We caught up with Dean Hall, the Arma 2 dev responsible for the massively popular “Day Z” mod for the same game. Given the amount of popularity this free mod generated for a poor selling game that received average reviews at best, I was interested to hear what the process behind the mod was.
Rabid Ferret: Ok, so for our readers who aren’t going to be familiar with Day Z, what is Day Z?
Dean Hall: Essentially Day Z is a mod for a game called Arma 2. It allows players to basically play in a zombie apocalypse.
*To clarify a bit more: Day Z is a mod that takes the Arma 2 engine, and creates a persistent (EXTREMELY DARK) world. Players are placed in a very large world and pitted both against Zombies and other players. this isn’t a Left 4 Dead style shooter, it’s slow paced, and has a big focus on scavenging. If you run out of bullets, you’re not going to be able to defend yourself. And if you’ve teamed up with either your friends or random people you meet — when they die, they’ll get respawned randomly somewhere in the massive 225KM world. It’s dark, gritty, terrifying, and a ton of fun. You should check it out at dayzmod.com, or check out some Let’s Play videos for it.*
RF: And this is a free mod?
DH: Yeah, free mod for Arma 2, and it’s multiplayer only.
RF: Ok, and were you working for Bohemia during the entirety of the time you were working on it?
DH: The genesis of the idea was a bit different, and so I developed it quite a while ago, some elements of it. Yeah, I’ve only been working at Bohemian Directive since about the end of January or so. Sort of about half and half.
RF: And what exactly were you trying to accomplish with Day Z as a whole? I mean obviously there’s been a lot of coverage talking about the very unique experience, but what was it specifically that you were trying to do to differentiate it from the rest of the shooters out there?
DH: Well, I guess it was an experiment. So as a designer you’re often told these are the rules, you know the things that you can do that customers want and expect. And I guess Day Z was a bit of an experiment to see if those were actually true, because I didn’t think a lot of those rules were true. For me, immersion is very important for me. I want to feel connected to the environment, and connected to the game, and what’s going on in the game. And so that was what I wanted to achieve. I wanted to achieve an experience that felt authentic to the player with more authentic emotions; some of those emotions being negative ones like frustration and anger.
RF: Well I can tell you as someone who’s got some eyes that, I have some trouble seeing in the dark a little bit, the frustration was definitely there.
DH: Yeah, this may be one of the frustrations I didn’t want so much, but you can see from Arma 3 the lighting has improved a lot, particularly Arma 2 has a problem with lighting. I mean there’s no light sources at all. So, onwards and upwards with the engine help.
RF: Did you anticipate the scale at which your mod would generate interest just for itself but for Arma as a whole?
DH: I mean, I anticipated it was going to be popular inside the Arma community, because it was sort of at first full implementation of a persistent world, so linking Arma to a database. But I didn’t expect that it would cross over into mainstream. Obviously I think social media was the key there. People had these really compelling experiences, and we’re natural storytellers as humans. That’s what we do, and so people would go out and tell their story. On forums like 4chan or Reddit, a lot of people would read about it and wanna experience those things for themselves.
RF: Do you guys have any plans to expand upon Day Z? Either on the Arma 3 engine or as just a paid product at all?
DH: Well, I guess I can’t speak obviously for Bohemia directly, but for myself personally I see it as definitely having the legs for something that’s stand alone. Obviously in that capacity it would need to provide more than it is now, but it would be making it stick from mod to game, but obviously the interest is there, and it’s something that people want to do. So it would just need to be handled in such a way that the community was happy with it. Without the community there is no gameplay. It’s kind of like Minecraft; the players are indelibly tied to the experience. You can’t have the Day Z experience without the players.
RF: And that’s something that a lot of companies unfortunately forget. I’m glad to see that you and Bohemia as a whole haven’t.
DH: I think though it’s hard for the bigger companies because there’s a lot of risk involved. That means your whole product is tied to this very fickle community that’s very difficult. You can’t control it. Marketing’s really even a little bit pointless. I have pitched this concept to other companies before, and they haven’t taken with it. I don’t really blame them because it is such a risk, but Bohemia is one of those companies that, that’s what’s cool about it. It takes those risks like Carrier Command as a revamp of an old game and Arma 3 as well. They’re risky ventures, and that’s why I think it’s gonna be a pretty cool time for Bohemia, particularly if we can make Day Z really work.
RF: Is there anything you’d do differently if you could do it all again?
DH: I think probably maybe go a little more production oriented at the start. Because I didn’t anticipate that it was going to be very, very popular. It was only really built as a tech demo. So maybe I would have actually developed it a little bit longer in private before I released it for capacity testing, because you know now a lot of issues are associated with, I haven’t expanded the more esoteric like group play elements or meta gaming, and those things would help with the player killing and stuff like that. Maybe I would have kept it in private a bit longer, but you know hindsight is 20/20. And also I needed the capacity testing. That was the stage I was at. I needed to test the server on the capacity side.
RF: I know we at Top Tier had a blast playing your mod, and it’s always great to hear from the minds behind it. Thanks for taking the time to talk to us.
In my eyes, DayZ is nearly up there with games like Minecraft in terms of it’s potential impact on games. Like DotA for Warcraft 3, this is a mod that was literally more popular than the game it was modifying. Since the ability to mod our games is something that more and more AAA developers are taking away from us, I love seeing titles like this — Something that we as a community can point to and say, “Let us mod our games, and this can happen for you as well. This is a profitable investment.”
Would you like to see more Day Z?
So readers, are any of you DayZ players? Want to play with myself or the other T3 writers? How about a Livestream or a Let’s Play series? Let us know in the comments below!