DayZ + Arma 3 Developer Interview
DayZ + Arma 3 Developer Interview

Posted by In Gaming

Interview with Dean Hall, Creator of DayZ

The creator of Day Z, Dean “Rocket” Hall, recently gave an interview to PCGamer regarding DayZ and his plans for the future of the mod. He talks about disease, temperature, player emotion and playstyle, map design, optimization for ARMA2 and 3 engines, as well as the process of porting the game over to ARMA 3 when it launches. They discuss many cool features and interesting facts. For instance, did you know that DayZ for originally pitched as an Training Program for the New Zealand Army? They discuss generators, electricity, and more things on the horizon for the game itself, and they even delve into the deeper reasons behind why we are drawn to the game.

Here is a transcript of the interview as seen on PCGamer.

PCG: There’s this cross-pollination between your games that’s really interesting to me. Features from VBS—the military training tool you make—trickle down into Arma. Day Z is driving new patches to Arma 2 and making you think critically about Arma 3’s design. From the outside it almost seems like there’s this conflux of military and “civilian,” or commercial concepts overlapping.

Dslyecxi: Well, it’s interesting to see what the military considers a desirable feature and what they’ll actually fund. You get a lot of stuff that way that you would never really think to make for a civilian market, but if you already have it there and you can port it over…

Dean Hall: Day Z was my suggestion to the New Zealand army for training soldiers. I thought it could save them millions of dollars.

Are you serious?

Hall: Deadly serious, this was last year. And they were like, some of them were like… “Holy crap.”

So was this a pitch you made to them as a video game training simulation, or…?

Hall: Well, I was suggesting… I built it in Arma 2 because that was what I was most familiar with. And I enjoyed it and it had better visuals. When I did my training, I actually re-created the whole of Waiouru, the military training area, in Arma 2. When you’re doing your officer training, you have to lead a platoon. So I would do all my missions out in there first. And then I created my own persistent database so I could… like, track my progress through the exercise and run it out of the days, and actually get my platoon to go on, and have them run out of ammunition and stuff like that. And then, yeah, a couple of them I showed it to and they were like, “Holy crap.” But the problem is that it’s really hard to get momentum in the military. But yeah, that’s where it came from. I couldn’t get that much interest with it, and that’s when I thought I wanted to do something a bit more mainstream.

“Day Z was my suggestion to the New Zealand Army for training soldiers.”
Hall: I honestly think, though, it’s the way forward for training. Because the military in New Zealand was trying to train with… They train you to do stuff, they were constantly using VBS to train you in little bits and pieces. I was like, but you need to do the authentic thinking processes, you know? They were like, ah, you don’t need medical systems, we’ve got medics to do medical systems. I was like, but when you’re doing your officer training, you need to realize that when your dude is shot, you can’t just leave him! All the guys in our VBS2 scenarios, they were just ditching their guys. You can’t do that, you need to have some kind of system of, “Oh, my guy’s shot, I need to do something…”

Day Z creator Dean “Rocket” Hall. “Anyone in Cherno?” his shirt reads, an in-joke quote of almost every inexperienced, curious survivor that wanders close to Arma 2’s biggest town.
Are you talking about having intrinsic motivation as a player?

Hall: Yeah, sort of. I thought about authenticity. You have to go through those authentic thought processes. You know? That was the idea behind Day Z having the layers. Like, it’s raining, I need to watch out. I need food, but I can’t carry too much, I need to carry some ammunition. You have all of these different things to consider, and suddenly it’s all going on up in here instead of you just watching and reacting.

Dslyecxi: Well, they call it training scars. If you train a process and leave some critical aspect of it out, you’re going to do that in reality. You’ve got to go through the whole thing, at least on some level. In VBS2, have you seen the dismemberment they have now?

Hall: Yeah, I have, yeah.

Dslyecxi: That s$*# is crazy…

Jay Crowe: It’s a little cartoony in some aspects, but…

What causes dismemberment?

Dslyecxi: High caliber rounds, IEDs, stuff like that. It’s really gruesome.

Hall: I’ve actually done that with a zombie. But I turned it off because it’s too much work to do it with all the different models. It’s really easy, a couple of config changes in Arma 2, and you can detect all the hit points using the damage handle. It’s pretty easy. And it’s already all there. It’s just an art pipeline issue.

Crowe: I think for the military application, it’s kind of fine for what it is, but things need to be a lot more robust for the games. You can see in VBS, some of the character models, even if they don’t have legs, they might still just be floating if they were standing up somehow…

Hall: We’d do it for the zombies. You wouldn’t do it for the players. We’d just do it for the zombies.

Ivan Buchta:: If you’d be doing that for Arma people… We have to allow them the element for fatal hits. Because otherwise we don’t have any mechanics for handling bleeding people, with legs or arms shot off…

Dslyecxi: If you lose a body part in a battle, you’re not going to continue fighting, so…I think the most horrifying thing I saw when testing that was I had… I put down a bunch of US soldiers, male and female ones, and I just set off an IED to see at what range I could get non-fatal results. And there’s all of these headless, limbless torsos on the ground, twitching and moving around. It was horrible.


Dslyecxi: Yeah.

[A waiter interrupts. Our food arrives.]

Waiter: Carbonara?

Hall: Thanks, man.

Waiter: Two lasagnas?

Hall: One for me.

Waiter: That’s very hot, so be careful… Your pizza’s coming.

[We eat. Everyone is variously worn after a day at E3.]

So, Chernarus is satellite-modeled after a portion of the Czech Republic. What’s it like to play a zombie survival game set in what’s essentially your backyard?

Buchta:: Even I, as the author of the map, can tell you… in Day Z, I’ve visited some places I’ve never seen before.

Dslyecxi: We’ve become very intimate with the map. We’ve been playing Chernarus since Arma 2 came out, and we’ll get to an area where even though we’ve played dozens of missions in this before, we identify it with Day Z, because Day Z has you very intimately moving through buildings, it makes more of an impact on you in the long term.

Do you think it’s because Day Z puts this focus on really seeing and analyzing, reading the terrain? Whereas in Arma 2, you usually have some kind of waypoint… You always have a map to fall back on.

