One year later

April 8, 2013

One year ago today was the first time I played DayZ, and when the first five parts of the Days Ahead were recorded. The final two parts, and one or two other parts that I never edited and uploaded, were recorded the day after on April 9th.

Today the first part of the Days Ahead has over one million views, and all parts combined total to over two-million-and-a-quarter views — this is just on my channel alone; outside of my channel, people have re-uploaded my videos, used them as the source material for their own videos, and snippets of my videos have even appeared on national television broadcasts. Quite the reach for something I only expected a thousand people at most to see.

Skype chatlog
Dslyecxi being invited to playtest DayZ.

The first video wasn’t that well edited and I’m sure more people would have watched the second video if it had been. I was also experimenting with various different capture methods at the time, which unfortunately irreparably damaged the source material. In fact, I actually dislike the Days Ahead in part because of these two pitfalls alone.

The original plan was to release all of my DayZ footage as one video, and that’s where the joke between myself and Dslyecxi in part five stems from — the “hey, if you’ve watched it this long” joke. However about twenty minutes of play-time into the edit I changed my mind and decided that I’d release the video in parts, which would allow me to expand upon sections and provide better flow between scenes without having an intimidating timecode attached to the piece. My line of thinking was that no one would click on a three-hour video, or a one-and-a-half-hour video for that matter, and the latter would be too frenetic to follow. The problem I have with the first part is that I didn’t go back to re-edit it after I changed my mind on how the video was to be presented. It’s lacking because of that — it’s too busy.

ShackTac forums
Dslyecxi announcing the invitation on the ShackTac forums. Twenty-seven members expressed interest, and a number more would go on to playtest DayZ in its infancy.

DayZ was interesting. It wasn’t the first zombie mod, but it brought to the table a level of persistence that the previous mods and missions lacked. That persistence added value to the survival aspects too. Instead of the survival aspects being gimmicky chores you begrudgingly did before logging off and losing your character, they were legitimate concerns the player needed to address if they wished to keep their character alive. This was DayZ’s greatest feat: When you logged out, your character was saved and returned to you when you logged back in.

DayZ’s biggest downfall, however, was addressing the idea that players were more than roaming loot spawns.

Back when I started playing there was one server, the New Zealand server, and during the recording of the Days Ahead it was filled exclusively, or near-exclusively, by ShackTac and USEC players. I can’t speak for USEC, but I know that in ShackTac we’re not quick to ruin another player’s game experience for our own enjoyment. So perhaps aside from Kevb0’s group turning into highwaymen — I wasn’t there, I don’t know what happened — everyone was playing with the good time of others in mind. You can see a snippet of Kevb0’s gang in the original DayZ gameplay trailer, actually. It’s worth noting that ShackTac-member SteelTalon, the one being held at gunpoint, was the first to fire.

Text messages
Testing Beagle’s cellphone number, so I could wake him up for the DayZ test the next day.

What would become an omen for the game going forward was the opening of a second server, the European server, created in response to the New Zealand server constantly being full. Unlike the New Zealand server — comprised of USEC, ShackTac, and a few others — the European server was the wild west where no one knew or trusted anyone; somewhat more interesting to me than negative too, is that fewer people shared a common language.

After being killed the first time as a hopeful, naïve player — after spending two or three hours of your time hiking through the terrain of Chernarus and finally meeting up with another player only to be murdered — you lose your innocence. No longer are the other players your compatriot-survivors, they’re instead a threat to the time you’ve invested in your character, and the possibility of a new shinny item.

Unfortunately due to the limitations of video games, this meant that your only way to ensure your own safety was to not be seen by another, or to ensure your survival by killing your way through everyone you stumbled upon — “shoot first, ask questions never,“ as Dslyecxi once lamented to me. Note how anti-social both of these solutions are; they’re not the best choices to present if you wish to promote a healthy co-operative game experience. Likewise you can’t effectively hold someone at gunpoint when they don’t fear for their life, as the SteelTalon event in the original gameplay trailer shows in part; nor can you defuse a situation, or disarm someone when the game — an abstraction of reality, limited by its components, unable to translate anywhere near the number of outcomes present in reality — doesn’t address these possibilities.

The original solution for player-killing in DayZ was to change a killer’s player-model as a sort of public humiliation, to show that they’ve thrown away their humanity and murdered another player; and to label them as a bandit. There were two problems with how this was implemented: First, you would become a bandit if you killed someone in self-defense, which more often than not was probably the most-realistic solution to ensuring survival once attacked, and second, bandits were free-kills which only promoted the idea of players being roaming loot spawns.

