GamingBolt speaks to the legendary designer Dean Hall in this exclusive interview.
Dean Hall is a legend in the games industry. For those of you who are not aware, Hall is the man behind the ARMA 2 mod DayZ, which will also be making its way to the PlayStation 4. Dean Hall attended a survival camp in Brunei where he came up with the idea of his popular mod.
GamingBolt was fortunate enough to get in touch with the legendary game designer to talk all about DayZ, ARMA, the new consoles and the current situation of the graphics API.
Leonid Melikhov: So we’re going to be talking about DayZ today, and I wanted to ask you a few questions. Day Z is one of the few games that showed developers that they can actually make money pursuing an early access release. Do you believe this will continue to be a viable business model, like Kickstarter has become?
Dean Hall: I think a lot of people are sort of referring to it as “games as a service.” So, instead of gamers just buying something and playing it end to end, they’re kind of buying into the development of the game and they actually get to see it. But I think that there are a lot of problems with early access, both on the consumer side and the developer side. I think it’s good for developers because it means that they can work on a game that they’re really interested in that they might not be able to get a publisher to fund, and it also means that the scope of the game can grow as well.
I think, from the consumer side, it’s really good because they get much more interesting ideas. I realize a lot of people find it frustrating because they’re like, “Ugh, I just want to play the finished version,” but it’s so hard to get publishers to fund risky propositions.
"We haven’t released a lot of what we consider the major changes on stable yet because we’ve got a bug, but there’s a fix to the bug we have currently out - it causes a rubber banding issue - it’s actually out on experimental."
Leonid Melikhov: Especially for indie developers and people who are going into business for the first time.
Leonid Melikhov: There have been concerns that early access releases will serve as an excuse for the developer to rake in money while providing incomplete products. While most players are notified about what they’re getting into with early access, what is your take on these concerns?
Dean: Well, I think it’s like anything. It’s definitely got the potential to be exploited, and so I think consumers have to evolve their purchasing behavior, but it’s kind of the same as pre-orders. I’m against the concept of pre-orders because I think that you’re sort of buying a promise, so you’re buying into the hype, you’re buying into the marketing, and that kind of stuff, so I think that consumers have to learn to be really careful. I think that’s starting to happen with Kickstarter.
People are being a lot more careful, so I guess that the same type of consumer behavior changes will have to happen with early access. I think the benefits outweigh the negatives, but I also think that it’s really important to acknowledge the potential problems with early access, and I think you draw into a couple of good points there.
Leonid Melikhov: Thus far, progress has been slow in the standalone release of DayZ. What major changes have you been able to implement since launch?
Dean: Well, I think that’s a good point. I think the problem was it’s been so successful that we really decided that we need to revamp everything, so one of the big things we’re talking about is that we’re committed to a new engine now, so we have a new engine in development that we’re going through and replacing what we had.
That’s engine’s called Infusion. It’s kind of the first time in a decade that Bohemia has started with a new engine, so it’s quite a big deal. We’ve actually implemented most of the new rendered changes for that, so that’s quite a big change that’s coming up. We haven’t released a lot of what we consider the major changes on stable yet because we’ve got a bug, but there’s a fix to the bug we have currently out – it causes a rubber banding issue – it’s actually out on experimental. One of our key approaches is to have a stable branch that offers a relatively standardized experience and an experimental branch where we can try out other stuff.
"So with the new engine, we’ve got a new renderer. We’ve confirmed that we’re going to implement DirectX 11 and DirectX 10. We’ll allow the user to choose between them because the problem is that we looked at the Steam analytics, and we saw that most people are running DirectX 10 at the moment. Like a vast majority."
Leonid Melikhov: What will be the general direction of the product going forward? Will you try to adhere to his vision for the game or trod down a different path altogether?
Dean: Well, I think Bohemia are really committed to the vision that I had for the game. So Marek Spanel, our CEO, me and him get on really well, and he has exactly the same intention as me for the direction of DayZ and… yeah. I’m still there for at least six months, so we’ve got plenty of time to make sure we’re heading in the right direction. Beyond that, into beta, it’s really about refining what we already have. So in that stage, we have all the major mechanics in and it’s really just about polishing them.
Leonid Melikhov: I see. What is the next big thing we can expect from Day Z, and out of all of the most demanded features from fans, what are the most difficult to implement without breaking the game in its current state?
Dean: That’s a really easy question. That would be vehicles, hands down.
Leonid Melikhov: Really?
