In most MMOs, weather is just a novelty. It adds some ambiance to the world and makes a zone seem more lifelike. That’s not going to be the case with SOE’s zombie survival MMORPG H1Z1 (also known as Hizzy). I had the chance to sit down and chat with Senior Designer Jimmy Wisenhunt and Graphics Programmer Ryan Favale to talk about how weather in their game won’t be just a setpiece, but a part of the survival and gameplay in H1Z1.
Dynamic weather has always been in the cards for Hizzy, I was told. From the very first concepts, they wanted to make weather really mean something to the players. The team got rain into their internal alpha quickly, but then we wanted to add more. Snow is making its way in now, but you might be wondering… how will it affect the players in more than just atmosphere?
Yes, it will be creepy to have rain sloshing down at night, or to have zero-visibility snowstorms rolling in across the tundra. But what’s more enticing to SOE is how it can affect survival. If you get cold and don’t keep warm with clothes, it could make you sick. If you get wet and don’t dry off, it could give you a cold that causes you to cough and sneeze alert zombies and players to your whereabouts. Additionally, in the case of snow, it will benefit you immediately to wear whiter or more muted clothing, as you’ll be harder to spot from a distance.
Um, he might want to dress a little warmer.
That said, they won’t want to punish people with weather, rather they want rain storms and blizzards and the like to offer their own unique sets of risks and rewards. On severely cold days, zombies will be slower, making them easy targets for melee attacks or the newly added bow and arrow kills. There will also be more rewards for going out in inclimate weather, but Jimmy and Ryan weren’t quite ready to say just what those are as they’re all being worked on still.
Snow and rain are just the tip of the iceberg too. Ryan said they’re looking into all sorts of ways to make weather effect everything in the game world. Duststorms, hurricanes, even tornadoes are on their wish list. They want to make rain and snow ruin supplies that aren’t covered in the world, plants might die off in harsh weather too. But they’re really looking to make sure that their world is varied in so many ways that players are met with something new constantly. Not just in terms of player-to-player and zombie interactions, but in the world’s natural progression too.
A rainy night? I think I’d stay inside.
They’ve been steadily snowballing (Jimmy’s pun not intended) changes into the game since E3’s hands-on and the public alpha checklist is getting shorter and shorter each day. They’ve got the prone state in-game and close to “final”, animators have been doing a ton of work re-rigging the player character completely and in many cases completely redoing motion capture work to make the animations seem more natural and fluid. They’ve also just added in the bow, complete with arrows that stick in targets, bounce off things they can’t penetrate, and of course can be retrieved from zombies and terrain so you can keep your ammo filled. I asked if the team had plans to make arrows a makeshift melee weapon to stab into zombies and players, and they liked the idea. It’s not guaranteed, but definitely something they’ll look into.
For now, SOE is working hard on getting the back-end systems like support and server tech ready for the public alpha. But it’s nice to see things like weather taking a real priority so that survival is more than just running from zombies, other players, and eating now and again. Snow accumulates, melts away, becomes slush and puddles on the ground. It won’t get super tall and thick so that players can tunnel through it our anything, as the tech’s just not there to allow it, but snow and rain will definitely affect players’ health, visibility… and scared factors. Now the question is, when will the twisters be added?
Bill Murphy / Bill Murphy is the Managing Editor of MMORPG.com, RTSGuru.com, and lover of all things gaming. He's been playing and writing about MMOs and geekery since 2002, and you can harass him and his views on Twitter @thebillmurphy.