Crowe: And the waypoints in the 3D world as well, it’s something that we’ve been considering making some choices about in Arma 3…

Buchta:: I was actually… I was saying that we should get rid of that.

Crowe: I know that Marek [Spanel, Bohemia CEO] wants to. I think we can keep it for the lowest difficulty setting.

Creative Directors Jay Crowe and Ivan Buctha, a six-year veteran of Bohemia Interactive.
Buchta: It just doesn’t make sense from a military standpoint. It’s the same… It’s a spot to which infantry is getting quite quickly, so they engage you at close range and you lose all advantages you had, the car and its weapon systems… If there wouldn’t be a waypoint, at least five guys today would survive, because they would ride carefully, they would stop on the horizon, scan the terrain, and they would probably do a lot better.

Crowe: There’s evidence there in the single-player campaign with Eagle Wing, the fact that… You give players some simple objective like “Move here with this amount of ammunition and maybe pick up some more along the way,” people are willing to do it and they have a great experience with it. I think it’s a perfect example of what’s possible. And Day Z takes aspects of that and adds then some more elegant rules that work really well with persistent multiplayer.

Has Day Z sort of restored your faith in what players are willing to put up with? It’s an incredibly brutal game, and it’s unfinished, and people are just flocking to it.

Hall: And it’s difficult to install. It’s buggy as hell. The servers don’t work properly. I mean, what else can you screw up? The graphics are a little bit dated in some ways. Yeah, I think so. The mainstream impact of it is obviously a big surprise.

Buchta:: Even for us as developers, and for me personally, it was like… Alright, that makes sense, I want to do that. That was my immediate reaction. Because Arma 2, Arrowhead, Arma 3, I’d be doing all the same stuff again…

Actually, even with stepping up the process of playing the campaign, what you’ve seen today, it’s a productive idea… This new approach to campaign, it’s something fresh. It’ll be a pleasure. I’m really confident that the campaign can be interesting. But there will be some people, certainly, bitching about this… “It won’t be the traditional… Nothing beats old-time Flashpoint…” It’s bull*#&. Flashpoint is a terrible game. I’ve played it recently. I’m a bit sentimental about it…

Crowe: We need to quote that. Ivan Buchta: “Flashpoint is a terrible game!”

Buchta: But yeah, let’s face it, it’s a terrible game. Terribly inaccessible, hard, frustrating…

Hall: And people love it! I still get people saying, you know, when they found out I was working on Arma 3 multiplayer, friends of mine, one of my friends, he was like, are you going to make the campaign like Flashpoint? He’s like, seriously, I still play the campaign in Flashpoint…

Dslyecxi: They so over-romanticize it.

“Flashpoint is a terrible game. I’ve played it recently. I’m a bit sentimental about it…”

Hall: It’s like when, I was working at Sidhe Interactive, and we were like, “let’s remake Desert Strike.” Remember the helicopter game on Amiga? We were like, let’s do it, and we all got excited about it.

Buchta:: I was playing that before Take On…

Hall: We got the Amiga out, we put it on, and we were like… This is boring.

Crowe: Strike has aged well. That s*#*’s got an epic story…

Hall: It was awesome in its time, but things have changed. People had different expectations. And it’s not all just graphics stuff. They want different stuff out of it. I think it just seems crazy to me that as a medium, video games haven’t really explored a lot of the areas that movies and literature just constantly explore. You look at the zombie genre, in literature and movies they explore… You know, zombies aren’t the terror. There’s complex political stuff that happens when the world collapses. Games? Shoot zombies.

That was kind of my complaint about Left 4 Dead. I put a ton of time into it…

Hall: Yeah, I enjoyed it too, but…

But it’s a zombie-themed shooter, right? There’s no…

Hall: It’s an arcade thing.

Survival wasn’t necessarily a mechanic, I’d say.

Hall: Nope. And you don’t need a story to make someone feel something. That’s where games will win over movies. Hands down. Because you can’t have the viewer of a movie experience it.

“Zombies aren’t the terror. There’s complex political stuff that happens when the world collapses.”
Dslyecxi: It’s a fun shooter. It’s extremely well-designed. But it’s not survival at all. And survival is a really compelling thing that everyone thinks about sometime in their life. Making the Day Z experience out of it…

The mechanics in Left 4 Dead are all driven by reaction, right? Identify threat, solve threat. And for its own reasons, Valve goes out of its way to send all these signals that you’re in danger. Every special infected has a specific set of sound files. The color of zombies is desaturated to stand out from players. But that’s what I admire about Day Z, the way that needs naturally drive my goals. I need this, I need that, and it drives me out of my comfort zone. I need blood. I need to go to this terrifying city to retrieve it, and on top of that, I need to make friends with another survivor to do the transfusion.

Hall: Just before I came to work at BIS, I did an army exchange to Singapore, and I did their officer training. And as part of that I had to go to Brunei and do this survival training. So I’m the only white guy, trying to do this 30-day survival course with the Singaporeans, they’re not the best communicators, and it was just awful. I ran out of food, I ended up getting badly injured and had to have surgery and stuff. It was terrible. But as part of that whole experience, that was just what you were saying… You have to balance all this basic little stuff, and the effect that had, the way that I felt, the emotions I felt, that was when I was like… Why don’t video games try to create those emotions? Because even though some of them are terrible, the way they come together is really amazing, if that makes sense. You get all these stories out of them, you really want to tell people about them, because you went through this crazy thing. Why don’t we do that in games? It seems a bit crazy to me.

I think it’s because manufactured stories in games seem safe. It’s like you can make your mark as a designer with it. You can say, “Oh, they’re playing my story, they’re figuring it out, I did this really clever thing in it.” But it’s so much harder to say, I added this level of subtlety into the mechanics, it’s so clever. And it’s so clever that nobody notices it. You know? You’re kind of a bit naked there.

Day Z wouldn’t have escaped focus-testing, I’d imagine.

