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DayZ

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+---
+title: "DayZ: Worse is Better"
+date: 2012-07-25 13:12
+---
+
+I've recently come across one of the most addicting, interesting experiences
+I've ever had online: [DayZ](http://dayzmod.com/). I hesitate to call it a
+'video game,' because while it is a mod for a first person shooter game, it
+basically ignores all common wisdom about what makes for a good game. I think
+that the broader implications are also interesting across other domains:
+'common wisdom' isn't always correct. Sometimes communities reach local
+maximums, and something drastic needs to be done to break out of the rut. So
+what is DayZ, anyway?
+
+Essentially, DayZ is a simulation of a zombie apocalypse. Here's a screenshot:
+
+![dayz](http://fronttowardsgamer.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/33930_screenshots_2012-04-21_00003.jpeg)
+
+As you can see, there's basically no HUD. Just some indicators down at the
+bottom. This particular shot is in the third person mode, which I prefer, and
+the player is looking over their left shoulder at a zombie shambling around
+on the crest of the hill.
+
+You wake up on a beach with essentially nothing in your pockets. This means
+that you have no way to defend yourself, and no supplies. Check out the bottom
+right of that screenshot: See that canteen and knife and fork? Those are water
+and food indicators, and if you don't eat or drink often enough, you'll faint
+from fatigue, and even lose blood (which is a proxy for health, and is the
+middle indicator). So you have to sneak around until you can find a hatchet,
+food, and water. See those two things on the upper right? That's how much audio
+and visual 'noise' you give off. Right now, this player is basically invisible,
+so they're safe.
+
+The game takes realism very seriously. There's the food and water bit, but this
+also isn't some Left 4 Dead run and gun bullshit: if you take damage, you'll
+start to bleed, and will need to bandage yourself or bleed out. If you get
+shot, you're basically dead. You _might_ be able to take two bullets from small
+arms. I already mentioned the food and water. You can break bones, which
+seriously limits mobility, and will probably cause the shakes. Better take some
+painkillers! There are a few vehicles, but they're all in disrepair, so find
+some parts, fix them up, and then stop and put some gas in them! Voice chat
+only works for a 40 yard radius around where you stand, so you can't talk to
+people that are far away. You don't have a map at first, so you won't know
+where the hell you are until you find one. Of course, you can read the street
+signs, so obviously, you'll know when you're in черногорск. ;). (That's
+'Cherno' as it's affectionately called by players, because 'Chernogorsk' is too
+long to say.) Oh, and when you die, you die. You lose all your stuff. This
+also adds to the crazy tenseness of the game. There's actually 24 hours on each
+server, so if you play on one with your GMT offset, it'll be light when it's
+light and dark when it's dark outside.
+
+The biggest thing, though, is that this is a true sandbox: there are no
+'levels' or 'experience points' or 'missions' or 'objectives.' You just play.
+Average survival time is about 45 minutes, and as you live longer, the tension
+goes way, way up. Because there are no missions, you develop a real attachment
+to the 'emergent stories' that come out of the game, which is the big, big
+draw for me. Here's an example:
+
+I spawned just outside of Электрозаводск ('Electro'), and one of my roommates
+had been playing for about twenty minutes, and was in Пута ("Puta"), just
+north. He had found a barn with two hatchets in it, and obviously, as a new
+player, that's a big deal. Электро and Пута are about [two kilometers away from
+each other](http://dayzdb.com/map#4.099.124), so he decided to wait for me. I
+ran up over that hill, and as I got closer, I didn't pay close enough
+attention, and a zombie started chasing me. I decided to sprint to the barn,
+so I'd at least be able to defend myself, and Kyle decided to brace himself:
+my running would obviously draw more zombies, and the barn had three doors: we
+couldn't cover them all. If we weren't careful, this could be the end.
+
+As I sprint through the door, Kyle steps into it, and swings his hatchet. "Holy
+shit dude, more coming, hurry up!" I quickly located the other one, as Kyle
+took out the second undead trying to eat us. I stepped up too, and covered the
+other door. Thirty seconds of frantic hatchet-ing later, we were safe. But Kyle
+was starting to get thirsty, and Электро is really dangerous. We searched the
+rest of the settlement, but no luck. No water to be found. We decided that
+rather than risk the big costal town, it'd be best to [make the two klick
+journey north to Могилевка](http://dayzdb.com/map#4.085.109). While trying to
+locate the road, Kyle attracted the attention of another zombie, and after
+dispatching it, found an empty watter bottle! Luckily, Пута has a public well,
+so he could fill it and drink up. Problem solved.
+
+Now, if this scenario had been a scripted part of some zombie RPG, I wouldn't
+have cared about it at all. I've now told this story three times in person,
+and it doesn't get old. This tense five minutes emerged naturally out of
+putting players in the world and letting them go. As a result, since they're
+_your_ stories, you care about them a lot more. People end up sharing these
+stories, too: [Check out this Jeep theft on
+YouTube](http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0oMdOPF8a8U). He spends the first 3
+minutes or so telling the story.
