Sunday, February 2, 2014

DayZ Stand Alone Alpha Impressions!

Early Access and Crowd Funding

               There has been a lot of discussion lately about Early Access on Steam and if people should pay for games which are in development and why Valve allows these games on the store. Before discussing about DayZ, I would like to give my two cents about this matter which involves DayZ as well. There are a lot of gaming studios in the world and tones (probably or at least I hope so) of great ideas for good games but there is always the problem of money! As a studio, in order to have money you need a good publisher with strong investors to back-up your product, to invest in marketing so that your product is known by the public and sells better. However, a lot of strings are attached after getting this money, publishers put pressure on developers and get involved in their work trying to change the aspects of the game that they think would make it sell less (dumbing down) and forcing developers to meet deadlines that they aren’t able to meet and there are probably other aspects as well. So to avoid situations like these and deliver the games they want to, studios go independent and try to get funds as best as they can: by using crowd-funding websites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo or by posting their games on Steam Greenlight system hoping to gather enough votes for an Early Access on Steam store. But with these games you always know that they are a work in progress and that you are paying to support the developers to finish the games you want to play and there is no hiding about this and as a consumer you have been warned and you are not really entitled to complain until the games are released. By accessing the early stages of their work you can report bugs and give feedback that would help even more.
               There have been a multitude of unfinished and buggy games released in the last years, many being AAA titles, those are the games you should complain about, those are the developers you should blame for lying and for false marketing. Still despite all the good things, Early Access and crowd-funding can be dangerous tools, the final games can always be disappointing and unfinished and these kinds of games can destroy this concept. But as a customer, make sure the developers you are supporting and their games are worthy of your money, if not, you can always wait for their release.

DayZ Alpha (Early Access)!

               So why DayZ an Early Access game? Basically a work in progress which should not be reviewed in the current state but because I want to make an experiment, I am going to review this game at the stage it is in now (Q1 2014) and I will update this review in a year when this game will be close to a finished product. By doing this I can make a comparison and see how this game evolved and see if having the early funds and players feedback was worth it.
               The game is currently in Alpha stage. If you are not familiar with this term, alpha tests are usually the tests only for the developers, their families and friends. Games in alpha stages lack many features and are full of bugs, placeholders and stability problems. It’s a known fact that DayZ is far from being complete and has a lot of issues and the developers go as far as to warn you not to buy it unless you are fully aware of the current state of the game.
               DayZ is a stand-alone adaptation of an ARMA 2 Mod made by Dean "Rocket" Hall together with Bohemia Interactive, the creators of ARMA series, using the same engine and map as the mod. DayZ tries to get rid of the limiting shackles of being just a mod and tries to be a complete game.
It’s a little hard to assign a genre to this title, but the mod was the inspiration for many developers and started a trend of survival games that flooded the market during the last two years. I see it as a survival simulator but you can easily (but not that accurately) call it a FPS.

               DayZ is a complex and hardcore game where death is permanent, as a player you need to eat and drink in order to survive, if you are hit you will probably start to bleed and lose blood very fast until you are unconscious and eventually dead, it takes really few bullets to kill you, you can get food poisoning by eating spoiled food and this list of realistic game mechanics could continue and gets bigger with every patch. Now you can understand why I like to call this game a simulator and if you still don't believe me I will add one more thing: when you are low on blood (life) you can get a blood transfusion, but in order for this to happen you need to make sure the donor’s blood is compatible with yours (beat that!!).

               DayZ runs on the Arma 2 engine but has some visible improvements on the object and player models and texture quality is overall better, but on the other hand has the same problems that Arma 2 has by being very demanding, using high settings still runs poorly on today's machines and this engine is not that young.  The graphics for this game are designed with camouflage in mind, which really works, if you are wearing camouflage cloths you can barely be spotted in the grass or woods making the gameplay interesting, but if you run the vegetation settings on low you have a huge advantage because makes it so much easier to see other players. This is a common issue in many FPS games but in this title more than in any other game this matters because of the hardcore nature of this game. Also the engine has problems with draw distance, the distant landscape is horrible because vegetation is not properly rendered from medium to long range and this affects the camouflage system even more. So why use this? Because the in-game map has over 230 square km without any loading screens, is a true sandbox and there are not many graphic engines out there that can do something like this.

               The game servers are split in two categories, hardcore servers which have only first person camera mode and normal servers which allow for third person camera as well, both categories have their own hives which means the character made on one type of server cannot be used on the other. Apart from this there are no other differences between the two, but it is possible that this will change in the future.

               Talking about the sound in DayZ at this point in the game is really difficult; many sounds are place holders at the moment. Every melee hit collision has a shooting sound, there are also loads of annoying ambient sounds that make you believe stuff happens around you even if nothing does and this can be frustrating. The sound is far from being what it should be so I'm going to avoid talking more about it.

