Lead Producer Eugen Harton answers some of our questions about their upcoming release, DayZ.
DayZ is a game that initially started off as a mod but managed to garner quite a lot of attention for its unique design. The game puts players in a brutal world where a lot of the population has been wiped out by an infection. In the game, player interaction is of utmost importance but this doesn’t necessarily mean players have to fight each other. The ultimate goal of the game is to survive in the harsh environment.
To learn more about the current state of the game’s development, Gamingbolt reached out to Bohemia Lead Producer Eugen Harton who answered the following questions.
"Looking at our previous feature roadmaps, we’re doing pretty good – before we leave Early Access, there are two major features left to be completed: base building, and helicopters."
DayZ has been offset by a number of delays both for the console and PC version. Is there a definite time frame for its release now?
A lot of it comes down to us not really communicating our development plans clearly at times, but yes, DayZ is certainly taking longer than we had originally intended – mostly because of our effort to develop the game along with making a new engine for it. We know that we want to leave Early Access this year (2018). We don’t have any more specific release dates in mind, but this year is important for DayZ, and we’ll be seeing lots of good progress in many areas.
In terms of new features that have been promised over the past few years, how close are you to implementing everything?
Looking at our previous feature roadmaps, we’re doing pretty good – before we leave Early Access, there are two major features left to be completed: base building, and helicopters. That said, many of the features that we already do have in the game need a lot of polish, and a fair amount of balancing. That’s something we’ll be doing during our BETA phase before the 1.0 release later this year.
What features can we expect to see in the immediate short-term?
With the next PC update, we’re going to introduce a massive amount of technology changes that we’ve had in development for the larger part of our 4 years in Early Access. We’re almost ready with the new animation system and player character system. These two systems change pretty much every gameplay aspect of DayZ,and make everything that players do in the game feel very smooth and responsive. Ever since the DayZ mod days, general “clunkiness” of DayZ has been one of the biggest concerns of many players, and we’re incredibly happy that we’re now able to address that. Many of the long-standing issues of DayZ are now completely gone, and many essential parts of DayZ gameplay will now work much better (namely network synchronisation, gunplay, or melee combat).
What have you done to improve the performance of the game? What challenges has the engine posed for this type of genre?
This question has no short answer – but ultimately, ensuring good performance has been one of the largest motivations behind our decision to create a completely new Enfusion Engine along with DayZ.
At the very beginning of DayZ Standalone development, Bohemia Interactive had several different versions of our in-house Real Virtuality engine. To be specific, there was an early Arma 3 RV engine branch, Take on Helicopters RV engine branch, and the old Arma 2 RV engine branch. Besides that, the company also operated with another in-house engine – the Enforce engine used for Take on Mars.
The original DayZ standalone forked from the engine that had been previously used for Take on Helicopters, as Arma 3 was still in the middle of doing larger tech changes to its RV branch. We aimed to have a working prototype of DayZ on the Take on Helicopters engine branch, and that version of DayZ went live to Early Access.
We quickly reached the limits of that technology, and in order to empower DayZ’s vision, along with servicing all of Bohemia’s future games, we sat down and tried to wrap our heads around what we’ll need from our engine 5 – 10 years down the road. That’s where we’ve formed a separate engine team within Bohemia, and started the development on Enfusion.
Over the 4 years of Early Access development of DayZ, and development of the Enfusion Engine, we went from a monolithic beast to a modular engine with almost all engine levels created from scratch, making sure that the good things remained (rendering large, realistic open worlds) and that the problems went away (subpar performance, non-standard scripting language, complicated network communication). Now, we have a powerful new scripting language, fast and efficient renderer, better network communication, effective development tools, fantastic animation system, and much more.
The challenges of an engine for this genre are also the reason why there really isn’t a proper DayZ out there from us, or anybody else. Handling a multiplayer game with 100 players, thousands of AI actors in real time with navigation… that’s a massive challenge for any development studio, and we’ve learned a lot from this experience.
Many players have criticized the overall lack of zombies in a game and the relative lack of consequence for alerting them. How are you addressing this?
As for numbers: DayZ is not primarily a zombie shoot-em-all action spectacle – for that, there are awesome games like Dying Light. DayZ is really a much quieter, tactical multiplayer survival game where emergent player interaction (with all the blood pumping moments connected with it) is the essential part of the core gameplay loop. Zombies are merely one of the environmental threats that you experience when trying your best to survive.
But with that said, it’s still difficult to get thousands of AI humanoid actors on the scene, all real-time simulated and network synchronized across a large open world. That’s the core of the problem. You have to understand that, yes, you might eventually be able to pull this off without compromising on quality and getting good performance, but there are real hardware and cost constraints.