Hall: Yeah. Actually, we were talking before… This sums up the Arma community. So I’ve been working on Day Z and I’ve got maybe five or so guys to help me check it out. And me and Dslyecxi, we hadn’t really talked before, and I think we just… We added each other on Skype and got to talking. He said, “I’d like to see that persistent world stuff sometime.” And I was like, well, actually, I’ve been working on this zombie thing, and I really need someone to capacity test. And he said, okay, well, I’ve got 40 guys, and they just walked up, that was when the CHKilroy videos were made, and there was no briefing, no nothing, it was just…

“Why don’t video games try to create those emotions?”
Dslyecxi: Everyone standing there in that one gas station.

Hall: And it was just so Arma. Casual but not casual. Really friendly.

I get that in our co-op sessions, yeah. Everybody’s facilitating the other person’s fun, they’re respecting it. It isn’t about you necessarily.

Hall: Yeah.

One of the best-known figures in the Arma community, Dslyecxi is a Video Designer with VBS2/BISim, and a design consultant on Arma 3.
Dslyecxi: It took me a lot of playing Day Z to psych myself up to kill another player. Because I’m so used to playing with that mentality of, I don’t ever want to spoil anyone in ShackTac‘s fun. We go a long way to prevent that from happening. To get into this environment where there’s all these random people trying to kill you, and where you may get the jump on them and you may have a chance to unfairly kill them, making that mental leap is really tough.

Hall: Because we didn’t find out about a lot of the exploits… We tested it all and we were like, sweet! We did a couple of rounds with ShackTac and then a few public people, no issue.

Crowe: And then the EVE players came in.

Hall: And then EVE players came in. And suddenly, wham, there are all these massive exploits. I just shut down Europe, all the Europe servers, you remember? While we fixed that. It was only New Zealand that we could keep running.

Crowe: Yeah, you were saying, there was no such concept as bandits while you were in New Zealand. Then these Europeans came in and started killing each other.

Hall: They did. It got so bad. Because there was a bug where everyone was spawning on the beach. No problem in New Zealand.

Buchta:: People started helping each other, right?

Hall: Yeah, they started helping each other.

Buchta:: While the Russians…

Hall: There was a guy who would wait there and he would help the new players when they spawned in. And then on the Europe server, it just became a bloodbath. It was so bad we had to shut the server down until I fixed the mechanic.

Buchta:: I’m usually playing in the morning, the European morning, because the servers are full and I have family to take care of in the evenings. It’s always like I’m somewhere in the hills, and I’m always so glad I’m away, because the Russians are all chatting about how they killed people in Chernarus.

Crowe: If there was a real zombie apocalypse, I hope to God I’m in New Zealand. Anywhere near Russia, just end it now.

Hall: I love the passion the Russian players have, though. That’s why I love participating… I’ve done a few interviews with the live streams…

“If there was a real zombie apocalypse, I hope to God I’m in New Zealand.”
They’ve got that S.T.A.L.K.E.R. background…

Hall: They get it, they so get it. I love watching their live streams. They’re crazy. They’re all bandits. All bandits. They’re just ruthless, they don’t care if they get killed. And they’re not PvP… They’re not player killers. Or they are, but they care about their gear, they care about staying alive. They’re just cutthroat. It’s great.

Buchta:: They form small groups and…

Dslyecxi: Set a honey trap.

Hall: I just think they’re really good. I just think it’s great. The amazing things that people start doing, you just have no idea what they’ll do. There’s a dude who’s being set up… He set himself up as like a surgeon, a doctor, and he’ll go on to servers to help people out.

No way.

Hall: Yeah! And he has a whole team of supporters, and he has a bunch of people who will spawn in as an escort.

And protect him? Wow.

Hall: And what he did was, he actually, in character… He went in and figured out all the scripts that I’ve written, what all the medical values are that you need to get sick and how transmission happens. And he wrote up a massive guide, in-game, in-world, explaining it. Not just listing the stats, but actually explaining, okay, if you get sick then people close to you have a high chance of getting sick as well. It was just amazing. He put a lot of effort into that.

Do you know if he’s US-based?

Hall: I don’t know. He hops around a lot of the servers. But it’s just awesome, just totally spontaneously getting into that.

Crowe: It’s nice that you didn’t have to make a medic class. It just emerged.

I like the way Day Z rejects those concepts. I was talking about this in our podcast last week. I encountered a guy, I was at Balota airfield, and I was like, “It’s night. There aren’t too many people on the server, I’ll be fine, I’ll be fine…”

Hall: Immortal last words.

Pretty much. Inevitably a zombie trickles down from the top of the control tower I’m in. I have to fire my revolver. And a bandit comes in, kills my friend, I kill him, and I was explaining in the podcast… In any other game, I would have leveled up or something. But I feel like I learned something. I learned not to do something. I put my hand on that stove and I got burned. The game didn’t have to flash a bunch of numbers in front of me to communicate some extrinsic benefit of that interaction.

Hall: Unlock achieved!

Yeah, exactly. It was nice to just consider that on my own terms.

Hall: Yeah. And that was what we were talking about with Marek. That was what he really took away from Day Z. He wanted it to be like… If you’re good at reading the stars, in real life, then you’re good in-game. If you’re good at shooting, at moving the mouse around, then you’re good in-game. And he wanted to stay really true to that.

Crowe: Have you played any of the ACR missions yet?

Hall: No, no I haven’t.

Crowe: Because I noticed something you were saying about being in the forest and flashing the flashlight, there’s a couple of… A few designers worked on it, it’s a bit of a mish-mash of different concepts, but I would suggest trying to play a couple of runs, there’s man’s best friend, with the dog. You’re at night, you have a flashlight on the weapon, and the dog goes ahead and hunts for some war criminal or whatever it is. The atmosphere of that, following the dog and then… I think you should definitely check it out. It’s scripted, it’s really, really scripted, the mechanics of it that is, but…

Hall: Yeah, because I’ve been having some trouble with the dogs. I haven’t got them implemented yet for Day Z…

Crowe: No, when I saw the screenshots and the ideas, I was like, does he know how difficult dogs are…?

“If you’re good at reading the stars, in real life, then you’re good in-game. If you’re good at shooting, at moving the mouse around, then you’re good in-game.”
Hall: If I make them a person and not a dog, it works.

Crowe: Yeah, exactly.

So, in the game logic, your zombies are animals and dogs are people.

Hall: [laughs] Yeah, how’s that work?

