Morning! This is me writing down some of my thoughts and impressions from the newly released DayZ Standalone Alpha, and why I think you should play it. For the record, I played the DayZ Mod for so me time, but ultimately stopped playing due to the vast amount of security breaches, which lead to large groups of players running scripts that compromised the games integrity and more importantly the game dynamics that are at the core of DayZ’s strength.
At first glance, or reading a few hotly contested forums, the inexperienced DayZ player will assume this game is strictly about PvP and less about survival. They wouldn’t be entirely wrong, but I’m here to tell you that it is much more than that, and even though the DayZ SA is only in Alpha, the reworked mechanics and engine are setting the stage for a unique experience you can’t find anywhere else.
Let me first start by telling you a brief story. Since the Alpha has launched, I’ve lost several characters. If you are completely new to what DayZ SA is, you spawn with a character, you try to scavenge for gear, food, medicine, clothes, and more importantly weapons. If your character dies, it is done, you respawn and try again. You can die from zombies, sickness, disease, exposure, dehydration, hunger, and more commonly from other players.
Continuing with the story, after several deaths, I had a character that had been alive for several days, and running with a group of friends in RL inside of the game. ( Banding into social groups is often the only way to increase your longevity for any length of time ) We found ourselves a nice part of the map ( Which is over 230 sq km in size ), and eventually we were all considered “geared” with military and hunting gear. I personally had the Mosin ( the current bolt action sniping rifle )
As a general rule, our group doesn’t automatically shoot other players unless they pose a threat, especially in towns, coastal areas, and in the forest. However, when raiding military camps, all bets are off. It is an unspoken and understood rule of DayZ SA. This is where my story leads, I want to tell you about the first player life I took, how it made me feel, and why I had to do it.
Several of my pack were raiding a valuable military structure, and were completely exposed from the windows and doorway entrance. I personally was on over watch, or in a “guardian angel” designated marksman position. I warned my squad over chat, and proceeded to dial in on the back of the unsuspecting player at around 400 meters.
With uncommon amounts of adrenaline pumping into my system, I steadied the scope and lined the shot up. He was alone, I knew he was here for the same reason we were. He wanted to survive, he was looking for military grade gear and weaponry to facilitate that survival so his character might live a day longer…… or, he could be what is referred to as a “bandit” in DayZ SA. People that gear up, head to the player spawn areas, and purposely kill players for the sheer enjoyment, and their gear.
Either way, as is the most time tested ROE ( Rules of Engagement ), he was a threat, and being on the airfield, there are never any negotiations. I radioed in to my squad that I was taking the shot. Barely able to keep the scope still due to anxiety, I fired the first 7.62 bullet square into his back, reloaded, and then fired a second shot. He dropped immediately, never knowing what happened, and likely not even hearing the shot before it hit him.
Now why is this story important? It’s the only game, ever in my opinion, where you truly experience several phenomenon in a digital video game to this extent. First and foremost, players can generally experience something called “pathos”. It is essentially when they are vicariously living through their character, and display interesting psychological things about them. Like having vested interests in their well being, referring to the character as themselves, especially in a spacial reference. Due to the harsh nature of DayZ SA, the longer your character is alive, the better gear you get, and the more healthy you make him/her, you really start to care about your character. You’ve survived countless terrors and engagements with players, hunted for food/water, scavenged for gear, and deep down you know that in one wrong move and in a single instance, it can all be taken away from you.
As human beings, we all at some level understand loss, risk, reward, forming social structures/communities, and more importantly we understand predatory survival. DayZ REALLY plays upon these exact instincts. Everything about the game is designed to encourage that. There are no annoying and intrusive HUD or UI elements, no player nameplates or target reticles ( so the only way to spot a player is to literally see them )
Most games, especially action/horror games employ a design technique called “negative space”, or commonly referred to as “pacing” in level design. Basically, think of any horror game, Dead Space being a great example, and think of the parts of the level where the bad guys leave you alone, you calm down, maybe read some story segments, regain some health, find some ammo, etc. However, you know, in the pit of your stomach that the next engagement is around the corner, and the anticipation starts building.
This is another reason why DayZ is so powerful. The game takes advantage of the powerful Arma II engine, and gives you over 230 sq km of play space ( if you aren’t familiar with measurements, that is roughly over 142 sq miles of play space ) while also rendering scenery, players, and vegetation at an extreme distance. With all of these elements intertwined, you and your friends ( or just you ) will spend HOURS alone, but you have to be prepared and watchful, because if you run into the wrong people, your characters life can be ended in seconds. So when something does happen, your adrenaline literally shoots through the roof. There’s been times where I can barely keep my hands from shaking due to the sheer anticipation or adrenaline while trying to stay alive.
Inevitably, loss happens, and it’s amazing to see the game dynamics that happen all on their own, nothing scripted or predestined by the game. When a friend or a player goes down, you are not prompted to do something about it, they either die, or you try to help them.
This is a real scenario I took a screenshot of with the group I play with. Nobody told that player on the right to take up security and watch outboard, nobody told the other two players not in the screenshot to post up security down the street, and most importantly, nobody told the player with the defibrillator to try and save the players life. DayZ SA is just a game with a set of systems, that can be understood, and used to whatever purposes you see fit as a player. You can try to save people, you can mug people, take prisoners, avoid players, be a bandit, whatever.
This is all possible in a game that is only in Alpha. Repairable vehicles, hunt-able animals, a full crafting system, player build-able structures, are all coming. Can you and your squad last long enough in the future to establish a base in the forest, build up fortifications, defend against zombies, infection, starvation, and the biggest danger of all, other players?
That all being said, there are a few caveats with the DayZ SA. First and foremost, you have to get used to the inventory and movement system. If you have never played Arma at all, it will come as a little “clunky” to you at first. The game doesn’t move like a FPS or Action Hack & Slash, it moves like a war simulator, as that is what much of the code is based upon. Fortunately, Dean Hall and his band have revamped much of the inventory and added a hotbar, which are GREAT improvements over the Mod. They also moved most of the processes server side to combat cheaters/scripters, etc. So far, it’s working great.
I could spend all day talking about the individual mechanics, player dynamics, but I’ll sum it up in a statement from one of my squad mates while having this conversation during a long forest trek. “Why is this game so awesome? That’s because, in DayZ it isn’t ‘what’ can happen, it is that ‘anything’ can happen”.
Plus the amazing sunsets!