When SOE finally unveiled H1Z1, it was easy to simply pass it off as ‘DayZ the MMO’, but there’s more to this zombie apocalypse MMO than meets the eye. We recently had a chance to chat all things ‘Hizzy’ (as SOE calls it internally) with the game’s senior designer, Jimmy Whisenhunt.
Jimmy kicked off our discussion with a bit of a high level overview of the game. At its core, H1Z1 is a post-apocalyptic zombie survival MMO. It’s a bit of a mouthful, but as Jimmy explained to us, the game is really a survivalist’s story. At first, you’ll want to seek out food and shelter to get yourself going, but soon you’ll find yourself part of the game’s ‘circle of life’, which includes zombies, wildlife, and of course, other players.
Zombies and wildlife are both governed by some fairly sophisticated AI, leading to amusing scenarios like watching a zombie chase a wolf that is chasing a deer. Everything is trying to survive in H1Z1, not just the players. Zombies are smarter in H1Z1, too. Closing the door in a zombie’s face isn’t necessarily going to result in it banging on the door to get in. If there’s a back door or some other entrance, the zombie will know and path around so it can more easily enter the structure. While the AI in H1Z1 is more sophisticated than some of the games out there, it’s not going to be on the level of EverQuest Next, but Jimmy was quick to note that the wildlife and zombies of H1Z1 simply don’t require that level of AI.
To ensure your survival, you’ll need tools and equipment, and that’s where the game’s crafting system comes in. You’ll be able to craft anything: weapons, such as bows and arrows or axes, to barricades, or even your own home. Speaking of homes, many things in H1Z1 are destructible, and this means you’ll even be able to break down the doors of other players’ homes and raid their stuff if they aren’t properly defending them. Heck, you may even have to deal with natural disasters (think earthquakes) damaging or destroying your home.
Weapons in H1Z1 will be scarce and will need to be maintained. Players can expect to find anything from a simple hunting knife, to crowbars, all the way up to civilian and even military grade firearms. Jimmy did emphasize the team’s focus on melee weapons, though. In fact, some of the engineers on H1Z1 put together a deep and nuanced melee combat system that heavily favors skillful timing of swings over just simple positioning. No dual wielding though, not yet anyway, but you may be able to hold a pistol and a flashlight at the same time.
As far as progression goes, there won’t be any sort of RPG-like tropes in H1Z1, but crafting and what Jimmy called ‘discovery’ may encourage a sense of persistence. For example, while crafting, you might discover a new recipe for something, which Jimmy says you may be able to keep even after you’ve died. However, materials and other inventory items would be left on your corpse.
Trying to make a corpse run in H1Z1 can potentially be trickier than you may expect, too. Jimmy mentioned the possibility of having player corpses reanimate as zombies, and yes, that means all your stuff would be in the inventory of some meandering zombie you’d have to kill in order to retrieve it. They have even tested out the possibility of having you reanimate as a zombie (if infected by a zombie before death) and letting you play around as a zombie for a bit. The team is exploring a number of different things along these lines.
Voting for different ruleset configurations on different servers is a possibility in H1Z1, as well. Jimmy offered up an example where players could vote for a server where zombie HP is halved, zombie run speed is boosted, players do less damage to each other, and players get to retain certain items when they die. The idea here is that SOE wants to be as flexible as possible with its playerbase and this includes accommodating players that may not want as hardcore an experience all the time. It also means there is a possibility that SOE may do a sort of ‘PvE’ server.
For those of you worried about the game’s free-to-play business model, Jimmy assured us the team is very much aware of the fact they cannot monetize anything affecting survival gameplay. Players can expect the game’s monetization to focus mainly on cosmetics and perhaps specific game modes.
What really stood out to me was SOE’s intention to make H1Z1 a game where, in terms of survival, players aren’t only worried about other players. Zombies and other aspects of games like DayZ are really only a side story to the players and this has encouraged a bit of a free-for-all kill-on-sight type of experience. In H1Z1, SOE intends for zombies and the game world (including weather and sickness) to be just as lethal, with the goal of encouraging players to work together. It will certainly still be possible to go it alone; it will just be a bit harder to pull off.
Nighttime has always been a bit of an issue in games like DayZ, as well. Players will often move to a different server at night so as not to have to endure its challenges. Those who do stick around at night tend to jack up the gamma so they can better see in the darkness. With an MMO, however, hopping servers doesn’t really make as much sense, so players will have to deal with nighttime in H1Z1 and jacking up the gamma won’t help nearly as much. They also don’t want players to log out at night, so they’re looking at ways to reward players for playing during the night.
If you’ve read this far and find yourself excited to get your hands on H1Z1, I’m glad to be able to report that Early Access is coming soon, as in 3-5 weeks out soon. Stay tuned for more information!
Michael Bitton / Michael began his career at the WarCry Network in 2005 as the site manager for several different WarCry fansite portals. In 2008, Michael worked for the startup magazine Massive Gamer as a columnist and online news editor. In June of 2009, Michael joined MMORPG.com as the site's Community Manager. Follow him on Twitter @eMikeB