During the RTX 2015, the Reddit community of /r/games had the opportunity to interview Brian Hicks, lead producer of DayZ about some upcoming features.
Last time we talked, you announced that you’re moving to the Enfusion engine, which was going to be modularly added into the existing game. How much progress would you say you’ve made on that with development?
Brian Hicks: A lot of that stuff, obviously, the consumers aren’t going to see, because anything that’s not called player-ready is kept in its own branch so it’s not to interrupt the gameplay. At this point, we started with Real Virtuality as a tech, and then when we started to look at doing our own engine, Enfusion, it was a matter of looking at tech we needed for Real Virtuality, tech we needed for Enforce, which is the Take on Mars engine, and then stuff that we would need ourselves that just didn’t exist yet. Bringing all this technology together, and then at the end of development, we would have Enfusion, our engine designed for the type of game DayZ is.
I don’t want to give a rough percentage, we’re millions of lines of code different from RV at this point. We couldn’t be called Real Virtuality anymore. Sure, we still have some of the tech debt, with some major issues that we haven’t replaced, player controller, animation system, original physics system, stuff that’s all either actively being developed to be replaced or soon to be replaced either way. I say we still got probably got a year until, I think, right about our release from early access, about a year until I think I can safely say we’re starting to see Enfusion instead of hybrid bits of Enfusion and Real Virtuality.
It’s got to be probably the most challenging part of our early access is trying to do this engine development while allowing people to have access to the builds coming out. It means, a lot of times, the programmer’s got to sit on their own branch and wait for us to release the build before they can merge in, and then the second they merge into the main trunk, it just breaks everything. We’ve got to spend weeks upon weeks making sure everything works properly, fixing the bugs until we can, again, get to a build in which we can hand to consumers. A good example of this would be looking at .57 when we merged in the new inventory tech. Once .55 went out, the programer working on that, merged this stuff over, and just everything broke. It was just a mess. This is a brand-new inventory tech coming. We looked at the original system that we had coming from RV and said, “Some of this works for us but a lot of it needs to be changed in order to meet what we need from the tech of the future.”
Has the vision the game has changed in any way since development began and if so, could you explain a bit?
Brian Hicks: From the point that we entered active development is about early September, 2013. I’d say, obviously, the most noticeable scope change was when Dean first started talking about we’ve decided we’re actually going to, instead of just keep modifying Real Virtuality, we’re going to go and make Enfusion. Scope changes such as the new renderer, and then we look at the new animation system, the new player controls, the new physics system, the vehicle simulation plugged into this new physics system. Most of that scope change occurred very early in the project. We’re talking early 2014, very early on scope changes.
I wouldn’t necessarily define it as a scope change, but a lot of systems are adapted based upon how we see people react to them in an early access on stable and experimental branches. Initially, I think since none of us, both consumer and developers, really knew exactly what to expect from this concept of going into early access three months into a principal development what that meant. It was untouched territory.
Especially when you compare the game to other early access titles like Mincecraft, there is just so much more going on.
Brian Hicks: Again, it’s not just scope of their titles, but how they approached early success, how we approach early access. In my experience, sure, there’s similar milestones in game development that can be shared across those projects, but no one project is the same as the next. The issues you’ll run into one game are going to be completely different from the next. Our challenges, technology-wise, are going to be different from theirs, obviously, but I think all developers that deal with early access share both the burden and the blessing from it. Burden being that our cycle and how you push builds out, and how much time you spend pseudo-mastering development builds. That’s definitely something that takes time getting used to.
Then again, early access, you look and you pair early access development with this new connected social Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, and so on and so forth. It is an unparalleled blessing that we can interact with our consumers so quickly. Look, I was talking to Dallas over at Portalarium a couple of days ago, stopped by to have lunch and check out their studios. I’m big fan of Shroud of the Avatar and he mentioned to me how amazed and passionate he is about the fact that you look at development now, early access and all this connected stuff versus how it was when he first got into the industry back in the early year, the beginning of Origin. They’d spend years working on a project and then ship it to the retailer. They really never get a chance to interact with their fans except for maybe if they did a signing or something. That was about it. Maybe fan letters.
We get instant feedback on what does and does not work, and we’ve adapted, it’s taken us time getting used to this, but we started more and more to adapt to rapidly responding to what the consumer wants. Obviously, we do have to maintain the focus of what the game is, but I think there’s room in there to adapt the mechanics and how they are based upon how players either use them or don’t.
What kind of “situational awareness” features are going to be added in the future?
Brian Hicks: I think there might be an opportunity for some forester/hunter skills based upon tracking, but when it comes to raw situational awareness, we should never start to stick our noses in where a player’s eyes and personal skill and situation comes into play. I think it’s one of those things you see some of the more PvP-oriented players, they really know how to move in, in between the bushes. They know what areas to watch, their eyes are really attuned to the tactical scenario. We should never mess with that. Nothing a designer can do can really ever supplant the feeling those players get from their own personal skill winning out. We should never mess with that.
Are there any plans to flesh out the melee combat?