Dean: Probably the most exciting thing and actually you’ll be the first reporter I’ve told, is that we’ve actually actively started working on vehicles, so a lot of people will be very pleased with that. We’re not sure when we’re going to have the first prototype vehicles in, so we don’t want to commit to a date, but we’ve actively started working on them so they could actually start appearing in experimental in any future patch. My hope is that barricading comes in first. Everybody wants vehicles, but all vehicles do is help you get around the map faster, but I think that barricading will actually add the most to the game, and that’s actually going to be very easy for us to add.
Leonid Melikhov: Can we expect a visual update to DayZ at some point in the coming year?
Leonid Melikhov: Details on any features you’d like to implement in the future would also be great.
Dean: Sure. So with the new engine, we’ve got a new renderer. We’ve confirmed that we’re going to implement DirectX 11 and DirectX 10. We’ll allow the user to choose between them because the problem is that we looked at the Steam analytics, and we saw that most people are running DirectX 10 at the moment. Like a vast majority.
Not a lot of people are running DirectX 11, so we wanted to make sure that the game was going to be compatible for most people. That’s going to result in quite a huge visual upgrade. One of the other things we’ve looked at doing with it is dynamic lighting, so we can finally have dynamic shadows and not lights going through walls and stuff like that, so I think the community’s going to be pretty excited about that. And this is why we’ve been going so slowly now is so we can go back through and look at the potential of replacing the engine completely.
"I guess another big one to talk about is ragdoll. So we’ve actually got the first few screenshots of ragdoll. We haven’t released them yet, but it’s pretty cool that that is going to be in. That’s going to allow us to do things like dragging and much bigger melee hitting and stuff like that."
Leonid Melikhov: Okay.
Dean: I guess another big one to talk about is ragdoll. So we’ve actually got the first few screenshots of ragdoll. We haven’t released them yet, but it’s pretty cool that that is going to be in. That’s going to allow us to do things like dragging and much bigger melee hitting and stuff like that.
GamingBolt: DayZ is a long way off from a commercial release. With products like H1Z1 from Sony Online Entertainment coming soon, is there a danger of DayZ becoming irrelevant before it can actually make it to a commercial release?
I think the most important thing is that we’re making DayZ for a very core, niche audience. I think they’re a very powerful niche audience because they sort of drive gaming. We sort of focused on that super hardcore experience. That’s what DayZ is, it’s always the way it has been, and I think it’s really important that we don’t try to compete with more mainstream type games.
Leonid Melikhov: You have your audience and that’s who you take care of.
Dean: Yeah, and I guess from my perspective, I was working on the concepts for DayZ three years ago, so if another company is working on that now, we’ve moved on a lot. They’ve got to go through all that groundwork.
Leonid Melikhov: Sony Online Entertainment president John Smedley talked about DayZ’s influence on H1Z1, and how much he liked the game. What are your thoughts on H1Z1 and how do you think it will affect the survival sandbox genre?
Dean: Well, I think coming from Planetside 2 is an incredibly powerful position to come from because the engine was really built around multiplayer and that was one of our big challenges, coming from ARMA, which was never designed or intended to be used on such a mass scale multiplayer gaming area. That was a really huge challenge for us and that’s something that they can just sort of out of the box come in with. I kind of rely on playing a game before I make a real judgment, so…
Leonid Melikhov: Are you looking forward to it?
Dean: Yeah, I think so. I think they’re going to make a good take on it and I think it’ll be interesting. I’ll be very interested to see how they deal with things like microtransactions. It’s very dangerous, and to be honest, it’ll be very interesting to see how we could deal with DayZ in a market like Asia, where it’s a totally different way people play games, and you need to resolve that issue of “how do you deal with microtransactions?” So I’m genuinely interested to see what they come up with.
"I had never worked on a first party PS3 title, but from what I could tell, you got a lot of special, good tools from Sony. Microsoft is coming from a position of strength here where the Xbox was always pretty easy to develop for because it was fairly similar to PC architecture as well."
Leonid Melikhov: What are your thought on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, specifically the Xbox One? Is the Xbox One powerful enough to run at 1080p and 60 FPS for high end games?
Dean: Well, I think that remains to be seen. (laughs)
Leonid Melikhov: Yeah, but we’ve seen a lot of things lately.
Dean: Yeah, we have. It’s a very exciting time. I would not want to be Microsoft or Sony right now, and I think I’ve said that to them.
Leonid Melikhov: That’s a lot of pressure.
Dean: That’s a lot of pressure, and the margins are really tight, and the consumers are right in their face with everything. Every decision they make gets torn to pieces on reddit or on the internet.
Leonid Melikhov: It’s a big deal right now. It’s like, “Oh, it’s not 1080p!”
