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Previews: What’s Next for H1Z1?

By Red Thomas on August 15, 2014

What’s Next for H1Z1?

When some of PlanetSide 2’s best and brightest developers stepped away from the game several months ago to work on a new secret project, you sort of knew something special had to be in the pipe.  It wasn’t long before we found out that it was SOE’s new survival horror MMO, H1Z1.  No, it’s not a game about rampaging STDs, but rather a game about shambling zombies.

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To get more information about this zed-killing feast for the digital senses, I caught up with Steve George, Producer of H1Z1, and his rag-tag band of evil geniuses at SOE Live.  As a fan of other similar games in the zombie genre, I don’t mind saying that what I’ve seen and heard has gotten me pretty blasted excited about this new game.


One of the interesting facts about H1Z1 is its origin as a research and development project used to explore the ForgeLight engine and find out what cool new things they could do with it.  Apparently when you put a half dozen SOE folks in a room to experiment with mist, the natural result is zombies.

Once Smed saw the results, a new project was born.  After a short gestation period getting the basic framework in place, the team took to social media to inform their fans of the game and solicit input.  SOE has a pretty solid history of going to their fan-base for input on games, or even have their fans help in building the game, as in Landmark.

The H1Z1 crew is following suite by going to the crowd for help on a very significant portion of the game.  New items, game modes, mechanics, it’s all on the table for the community to hash out and discover what they think will work best.  When they do, the team tries it and keeps what works.

Apparently their process works, because I got a chance to play the game and was super impressed with how far they’ve come in a very short time.  In fact, while no one on the team is willing to give me a specific date, the quality of the game and where is at now suggests that it should be pretty dang quick.  Besides, if we’re honest about it, most of the other competitors in the field are in pretty rough state.  While Steve very seriously points out that SOE has fairly high standards for what they’re willing to release, even as an early access, you can’t ignore the fact that fans of this genre are chomping at the bit to get in and are willing to overlook a lot.

When you do get into the game, expect to die… A lot.  I logged in and died within about 30 seconds from a nearby zombie.  A number of bloody corpses later, I finally started getting the hang of sneaking past the undead to loot some cars.  I finally felt like I was starting to get the hang of it, and then discovered the local wildlife.  Some advice for you, stay away from bears.

My first thought at the crafting system was pretty much, “meh.”  Then I started to sort of figure it out and I have to say that it’s really starting to grow on me.  I think I expected something more like a traditional MMO crafting system, but what they’re using is much more in line with what you get in most of the other zombie games.  It’s like them, but more refined and improved with all the vast SOE understanding of designing good UIs, so it’s sort of like saying a horse-drawn wagon is like a modern truck.  They’re alike, but one has obviously benefited from the work of generations of engineers, and a solid team of implementers.

The general idea behind the crafting system is that in the beginning you know how to make some basic items like a campfire and bandages, but you need to experiment a bit to learn how to craft more advanced objects like bows, traps, and doors.   Oh, and landmines.  Apparently you can also craft landmines eventually, which suites a very twisted part of me that doesn’t get out much.

As you collect resources in the game, you’ll need to take them to your crafting menu in order to discover what else you might be able to do with them.  Sticks for instance, can be made into arrows.  When you put an item in the discovery menu, the system is designed to also tell you that it should make something, but that you’re missing something.  Through trial and error, you should be able to build up a fairly robust list of items you can craft.  The cool thing though, is that the team believes they’ll have enough items that you’ll find people specializing down specific branches, even though there’s nothing there to enforce specialization.

While talking with the media, the H1Z1 team discussed their short term and long term plans.  One thing I was really glad to hear is that even without a given date, these guys know exactly what their plans are for early access, and how they’ll go about running it.  Then in the long term, they plan to grow beyond their current 64 square kilometer map size, and into something much larger.

Of course, they also want to add more items to the game as well.  More interesting to me, they’re also looking at creating multiple server rule-sets and game modes.  Some of the current ideas include PvE and full PvP servers, along with servers that maybe have no zombies at all.  Because the existing genre exists in an environment where players can host many of their own servers, there are a whole lot of ideas out there for how people like to play this sort of game. 

The nature of how current games in the genre are being played is something the team is very aware of and working to cover as they work on how the servers will function in H1Z1.  There’s even talk about whether or not to have servers with expanded items as new ones are rolled into the game.  The classic server idea has worked well for EverQuest, so I expect there will be similar plans for H1Z1.

This is a genre that I really have enjoyed playing over the last few years of it becoming increasingly popular.  I’m really glad to see SOE taking a crack at it, and particularly glad to see the team is composed of the people it is.  You can always tell a lot about a game by who’s working on it, and this is absolutely a rock star staff of developers.  They’re also a group of uniquely twisted individuals, so get excited because you can be assured that the result of this effort will be will be particularly… evil.

Red Thomas / A veteran of the US Army, raging geek, and avid gamer, Red Thomas is that cool uncle all the kids in the family like to spend their summers with. Red lives in San Antonio with his wife where he runs his company and works with the city government to promote geek culture. Follow him on Twitter: