowhead (or just Arma 2 Combined Ops, which combines the two) and the mod itself, which you can get at the official site. Thanks to Audi for the screenshots, Dean Hall for the interview and the team at BIS for being so accommodating.
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