When FPS becomes virtual world

Our friend Marcus Carter (PhD Student at the University of Melbourne) sends in this report about DayZ. Back in the day, we pushed CounterStrike and friends out of the virtual world category because the multi-user environments were not persistent. Now of course all the lines blur; console-based achievement systems create a persistent community at the hub of every FPS. DayZ takes it a step further, adding a massive spatial environment. When an FPS gets a huge persistent map, we are back to Trammel.

Here is Marcus' report.

Have you heard about DayZ yet? If you’re willing to do battle with the installation process, the runaway successful Arma II mod is definitely worth the time. It is a hyper-realistic, ruthless, multiplayer zombie survival game that strings together a series of interesting and unique features that feels like the MMO/FPS experience I didn’t know I was missing.


Here’s a low-down of the interesting features in the DayZ alpha for TerraNovans who haven’t had a chance to play.


What is DayZ


DayZ is a mod for the hyper-realist combat simulator Arma II: Combined Operations. Developed by Bohemia Interactive developer Dean Hall, or ‘Rocket’ to the community, DayZ allows players to explore a 225 km2 open world called Chernarus which has multiple cities, airfields, hospitals, villages, grocery stores, lakes, petrol stations and plenty of forest to create an immersive, sandbox zombie survival experience. There are already 800,000 unique players who log into shard-style servers hosted around the world. Each server is connected to a persistent identity system, nicknamed ‘The Hive’, which saves a player’s location and inventory and allows them to use the same character on any of the independently hosted servers.


You will first spawn on the ‘coast’ of Chernarus, with bandages, painkillers and a flashlight (previously players spawned with a can of beans, leading to the ‘bean wars’; well equipped players farming newbies as they spawned for their high-value food source). There is no tutorial or friendly sprite giving you advice, no direction markers and no map. Players have to use their wits (or more likely one of the numerous newbie guides on the internet) to source weapons, food, water, medication and ammunition to stay alive. B.Y.O Narrative.


The zombie-movie esque beginnings of the game aside, the most unique feature that players face is consequential death: in DayZ; if you die, you start again with no inventory. In other words, Diablo’s Nightmare mode is the only way to play DayZ. The result is intense do-or-die PvP combat between desperate attempts to find the food, water or medication necessary to keep your character alive.


Once a player salvages or loots their way to short-term security, the expansive sandbox offers various ‘end-game’ goals: either battle it out in the zombie infested cities, raid the military airfield, or scavenge vehicle parts to repair cars, buses or even helicopters. This is a great sandbox game, filled with zombies and other players who will kill you for a can of Heinz Baked Beans.


Why DayZ is exciting




Quintin Smith puts it best; either you’re excited about DayZ, or you haven’t heard of it.

I’ve found so far my experience of DayZ is much like viewing the Tour De France; long periods travelling through beautiful yet repetitive scenery interspersed with 15-20 seconds of intense and exhilarating competition. The thing is though, those 20 seconds make it totally worthwhile. But why is it interesting for TerraNova?


First, DayZ is another example of the benefits of permitting modding in games. It’s put a 2009 game in the Steam top ten for the last three months. Dayz has had over 800,000 unique players and 200,000 in the last 24 hours. There are more concurrent players in DayZ than there are in the similarly ruthless and hardcore EVE Online. All for a mod, still in alpha, with buggy controls and some serious gameplay issues.


Secondly, DayZ strongly illustrates the potential for social experiment in virtual worlds. There is no ‘friendly fire’ function available, every player might help or attack you, so each social interaction is a Prisoners’ Dilemma. There was a good discussion of this aspect of the game on the DayZ subreddit.


By most definitions (I’m partial to the one at MMO Data) DayZ probably does not have all the components necessary to constitute an MMO. But to me, the gaming experience feels similar enough in a handful of important ways. Perhaps it should be called MMOE: “MMO-esque”? The shards might be small (between 40-60 people maximum) but there are more than enough of them, and other than location-related ping, there is nothing stopping you playing on them all (and as such interacting with every other DayZ player). The persistence of the world and persistence of each user’s character, in attributes and location, are sufficient in creating a feeling of player persistence similar to that of traditional MMOs.


What makes me describe DayZ as persistent is an in-game ‘tent’ item. It is possible to place a camouflaged tent in the game world which remains despite you logging out. Players are able to store items within this tent that can be stolen by other players (I was rather gleeful when I looted some food and weapons from a tent I stumbled upon in a forest) or shared between a clan of cooperating players. Now these tents are persistent to each shard, but illustrates the step that has been taken from a matchmaking room to a persistent environment.


As is the case with nearly any online game; the really interesting stuff emerges through multiplayer gameplay. DayZ has one feature that changes and enhances the nature and quality of social interactions above those i’ve experienced in any other online game; proximity voice chat, not based on teams but rather enabling communication between all players.