Dslyecxi: Hey, what about zombie dogs?

Hall: Actually, I want to make the players animals as well. I want to make the players using Create Agent, because at the moment, they’re a unit. They have a group and they do a bunch of other crazy stuff. But if I actually tried it, using Create Agent works fine, the only problem is, you can’t use the inventory system. The inventory system doesn’t work with the current way Agent works. When you push G, nothing shows up. I want to rewrite the whole inventory system anyway.

What don’t you like about the inventory system right now?

Hall: Everything. I’m pretty picky. Inventory is the key to Day Z, it is the leveling, it’s everything. It’s a resource in itself, because you only have so much space, and I think… You get a better backpack like we were saying in our first interview, suddenly you become more of a target. It’s this whole thing in itself.

Dslyecxi: Have you seen Brigade E5? You know Jagged Alliance? It’s like a 3D sequel to Jagged Alliance.

Hall: I liked Jagged Alliance.

Dslyecxi: The E5 inventory is probably the best inventory I’ve seen in any game like that. I’ve got an article on my site that has some pictures of it. They just have it to where… What you’re wearing determines what your inventory is.

Hall: That’s what I really want, clothing, I’m really big on it. It’s going to be a little bit of work, but… When I played Skyrim, there was this amazing moment for me, I remember starting up at like three o’clock in the morning, I told my boss, my commanding officer in the army, that when Skyrim came out, that was it, I wasn’t coming to work for seven days. I didn’t care if they arrested me or something. But then I was like, the visuals are amazing, I’m standing in a river, I’m running up in the snow, and then I was like… It means nothing.

Why does it mean nothing?

Dslyecxi: It’s freezing cold out and it doesn’t matter.

Hall: And I just instantly felt completely disconnected from my character. We’ve made a lame attempt with Day Z so far, to start trying with it. It’s a good rough start, but I just think there’s so much potential there.

“I told my boss, my commanding officer in the army, that when Skyrim came out, that was it, I wasn’t coming to work for seven days. I didn’t care if they arrested me or something.”
Dslyecxi: Back in, if you remember, No One Lives Forever, the sequel to that, there’s a scene in that where you fall underwater in the winter. And the mechanics from that point forward, you have to go from position to position and warm yourself so you don’t die. That was the most authentic winter scene at that point, easily, because it meant something. Whereas in Skyrim, you could jump into a frigid stream in the middle of winter with a blizzard going on, hop right back out, no big deal.

Buchta:: If you’ve been on a trip to the mountains, it can be quite a dangerous affair. Developers simply don’t want people to leave the computer shaking, which you do after you play a game of Day Z.

Hall: And actually there’s an amazing forum post on the Day Z forums, I need to hunt it down. This guy is like, “Why, after I’ve played it, am I shaking?” And someone who’s obviously some kind of psychologist or something comes into the thread and says “It’s a psychosomatic response.” He’s like, “It means that your body believes that what has happened is real.” I felt a bit bad, actually. The guy was describing what happened, he couldn’t go out for like an hour or something, is someone going to sue me?

Buchta:: Even we get that. After hours of hunting some zombies with Dean, we had just finished something, and he was like, “No, no, I’m so exhausted. I just need to rest. I need to take a walk, go see something nice,” because it was so harsh.

Dslyecxi: Have you played Invasion 44?

Hall: Yeah.

Dslyecxi: Are you familiar with Vostok, or any of the winter maps in Arma 2?

Hall: I wouldn’t know any of them by name, no… Oh, Vostok, yeah, I love snow maps, so…

Dslyecxi: It’s a good one, we’ve played dozens and dozens of missions on Vostok. We did an Invasion 44 session on a new version we hadn’t played before, it was winter, the Vostok winter, and there was only one difference. It was that everyone, every character, breathed. You could see it.

Hall: Yeah.

Dslyecxi: That is the only time I’ve ever felt cold. Just that one little subtle effect, it’s totally remarkable what little things like that can do.

Hall: Yeah, yeah. Those little subtleties and they all add together and piece it together. Getting the environmental ones right is going to be really tough. Because when I first released the patch [that added temperature as a feature, and infection], there was a bit of a bug that didn’t come out where basically people got cold very fast. And then I watched it. I should print out the map of how it spread. It started on Chicago One because Chicago One was one of the first that we released. And Chicago One was raining and it was night. That meant that about 60 people, because it was the two Chicago servers, suddenly come down infected. Now, what do they do? They instantly disconnected from Chicago to move to a daytime or non-raining server. They carried the infection with them! The infection just spread like wildfire, and before we knew it we had 1,000 people infected.

So at that point it’s almost become an epidemiological experiment.

Hall: Yeah, but it was terrifying for me, because at the time, there was no way to really heal those people. Antibiotics were a 0.11-percent spawn chance in a hospital only. I was like, what are we going to do? And in the end we just did nothing, because it was going to be too complex to reset the way the infection was recorded in the database. And so these people were walking around coughing and it was creating this whole dynamic. That was the intention, that you would be grouped with people, your friends, your buddies, and what if one of your buddies gets sick?

Yeah. Do you let him go? Do you come back…?

Hall: Do you let him go, do you ostracize him, do you kill him?

“The infection just spread like wildfire, and before we knew it we had 1,000 people infected.”
Buchta:: That’s a less than healthy way to support cooperative gameplay…

Hall: Well, that’s why I introduced it, because there were a few groups that were getting way too cocky. I was like, haha, this is going to nail you. I went a bit overboard, people got too cold too quick.

Buchta:: It was deadlier than bandits.

Hall: Yeah. But it was so terrifying. It was three o’clock in the morning and I just had this sinking feeling when I realized what I did. I mean, I watched the Chicago… We saw it, literally, Chicago suddenly had ten people left in it. And then we realized, we tracked the player names using Sick Boy’s system that he’s given me access to, and I was like, oh no, they’re infecting people. They’ve gone to other servers.

What does it feel like to kill players with a disease you created?

Hall: It’s not good. Actually, I killed everyone except me once, reasonably early in development, in the database. I wrote a query wrong, did everyone else, and luckily was able to quickly reverse it, was good.

