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H1Z1: How Adding a Narrative Changes the Game

Interviews By Garrett Fuller on December 13, 2017

H1Z1: How Adding a Narrative Changes the Game

H1Z1 is adding in a game narrative for players. We sat down with GM Anthony Castoro and Director of IP and Brand Eric Correll to go over some of the updates in the story as well as how the team is working with fans. 

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MMORPG: Tell us about the backstory and lore behind H1Z1. How did it tie into the early development of the game?

Eric Correll: H1Z1 started out as a survival role-playing game, so it naturally lent itself to a zombie apocalypse.  What would happen if all basic social and economic structures broke down, the military struggled to maintain some semblance of order, and people tried to simply survive.  Since we wanted the lore to center around a viral outbreak, we thought the play on letters with the actual H1N1 virus would be cool.  As we began to articulate the battle royale experience, we started thinking about how the basic concept of battle royale – parachute in with nothing, loot for weapons and gear, and be the last one left – could relate to the existing backdrop we created in the game.

MMORPG:What led to the writing of the game narrative, how can players find the storyline?

Eric Correll: As one of the first developers of a battle royale game, we felt it was important to continue to refine the experience and add in a more established narrative.  We worked with an external narrative consultant to iterate on the backstory as well as the development team to start integrating the story – both through our external touch points like website and trailers, and in-game environmental storytelling.  And since the game is a living, breathing product, it allows us to continually explore ways to add that storytelling to the game through updates and events.  We are working on those things for the future.

MMORPG:With a lot of the game being free form, what are the reasons behind adding the narrative to the game right now?

Eric Correll: Video games are entertainment, so storytelling, context, player agency and immersion in the world we create is an enormous part of the experience.  It doesn’t matter if the game in persistent, open-world, session-based, single-player, persistent – everything needs a good story.  How far or how little to go depends on the game – but getting the right tone is vital, since it wraps the whole experience.

With H1Z1’s story, we wanted to add a cool twist to the standard zombie apocalypse troupes.  What is a small subset of the infected experienced an unexplained variation in the H1Z1 symptoms? What if they acquired the ability to regenerate, but kept all their mental faculties and suffered none of the aggressive behavior?  Shunned but also awed by society, they embrace their new moniker as “Z1s” and develop a competition to hone their skills – to create an elite fighting force to help fight the zombie hordes.  Good versus evil is at its core, but with an interesting and unexpected journey for the good guys.

MMORPG:How has the game been performing among fans, are your expectations being met by the community?

Anthony Castoro: Our fans are very passionate and vocal about H1Z1, which has been massively important to the success of the game. Over the last year we’ve been on a journey with them about what really makes H1Z1 stand out. As with any passionate group, not everyone will always agree, but we’ve made it a point to engage with the community at every level, from devs playing the game every night to our live-streaming events that happen on an almost weekly basis.

MMORPG:What are some of the changes you wish you could make to the game that players have been asking for? Have you set up a timeline??

Anthony Castoro: Recently at TwitchCon, we announced quite a few updates to the game that were based on the input of our fans, including a return of the original “Z1” map, a re-doubling of our focus on competitive play and the announcement of the H1Z1 Pro League. Some of these changes have already made it to the service, including the new Combat Zone (deathmatch-style practice arena), daily challenges and adjustments to weapons like the AK-47. Most of the other items in players wishlists, including combat balance changes, will find their way to the game in the next 2-3 months. The Z1 “remaster” is probably the longest effort, but we’re being very transparent about the development process and including the fans in a variety of behind-the-scenes programs so they can participate and give feedback as the map comes together.

MMORPG:How will the narrative play into the future of H1Z1?

Eric Correll: It is something we are continuing to work on and refine, based on all the cool changes happening in the game.  As new things come online – like new points of interest on the map, or new weapons and gear – we use them as a canvases to continue to tell the story and build the world.?