Humble Beginnings

Before there was DayZ Standalone, there was DayZ the Arma 2 mod. While the standalone has achieved some success in its own right, it owes both its existence and its notoriety to the mod that came before it. Therefore it is important to understand where DayZ came from and what made it so fun before we can talk about how the standalone came into existence.

Originally released as a simple batch of files on January 21, 2012, DayZ the mod was created by Dean “Rocket” Hall as a personal project. It was his intent to create a harsh survival experience that he could pitch as a form of emotional and psychological training for soldiers, based on his own experience serving in the New Zealand Army. The story goes that Dean was critically injured while undergoing survival training in the jungles of Brunei with the Singapore Armed Forces, and that experience served as direct inspiration for what would eventually become the DayZ mod.

On April 18, 2012, Dean gave the mod a more formal release via the Bohemia Interactive forums with a thread titled “DayZ Zombie RPG.” Prior to this point, he had been running a single personal server for the game, and now it would become less difficult to obtain and easier to access (though perhaps still a challenge for players used to one-click installs). It is after this point that DayZ explodes in popularity among the PC gaming — and especially Arma — communities, to the point of putting Arma 2 at the top of sales charts and selling hundreds of thousands of copies of the game to players interested in the new zombie survival experience.

This level of success was something the game’s creator never saw coming, and less than a month later he would begin discussing the next move for DayZ.

Riding Momentum

On May 15, 2012, in an interview with PCGamer, Dean brings up the idea of making a standalone DayZ game for the first time publicly. At this point it isn’t a certainty, but at various times over the following months he would bring the idea up during interviews and at trade shows/conventions. Finally, on August 7th, he makes it official: DayZ will be developed as a standalone game directly under Bohemia Interactive as its own IP, with Dean as the project lead and a release target of “the end of 2012.”

For some of the game’s fans, this announcement brings with it a mix of elation and anxiety. What will happen to the mod? What will the Standalone be, and how will it be different than the mod? When will it be finished? These are just a few of the questions that begin flying around after the news spreads, and in short order they would be answered — though these answers would change over the next year, for better or worse.

With his attention focused on defining and developing the standalone game, its creator faces the tough reality that he cannot continue to devote himself to the original project. On October 29th, further development of the mod is handed over to the community, and on February 21st of the following year it is given an official Steam release under the title “Arma II: DayZ Mod.”

The Long Wait Begins

With 1.1 million people playing the mod at the time of the standalone’s announcement, it’s fair to say that a lot of people were excited to see what the future had in store for DayZ. The idea right from the beginning was that development would be done by a very small team and in a way that would be very transparent so that fans could follow along with it.

Dean announces in September 2012 that he has a team assembled and work has begun. The rest of the year would go quickly for the team, but not fast enough for fans of DayZ.

August
DayZ Standalone announced. On the day of the announcement, Dean describes the standalone as essentially an improved version of the mod that adds new content based directly on the desires of the community playing the game.

September
— Status report says that everyone is in place for programming, art, etc. and planning has begun to tackle critical issues. Dean reviews assets from other Bohemia IPs for integration.

October
Screenshots posted of work-in-progress new building interiors.
— Second status report indicates that the Standalone will utilize client-server architecture where servers make most of the decisions, more like an MMO. Simplified architecture for zombies to improve performance.

November
— Team still focused on game architecture, not content. Weapons and items are now entities, allowing for customization/variables. Dean first admits that the success of the game is pushing them to go further with the Standalone.
— Standalone is planned for full Steam release including VAC, server browser, delta updates, etc.
— Full-time map work on Chernarus+ has begun. New UI, new controls as well.
— Team is still expanding.

December
— No official news on DayZ SA.

The Year That Would Never End

After some radio silence over the month of December, the year 2013 begins with some fans upset that the standalone has missed its targeted release for the end of the previous year. Dean has this to say about that missed goal: “Put simply, DayZ Standalone isn’t here because we had the chance to go from making a game that was just the mod improved slightly, packaged simply, and sold – to actually redeveloping the engine and making the game the way we all dreamed it could be.”

From that point on, the year would be marked with regular updates on the team’s development blog showcasing their efforts. Though it wouldn’t be until the end of 2013 that the game would see its initial release, it’s because the standalone became something entirely different than it set out to be. Following along as we take a high-level view of 2013.

January
— Standalone release misses its original target of “end of 2012.” In the first update of 2013, Dean Hall explains the delay.
— Work done to inventory system and UI. Much new art has been produced.
— Massive late-month update regarding lighting and material improvements, volumetric cloud system, new server architecture, clothing/inventory, art & map updates, character customization, and weapon customization.
— Internal, closed testing begins.

February
— Video blog details how clothing will work and showcases a potential map addition in the form of Utes.
— Disease system is being worked on. The ability to leave notes for other players is being worked on.
— Player inventory is now fully synced with the central database.
— Team continues to grow larger. Initial internal stress testing is aimed at up to 150 people in a server.
— As of this time, private hives are a consideration but ruled out for initial release. The Humanity system is still a consideration at this point.
— Enthusiasm surrounding the future availability of APIs.
— Motion capture session is done for zombies.

March
— External testing begins using moderators from the official forums and Reddit.
— Work begins on health system, loot spawning, crafting, and zombie pathfinding. Zombies being spawned in the thousands server-side.

April
— New zombie animations, radio implementation, and continued work on zombie pathfinding.
— Lots of new game items being developed and old ones recreated.
— PAX and GDC presentations regarding the current state of development.