The Bohemia booth at E3.
You’re talking about infection almost as a way of breaking up really strong groups, who kind of get in their comfort zone. What’s an example of some other behaviors in the game right now that you’re hoping to sort of repress or get rid of or discourage?

Hall: Well, the big one is that… I think removing the global and side chat will have a positive and negative benefit. It will really ramp up the entry-level requirements, but it will probably, I’m hoping, sort of drive some really interesting player dynamic interactions. Because suddenly people will actually have to talk to each other, and they’ll have to kinda get close to each other. We saw a little bit of that when ShackTac first used it, and I’m hoping we’ll see a return to that. So I think that this will be a really interesting thing. You know, the new stuff that has come out with the beta patch the guys put in, we can disable global and side chat. Se there’s only going to be direct chat.

Crowe: But then your t-shirt won’t make any sense…

Hall: There’ll still be guys running around, guaranteed, there’ll be guys running around saying, “Anyone in Cherno?” It’s never going to stop. And what a lot of people don’t realize, at the moment, if you use VON, it actually attracts zombies.


Hall: And if you eat, it actually makes the zombies walk to your position, because I saw an interesting post on the forums… This guy’s saying, “I’m sniping people in Cherno, is there an AFK zombie? Because when I’m sniping people in Cherno, after a while, it seems like the zombie will walk right up near me or see it at the last minute and get away, he’ll walk right to where I’m sitting.” He didn’t realize that there’s this… I secretly put it in, and didn’t put it in the build notes, that zombies will investigate a lot of sounds. Like drinking, eating, hunting and that, they’ll walk to the location.

Buchta:: That’s why I made the smelling animation…

“If you use VON, it actually attracts zombies.”
Interesting. About global chat—I understand why it needs to be cut in Day Z, but there’s this charming aspect to it. It feels like truckers on the road, or an apocalyptic ’90s chat room.

Hall: We’ll bring back something in. I already had a rough sort of cell phone mechanic that was actually… You were able to send e-mail from inside Day Z, because what I wanted to have was, if you were having a problem, you could contact someone inside Day Z, the game. But there’s some issues, I’m just concerned about hacking and misuse of it. We’ll come up with something. I just think there’s going to be some really interesting dynamics come out of it.

Yeah, I heard word of you guys working on a power grid or electricity mechanic…

Hall: Yeah, because all of these models are actually already in-game, and a lot of the mechanics, but they need a lot of refining. The generator thing’s easy, you just fill it up and it runs a thing and then you can connect lights to it, it’s pretty straightforward.


PCG: Whenever we post an Arma 3 article, we get comments like, “I can hear my graphics card crying.” I noticed that you guys recently announced some revised system specs.

Jay Crowe: Yeah.

Do you feel like it was a mistake to come out a year ago and say that a Core i5 CPU was the target spec?

Crowe: I think maybe the mistake would have been just releasing target specs at the time. But on the other hand, they generated a lot of people saying, “Oh my God, I need an i5, it’s going to push the hardware…” So it got people’s expectations going. Maybe if we’d also put it alongside some min specs as well… It would have been useful.

Does the reputation of Arma being a demanding game bother you?

Ivan Buchta: Well, it’s like… The gamer with a cheap hard drive and an excellent graphics card, things like that, he may suffer from the weakest part of the hardware, which is just getting the data into the GPU…

Dean Hall:: We don’t run supercomputers. None of our computers seem particularly amazing in Brno, anyway.

Crowe: We sit on gold thrones…

Jay Crowe and Ivan Buchta, Arma 3’s Creative Directors, uncharacteristically seated in the booth of a common man.
What were you guys running Arma 3 on at E3?

Crowe: 580s and i7s. Not even SLI. Just one graphics card.

One 580?

Crowe: Yeah. My system that we captured the videos on, that’s a special one… I think 560 on an i7, 3.2GHz or whatever? The SSD helps. It’s all little bits of good components, overall, that make the game smoother. They are running really nice at E3. In fact I’m going to print out that DirectX config, post it up and say, “Guys, this will run smooth, we’re happy with it.”

Hall:: I mean, my personal computer isn’t anything kick-ass. If you can run Arma 2 you can run Arma 3. Everyone’s saying they’ll need to upgrade their computer—you’ll need a reasonable graphics card, but the average user doesn’t need a latest-generation graphics card.

Dslyecxi: One part of it, also, it’s so easy for people to set their settings wrong. You can have one setting be wrong and it ruins the whole thing.

“If you can run Arma 2 you can run Arma 3.”
Crowe: I could easily have broken the E3 demo just by putting view distance from three to six [kilometers]. It’s definitely giving a lot of power to the players to break their own game, and that’s true of modding as well. There’s a lot of things that can completely break the game. We really started to take on a bit more with Take On Helicopters. These guys really want to have great, great cockpit resolutions, so you’re going to have to increase their 3D resolution, but they’re going to have to sacrifice something else, because then the graphics card is working 150 percent. Turn down the view distance, maybe? The simplest thing I might do for graphics settings in Arma 3 is rename “very high” to “stupid.” And then just bump everything down. So then somebody says, “Why would I put it on stupid? Just put it on high.”

Buchta: Maybe we can rename the options to “reasonably good,” “pretty okay,” “really nice,” and “insane.”

Hall:: But part of the problem is, people think, “Oh, I’ve got a moderate system, I’m going to set everything to low,” but you can actually get bad performance from doing that. Because it puts everything onto the CPU.

Crowe: Yeah, like shadows for example. If it’s on normal, it’s run by the CPU, if it’s set to high it’s on the graphics card. Even things like chunks of data, if you have very high quality, it’s a bigger chunk and it’s easier to load.

Buchta: Yeah. Video memory, it’s the most tricky thing, because you’re actually setting whether it should be somewhere completely else, you’re setting how much video memory is dedicated to the game. So in fact, to achieve good performance, you should have everything on normal, but set this to very high, so you can make sure that your video RAM is used properly. I wonder why we keep this setting, by the way, maybe for some crazy diagnostic purposes…

Crowe: And there are more video options now, we’ve got clouds, we’ve got dynamic lights that we can talk about, picture-in-picture, all these things we could ratchet up and down. Half of the challenge is going to be saying, “These are your options, this is how to use them,” and presenting it in a usable way.

