DayZ Standalone

25 12 2013
DayZ Standalone

DayZ Standalone

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 )

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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The Typing of The Dead: Overkill

8 12 2013

Obviously one look at this game and two things should be obvious. The first, is that this game does not take itself (or anything) too seriously. Second, that the game is based around a zombie killing grind-house type genre. So why am I writing a blog post about this game? Because it’s refreshingly fun, and also because it has the potential to do something amazing for education type game. Now before I talk about that, let me explain the basic mechanics and what you can do in this game.

The game actually does a great job at introducing you to new mechanics and events in the game. Obviously as the name implies, this is a typing game. I’m sure we all remember the old style “space invaders” typing games some of us played back in the MS-DOS days on an old 486. The crafty folks at Modern Dream have basically taken the same concept of educational typing challenges and slapped it into a cheesy zombie shoot em’ up type action game. You don’t actually control your avatar, which ends up being great later on because you are obviously typing! The camera movement is reminiscent of any arcade shooting game you would have played in the 90’s. If one doesn’t come to mind, just think of Time Crisis.

Kill it before it gets to you!

Your avatar will navigate various levels, where you will literally be presented with typing challenges. The basic mechanic is you shoot zombies by typing whatever the presented word is. Naturally, depending on the difficulty of the enemy, the typing challenges are often time sensitive. If you take too long, you’ll start getting hit or eaten by the enemy. Successfully typing the word results in shooting the enemy, target, or challenge. The overall concept of the mechanic might not sound engaging, but it’s actually very cleverly executed. Word of warning though, as I previously stated, the game does not take itself to seriously and is plainly meant to target adult audiences with the crass humor and violence.

Like I said, crass humor.

Like I said, crass humor.

While playing the first couple of chapters ( yes there is a story ) I found I was actually experiencing anxiety as hordes of zombies closed in on me and I struggled to blast away on the keyboard to execute them in time before they started chewing on me. Most of the time however, I found myself literally laughing out loud at the audacity and slapstick type humor the game possesses. Not only are the game events ridiculous and over the top, a lot of the humor is built into the words the game presents for you to type. Sometimes, it is just senseless random words, other times full sentences of the most ridiculous phrases you can imagine.

Example of ridiculous phrases

To keep the gameplay from getting stale, or giving you cramps in your wrists, they incorporate pickups and bonuses in the rooms your character clears. You activate these when you see them by simply hitting ‘tab’. Sometimes they are bullet time items, which can be strategically used to slow time down when killing multiple enemies. The game will also sometimes give you just single letters on a group of zombies or projectiles being thrown at you, which helps break up typing full words or phrases. A lot of them will also be bonus based twitch skills. The majority of the game is actually based around your ability to react and prioritize targets. You will often be approached by several obstacles or enemies and have to figure out which one to start typing first. You can even back out of a phrase you are typing in order to engage another target first. At first glance, this would sound kind of clumsy and an overall pain, but the game handles the transitions very smoothly. The game will also automatically pick the correct phrase you wish to start typing by the first letter you hit. So no two phrases that you are presented at the same time with will start with the same letter. Upon ¬†completing a level, challenge, or mini-game you will be presented with your stats, so the game even has leaderboards!

I’m good at typing!

As you’ll notice from that picture, the game even incorporates a multiplayer game mode. I haven’t tried it yet, but I’m assuming it functions similar to Time Crisis which I mentioned earlier. You can play with random people on the internet through matchmaking, or you can invite your friends via Steam. The game does an interesting job at pacing, level design, and unique events throughout the levels to keep you excited and perhaps a little anxious. There are even boss fights, which are usually involved in managing multiple typing challenges with varying time sensitive twitch typing events. Overall, the gameplay is fun, surprisingly engaging, and actually refreshing.

This baddy likes to throw stuff at you.

This baddy likes to throw stuff at you.

So now that I’ve covered the basic mechanics and what you do in the game. I want to talk about why I was really impressed with this game, other than it being engaging to me. After the initial “sticker shock” hit me when I found I was enjoying something that I didn’t expect to like in the first place. The thought occurred to me, “I’m having A LOT of fun with a game that’s just making me type words….” So once you look through the over-the-top humor, classy grind-house action and art aesthetic, this game is doing something pretty amazing. You can literally have a lot of genuine fun playing this game, and all you are doing is practicing your typing skills.

So from a design perspective, I’m immediately drawn to other possibilities… what if you could do this with math? Programming? World History? Can you imagine if portions of your high school experience taught you various subject matter via interactive methods like this that ACTUALLY engage you? If you actually look at how much information in the typical game a player is required to learn, memorize, and retain it is pretty amazing. I think this is the power that games can have, and it is an untapped potential. Our education system is long over-due for an overhaul. It hasn’t had a major overhaul since the industrial revolution, or thereabouts. I urge you to take the time and watch some of this gentleman’s lectures.¬†http://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity.html

So at the end of the day, this game is not only fun, engaging, but it is also making you practice and refine what would be considered a “hard skill” on your resume. ( My WPM is 150, or something crazy ) It also does a great job of showcasing how we can create games that are unique and refreshingly fun while being outside the “norm” of game genres. You can pick this game up for $20 on Steam right now, so if this looks like it would appeal to you, I urge you to take a look.

Thanks for reading!