"All of these trees you can see can get chopped down. If you can see the tree, you can see it being chopped down. If this tree falls, you know there’s a player out there," Adam Clegg, a game designer working on Sony's H1Z1 told Polygon during an E3 demo.
He pointed to trees on the other side of a large field. The game's visuals are an obvious step above the other zombie-based survival games on the market, and watching the horizon for falling trees will be a popular way to find targets to kill or rob.
"What’s really scary is if you’re running through the woods and this tree falls," he said, pointing at a tree a few feet from us. "And you say ‘OK, there’s someone right there. I have to watch out.' It gets really real, really fast. You feel like you’re in a survival situation."
And that's the point. H1Z1 is an online first- or third-person survival game from Sony Online Entertainment that bears a certain resemblance to DayZ. You begin each game with next to nothing on your character, so everything you need to stay alive, from food to weapons, has to be found or crafted. The development team controls what items spawn in the world, from backpacks to guns, and they control how often those things show up in the world and where they're likely to be found. These variables allow them to control the experience on each server.
One server may be short on food, turning the game into a long struggle for survival where meat is an item always worth fighting for. Or they can make firearms common and turn the game into something that feels like a shooter. You'll be able to see what you're getting into before you start playing on each server, so you'll have the ability to choose the type of game you want to play.
"It's almost like different mods for the same game," Clegg explained.
An advantage in stability
The idea of locks that can be destroyed seemed "unfair" in some circumstances, so locked boxes and doors will remain secure while you are live. Those stashes and locations become fair game once you die though, so racing back to your equipment or home with a new character to recover your equipment, or hiding stashes so they won't be easily found or looted, will become very important parts of the game.
It's nice to be in a car, sure, but you're putting a nice big target on your back when you're driving around the zombie-infected world.
There will also be vehicles, and Clegg spawned a car that worked well, filled with gas. This is not how you'll find most vehicles in the game. The vehicles will have different failure states and require fuel, so if you want to keep moving you'll need to be finding gas, batteries, making repairs on different aspects of the vehicle and in general making sure it's safe to drive. The more you fix up a car, however, the more you make yourself a target.
"Everything in our game has risk / reward factors," Clegg said. "Everyone up here can now see me, I’m making a ton of noise, the zombies are going to come after me." It's nice to be in a car, sure, but you have to balance the advantage with the fact you're putting a nice big target on your back when you're driving around the zombie-infected world.
The game is coming to Steam early access, and will cost $20. Clegg wouldn't give me any estimates on when that would happen, instead saying it would be released "when it's done." He was also slightly cagey when I asked about the size of the team working on the game.
"When we release it will be a nice, polished alpha build that’s a high-quality survivor game. You won’t have to jump hurdles to play it, you won’t get disconnected," he said, talking about the release date. It seems like a smart move; when games like DayZ often feel buggy and unfinished, creating a game that scratches the same itch but offers more stability is a good way to fight back.
"We want to actually have a really smooth alpha," Clegg said when I brought this up. "It’s what we want, it’s not about other games at all."