Even with all the fuss and noise made by studios and publishers in the run-up to and duration of E3, one man’s Arma II mod has managed to be the subject of much attention.
DayZ is purely a homebrew affair, a mod of Bohemia’s military PC shooter Arma II and currently still in alpha phase. The mod puts up to 50 players a server into a zombie-filled version of the 225 km2 Chernarus map of the main game and leaves them to do as they wish.
Surviving ain’t easy though, as not only does the mod feature the grueling, cruel health system that needs seen in the game proper but when you die, that’s it. This has a pretty massive effect on gameplay; your moral compass is pulled out of the drawer for more much meaningful usage than your average game and attacks become incredibly frightening, worrying affairs.
The mod has become so popular that three-year-old Arma II shot to the top of the Steam charts, staying in the top 10 for four weeks in a row. The game’s sales have increased nearly five times what they were before DayZ’s alpha was released.
The mod’s a little unstable at the moment and not quite the user-friendly install a more mainstream audience might be used to but updates are coming soon.
Dean Hall is a New Zealander, an ex-solider who actually works at Bohemia. took recently took some time to explain how he’d like his mod to progress.
The first thing on the cards is Arma II patch 1.61, which officially supports DayZ, after that, Hall has much bigger plans.
"I can't speak from Bohemia on that but I think it's the perfect engine," he replies when asked if he hopes to make it into a full retail title.
"Obviously there are subtleties and real problems with it at the minute but I think if we pull them out, polish it, tidy it up and go to the community and ask them if it's something they're interested in [then that could happen]."
When and if this does come about it’s probably going to be neither a boxed release nor a free-to-play affair.
"Maybe a Minecraft type model. I think it has very strong potential there," said Hall.
"I think community involvement is very important. We can't just do a traditional studio model with this because without the players there is no DayZ experience.
"People have to be behind that which is why I'm talking a lot on the forums about how we want to fund it, what the price point should be and all that. We can't go for a pay-to-win model or a buy-hats model. That's not going to work. I think we have to follow Minecraft."
While it’s a pretty simple game in terms of mechanics right now Hall has some bigger plans, which he went on to detail.
"I think the group dynamic is really important - that's going to give more incentive for people not to just kill everyone else on sight. That's a very important thing to tease out, and that also gives some longevity to playing," he explains.
"Right now, once you've survived those first few days it can get a little bit boring. Maybe you could have more choices - you could be a lone wolf and go off and build a cabin somewhere, or maybe there's a large group of you and you want to take over a city and you end up fighting with other groups over resources. You know, elements that provide more of a meta game. Expanding that is really important.
"The more short term stuff, which I've already started with, is the environmental stuff so you actually feel connected to the environment. How rain effects your character and stuff like that."
If all goes to plan, the game should be in a much more accessible state by "August or September".
"We should have something that's a lot better packaged by then. I think it's very important to get that sorted soon so we don't turn people away."
Though Hall is keen on adding more to DayZ, he’s aware that almost anything he brings into the game is likely to annoy hordes of fans meaning very careful thinking is required.
"But it would be hypocritical of me to say 'oh, we're backing off a little bit'. This was supposed to be a step into the unknown for me. Mods allow you to do much riskier things. People ask why isn't this being made into a full game but there are a lot of risks involved. For a studio to create it from scratch is a really risky proposition. You can anger players really quite easily with the mechanics. It is scary but that's what we should be doing as developers - taking these risks and doing crazy stuff."
DayZ has around 170,000 unique users, and has caused around 100,000 people to purchase Arma II but it still hasn’t earned anything for Hall.
"No, I haven't but obviously if I was negotiating something [for a full game release] there'd be something there for me to be looked after," he says.
"But I'm still pretty young. For me the big benefit out of it is hopefully being able to make a little imprint on the industry and maybe carve out a new niche. That's good for me personally. There's time to cash in on it later."
There has been a lot of interest in Hall from major publishers, he explained, though he hasn’t been interested in any of these job offers.
"I've had a lot of approaches with a lot of money offered - really quite a lot of money - in the last three weeks. I used to be a producer so I know how much it costs to make a game, and they wanted to throw a lot of money at me. But they weren't offering much creative control. I'd like to be known for working on quality games that stay true to what they are."