The line for Dean Hall's developer session wound back on itself. It then began to trail out of the queuing area and down the convention centre, obscuring game booths as it went. Eurogamer staff had to walk down the line to find a cut-off point, after which they told those waiting that there was no chance they'd get a seat in the DayZ developer session. Hall's talk was going to be packed. I was there and this is what he said.
Hall doesn't look like your typical game designer, nor does he behave like one. He's a trim, energetic man who doesn't really need a microphone to project his voice and is still every bit the commissioned officer he once was. He's also direct, precise and extremely articulate and right now, he says, his focus is concentrated on one particular aspect of standalone DayZ: its security.
Crushing bugs and beating hackers comes first
“Hacking is the issue,” he said, because “every other post” on the DayZ forum is about hacking or exploits, and the ever-growing problem that DayZ players have trying to deal with cheaters. Every second post on his own Facebook wall, he added, is also about this, so “Even my mum knows there's a problem.” While he has ambitious plans for the standalone version of the Arma mod, some of those will have to wait as Hall intends to take “cautious and sensible steps ” to crush bugs, optimize the game engine and build a solid, reliable foundation. The game is still on target for late 2012, but we'll have to wait for January or February of next year before he adds much of the new content he has planned.
Engine optimization is a high priority
At the moment, DayZ slows down too much, too often, and not only does Hall want to make Arma the engine itself run more smoothly, he also wants to redesign some of the game models so that the game has less work to do. Did you know the skeletal models used in Arma are so detailed that the finger of each character contains three separate bones? Me neither, and while this may provide accuracy and fidelity when it comes to representing how a soldier operates a weapon or climbs over an obstacle, it's just not necessary for your PC to worry about what's going on with every finger on every hand of every one of the dozen zombies who's chasing you.
There'll be a greater focus on equipment and medicine
Hall wants the items that you carry with you (or choose to leave behind) to have an enormous bearing on how successful you are and what you're able to do. Your first aid kit should be as important as your weapon, you tools as vital as your ammunition. He also plans to build much more detail into many of the items in the game, giving objects durability, meaning your equipment can gradually decay and your weapons may jam.
To illustrate the level of detail he's aiming for, he explained that an item like night vision goggles would require batteries for power, batteries that would gradually drain over time, and that if you're lucky enough to survive a shot to the head, there's no guarantee that your goggles did.
Dean Hall wants you to get very sick
No doubt reflecting on his own experience in the service, Hall wants to introduce more ways for you to fracture yourself and add in all sorts of unpleasant illnesses, such as malaria, cholera and dysentery. The studio, he said, has been motion capturing vomiting animations, while he's even considering what might happen when you poop. Yes, really. That's not to say that you'll poop in the game, but areas that are well-trodden by survivors living rough might gradually become vectors for disease, just as they could if no toilets or sanitation were available.
Crafting and improvising will be much more important
When the zombie apocalypse comes, we'll all have to make do with what's at hand. That includes making our own splints out of discarded bits of wood, improvising our weapons, jury-rigging equipment and doing our best to patch up damaged vehicles.
We'll also have to make do with whatever clothing we can get our hands on, with colour co-ordination being a thing of the past. “I don't want player clothing to be about vanity,” Hall said. “This is the apocalypse!” Most civilian clothing, he explained, isn't Arma-style fatigues or camouflage, and while we might find a high-visibility jacket is just what we need to keep warm, you're going to be spotted from a mile away in that thing.
There's more in the works
Hall also mentioned:
- Testing out a prototype for a group organisation system, that will help parties of players communicated and co-operate better.
- The possibility of a user interface for hearing-impaired players...
- ...but also the removal of the standard Arma UI because, in real life, we don't have one.
- Re-working the zombie AI, which is currently based on soldier AI and has too much zig-zagging.
- Drawing on the experience of other Bohemia Interactive developers, such as the team behind Take on Helicopters.
Development has also been affected by the recent arrest of Bohemia employees Ivan Buchta and Martin Pexlar by Greek authorities, and while Hall didn't want to speak at great length about this, he did say that Buchta was the first member of Bohemia he'd ever spoken to, that he missed them both very much and "I just want to see them home."
If you'd like to watch the full session, you can find it here.