What types of combat experiences am I going to have in Arma 3’s maps—Limnos and Stratis—that I haven’t had in Chernarus or Takistan?

Dslyecxi: What’s the name of that bamboo stuff, the giant bamboo?

Buchta: They’re reeds, actually.

Dslyecxi: That’ll be a big influence…

Buchta: We still need to work on that…

Crowe: There’s some hit bugs we need to work out…

Buchta: That’s about the densest vegetation you can find on the island. Well, Limnos, the island is pretty variegated, actually. It’s the first really flat terrain we have. We have sufficient amounts of terrain resolution to have some bumps in the otherwise flat terrain, so… I wonder how, for example, tank fights will proceed in these areas, because even those reeds, they’re a visual barrier. We had a big multiplayer…

Crowe: The multiplayer game, that was… It wasn’t so stable, but I was in a convoy, Joris [-Jan van ‘t Land, Senior Designer] is in front of me, somebody else is in front of that, another tank column coming up the side, real World War II stuff like that. It was a lot of fun. A lot more room to stretch your legs.

Buchta: One particularly important thing from my perspective is that the… Even the smallest village is fairly big compared to the previous versions of Arma.

Hall:: Huge! The scale is just insane.

Buchta: And the landscape structure, with the irrigation around the villages, it’s a fairly big maze surrounded by shrubs and trees and orchards, and then there’s flat land, fairly open terrain. So if we’d be introducing anything like a terrain control into multiplayer, there will have to be some really well-coordinated strikes against the defensive establishments of the enemy.

Hall:: Very complex.

“Even the smallest village is fairly big compared to the previous versions of Arma.”
Buchta: You are quite exposed when you’re attacking these places, and these places can be defended quite easily, because you’re shielded by the vegetation, and you can simply hide in the arbor and run and pretty much line up the attackers into a few kill zones. There are areas which are just impossible for vehicles, and for infantry as well. There are some natural fortresses. Or quite important barriers in the terrain. You have to go for that. The range for engagements will dramatically increase on open land and dramatically decrease in the urban areas and the farmlands.

Hall:: When we were doing the VIP missions in that, we’d get really tactical and we’d be running around fighting and taking cover and… It was just so much fun. And I don’t think… If there was something that wasn’t quite nailed… A little bit with Takistan? Because it was quite open and there wasn’t necessarily a lot of cover. But with Stratis, I’ve really often felt like you’re doing bounding cover and… You could do really well score-wise if you were fighting and using the terrain well, carefully moving through the city…

Crowe: I was dominating that VIP, I was picking off all your guys…

Hall:: But the guys, some of the artists were… I was like, “What are you guys doing?” I was starting to get angry at them because they’re just running across in the middle of everywhere. Ivan, you’ve been really particular with the artists. I love that attention to detail that you’re putting into the map.

Buchta: At some point I got really pissed off with the level designers’ work on the open terrain… They simply needed to understand stuff that we’re trying to do, trying to do some compositions of stuff. Then I simply placed myself with a machine gun, removed their weapons, and said, “Okay, move from this place to here.” And I just starting hosing them down.

So you shot at your artists to help them understand how the map design needed to change.

Hall:: But it was good, that kind of brutal approach.

Buchta: We applied a similar pipeline for Limnos as we did for Chernarus, but we got more guys who are more experienced and more diligent. It’s actually finally smoother. We have compartmentalized the area, there’s always a responsible map designer who places all the objects to this terrain and such. There are some nice places… I try to read and learn about Lemnos as much as possible. And I also try to make sure that there’s good terrain for mission designers to place their work on.

Crowe: It’s really difficult from a design point of view to start making missions while the map is still in progress.

Buchta: Yeah. That’s why we’ve prioritized the areas which are likely to be used first. I do these inspections, where at some point, the guys all join me in multiplayer, and we’re driving around in cars, walking… It was like buying a property or something like that. Walking around… “Okay, you see this, and it’s nothing you would notice in the editor, but from this perspective, this is just wrong. Here we have a lack of cover. Here you get in tank range and then you place these objects, it’s just impossible.” The guys have really changed their methods. Time after time, I do a little lecture to all the map designers, to return things back… But it’s very exciting. Now we are getting to the stage where we can start really adding the fun stuff, like traffic signs, special objects. I think that the areas have some really nice terrain, some of them. Also, the graphical balancing of things, getting proper vegetation, balancing the coloration of satellite textures and stuff like that.

Hall:: The night battles are going to be crazy. I don’t think people really realize. I did a lot of testing, and the crazy battles you get, wow. I had my AI guys setting up machinegun emplacements and the tracers coming down and then vehicles exploding. And then you see all the flame effects from it. It’s always a little bit disappointing sometimes with Arma 2, you put the NVGs on and it…

The mystery goes away.

Hall:: Yeah, the mystery goes away. But man, I was just having crazy stuff happen. And a squad on open terrain… We did that, it was a little broken, when we did that one multiplayer piece…

Dslyecxi: I did that, at nighttime…

Hall:: Remember that? It was insane! We had burning wrecks everywhere, we were hunkered down by the…

Crowe: I joined in progress and kept getting shot in the head by people like him.

“The night battles are going to be crazy.”
Buchta: We won just by making a small group and taking the objective long enough to score some points.

Hall:: That was good.

My friend wrote a mod about a year ago that made every bullet into a tracer. Night firefights resembled like Star Wars.

Hall:: Part of our [military] training in Thailand was a live fire exercise. I’m not even talking .50 cal, I’m just talking about 7.62, like any machine gun, going off. You feel those rounds.

Dslyecxi: That light .50 is amazing.

Hall:: Yeah. We had our jeep MG firing at a target, and when it was firing, we would go around. So you would feel the rounds go beside you, you’d feel the shock. Your balls go [Hall makes a sound that conveys the experience of groin reflex with surprising accuracy]! And it was in Thailand, it was so hot that the target actually caught fire, you know? Because of the rounds and the friction heating up the air, not even the bullet impact itself. But what I did the tracers in that way in-game. The AI guys were actually setting up, using the terrain, setting up fire positions that made sense, and then concentrating fire. It was just awesome. You’d see this tracer and hear the thud-thud-thud…

Dslyecxi: One thing that I’d like to see that I haven’t seen yet in, I think, any game, is tracers hitting something and being stopped by it and falling down but still burning for a few seconds.

