Day Z: Zombie Simulator Extraordinaire

15 May 2012

Today, the day of Diablo 3’s release, I’m stuck with an unworking computer thanks to a BIOS update gone wrong. So, while everyone else is either slaying demons or staring at login errors I suppose I’ll talk about my recent experiences in Day Z, the ARMA II mod that’s getting a huge amount of press lately.

To say Day Z is a zombie game would put it in the category of many other games that it’s actually not much like at all. Call it a zombie simulator, on a large scale: there are players, there are zombies, and there’s a constant need to survive, and that’s about it. Everything is treated as realistically as possible: there is a realtime day/night cycle that leaves you literally stumbling around in the dark, players must forage for food and water, bandages must be applied to stop bleeding, and other players can be just as dangerous as zombies.

On the surface the game seems to be an exercise in inaccessibility. Everything about it is hard to play, and only some of this can be blamed on the early alpha status of the mod. Installing and running the game is a little awkward but finding and joining a server was worse when I first booted it up - nearly all were full, several just hung on a black screen when loading, and the first one that worked left me in pitch black night. My initial questions:

  • Why can’t I see?
  • How do I light a flare?
  • Where am I?
  • Where do I go?

The first two I figured out once I scrolled through the hundred-some keybinds to figure out how to use text chat. The remaining two, it turns out, are really hard to answer. The game is set on a 225km^2 map, and the only way to figure out where you are is to shrewdly look around you for recognizable street signs  (all in russian) or landmarks, like a lighthouse I found. There’s no in game map by default (you have to hunt one out yourself, and I’ve never found one) so I had to alt tab out to a map I found online. Soon I discovered other players, who treated me either warily or with gunshots. Needless to say I died soon after.

The game reminds me a little of early Minecraft: Flawed but really exciting, because of how it represents a proof of concept that other games can improve on. Day Z is a horribly buggy game on an already buggy engine, but even through the door-walking zombies and glitchy player movement and disappearing loot there’s a really, really thrilling game underneath that clearly a large amount of people are enjoying. I can’t wait to see Day Z polished up, but even more so I can’t wait to see other games draw inspiration from the mod to see what others can do.

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