A little vehicular manslaughter is always nice – unless you’re the one stuck to the grill of a speeding 4×4. Yesterday, we got a look at the pickup truck in H1Z1, via a dev blog from Game Designer/Vehicle Specialist Kris Roberts, who went through many of the steps required to get rolling death machines ready for the game.
To put it mildly, there’s a lot more to the process than just wireframing up a vehicle, slapping a skin on it, tweaking some numbers, and calling it done. Even with a long paragraph explaining the process, Roberts doesn’t mention sound effects (which is probably another department’s job). The next time you see something as simple as a bullet hole in your shiny new in-game vehicle, know that a lot of work went into making that look as realistic as possible.
At the end of the article, Roberts says “I can’t wait until you guys get to take them for a spin in Early Access.” There are no comments enabled on the piece, but if there were, I’d bet 99 out of 100 would be some take on “early access date or gtfo!!” The urge to know this is probably greater for SOE having previously given time frames for early access (EA), not to mention all the other games out there, in various states of completion, that have been in early access for seemingly forever – including the king of the “horror zombie survival” genre, DayZ. (Comment #100 would be “dayz clone lol fail soe gg”)
When we talked with the devs at SOE Live 2014 about the early access psuedo-delay, there was the usual “We need to get stuff done right” talk, but the question lingers: Other games in early access haven’t gotten everything right – that’s kinda the way EA works – so what’s the big deal with H1Z1? From what I saw at SOE Live, the game is at least as playable as DayZ, maybe even more so, and would undoubtedly attract loads of eager players, willing to put up with its imperfections, so why not move forward?
For that, I think you can blame Landmark. Let’s take a little look at a timeline of events:
January 31: Landmark opens its doors to alpha/early access participants.
March 26: Landmark shifts into closed beta.
April 9: SOE announces H1Z1, giving a four- to six-week window for early access.
May 9: SOE talks more about H1Z1, mentioning that early access is about four weeks out.
Since then, we’ve heard nothing about a time frame for H1Z1 early access. So, what happened?
When I first got into Landmark during the alpha, it was packed. You were lucky to find a spot for your claim on any world, especially the lower-tier ones. It was like that the first few weeks of beta that I played, as well, as land was gobbled up quickly by the first wave of players to come through.
But for some reason, beta didn’t click as well with me. Maybe it was the sense of not having that “perfect spot” to build that I’d enjoyed in alpha, that knowing that I’d have to start over, at least a little bit, got to me. Maybe it was the lack of gameplay, other than the building – I was never a huge Minecraft fan – that made it seem, well, incomplete. Which it is, and I knew that, but… still.
It looks like I’m not alone in those feelings. The continents seem much more sparsely populated than they used to be, to the point that if I wanted to jump in and make a claim, on just about any tier of world, I’d have my pick of choice locales. Landmark’s still in closed beta, and there’s a lot more to come in the game, but after that initial rush of “ooh, let’s see what it’s about!” I think a lot of people have moved on from Landmark, for the time being. But they’ll come back when the game’s more complete, right?
Maybe, maybe not. As the Extra Credits guys point out in this video, a lot of people who get into a game in early access try it, and even knowing that it’s unfinished, judge the game, or simply get bored of it because there isn’t much to do, and never come back, even after the official launch. And, as the video states, developers know this from reading forums and comments and it scares the hell out of them.
Look again at that timeline. About a month and a half after Landmark hit beta – long enough, probably, for SOE to quantify the player dropoff from alpha to beta – SOE stopped talking about early access for H1Z1. I think they had a date, maybe sometime in June, in mind, and scrapped it, not because of some technical snafu or perfectionist’s desire to get things done better, but out of an honest assessment of the damage a too-early early access “release” could do to the game in the long term.
As much as I, and maybe you, want to get into H1Z1, I can’t say I disagree with this mindset. Sure, like I said, the game seems to be in pretty good shape, but there are probably several fundamental systems that need to be in place – the “checklist” Adam Clegg spoke about in our interview at Live – before SOE feels comfortable in giving the game to the masses. There’s a big difference between my playing for a few hours at a convention and people playing for 10 hours a night, every night, for a month. Early access is more like a launch these days than a testing period. And, just like a real launch, you need to have a solid product that’s as good as you can make it, or you run the risk of never reclaiming your “launch”-day audience.