               And now comes the most important part, the gameplay and the most impressive thing of this game, which makes DayZ so special and the reason so many people were and are still so hyped about. The gameplay is hardcore and not only because of the ridiculous complexity of the game, but because it is immersive and generates a strong feeling, feeling that makes you check every place carefully and try not to take any risks because it could cost you your life. DayZ gives you that will to survive as much as possible and against all odds, to screw the others around you for your own benefit, it gives you the liberty to do what you want and every choice you take is your own. The best way I can present the strong feeling this game gives me is talking about what happened to me while I was playing it.
               My adventure in DayZ started with me breaking my neck because walking fast on the stairs can be dangerous (beware kids!); yes the damage taken when you fall is exaggerated. After a respawn, I continued with scavenging for any goods I could find but dying of external bleeding because zombies can walk through walls in the current state of the game and they are merciless if you don't know about this issue. I also didn't know where to get a bandage to stop my bleeding (pro tip: break your starting shirt for rags and use them as bandages!). As I was still trying to get a hold on the survival situation, I started interacting with players through in game voice chat trying to make item trades and asking for help or directions. This made the immersion even stronger. Then, as I got more accustomed to the game I started to team up with a friend, after all, this is about surviving the zombie apocalypse as a race, not just by myself, because what's the point then if I’m all alone? (well I wouldn't mind that so much because I'm not such a social person, but anyway...) As I was walking with one of my friends, scavenging for better loot we see a guy that is chased by zombies and bleeding. I smiled because that reminded me of myself a few days earlier. We jumped in and killed the zombies and bandaged the guy, we even gave him some food and we continued on our way, probably both of us thinking: "We are good people!"
               As our adventure continued we got fire arms and good gear so we went to what we knew as more dangerous areas (you would think areas full with zombies, oh you are so wrong!). We the reached an airport. Airports are areas with high quality items (good loot attracts predators!), so we checked around to see if is safe and we found a mass of dead bodies, as I was looking and asking myself "What the hell happened here?" I heard a rifle sound and my screen turned black and was kind of mocking me by saying: "You are dead". How could this be? I didn't even hurt a fly, I had a gun full of ammo and I didn't even get to shoot many zombies with it. Well turns out that people are more dangerous than zombies, makes you wonder why this apocalypse started. But as a human being I gave my own race another chance (more exactly like ten other chances), well turns out people don't deserve so many chances! So I embraced my dark side and started to kill other players that seemed dangerous to me (better them than me!) and by now I gained a lot of combat experience that helped me to stay alive in dire situations. That is how my adventure in this game started, from being the naive human in the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse to becoming the dangerous survivor I am now.
In retrospective of everything that happened to me in this game, I think that this is like human history, it is enough for one man to do something wrong and plant the seed of doubt in people’s minds and from there starts an unstoppable chain reaction. This is about survival and this can bring the worst out of us, even in a game.

               I'm going to end the subject of gameplay by talking about the player’s purpose in this game. There has been a lot of talking about DayZ not having an "end game", I find this notion very annoying when it is correlated to a title like this one. DayZ is not a standard MMO, but a sandbox game, where you can do everything you want with the limits being the game mechanics. The only goal in this game is to survive and the way you do it is up to you, the player, it might be limited now because the game lacks many features, but when the game will advance in development this won't be an issue any more, so if you think there is not enough to do now in the game right now, just wait a for a few more months.

               Getting closer to the end of this review, I would like to list the biggest problems in the current state of the game and also the features that would be added as the development progresses.
These are things that ruin the game at the moment:
  • The animations which are on the right track but need a lot of work, most of the problems with animations are related to collision and fluency.
  • The AI which is terrible, as I mentioned before zombies go through walls and tend to remain stuck in doors and walls;.
  • The netcode which is jumpy, but to be fair, netcode is a very complicated matter. This will probably be fixed when most of the features related to netcode are added to the game.
  • Physics which needs loads of improvements, many items now fall to the ground and some even get stuck in the air. The developers promised ragdoll physics.
  • The loot spawning system which doesn't work without a server restart.
  • The engine optimization needs improvements as the game doesn't run properly even on high-end machines. In a recent interview, Dean Hall mentioned he had discussions with representatives from the biggest chip developers on the market (AMD, Intel, NVIDIA) and there is lots of room for optimization.
  • The interface needs to be more responsive to players’ commands.
  • There are other problems, but these are the major ones. Keep in mind these are mostly technical problems and bugs, not features that the game doesn't have yet.
The list of upcoming features is quite big. The ones confirmed so far are:
  • Realistic vehicles with damage, repair and customization system.
  • Construction system, where players can make their own buildings, camps, barricades, etc.
  • Hunting and wild animals to diversify the ways to get food and survive, improving the immersion.
  • Crafting system, which is already slowly implemented.
  • Upgraded graphics and other technical aspects.
  • Support for user mods.
               These are the features promised on Steam Early Access and mentioned in many interviews as well. Keep in mind that everything is subject to change and this list can get bigger or can lose some of the things listed. But in the latest interview Dean Hall mentioned that he is trying to make the game as complex as possible and said that has more ideas that he would like to see implemented in the game than what was mentioned above.

               So this is everything I had to say about DayZ Alpha and its dangerous world. Do you think it’s worth it? If you are a hardcore dedicated gamer you can overlook the big problems the game has right now and enjoy it as it is, because there is nothing out there like this, also the game is cheaper now than it will be later this year and you have the opportunity to submit feedback and bug reports to help improve the game. But if you are not sure, I recommend patience, you can watch streams and videos on the internet a few months from now and see if the game meets your expectations. As for the price, there are always sales on Steam.

               So in a year, when this game will be in beta stage, I would like to talk about how this title evolved and if Early Access was something good that helped the game improve or was just a good way to take your money using the hype that was surrounding the it and leave you with a product far from what was promised.
And for all those who already own DayZ, continue surviving, you never know when a zombie apocalypse might start and the things learned from this game could become useful!

I'm so relaxed in the game menu.

This screenshot doesn't do justice to the scary nights of DayZ.

Try to spot me in this sea of trees!

Show yourself and I'll end your misery!

I'm a hoarder and I'm proud of it!
You're lucky that you are my friend!


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