Hall:: Yeah. We can actually do that because that’s what I do with the flares and the chem lights in Day Z. Their “time to live” is just ridiculously high and I just change their simulation check time so it doesn’t have to check them.

Crowe: I was looking at the [E3] showcase today, and I don’t know how I didn’t spot it before, maybe because most of the time I had NVGs on, but I was just without it on, and I saw some muzzle flashes coming from behind a bush. And that was, again, muzzle flashes look nice for the player… And then it became a tactical thing.

Hall:: Absolutely.

Crowe: These guys didn’t have the suppressors on their weapons, so I was able to see it. I was like, “Ah, that’s smart…”

Buchta: Some of the muzzle flash suppressors are going to become a really important part of Arma.

Hall:: It’s a big deal in real life. That’s why your ambush has to be timed perfectly. Yeah, the muzzle flashes in Arma 3 are like, massive big win. There are so many variations of them, you fire them, they each look different…

Buchta: But it’s actually a quite clever little thing. The muzzle brakes are usually symmetrical, so we suggested that it could use the proxy model, but rotate it in a random fashion. Every time you shoot, it’s displayed rotated randomly in steps. It looks sufficiently different every time.

Hall:: Wait a minute, is that what it is? Holy cow, I thought they were actually different models. You destroyed the magic, the magic is gone!

Buchta: Sorry. I thought you knew…

The man behind the curtain. The muzzle flash behind the curtain.

Crowe: There’s also something I haven’t shown in videos or screenshots yet, because they’re not quite done. Rockets have got new blast-back, so they’re not just this sort of square bright thing. They light up the ground with this similar sort of real flash of light. I want to get some really nice nighttime rocket fire going on.

Have you played the Crooks mod for Arma 2? We play it all the time on our server, it’s cops and robbers. There are like three robbers and 30 cops that uh, work together to protect AI prostitutes.

Hall:: I think I might have seen YouTube videos of this…

Kind of like Day Z, it has that same “needle in a haystack” feeling when you see someone. It has a similar emphasis on vision. The police eventually get access to helicopters, get in the air, and start scanning the ground for movement. It’s sort of like The Fugitive. If you find them, it’s your responsibility to just keep visual contact.

Hall:: Yeah, I like the sound of that. It sounds like City Life, but without all the dinking around…

Dslyecxi: There was something we used to play back in Flashpoint called Murder Sim, which was the same basic idea. You had four bad guys who went around trying to kill all the women in these specific cities before the cops could get on to them and stop them.

Hall:: That is cool. I like that.

Crooks, a favored pastime of the PC Gamer Arma 2 server.
It’s a nice progression. It’s only the eastern side of Chernarus, from like Gorka down to Solnichniy and, like, Msta and Tulga, that’s the southern limit I think.

Crowe: Ivan probably doesn’t respect your pronunciation of the towns…

Yeah, sorry. This is what happens when you parrot the names to each other over two years without actually knowing how to say them. But yeah, Crooks is really special.

DH: I think with simplicity, when you get it right, you know, because you’ve nailed it. Sometimes I think with modding, people are trying to just add more s#$*, and you can’t just add more s$*&. And that’s what I like about the idea that you just described, you could describe it in 20 seconds and it makes sense. What makes a game great is what you don’t put in it.

What’s your process like, then, for adding new features to Day Z? How are you holding up, though? You’re getting bombarded with feedback and bug reports on a daily basis, partly because Day Z happened to get popular so early in its life, like Minecraft.

Hall:: It’s very easy to start losing your way. I literally had started to lose it from lack of sleep and totally focusing on it all the time. Especially when I was used to developing in secret. And because I told myself, “I’m not allowed to announce this until it’s finished. That’s your motivator. Because unless I finish this, nobody will ever hear anything about it.” And you remove ego from it because you’re just getting raw feedback from people, friends and stuff who’ve known me for like ten years. Then when you suddenly open it out, it’s really easy to lose your way initially. That’s where you need the people to pull you in.

If it doesn’t stay as a community-driven project where I’m directly plugged in with the community, having real level playing field discussions, almost arguments, with the players, then it’s going to fail. Because I’ll never be able to maintain the tenacity, the ability to hold to those key ideals unless I’m in there with them, reading about how 4chan hates me and crying, and then hearing Reddit abuse me. You have to be grounded with that, otherwise it’ll just go off on some… We’ll be paying for hats and stuff.

Some people would call that masochistic, but it seems like it’s working out. How do you prioritize new features and changes?

Hall:: I guess it’s a matter of sanity that I need to work on something new. And it’s also the players who need to see something new. And because it’s out, it’s the start of an alpha mod, it needs to be a period of adding some features. So… I guess the main thing is to pick the hard stuff, because I think you get the hard stuff out of the way now. That was why I picked the temperature one, because it’s so important. I think the game can survive without the crazy meta-game group stuff, because that’ll happen anyway even if there’s not mechanics for it. But the temperature, that connection with the environment stuff, that needs to be solved.

Buchta: I’m going to spend the next four weeks in Chernarus. Partly in the virtual one, partly in the real one. We just decided to address some obvious issues which are related to the environment, to provide Dean with a better maps.

“What makes a game great is what you don’t put in it.”
Hall:: It’s going to be amazing. Actually, do you remember our first conversation we ever had on Skype? It was about Chernarus. I wanted some advice about Chernarus, we got talking about it, you sent me pictures of around it and that… It was years ago. I think it’s almost a very underrated map, because a lot of people couldn’t really run it. I couldn’t run it on my computer when Arma 2 came out.

Buchta: It was partly our fault, because optimization of course was something I’d definitely like to do… We planned a four-week sprint towards some better mapping… I’ve mentioned to our lead programmer, just some classified information, we’d like to expand the Chernarus theme in the Arma 3 engine, partly because of Dean’s zombies, partly because it’s a good map and we know it. We can get the data real cheap and we already have a working basis, so there will be more realistic terrain and new vegetation. And I’m also trying to push all those environment-related things like underground structures, bridges, better handling of water, power lines, many things which were omitted.