Brian Hicks: Obviously, we need to expand upon the melee system. Right now, the way it works is fine for early access, but we want to see a lot of polish come into it. It would be nice to see if we can do blocking. At a base level, we should be able to, should be able to, but it’s going to require some tech analysis, and we’ll probably want to look at fleshing out melee. We’ll probably talk about this more in status reports, like evaluating how it operates right now, what we think we can do within the system. I guess the short answer to it is we’d like to but we’re going to have to see exactly how much time it would take on development side and what the risks might be going into it.
What will the limitations of modding be?
Brian Hicks: There’s a lot of this we haven’t talked about yet, and that’s specifically because we haven’t finalized exactly how we want it to work. Eugen, my associate producer, brought this up to me the other day, and it didn’t even cross my min. Once we release the server binaries for people to host their own servers, which, of course, will come into play for people who’s into mods, unless we want to manage a significant amount of time in how people access the back end and what kind of access they get, we should probably really look into in addition to push out server package, pushing out some form of our back end for people who want to run their own stuff. I don’t think it’s feasible for us to try and manage all this stuff in the long run, so when it comes to looking into, I feel like this is more of a server-specific question, but when it comes into looking at how server hosting is handled and releasing the server package, we have to look at it from a perspective of longevity.
It might seem like a good idea and easier for us right now to manage all this stuff and keep it controlled, but in the long term, I personally want to see DayZ have legs of five to ten years. Maybe ten is a little lofty but five years at least. In order to do that, you need to be realistic about the resources on a personal level that we would have to dedicate to it. We need to look at opening up as much as we can while still protecting, of course, the base game and the technology behind it.
More than likely, and this isn’t finalized, more than likely look at a hive package, as well, for people to go out and set up their own database. People want to do that. There are people that don’t, they want to be on our tech, then we’ll look at, for the private charge, look at opening up access to their own control over their economies, and for the public, obviously, we’ll have to keep that further restricted to the public hive is always to be the vision that the developers have.
That will probably end up being that as modding goes out, more people will host modding servers. It means we’ll have to pay to host more official servers, but I think it’s very important that we do that, that there will always be the first thing people experience when they get in game, when they hit play in DayZ is the first thing they see is a list of official servers, the ones that the developers have full control over and match DayZ exactly. If they want to dive in to that custom stuff, there should be a tab or a couple of tabs with community and mod servers so they can go over there. For those that don’t know what they’re diving into, should be really easy to get into the official DayZ experience.
Do you plan on creating a little backstory for the virus, like newspapers, movies, articles, grave yards, evacuation zones etc?
Brian Hicks: We’re very reluctant to define what the Chernarus experience is on a narrative side. We’ll tell small stories with scenes, like in the woods, you come up to the car that’s wrecked in a ditch and maybe we’ll put some corpses around that. We’ll set up these military bases that seem to look like there was an impromptu evacuation set up. We don’t really want to take it much further than that. We think the narrative of what DayZ is, is up to the player, honestly.
What future feature do you think the community will be the most impressed with?
Brian Hicks: Honestly, if we’re going to be straight up honest, I think the community will be most impressed when we get server performance operating well above the redline with 100 players and a couple thousand infected, and desync is significantly less of a problem. That’s what people will be impressed by.
I skipped over the question because I think you touched on it with having thousands of zombies. I take it that means hordes at some point will at least be attempted?
Brian Hicks: They will definitely be attempted. I’m pretty confident we have the tech to do it. Right now, it’s just a matter of, A, finalizing the bugs on herd mentality, and, B, optimizing the performance cost of the infected. Then we can start screwing around and spawning hordes.
Do you still think the game will be “feature complete” by the end of this calendar year?
Brian Hicks: When you say feature complete, it means the implementation of these features, the first, the basic flesh out, as we say, that’s the first iteration of vehicles. I still think we have a good chance of by the end of this year, being in what we consider beta, which is where we stop focusing so much on core features and switching to bug fixing and small content. I still think there’s a good chance, and there’s also a chance that end up pushed out a couple of months, but I don’t think we’re looking at any severe delays. I think, all in all, when you look at the scope of the project, we were looking at originally a 2.5 to 3-year development cycle. I think if we don’t hit that 3-year, we’re going to be damn close, I honestly believe so.
The final release is coming 1.0 at some point. Do you see yourself adopting more of the Minecraft model of 1.0 happens and then we just keep going on? Or do you see it more as we hit 1.0, the game is done, we’re going to continue to support it with patches and bug fixes, but do you see the content continuing to trickle out after that?
Brian Hicks: What the company does is not specifically up to me, but I and I believe Mark, the CEO, both agree on this, is the development continues on DayZ long past 1.0. I’m not talking just bug fixes. We’ll flesh out more types of vehicles, we’ll implement things that we might not have been able to get to in the early access development. We will continue, but hear me, we’ll continue developing DayZ past 1.0. How far past 1.0? I don’t know, but I know when I’ve spoken to Mark, he was passionate about at least two to five years.