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SOE walks us through a typical day of a survivor in H1Z1

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Posted by: Matt Liebl

At E3 last week, I had the opportunity to sit in on a hands-off gameplay presentation of H1Z1, SOE's upcoming zombie survival MMO. It's important to note that most of my time was spent watching Whisenhunt walk me through the basic details of the game, but during that I had the opportunity to ask any questions that popped into my head. So if some of the questions seem a bit random, that's why.

(Setting me up before the demo)

Jimmy Whisenhunt: Some background on H1Z1, kind of where we're headed and where we came from; this started because a lot of us worked on Planetside 2, on the Forgelight engine. We had been looking at it and thinking, 'what else can we do with this engine?' We're all fans of the survival genre, I'm a huge fan of Day Z and the rest, we've played those games and thought, Forgelight could do this really well, and we have our own ideas on how to make the world alive.

I'm sure you saw Landmark and EverQuest Next. With all the dynamic AI in store, we feel like we have the right pieces to make a world that's constantly changing and catch players off guard. That's what this is about. I want to stress the player out, but not too much. We want to have some fun with it and make sure they tell their own story.

We're an MMO, so we're hosting our own servers, with a lot of players. We're beginning with 64 square kilometers, which is pretty much the size of Planetside 2. From there, we're going to add on to it, and it's going to be seamless. When we add chunks to the 64 square kilometers, the player might be running through, and think 'this road used to turn left...' and run this way and all of a sudden they're in city scapes. Right now we're in the Pacific Northwest. We drop you in the woods, no cellphone, just an axe and a flashlight, and that feeling of going to the Pacific Northwest is so creepy. Our goal with the pre-alpha is that we get the right features for Early Access so we can get a good idea of what players like and what they don't.

We try to put a lot of our spawn points on some sort of vantage point. They're hand placed, not procedural, but your spawning is procedural. The system will decide which one you're spawned at based off activities. We don't just want you to spawn in and BAM you're dead.

At this point, Whisenhunt spawned in the world and began chopping down a tree to show me how to collect resources and use those resources to discover recipes for creating items.

H1Z1

Matt: Do you prevent players from camping?

Whisenhunt: We have enough [spawn points] where we don't need to worry about that. Hopefully we won't run into that problem, but it's an easy fix. We're going to have a lot of servers. We're really open about how we're handling development of the game, and we're perfectly fine to admit that we don't know how many players are going to have fun, we know how many we can support, but don't know if it's going to be fun, right. So Early Access is all about how let's see how crazy things get. Hey you X amount of people, maybe it's over a 1000, and find out that was a terrible idea, and we back that off until it feels good. And that's our baseline and what we do from there; we keep adding to the world and growing the player count.

We also talked about Server Rulesets. We will allow players to vote on what the next server will be, so players can use tokens to bet on what the next server will be. So if they want a PvE server, where people are less common and zombies are less hardcore, or more hardcore, we can do that. 

So when you start off, you have an axe, you have a flashlight, and clothes, which give you pockets. Right now we're using single cell storage, very Diablo-esque, where this axe will take a certain amount of squares. So what we want people to do when they get into the game, we don't want to throw a bunch of tutorials at the player, we want you to go 'I need to survive, I want a campfire, I need wood, there's a tree, I have an axe,' and do that sort of math as you're running around. We want to encourage players in a natural way. When you cut down a tree, it will respawn within 20 minutes, but what we want players to do, when they start clearing these areas and building towns, to start completely depleting resources, so they need to move out to create confrontation.

Matt: Are there levels, skills, or any sort of progression?

Whisenhunt: The progression we're doing is tangible, there is no number that will tell you if you can or can't do something. It's more about 'I learned how to make something.' Our crafting is a discovery system, which means you have to experiment with what can be combined with what, what can become what. Taking a piece of wood, you can click Discover, and it will reveal you can make a plank. Now I can craft a plank. Then I can make a stick. And so on, until I can make an animal trap, which will help me get food.

Now, if I combine a stick, cloth and animal fat, I can make a torch. And torches are awesome because they cause fire and they're a great light source. We've also got a circle of life in the game. Wildlife aren't just decoration, everything needs to have a tangible reason to be there for gameplay. Zombies will eat anything with a brain, wolves will eat anything but a zombie and deer just want to live, and people just want to live, so everyone has wants and needs. So a deer can be chased by 20 zombies for example. 