Is there any fundamental technical hurdle that would prevent you from porting Day Z directly into Arma 3?

Hall:: I guess the thing about Day Z, it’s actually a lot easier than what Arma 2 does. And a lot of it’s in finite state machines now. I’m slowly moving it. And those can just be compiled. They can even be compiled to the engine and run engine side, which is a lot more efficient. But it’s pretty basic stuff. And the way it’s designed is very modular. So the only thing we’d need to do is go through and configure the buildings, the spawn positions. Basically you can configure that in about an hour. It took me about an hour to do Chernarus, just going through the buildings, placing gear here and here and here. I have a little mission, I run around each building and pop the stuff and then it’s done.

Do you feel like Santa Claus when you’re doing that?

Everyone: [laughter]

Hall:: Yeah, a little bit. But I think it’s a really exciting time for BI. If we can get Day Z working and we can get some good success and some really strong sales out of it, then it can get a bit more ambitious. And then that technology can be pulled across. Because if you remove the zombies out of it, it’s a pretty basic sort of technology, and a lot of that will be applicable to do the sort of large-scale stuff that we always thought of for Arma 3. Some of it can probably fall off and maybe have some offshoot in VBS. And then other ideas that can come out of that… The cool thing is that they’re different and they’re not hurting each other. They’re mutually supporting.

Dslyecxi: If you could just take the persistency aspect of it and do it on a very low scale, single-mission basis, such that someone who crashes or disconnects or whatever can reconnect to the game and pop right back in…

Hall:: It’s done, I’ve had that for a year with the USEC system. And that’s why I want to give you that revolution system. I showed it to the guys when I started working there. It’s fairly basic, but…

Buchta: Basic is just enough, I think. Once you start altering it, then you aren’t helping in anyway.

Hall:: But there is a full logistics suite. I’ll send you the source [code], it’s reasonably easy to get running.

So, you mentioned the player that decided to roleplay as a doctor in Day Z—the most dangerous and interesting “career” I can think of would be getting who gets a car, having a group of people to protect it, and starts charging for travel. Like a taxi driver.

Hall:: It’s actually been done. Someone was running, with a helicopter of all things, they were running a public transport network for a while.

Were they charging for it?

Hall:: No, they were just doing it with donations. I think they were going for desperate people, sort of like a flying doctors type of situation.

A guardian angel.

Hall:: The people below were so grateful that they weren’t shooting.

Buchta: That’s why I would like to see the radio simulation in Day Z. It actually makes sense. Having radios with various ranges, channel access capability, then you could really be saving your battery for a hairy situation and trying to call for help… “Is anyone here, does anyone hear me, I’m somewhere near Vyshnoye…”

Hall:: And that’s why, I think, if we do this amalgam of central server-oriented and peer to peer, we can do all this crazy stuff, because you can do as much stuff as you want locally. If we split things, and really ask ourselves “Do things need to be on the server or do they need to be on the client?” then we can get bigger and bigger servers that are actually doing less and less. At the moment, all a Day Z server does is all the stuff a normal Arma 2 server does, and soaking stuff up to the database. That’s it. It doesn’t even analyze the data. There’s an application that sits between that and the database that checks to see if what it’s getting makes sense, to look for hackers. But yeah, I’m just thankful that Ondřej [Španěl, Lead Programmer] is interested. That’s going to mean that we can enable all this peer to peer stuff that is sitting there not being used and doing some really cool stuff.

Buchta: It’s not a problem of design, it’s a problem of execution at the moment, because it’s not terribly difficult, but it’s a large problem, it’s rooted in many aspects of the game, starting with players, multiplayer, ending in the AI permutations. It might well be possible. And Marek [Spanel, CEO] has been musing about this for some time as well. I think a little variety, like just commercial walkie-talkies, even like the kind a babysitter uses…

Hall:: Oh, yeah, a baby monitor, I want to see that. Cruising around Cherno with baby monitors.

Different tiers of radios?

Hall:: I can see the merchandising options of that already.

Could Day Z players soon use baby monitors to communicate or as makeshift surveillance equipment of high-traffic locations?
Buchta: You could even help people with it in-game…

Hall:: Oh, wow. There’s some serious emergent gameplay opportunities there.

“I want to see that. Cruising around Cherno with baby monitors.”
Dslyecxi: Have you played with ACRE [Advanced Combat Radio Environment, an Arma 2 mod] much?

No, I’ve watched video with it, but I haven’t, no…

Dslyecxi: Yeah, it’s pretty cool. Terrain can influence it, if you’re in a forest it’ll cause it to show shorter ranges… If you’re moving away, their radio is having more trouble reaching you, they’ll actually hear you distort and break up and eventually you’ll lose them entirely. So if someone really broke up, they could be saying things very slowly and deliberately for you to understand it…

Hall:: Well, we had guys from ShackTac making zombie noises to freak people out…

Dslyecxi: They have it set up where you can do re-transmission stations, have one radio that’ll bounce off relays to get around.

That seems like a natural fit for Day Z; if there’s a radio transmission station at the top of Green Mountain, that becomes a really valuable point, a clan wants to own that spot, they can talk to another point…

Hall:: And imagine if we start making maps bigger and connecting more worlds together to an extent, and then radios become important. You get a whole meta-game going on.

Buchta: Yeah. Even protecting this infrastructure. Suddenly you lose a connection, well, what happened to the guys? That’s one of the other potential aspects which can be explored, like making safe zones. I can imagine that at some point, we may end up having no zombies, because they’ll be extinct…

Hall:: At least on certain servers…

Buchta: But people will be renewing civilization. They’re already trying to mimic services. Imagine with the radios, there could be radio stations…

What do you think inspires PC gamers to make their own fun in that way?

Hall:: I think persistence switches something in people’s heads. Because they know that the character’s going to be there later. You play differently. You see it in the way people play. They can’t even help it. They just approach it differently. You watch some of the live streams where they’re like, they want to go in and grief people, but they end up not doing it, because they can’t help themselves. It’s quite amazing.

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