Even then, it’s still a huge issue with navigation and AI simulation. Just raising the difficulty/quantity without addressing the core issues perhaps gives a better first impression but does not really solve anything in the long run. Going forward, we have rewritten engine modules that influence zombie behavior in DayZ. That enables us to find a way around the challenges that I just mentioned and should see players being happier with the zombie experience we will introduce for BETA and later on.
But even now in our internal builds that will go out for Experimental testing soon, putting up a melee fight with 2 or more zombies quickly becomes a risky thing to do. We’ve also introduced a whole lot more of stealth mechanics into the zombie gameplay loop, and I’m looking forward to the feedback we get on that when this update hits Steam.
"Player vs. Player combat is only one of the possible player interactions, and it’s not our aim to encourage combat."
Furthermore, what steps are being taken to encourage player vs. player combat and more rewarding loot pickups in the opening hour?
DayZ is a social game, a survival where you make friends and enemies, and experience real emotions.
Player vs. Player combat is only one of the possible player interactions, and it’s not our aim to encourage combat. We do, however, want to make sure it’s fun and rewarding when you happen to end up in a fight, which starts by making sure that combat works as expected and that you don’t get surprised by bugs or by the game doing something random.
So in short, survival and player interaction should be the core of the DayZ experience, alongside defending yourself if need be, but we don’t encourage PvP combat.
As far as the opening hour goes, we have more spawn systems now, one of them being an “ambient” one that spawns items based on player presence in the area. That’s covering some basics so that people don’t run into too many issues with areas that are picked clean by other players.
What are your thoughts on server populations on Steam having dropped significantly since launch and what steps are you taking to lure players back?
The game launched with around 44 000 concurrent players and went down to below 10 000 over the past 4 years. However, the real player base is measured through MAU (Monthly Active Users), which has started around 1.5 million players, and eventually kept jumping up and down to 200 000 active players that keep coming back monthly now.
Considering the game runs largely on a legacy technology with many issues, and that we’ve seen some really dry periods in terms of major updates in the past 12 – 18 months, this amount of passion for a project over such a long period of time is rather rare, and the drop off is rather small.
Right now, we are happy that we’re finally about to release DayZ fully on the Enfusion Engine and build up from there. These large-scale improvements to gameplay and consistency, alongside with modding support down the line when the vanilla game works on its own, will be a good way to bring back players who were troubled by the issues of the old technology, and the live game that’s on Steam now.
What challenges have you been facing with getting the game to run on consoles?
Our in-house engines have been, by design, heavily CPU-bound originally, so moving our constraints from the CPU to the GPU has been the hardest part. Consoles tend to do a lot of heavy lifting there. Getting a world as large and detailed as DayZ’s Chernarus has also been a challenge in terms of the memory available on consoles, but a large part of the challenges we faced have been resolved by implementing our new renderer, and by parallelization of most of the engine modules.
Right now, we’re running the game on all recent console systems without any relevant performance issues. Player feedback on our recent Xbox One DEMO at PAX East also reassured us that the game still looks the part, too – and it can only get better from here.
Do you feel as though development has stagnated since Dean Hall left the company?
What do you think of similar titles like PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds and Rust which continue to thrive in the market?
I don’t think or feel they are similar games, we’re a hardcore survival game first and foremost, and we’re all about player interaction, not being the last survivor on the map or building a sophisticated base. I love both games for different reasons, we play a lot of PUBG in the office, but we don’t compete with PUBG or Rust (or Fortnite for that matter ).
"Just to reassure everyone: for the final release, we want both Xbox One and PS4 players have the game available at the same time. However, Xbox offers the Game Preview Program as an option for Early Access titles to get started on the platform."
The Xbox One version is coming out next year but the PS4 release is not yet confirmed. Why is that the case?
Just to reassure everyone: for the final release, we want both Xbox One and PS4 players have the game available at the same time. However, Xbox offers the Game Preview Program as an option for Early Access titles to get started on the platform. It gives us the option to get players into the game early, to have a trial period of sorts, and most importantly to gather feedback on our game before we go for the full launch.
Will you support the Xbox One X and PS4 Pro with enhanced visuals and graphical benefits?
Currently we’re mostly talking about supporting 4K and enabling 1080p 60FPS gameplay. We will, however, confirm all the enhancements once the time comes.
Do you think the Xbox One X is powerful enough to render high end AAA games at native 4K?
Yes – DayZ is not a AAA production, but it runs nicely in 4K on Xbox One X while offering a visual experience that’s well worth a AAA game.
Is there anything else you want to tell us before we let you go?
On behalf of the entire team, I want to say thank you and to our community that’s been so amazingly patient with us – I think the waiting will be well worth it, because we’ve been working our bottoms off for the past four years! We certainly did not take the money and ran, like we hear on one too many occasions.