We had the chance to sit in on a press roundtable with H1Z1 Senior Designer Jimmy Whisenhunt, who fielded questions about SOE’s post-apocalyptic zombie survival extravaganza. For fans starving for information, it helped to fill our food meter a bit, even if some of the answers were a little… unsavory.
First steps. In his initial “in case you’re new” description of the game, Whisenhunt talked about the escalating need to find first food, then shelter for the night, build a campfire, and then deal with other players. That’s hardly a revelation, but the way and the order in which he described things had me thinking a little more Minecraft or Don’t Starve than DayZ.
Creation and destruction. You’ll be able to craft some basic weapons, like axes and bows, as well as your own buildings and barricades. User-created structures can be destroyed by other players and environmental hazards, like zombies and (“Hypothetically,” Whisenhunt said) natural disasters like (hypothetically!) earthquakes. While there is no real progression in terms of skills between lives, you will “remember” crafting recipes that you discover from character to character.
AI. The game’s emergent AI for zombies and animals, while not as vibrant and complex as what’s expected for EverQuest Next, will still make your life difficult. “If you close the door on [a zombie], it will find another path very quickly. It will run around to the back door.”
Player servers. As John Smedley confirmed a while back, players will be able to rent their own private servers and implement their own rules sets. For instance, to make zombies easier or less of a threat, you might give them 50% of their base HP; to make them more menacing, you could double their movement speed. Another monetization option could include game modes, such as offering two-hour “last man standing” deathmatch arenas. (Edit/clarification: These will be in addition to “normal” central MMO-style servers run by SOE.)
Weapons and combat. Whisenhunt said there are 13 weapons (melee and ranged) in the game right now. Melee weapons will use a timing-based system where there will be an “optimal time” for each swing. For guns, he specifically mentioned .308 hunting rifles, 1911 .45 pistols, and AR-15 semi-automatic rifles as examples of the sort of things that will be added as the game continues development. Weapons will have limited durability and occasionally require repair or, if broken, replacement. (A previous version of this point said there were 13 melee weapons alone.)
Vehicles. The only vehicle specifically mentioned was the all-purpose off-roader seen in the video streams so far. They don’t want to overdo it at the start, and will see how many and what kind of vehicles people want going forward.
Group play. Similarly, grouping/party mechanics are not currently in the game, though the devs could “flip a switch” and make it happen. It’s another “wait and see what the players want” kind of feature.
Players as zombies. Reanimated player corpses are a distinct possibility, as might be the option of playing as a zombie.
“It’s made of people!” Cannibalism is something they could implement, but it’s a question of should they? As a side note, the subject was broached in the office by someone Whisenhunt described as “one of the sweetest people ever.” Good, that means I won’t need to add sugar…
Story. There is a backstory to the world, but it’ll be told in a “more passive” way. “You’re not going to run around and find journals everywhere, but you will see tokens of the world’s past.” The design staff are big fans of the old History Channel show, Life After People, which told the “stories” of famous structures and monuments and how they would decay after people vanished from the planet.
Player spawns. DayZ has fully random spawns, where friends might wind up on opposite sides of the map, while a game like PlanetSide 2 lets you spawn right on top of other (friendly) players. Whisenhunt said they’re tracking statistics and exploring the possibility of some kind of middle ground between those two extremes. “We look at how long a player runs and we can get a good idea of what they’re doing… and we really want to study, why are they running in that direction? And usually it’s to find a friend!” He said they’re looking at possibly spawning within a radius of a friend – far enough so as to “have a story” to tell once they’ve hooked up, but not so far as to create too much frustration.
Loot spawns. There’s a procedural loot system that Whisenhunt said will ensure that, while loot is more likely to spawn in certain locations, like guns in a military building, each individual location will have a “loot cap.” So, if the game is told to spawn loot somewhere, and that location is already “capped,” it’ll spawn somewhere else. In short, you won’t want to just skip buildings because you “know” nothing useful spawns there.
Proximity chat. The louder you talk, the farther your voice “carries” in-game. Neat.
Hackers. Whisenhunt cited the progress SOE’s made on PlanetSide 2 as an example of how far they’ve come at stopping cheaters in their games, especially free-to-play first-person shooters, which are about as hacker-saturated as any gaming environment.
Early access is still about three to four weeks away. Are you ready to face the apocalypse?
By Jason Winter