Dean: It is! It’s a really hard time for them, but good on them for getting in there and doing it. I haven’t looked a lot at the Xbox One or the PS4, I don’t actually own one myself, but what I have seen, it looks impressive. It’s a pretty big step in the right direction, particularly for the PS4. I was pretty critical of the PS3. It was very hard to develop on if you were a third party, but the PS4’s a lot easier to develop on.
Leonid Melikhov: Because of the PC architecture and all that sure.
Leonid Melikhov: Yeah, that was a big deal. Some developers had a lot of problems with it.
Dean: I had never worked on a first party PS3 title, but from what I could tell, you got a lot of special, good tools from Sony. Microsoft is coming from a position of strength here where the Xbox was always pretty easy to develop for because it was fairly similar to PC architecture as well. I think their push towards being very indie friendly is something Sony had been doing for a long time.
I went to an expo in the UK, and saw Sony there doing their “We love indies” thing, and Microsoft really wants to get into that. I think the cool thing is that they’re trying to take the best parts of PC gaming and bring them to consoles, and I hope they do that because I’m not a traditional console games, so if they can capture that market, perhaps they’ll capture my interest as a consumer, too.
Leonid Melikhov: You’ve already answered part of this one, but why isn’t ARMA 3, or most of your other games, on consoles?
Dean: ARMA 3, I can’t talk to specifically. I’m trying to think it through myself. ARMA 3 is a much broader game than DayZ. You can actually jump in and play anything. It’s quite remarkable, when you think about that. You can jump in and run around and you can get inside a plane, you can get inside a tank, anything like that. So the tremendous scale of it makes it a huge challenge to do it on a non-PC.
Particularly, you can get a lot out of ARMA 3 if you chuck in the latest video card, the latest processor, put in a lot more RAM, so it’s really a very PC centric game. Also, much of ARMA 3 is about the mods that you can play. There’s just so many awesome mods out there.
"I’m fairly critical of the direction Windows has been heading in, in terms of gaming. I totally understand why they’ve headed in the direction they have, I just don’t think Windows 8 really offers anything for the PC gaming market."
Leonid Melikhov: And that’s what makes the game fun.
Dean: Yeah, and there’s the mission editor, and having a keyboard and mouse really helps with that. I know there were specific reasons, I can’t remember what they were, that Bohemia announced as to why ARMA 3 wasn’t targeted to consoles. I think if it was easy to do, they’d definitely look at doing it because there’s so many people on consoles who I’m sure would love to play ARMA 3.
Leonid Melikhov: What are your thoughts on DirectX 12? Do you think it will make that big of a splash with PC and Xbox One development when it releases late next year?
Dean: Well, I think there’s been a lot of promises, and from what I understand, I haven’t looked at it myself, but from what I understand and what I’ve heard from developers, I think there’s a huge improvement. Certainly, the jump from DirectX 10 to DirectX 11 was really significant. Like what we’ve been looking at is, with DirectX 11, the optimizations to DayZ, even though there’s no visual upgrade if we didn’t revise our shaders or anything, the performance improvements are really significant, so I think that’s one advantage that we could exploit. However, we don’t have any plans to go to DirectX 12 at the moment. Our plan is to go with DirectX 10 and DirectX 11.
Leonid Melikhov: But maybe in like three years, when people are asking for an upgrade…
Dean: Well, one of the advantages we have with the ARMA engine, the renderer and the graphics API were really bound with the simulation, so it was really difficult to rip out the whatever your graphics API was and put in a new one. So what we’ve been doing is we’ve gone through and made it much more modular, so that, say, we want to do a Linux port. We can just put in OpenGL. Yes, it’s still a lot of work, but it’s a lot less work than what we did before.
Leonid Melikhov: I’m glad you mentioned OpenGL, because that’s one of the next questions. What are your thoughts on OpenGL, and how do you think it will stack up against DX12? Do you think it will be in a better state when DX12 comes out?
Dean: I’m fairly critical of the direction Windows has been heading in, in terms of gaming. I totally understand why they’ve headed in the direction they have, I just don’t think Windows 8 really offers anything for the PC gaming market.
Leonid Melikhov: It’s more for tablets.
Dean: it’s more for tablets, and I don’t know why they’re doing that. Well, I guess I kind of understand it. It’s actually why I’m become quite interested in OpenGL. I’ve been playing around with it and Unity and stuff like that; just to get familiar with it myself. It offers a really good option for game developers. I think releasing your game being Linux compatible is a really good way to go, and I think that’s a good first step. I know, for me, I want to make sure that every game I work on releases for Linux as well. And certainly for the console architecture heading in the direction it has, that kind of helps a little bit.