In DayZ, your ‘health bar’ is your volume of blood. If you get low, you begin to have difficulty seeing things, and too low, you’ll start passing out. ‘Blood Transfusions’ are an item in the game, but they have to be administered by another user. Forced social interaction. I’ve been playing with a friend of mine who reported this experience with the spatially-propagated voice soon after I logged out...


we had some awesome stuff, 2 pistols, heaps of meds, then we saw a dude with no weapons. He asked if we could give him a blood transplant so we figured we would, then as we were picking up the blood bag he went into our pack, took our stored pistol and shot us....... MOTHER F*****R!!!! From here on in. Everyone dies.


Proximity voice results in bizarre, unique and evocative gameplay thanks the streamlined ability to converse with any spatially colocated player. There are some great examples of these situations; in what other game can you be robbed at gunpoint? How about the player who got kidnapped in DayZ and tweeted the whole experience (see a writeup here). Up for some gun-point trivia? Fancy joining one of the roving teams of DayZ Doctors, saving players starving or bleeding to death?


These examples and my own experience appear to validate the findings of some of my colleagues back in ‘06; proximity-based chat in a first person shooter: using a novel voice communication system for online play. This study looked at the impact of proximity voice when implemented in a team FPS, Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory. It became clear that using proximity voice rather than a radio voice system (in which communication is organized by teams but unaffected by spatial location) enhanced realism and acted as a “filter for relevance” (p. 99); that is, location-based communication ensures that if you can hear it, it is probably relevant to you - the person screaming ‘help’ is definitely nearby. Check out chapter 5 of Greg Wadleys PhD for more details about this study of spatially-propagated voice in an FPS. The implementation of proximity voice in DayZ strongly illustrates that the way game developers design social communication can have a pronounced affect on gameplay.


I don’t enjoy ‘movie games’ where non-interactive cut-scenes comprise a third of the entire game; give me a sandbox and toys, and a social interaction system that enhances those interactions, and let me make my own story.  I don’t want to be a hero, and I don’t want to be a villain. I want to be what suits me; and DayZ lets me do that. I recommend you check out the mod, but if you don’t get the chance a standalone version may be on its way.


Marcus Carter is a PhD Student at the University of Melbourne, Australia researching EVE Online and Warhammer 40,000 tournaments.


Comments on When FPS becomes virtual world:

Raph Koster says:

Given that plenty of MUDs have comparable capacity numbers, I think DayZ counts as a virtual world. :)

Posted Jul 25, 2012 3:16:21 PM | link

Pai says:

This is my favorite DayZ story: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oQQ4N1kMv9o

I think any game where people can make their own stories/communities like that counts as a virtual world. It's the social interaction and complexity that makes it a 'world' more than stuff like size. What's a shame though is that apparently the game is no inundated with hackers who are basically ruining that anarchic world feeling for their own purposes.

Posted Jul 25, 2012 7:44:24 PM | link

Random Idiot says:

remember DayZ is still in Alpha, I'm sure the beta will be installer friendly ;)

Posted Jul 26, 2012 5:18:42 AM | link

RR says:

DayZ is awesome, it has some amazing features that grab you immediately. But it's also a bug ridden piece of crap, that hackers run rampant over. Google search for "dayz all players died at once" for examples - hackers killing all players on a bunch of servers all at once, whenever they want; "yeah, that old Arma bug". Because it's persistent, and hard mode, you absolutely must trust the server, and that's just not there.

I really hope someone takes the best features from the game and write a new mod on top of a more secure server.

Posted Jul 27, 2012 4:12:26 PM | link

Marcus Carter says:

Thanks for sharing this!

I'm just totally engrossed at the novel social interactions that are occurring thanks to proximity voice in DayZ. Check out this gallery of pictures which shows a pretty mundane interaction, really, but I just find the potential for social interactions fascinating.

RR; yep, the game is only in alpha, so its very problematic. I wouldn't advise investing too much time in playing (and I've seen some pretty irate people online complaining about the server issues) but its still very fun! I've found a server i'm pretty happy with, but bugs and hackers do still happen.

I don't doubt there are going to be a huge range of copy-cat games that come out soon (something like 'Cubeland' maybe) but DayZ has employed some pretty novel features (ruthlessness, food/water/medication, consequential death, night/day ect) which are worth crediting it for. It should be interesting seeing if the unique DayZ features make it into other persistent zombie games that might come out.

Another interesting tid-bit for TerraNovans, DayZ developer Dean Hall credits his military experience pretty strongly with his insistence on some of the features in DayZ, such as the constant search for food and water and sense of genuine danger. I can't find where I read this, but i've seen this line somewhere... 'DayZ is a game that could only have been made by someone with military experience'. Probably true!