+
+## Ignoring video game tropes
+
+So what really makes DayZ special? There are lots of sandbox games, and there
+are lots of zombie games. Well, for me, it's that DayZ ignores much about
+what makes for conventional games.
+
+See, I've been playing video games for most of my life. I started with an NES
+long ago, and spent many, many, many hours with various games across genres.
+I play fewer games these days, and actually took a pretty big break from them
+over the last two years or so. I would go to GameStop, look at what was
+offered, shrug, and walk out. It's not that I'm growing up [(the average gamer
+is 37)](http://www.theesa.com/facts/pdfs/ESA_EF_2011.pdf), it's that I've
+played all these games before. I spent over a hundred hours with Diablo II, so
+why bother with Diablo III?
+
+When there's a game that breaks out of these standard genres and franchises,
+I get excited. I really got into music games until Activision drove Guitar
+Hero into the ground, Minecraft was incredibly addicting, and now DayZ with
+its emergent gameplay, focus on realism, and tense atmosphere.
+
+### Games need to be accessible
+
+DayZ does not have mass appeal. Its uncompromising approach to realism means
+that it will alienate many people. You will die often, and it will feel random
+much of the time. You will get killed by other players. You'll break a bone
+miles away from the nearest hospital with no morphine, and have to crawl for an
+hour or die.
+
+### Games should be polished
+
+Frankly, [DayZ is buggy as shit](http://www.dayzwiki.com/wiki/index.php?title=Known_Bugs).
+And not trivial ones, either:
+
+> Dropping Items can cause them to disappear
+
+Honestly, in many ways, it makes the game even more tense. Bad things can
+happen to you at any time. The world is scary.
+
+The interface sucks. This is more of an ARMAII issue, but one of my roommates
+was trying to get something out of another roommate's backpack, and since you
+both click to manipulate the UI and click to shoot, accidentally shot him in
+the stomach. This totally could happen in a zombie apocalypse: fumble around
+with the safety off... the interface can be confusing, seemingly arbitrary, and
+complicated. Still totally worth it.
+
+In many ways, this is the [worse is
+better](http://www.jwz.org/doc/worse-is-better.html) principle.
+
+### More is better
+
+Many games are 'just like this other game, but with more stuff.' DayZ has a
+really pleasant minimalism in many ways: the HUD is basically nonexistent,
+the core gameplay is pretty simple, and while there are a lot of details, most
+of them are not too complicated: break a leg, use some morphine. Hungry? Eat
+some food.
+
+But these simple components come together in a way that gives the game a large
+amount of depth. But that depth is not from some big crazy feature that took
+weeks to build.
+
+In fact, the author of the mod has _removed_ entire features. There was a
+'humanity' system at one time, and NPC 'bandits.' That's been taken out. I
+didn't play the game with that particular feature in, but the author isn't
+afraid to cut stuff out if it isn't a good idea, even if he's spent lots of
+time building the feature.
+
+### A good story matters
+
+Most simulation games have some sort of goal. Even many 'sandbox' games, like
+Grand Theft Auto, have some sort of points, goals, or missions, and you're
+free to ignore them, but they're there. Minecraft is a great example of a
+true sandbox game, and I'm not suggesting that DayZ has a monopoly here. But
+it's a genre that doesn't have that many games in it, so another entry is very
+welcome; the genre isn't as tired as many others.
+
+Story is often used as a reason for progression; as you go through the story,
+you get bigger, better, and generally more powerful. DayZ manages to have
+progression without a story; there's sort of five broad stages to the game:
+pre-hatchet, hatchet, gun, tent, PvP. This is hard to do! A story provides
+nice justification. But DayZ doesn't need it.
+
+Also, as I mentioned earlier, you sort of invent stories as you play. They
+emerge. And therefore, you care about _your_ DayZ story more than the one that
+would have been concocted if this game was not a sandbox.
+
+### A player should be quite powerful
+
+Often, the player is a total badass. Video games are often dripping in
+machismo, and so they are **THE ULTIMATE DESTROYER OF WORLDS**. Maybe, after
+killing hundreds of enemy soldiers, getting worn down over time, one gets a
+lucky shot and you go down.
+
+DayZ is different. You are weak. The environment is dangerous. Even though you
+can kill zombies, often, the noise attracts others, and they get dangerous in
+packs. And you can always run out of ammo...
+
+Also, other players are just as desperate and dangerous as you are. Sometimes,
+you'll be friendly, but more often, you're gonna end up getting shot. After
+all, if you're not friendly, _I_ could get shot, so maybe I'd better take you
+out first...
+
+## DayZ is awesome
+
+Seriously, you should give it a try. ARMAII goes on sale on Steam often, I was
+able to pick it up for $17 the other day. If you're bored with the mainstream
+of gaming, it just might be enough of a shake-up to be interesting to you.
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