You can kill the player’s character all you want, but chances are the player will just continue to play on their new character how they played on their old one. In video games, capital punishment like this is wholly ineffective. You’re not removing the player from society, you’re simply resetting their items and reintroducing them to it — which in the case of DayZ, would be around all the innocent, naïve, new players; giving the bandits the ability to quickly impress upon them how to approach the game.

One of the plans of DayZ was to make the game-world more dangerous the further north you went, and re-spawning bandits more towards the north could have been a cheap solution that legitimized the southern coast of Chernarus as a safe area, where all the new-player spawns were. This wouldn’t have solved everything of course, but it would have helped cut down on the rampant banditry that I’m certain ruined a number of players’ first experiences with the game. The only issue here is that there would have been fewer players in the south, which considering the size of the game-world and your average server’s population potentially meant fewer players crossing paths.

There’s a certain appeal to saying that the most dangerous thing about an apocalypse scenario is your fellow survivor — the world’s gone to shit, and it’s everyone for themselves. However in games I feel it’s a cop-out unless your goal as a designer is to create a themed free-for-all deathmatch. Instead what you should attempt to impress upon the player is that life is valuable. Blood transfusions requiring a second player were a step in this direction, but it ended there.

Twitter log
The first tweets of @DayZDevTeam.

When all is said and done, I sincerely believe that DayZ grew too popular too fast. DayZ Standalone will sell like hotcakes, just as Arma 2 sold insanely well for a three year old game thanks to DayZ — it was in a top-three spot on Steam’s top sellers for over six months straight, and as I write this, it’s currently eighteenth — but I don’t doubt that some players won’t return to the final game based on their experiences with the mod. This is one of the reasons I killed the Days Ahead: I didn’t think the mod needed any more people knowing about it; not because of some cool-kids thing, but because it simply just wasn’t ready for public consumption — it was almost a coup-de-grâce in my eyes. Unfortunately me stepping aside on YouTube was just making room for others, others who I frankly don’t feel have the same morals as I when it comes to content creation, and DayZ would go on to become Arma’s biggest YouTube bandwagon followed closely by the current Wasteland bandwagon.

So making videos is one thing, but why did I stop playing DayZ? I simply felt that I experienced everything the game had to offer in its current setup, and I was frankly uninterested in playing a zombie-themed deathmatch; especially in what is arguably a fairly clunky game to begin with — Arma 2. I don’t consider myself a carebear, I simply felt after a few weeks that I wasn’t enjoying the game anymore; mostly due to the frustration I felt when trying to do something more interesting than deathmatching, only to find that my fellow survivor wanted to ensure they kept their gear — or got more. If I want to play a deathmatch game, I can go play QuakeLive.

Do I wish DayZ never happened? Absolutely not. Regardless of what you — perhaps wrongly — think about the players it brought in, DayZ was a blessing to Arma. Because of DayZ, Bohemia Interactive, the developers of Arma, not only have more funds to produce games with going forward — such as Arma 3 — but also a second set of eyes, a new-to-Arma set of eyes, on what the pitfalls of Arma 2 were, just in time for them to be considered for Arma 3. I’m certain DayZ also tangibly affected people’s interest in Arma 3, and if DayZ were never released, the Arma 3 Alpha would not currently be the seventh best-seller on Steam despite the game’s launch being six-to-nine months away.

As for DayZ going forward — DayZ Standalone — I fear little may change when it comes to addressing the player-killing aspect. Dean Hall, DayZ’s lead designer, has glorified the player-killing aspect of the mod in the past, which you can find examples of in recorded presentations he’s given at game conferences. I’m also quite skeptical of the so-called “foundation” model the game may be initially “released” as. I’m more keen on the game being released as a solid product than a foundation and testbed for ideas, especially given the revelation that their biggest competitor for the time being is a hack job, and the reality being that the current mod is probably more than able to serve as a testbed for gameplay prototyping.

All in all, with that all said, and despite what I said earlier about killing the Days Ahead because I felt DayZ wasn’t ready for the spotlight, it’s absolutely amazing to me knowing that I had some sort of effect in helping some of the 1,700,000 unique players who played DayZ find the mod — some of them finding Arma as well. I’ve taken away more than just opinions on a mod in the last year too: I’ve learned things about myself, have improved myself and have been presented with various opportunities as a result of DayZ, some of which I don’t feel comfortable elaborating upon at this time, but trust me, I’m thankful.

Thank you Bohemia Interactive, thank you ShackTac, thank you Dean et al, and thank you, reader.