Posted Jul 27, 2012 8:57:58 PM | link

Greg Wadley says:

Thanks for the plug Marcus! I think it might be interesting also to compare what's happening in DayZ with the results of my study on voice in MMOGs (results are in section 4.3). Players felt that voice was more fun, easy and natural than typing, and more conducive to group success, especially during fast-paced action such as raids. You'd expect these results to occur in DayZ too.

However voice also raised interesting problems. It conveyed immediate emotional responses, leading to flame-wars and abuse. It conveyed characteristics of speakers such as age, gender and nationality, and what was going on in their household, such as conversations among spouses and children. This raised privacy issues and made some players reluctant to use voice with strangers, or even to play with strangers. It also caused problems for role-players and gender-benders.

It's interesting to ponder whether these effects will occur in DayZ. Do MMO-FPS players role-play? Are they sensitive to exposing their personal characteristics?

MMOG players commented that a voice channel became less useful the more people were using it, and commented on the difficulty of using several voice channels at once (compared to multiple text channels). They wondered whether proximity voice would fix these problems, and what it would be like to be able to walk up to random strangers in the MMOG and speak with them. To the extent that DayZ is comparable to an MMOG, we now can observe this in the wild, which should be interesting.

Posted Jul 27, 2012 10:01:58 PM | link

Aakash says:

Hi Pai,

I echo your opinion. Nice video :)

Posted Jul 28, 2012 10:01:51 PM | link

Rits says:

Don't know if this contributes to the topic, but there are two games I know that is also blurring the lines - Global Agenda and Fire Fall. they're both under the category of MMOFPSRPG; FPS based but you got an open world map that is consistent, control in FPS mode, shooting as the main battle.

Global Agenda is now Free to play on steam.
Fire Fall should be currently still on beta, which I have been requesting a key for more than half a year.

Posted Jul 28, 2012 10:33:05 PM | link

John Seifer says:

I'm glad someone has good things to say about DayZ. I've only heard negative things from other people so far. This game has potential and I'm a fan regardless.

Posted Aug 1, 2012 12:23:15 PM | link

Shadowgram91 says:

How is Global Agenda? I've been in the MMOFPS scene for awhile now and have yet to give it a shot. I've been involved with Blacklight: Retribution mostly and now I'm looking for something new.

Posted Aug 3, 2012 12:40:52 AM | link

Richard Bartle says:

Applying my definition of what constitutes a virtual world to DayZ:
- It has physics.
- Players are represented by a single character in the world.
- Interaction takes place in real time.
- The world is shared.
- The world is persistent.
- The world is not the real world.

I'm a little cautious about the persistence, as it seems to be like having persistence in a regular MMO instance. However, it does seem to qualify.

I'm particularly glad we're getting friendly fire back in MMOs. It was taken out because if you have large shards then gangs of players can form to maraud the world and spoil it for everyone, but if the world is small enough (in terms of population) then that can't happen so you can be more realistic about it. In real life, no grenade thrower is so good that they can lob one into a melee group and only catch people on the opposing side in the resulting explosion.


Posted Aug 3, 2012 7:59:15 AM | link

Marcus Carter says:

Richard, I find likening DayZ's persistence to an MMO instance interesting.

A possible factor that could be used to differentiate the two though is the consensual nature of joining an MMO instance; they are essentially private, as all users sharing the instance are part of the same group. The same cannot be said for DayZ.

On friendly fire, you may enjoy this video of a large number of players coming together at a Church Service in Cherno......

Posted Aug 6, 2012 7:24:46 PM | link

Marcus Carter says:

More on the persistence of DayZ, along with tents, items like vehicles and some construction items (razor wire, sandbags) are persistent to the server also.

Dean Hall did a short presentation and Q&A which you can view on YouTube.

He was asked about the sandbox feel of the game, and he discussed implementing more features to develop the sense of persistence in the game;

And it’s really sort of reaffirmed me in wanting to have me and the development team focus on building the structure of the world, but the players actually build the world itself. And that’s why I want to get more construction and development, more ways for the players to interact and have persistent impact on the world because that’s where the real strengths come from.

link to that part of the video

Posted Aug 6, 2012 9:23:56 PM | link

virtual world says:

I would love to try it!

Posted Aug 9, 2012 4:23:46 AM | link

mmo says:

I like call of duty and brick force. mmos are not a big deal, I recently play ios shooters.

Posted Aug 20, 2012 8:37:23 AM | link

mitch says:

Sweet! I've just received my free minecraft giftcode!

>> Minecraftcodes.info <<

Posted Sep 15, 2012 6:41:45 PM | link