H1Z1

Matt: Are zombies faster than you?

Whisenhunt: They are not, but your stamina can get low and that becomes a problem, which means you can no longer sprint. We need to give the zombies more HP because it's a little too easy to kill them with the axe. We know we want lots of zombies, and something new now is that they can attack while running and there's lots of them. It's a tightrope act where we want to be scary but not impossible.

Once players reach the end game, they can build a Foundation and it will take players a long time to do. Once placed in the world, it will give players the ability to add a more permanent footprint in the world. You can freeform build walls, leave gaps, whatever you want to do. We have some prebuilt buildings that take a lot of resources, a little more than if you'd build it yourself.

There is no real security to your Foundations. The door to your foundation belongs to you and your friends. If players want to get in, they need to kick it down. If it's a metal door, they'll need a C4 to blow it off.

At this point, Whisenhunt was showing me some of the building structures in the game. He entered a piece of code that gave him enough resources to construct a safehouse. Normally these take a long time to acquire.

Matt: Are there certain places you can build these? Or what's preventing the whole world of being buildings?

Whisenhunt: Nothing really, and that's scary, but also a little fun. A lot of it will be terrain. The system can detect that stilted buildings can't be built on hills for example. If the world becomes too populated and depletes too many resources, then players will have to fight each other for these resources. It's a really ambitious way to balance it, but it's going to be really fun.

Matt: Are there multiple types of foundations?

Whisenhunt: Beyond just building a house just to live in it, you're going to become more self-sustainable with like dew collectors for example. I can use a bottle on a collector and get fresh water for example, as opposed to running to a lake and getting dirty water, though it will hydrate me.

After being attacked by a pack of zombies

Matt: So how would I heal or replenish my health?

Whisenhunt: There are multiple ways actually. Being full, just eating food in general, very slowly trickles its way into stamina. The lower the food gets, the slower it regenerates. Then of course you have stuff like bandages.

Matt: Real quickly slightly off-topic, is the game PC only, or is it coming to PS4?

Whisenhunt: We are Sony. Our goal right now is to push to PC and make sure we have a very clean cut game, and we'll see where things go from there.

So I've torn my shirt and now I can craft a bandage, and it will start healing me at a more accelerated rate.

Every morning, the systems will decide what the next day will be like, and it will start slowly rolling in. So you can have a sunny day, or a mist, all the way to heavy rain for example.

Matt: You guys recently talked about the monetization process. That it wouldn't be stuff that would help you win for example and rather be more cosmetic.

Whisenhunt: Yes, that is absolutely the goal. We're not going to have things like, pay $5 and you'll have more stamina, but what we're talking about are things that will not directly impact your survival experience. There are a lot of ideas, but we can't really talk about it right now, because we're not a 100% commited to it yet. I hope it shows too that we are so focused on making the game really solid, that we know if we make a good game, and we monetize it well, and keep good faith with the people playing our game, but first and foremost, we have to make that good game.

Matt: What would you say makes H1Z1 stand out from other zombie survival games.

Whisenhunt: One of the biggest things is death of crafting, and character in general. It's personal crafting with the world, in an MMO space. It's not a small server, you're dealing with lots and lots of players in a growing world. On top of that, we're leveraging Planetside, and the Forgelight Engine. We have so many systems that we can flip on and off, and per server we can do a lot of things. One of the coolest things is we can leverage anything from a squad, to a platoon, to an outfit if we need the social features later on. We feel very modular about it. We love the genre, look, it's a playground for us.

Zombies, right now we have one model, but they have a wearable system, just like the players do, so we'll spawn them with shirts and stuff. I think I forgot to mention this earlier, but when you die, your body will be in the world reanimated. So you have to fight yourself to get your stuff back. It's a reason to kill the zombie because you see he has the stuff you had. He'll be in the general area, but he will wander around.

Matt: So last question, how do fans get into Early Access?

We're really close. The full release, we're not sure yet, but Steam Early Access will point us in the right direction. Early Access will allow players to purchase it for $19.99, and it gives us a really good crowd of people who are excited, and get really good feedback from them on a daily basis. No solid date yet, but we're really close.

Tags: H1Z1

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