Interview: Talking H1Z1’s dynamic weather with Jimmy Whisenhunt and Ryan Favale

At E3 last month, I had the chance to sit down with H1Z1's senior designer Jimmy Whisenhunt. During my 30-or-so minutes with the game, Whisenhunt explained the basics of SOE's upcoming zombie survival game, while also giving me a sneak peak of the weather system. SOE took the next step earlier this month by releasing a batch of snowy screenshots, but weather and its effect on both the player and zombies remain mostly a mystery. So I sat down and talked with two of the game's developers: Jimmy Whisenhunt, Senior Designer, and Ryan Favale, Graphics Programmer. Here's what they had to say about the dynamic weather of H1Z1.

Matt: Before we begin, can you just give a quick overview of weather in H1Z1?

Jimmy Whisenhunt, Senior Designer: We are working on dynamic weather. We started in the beginning of the project. We knew we wanted to do it and shortly after, we decided anything we do in the game wasn't going to be for decoration. Everything needed to have some sort of impactful feature to the game, like it needs to do something for the player instead just look pretty. We started off with rain. We had Favale come on to the team, and we found out he's a magician and we had rain really quick. So we thought, cool, what can we do with rain now? And we kind of fleshed out the system on paper to make sure it made sense for us to do the things we're thinking about and as of recently, Favale has been working on snow, and that's where we are now.

Matt: Yea, I saw the screenshots that were released last week. It looked fantastic. But as you said, it has to have a purpose. So what effect will different weather have on the player?

Jimmy Whisenhunt: So all the stuff we're working on right now, first and foremost, making sure it's going to look good but it's also not going to impact our performance, because once again, we want to make sure that this game runs really well. It's been our goal to say, "If you can run PlanetSide 2, you can run H1Z1 even better." So right now we're getting all these systems in visually, and on paper we have all the systems and how they're going to affect the player. So right now we have the basic health, food, water and stamina. We are going to change health to also have a wellness system. So you can get cold and it's going to affect on how fast you'll regen, how much water and food you'll need and things like that. So getting wet will affect the player, and getting cold will affect the player. 

Matt: Does changing clothes affect the player's wellness?

Jimmy Whisenhunt: We haven't decided on changing clothes, but you can, right now, run under a tree where it won't rain in that area, or start a campfire and dry yourself out. So we have to be careful too because you can change a system, and it might affect five others.

H1Z1 rain

Matt: I've seen some of the rain at E3, and now I've seen snow. But are there any other more severe weather conditions and disasters like flash floods or tornadoes?

Ryan Favale, Graphics Programmer: I don't think we'll be doing flash floods (laughs) but I'm a graphics programmer, and I'm almost done with snow, so I think I'll be adding things as they come, but what that is, I'm still working that out.

Jimmy Whisenhunt: The team works in a very different way, where everyone works on what they think is exciting, then everyone looks at it and determine whether it's a valuable addition. When rain came in, we were like, we wanted dynamic weather but we didn't think it was coming this soon, and it will affect the player in a good way, we'll see where that goes. Now we're on snow, so we'll see where we go from here.

Matt: Will the various weather effects also affect zombies as well?

Jimmy Whisenhunt: Yeah we want the zombies to be affected, at least we know right now, in snow. We want them to move a little bit slower, because the player obviously will have hardships other than zombies with the weather. It's kind of like some games right now, you'll play at night, and it's like, why am I here, you'll log out and it's day again. We want to make sure there is a reason to play during each weatcher.

Matt: Does the world in H1Z1 work off of our real time? Or does it have its own day and night cycle?

Jimmy Whisenhunt: No, it will have its own day and night cycle. Also, it will depend on what server you're on. Might change how long the days are, the nights are.

Ryan Favale: We're trying to make every single situation fun to play.

Matt: You mentioned performance and how you don't want weather to hinder gameplay. What kind of systems are you shooting for to run H1Z1 smoothly?

Ryan Favale: We're definitely make sure that the game runs well on next-gen and old systems like the 8600 graphics cards. But at the same time, we're allowing you to push the graphics up for next-gen quality.

Matt: A user submitted question from Twitter asked if the snow will actually melt when the sun goes up, or if it rains will the ground turn muddy.

Ryan Favale: It's certainly dynamic. Basically, to describe it, if the sun comes out, the snow will melt. When the clouds come out, it will rain. We're thinking about seasons as well. 


Matt: So are you guys going to have season cycles?

Ryan Favale: We're thinking about it. It seems random, but nothing's really random in the computer world. As far as year cycles, we're still talking about whether or not we want it to match cycles around the year.

Jimmy Whisenhunt: It can be different experiences for different players. So let's say, if you're on a server and it snowed. And the next day it's bright and sunny, and the next day it snows, that's like Oklahoma. That's where I'm from. You never know what you're going into. But there could be another server where it's only sunny. That's kind of how we're going into Early Access because we want people to experience everything, so it will be pretty random until then.

Matt: Speaking of Early Access, John Smedley stated that H1Z1 would be playable through Steam, but that he didn't have an Early Access launch date. Any news on that?

Jimmy Whisenhunt: No, we're still pushing forward. We still have systems we want to flesh out. And we're trying to show as much as we can as we move forward. Dynamic Weather has been on that list for a long time, because we want players to get a taste of a system that the game will eventually have. We're almost there. We're getting there.

There are also a few things we're keeping a surprise, outside of just the weather, and we'll share those soon.

H1Z1 night snow

Matt: You mentioned that the team was working toward an overall goal. What is that?

Jimmy Whisenhunt: We're still shooting towards giving everyone that vertical slice, we want to make sure that we have a little bit of each system, so the game is properly represented when they get a hold of it. So with Early Access, we want to be straight forward, and people know what to expect as development continues. Yeah we can listen to Reddit and Twitter, but until they get a taste of that system it's hard to take the opinion to heart. We want to make sure all those are there before we start developing alongside the community.

Matt: And the feedback's been good? People seem on board with the recently announced Microtransactions.

Jimmy Whisenhunt: Yeah we're staying away from the important aspects of hardcore survival and once again, we play these games and we're fans of the genre. And we just want to make sure we reverse engineer what's fun and add our own take to the systems.

Matt: Lastly, H1Z1 is mostly set in the Northwest, kind of like the Seattle area. I don't want to get too far ahead, but if you were to expand to the east coast. Would you guys plan on making the transition seamless or would we see loading times and would the weather also reflect those locations

Jimmy Whisenhunt: For right now that's kind of the feel for that area. We'll be expanding out to different types of the United States, but right now it's the Northwest. We're not sure about the weather side of that just yet, but as far as going east coast, that is what we want to do. And make seamless transitions all the way across.

Ryan Favale: Players will inherit the weather from the next server – or region – fairly seamlessly in the future. Right now, players can’t be in a clear, sunny environment and look to the horizon and see snow, but that’s the goal. We’re currently working on this kind of regional “awareness” for the majority of the weather effects, so that in the future, snowy mountains are visible from a warm, lush valley.