May
— Not much real development news. A video is released about the “real” Chernarus and the work that has gone into map development.

June
— No official news on DayZ SA.

July
— Dean releases a statement essentially saying that no news is good news because they’ve been too busy working on the game.

August
— Closed alpha test video released on Aug 3rd. Shows more items and an improved inventory screen compared to what was demonstrated in April. The game is much improved from a visual standpoint.

September
— Video blog released on Sep 7th. Showcases player restraints, near-complete inventory screen, item condition states, item interaction, etc.

October
— No official news on DayZ SA. Early entries on the Steam database begin to appear for the standalone.

November
— Video blog released on Nov 15th. Showcases melee combat and many new items.

December
— Dean releases a statement on Dec 14th regarding delays in getting the alpha out the door. On Dec 16th, the Standalone is finally released in Early Access.

Everything in Flux

The pre-release development of the standalone was not always a straightforward process, and many of the original ideas for the game had to be scrapped due to time constraints or because they didn’t align with the new direction the game was moving in. While they were good ideas on their own, some of them didn’t make sense in the context of the standalone or were better suited as additions to the mod.

Before development got fully underway, Dean participated in an impromptu Q&A session via Reddit on August 13, 2012 — less than a week after the standalone had been announced. During this time, he outlined his goals for the new release as a “simple” improvement to the mod. One of these goals was an end-of-2012 release window, though he was very careful at this time to state that such a release would only be a public alpha, contrary to the “fully finished game release” myth that gets thrown around these days.

Even at this early stage, he saw the standalone as a massive upgrade from the mod. Some of these planned new features included:
-A reworked Chernarus map, including more enterable buildings and more islands.
-Hand-to-hand combat.
-Animal companions (dogs) and other additional wildlife.
-Item degradation.
-Web interface (for player statistics).
-More clothing, more weapons, more items. Weapon crafting was also a possibility.
-Additional player customization.
-Stronger, faster, more challenging zombies.
-Increased player count per server (100 to 200 was the goal).
-Greatly improved animations.
-Completely new UI.
-Underground bases.
-Support for player factions.
-Player diaries.

This is in addition to better performance, fewer bugs, improved anti-cheat, and a more robust network when compared to the mod. Perhaps even more interesting is that the standalone was originally slated to have more of a backstory that would have explained the origins of the virus. Obviously not all of this made it into the game, and some of it is yet to come when the game gets closer to its final release, but much of it will never be realized due to feasibility or a change in direction.

In the above image, we see an early version of Chernarus+ that includes Utes and some additional ancillary islands.

Closed Alpha

Beginning in March of 2013, the first testers outside Bohemia were welcomed to join the closed alpha. This group of people primarily consisted of moderators from both Reddit and the official forums. They would serve to provide valuable bug reports and feedback, helping to shape the game into what it would become by December of that year. Although they would see the game at some of its roughest points in development, it was necessary to put the game through the ringer before letting the general public dive into it.

A few of the pre-release dev blog videos showcase what it was like to play the earliest builds of the standalone, and they are all still available to watch if you care to take a look. The most noticeable differences with the game in this incubation stage were legacy assets from Arma 2. Until the art team and others populated the world with new clothing, weapons, buildings, and more, placeholders were used from the Arma series.

The most visible examples of these placeholders are the AK74 and variety of backpacks seen in early videos. One of those backpacks can be seen in the promotional image above under “The Long Wait Begins.”

Coming Together

Throughout the closed alpha period, the dev team continued to release teasers and bits of information through regular blog updates and appearances at gaming shows. For veterans of the Mod, this period must have been an unbearable wait. From March to December, they watched as the game went from infancy to something more closely resembling what we play today, getting drip fed information all the while.

In the picture above, we have a visual representation of the game coming into focus. We see a player equipped with much of the typical gear that would come to define early DayZ Standalone: standard jeans and shirt, beanie, taloon backpack, assault vest, and the ubiquitous M4A1. In his inventory you’ll find some of the native Zluta sodas (later replaced by the sodas we know today), as well as a heatpack — an item that would disappear until the debut of 0.50 a year later.

The Start of Something Special

This concludes our introduction to the history of DayZ. It may be a lot to digest, but it’s important to understand how it all got started to make sense of where we’re at and where we’re going. As a recap, here’s a timeline of major events in the standalone’s development prior to initial release:

January 21, 2012 — DayZ Mod released in a very basic form as files. Around this time, Dean Hall also begins doing some work for Bohemia Interactive as a Multiplayer Designer on Arma 3.

April 18, 2012 — Alpha version of Mod gets a proper release via BI forums as “DayZ Zombie RPG.”

May 15, 2012 — Dean Hall does an interview with PCGamer hinting for the first time that he believes DayZ will get a standalone release.

August 7, 2012 — DayZ Standalone development officially announced.

October 29, 2012 — DayZ Mod officially transitions to a community effort.

February 21, 2013 — DayZ Mod gets an official release via Steam as a free mod to Arma 2.

June 11-13, 2013 — An Alpha version of DayZ Standalone was playable on the floor at E3 2013 and allowed attendees their first actual playthrough of the standalone game.

September 12, 2013 — Arma 3 is released.

December 16, 2013 — DayZ Standalone (Early Access Alpha) released to the public for $29.99 / €23.99.

Shared by Tatanko on January 9, 2016

The first in a three-part series covering the history of DayZ Standalone, from conception to present day.

This album focuses on pre-release hype and development.

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