Thursday, May 17, 2012

Robbers, Survivors and Devourers

A week ago I started playing a truly addicting and unique modification for ARMA 2 called DayZ, which is currently exploding in popularity at the moment. ARMA 2 is a realistic war shooter that gives players the freedom of to explore and edit a massive map filled with cities, forests, mountains and army bases. It is a really enjoyable game if you are into realistic shooters, but it has a clunky UI, poor optimization, stiff animations and a ton of bugs. Most of these things are still present in the DayZ mod, but it is such a unique and exciting mod that they are worth dealing with. DayZ is a realistic survival zombie mod, which keeps the mechanics from ARMA 2 while making the map of Chernarus into something much different. In this world you don't have to worry about enemy soldiers, or tanks rolling over the hills, or the sounds of jets flying over ahead, instead you have to worry about food, water, ammo, other players and zombies. DayZ is currently in alpha, but it's already hugely popular and has pushed ARMA 2 to the top of Steam sales for the week. Read on for a tale of zombies, bandits and temporary friendships.

My first couple play sessions consisted of being in the dark, throwing flares and trying not to get murdered or eaten. I've yet to be successful with either of those goals. I learned the hard way that servers are set in real time. So if you play at midnight, PST, on a US server that is based on the West Coast then it is going to be midnight in game and the same goes for every DayZ server. The night in Day Z is like a blanket of darkness that is almost all encompassing. Often you can only see outlines of structures or trees in the distance and you can rarely see your own person. You combat this by throwing flares, which illuminate a large area but also expose you to anyone or anything outside of that, using flashlights, but they are not practical until you have accumulated some batteries and a good rifle or shotgun, or by throwing chemlights, which are like flares but illuminate a much smaller area and last a lot longer. You can also carry chemlights or flares in your hands, essentially making yourself this beacon in the night, but it's a huge risk if you think anything might be around. Zombies will undoubtedly see you as will players, plus you are holding a flare in your hand and that means you cannot see into the darkness all that well. Check out this example. 

I wanted to put up to two screenshots. One without any kind of light and one with a flare, but then I realized the one without a flare would be way too dark. In the shot above we are in a small town near the coast and there are three fellow survivors standing near the flare. Finding a random group of people to travel with and trust is rare, but I've managed to make it happen every single time I play. For every bandit out there who wants to steal your supplies, or murder you for fun, there seems to be just as many people who want to cooperate with others and weather the harsh world with a friend by their side. Grouping up with other survivors is great, but there are plenty of risks and problems associated with it and that just makes the mod all the more interesting. The more people you have the more a large city becomes a necessity in order to keep people supplied, but that also means that your group is more of a target for bandits, you are more likely to have accidents and run into zombies, and you are all generally more likely to die, especially if you cannot communicate easily. Many people use teamspeak or voip, but there are just many who just type and a minority who don't say anything. 

DayZ is a pretty damn harsh and realistic zombie survival game normally, but many servers run hardcore mode and that makes it even more difficult. Normally you can identify other players when you see them and it will tell you their name, plus it often shows if they are bandit or survivor, but in hardcore that is entirely removed. The only way to figure out someones name is using direct communication, which is a chat type that only shows to those near you, or by trying to figure out who they are in general chat. It's tough to figure out who people are in this manner, especially when you only have the chat system to figure out who they are and whether they are friendly or not, but it just adds to the feel of the world and how you wouldn't be able to figure those things out in reality. You at least wouldn't be able to figure out until you met the person and talked it out.

Communication is key to every engagement with another player. To the point where most people, upon seeing another player, ask if they are friendly. They do this with their gun draw and aimed at that players head, always ready for the worst. I've been shot in the back, murdered by those who claimed to be friendly, but it still doesn't stop me from seeking out companionship and trying to help as many people as I can. Before I finally talk about some gameplay and technical aspects take a look at this DayZ trailer. It does a decent job of showing the game, but if you want a real in depth look check out the very popular The Days Ahead Series. 

I've mentioned many times how you have to eat and drink on a regular basis. If you don't do this you will start to lose blood and essentially die. You also have a couple of other indicators on the right side of the screen, like blood and humanity. On the top right corner of the UI there is a debug monitor, not sure why it hasn't been renamed, that shows you blood level, stats, the number of zombies, your exact humanity number,  and a few other useful bits of information. Other than all that you are pretty much left in the dark. Most of this game involves you figuring out what to do and how to interact with everything. You can of course look online and get some pretty helpful hints, which may be mandatory for anyone who hasn't played ARMA 2 before, but I love having to figure out things with other survivors. The game's servers are often overloaded, no one is quite sure why specifically, and you may often see lag or have trouble getting into servers. It is definitely a negative that I've spent an hour trying to get into servers, especially on weekends, before I finally got into a game.

I've spoken a lot about dying, but I haven't said what happens when you die. This game has a permadeath system. Everything you collect throughout a game, on any server, is persistently stored on the servers. You can join any survivor and you will respawn where you logged off and with all of your stuff, but if you ever get killed you respawn at the beach with the basic set up. You can go find your corpse and reclaim your equipment, especially since corpses seem to stay for a very long, but people loot player corpses pretty fast if you are in a popular area. The basic set up consists of some food, a canteen, a weak pistol, some ammo, some bandages, some painkillers, some flares, a very small backpack, some morphine and nothing else. After seeing how much there is to obtain it is painful to go back to square one, especially when you acquire a few rare items like maps or an assault rifles.

There is no goal currently for Dayz, other than to just survive, and they don't plan to add a goal, but it is left up to you to interact with the world however you wish. They are going to add some lore to the game, but you will always be left up to your own devices. People can certainly do pretty amazing things when they work together, like repairing the helicopter and flying it around, which is the hardest vehicle in the game to repair and refuel. DayZ is a fantastic mod. It certainly not for everyone, especially since it has many of the problems ARMA 2 had, but it takes a stab at truly being a zombie survival game and get's closer than anything that has come before it.

One last thing. The mod recently released a patch and it did something interested. For the last week or so zombie numbers have been pretty low on most servers and you would rarely see them, which is not intentional. The developer addressed this in the patch and now there is the opposite. The last time I played I respawned in a small city that had about forty zombies in it. A survivor was already engaged with these zombies and I tried to help, but used all of my ammo and almost died. After we killed them we started to move into town to scrounge for supplies and another twenty or thirty zombies seemed to come out of the town and out of the docks. My point being zombies are everywhere now and it could be a serious problem, but it may just change the way people deal with them. The developer does know about it and is working on a fix, but if you do try it out be aware that this extreme number of zombies may now stay for too long. IF you don't own ARMA 2 and are seriously contemplating it for this mod, like many people are, you should know that is on sale on Amazon right now. That's it  for now and I thank you for reading and checking out DayZ.
Main Website:

*The mod requires ARMA 2 Combined Operations or ARMA 2 and ARMA 2 Operation Arrowhead, but look here if you have the two separate and not just Combined Operations.
-Written by Sean Cargle


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