Sony Online Entertainment’s John Smedley announced a new entrant in the zombie apocalypse survival genre Wednesday evening in the form of H1Z1. The announcement of the PC and likely PS4 title was handled unusually through an off-screen reveal on a Game Talk Live broadcast followed by a Reddit post from Smedley but this revealed a few way in which SOE plans to outdo the current zombie apocalypse measuring stick, DayZ.
A game engine built for MMOs
DayZ started out as a mod to Bohemia Interactive’s ArmA II and was wildly successful enough that the decision was made to convert it into a full game. However, the game engine was built for a multiplayer shooter and not for a persistent MMO. While this was acceptable for a mod, turning DayZ into a fully fleshed out stand-alone game has proven to be a challenge for Dean Hall and his team as witnessed by the multiple delays until it was finally released as a Steam Early Access Game late last year. Even then, we are still seeing major engine work ahead to get the engine to meet the vision of the game and the promised 150 player per server headcount.
H1Z1 is being built with the proven Forgelight engine that currently powers Planetside 2 and the upcoming Everquest Next. So not only is the game already capable of handling hundreds of players and NPCs, MMO-like features such as house ownership, grouping and crafting but is also being purposed for sandbox play to allow users to build their own creations in-game. This allows the H1Z1 team to focus on the survival aspects and content creations versus also wrestling with the game engine.
Player created items
SOE is building H1Z1 to use the Player Studio. This has already proven to be a success with Planetside 2 and bringing in user-created content to the game opens up wider possibilities than what is limited to the development team’s imaginations.
The one concern with this is that, unlike a MMOFPS, a zombie survival game doesn’t need new items that can upset the gameplay balance. Smedley and SOE haven’t specified what will be allowed and what won’t be allowed for user generated content so we’ll have to wait and see.
Borrowing an element from Facepunch Studios’ Rust, Smedley says that H1Z1 will allow players to group together in gangs and take over existing buildings like abandoned warehouses or build houses to serve as bases in the game. “[W]e want our players to make Woodbury from The Walking Dead if they want to. Or take over a prison,” Smedley wrote as a way to give examples to the game’s vision.
More than shoot on sight play?
Zombie survival games like DayZ and Rust allow for all sorts of emergent gameplay but also have a nasty habit of devolving into many “shoot on sight” encounters with other players. Smedley hinted at the possibility of doing more than running and gunning by allowing players to live a “quiet life as a farmer raising crops” and an in-game economy that will allow for trading boosted by the thousands of players participating. This raises the possibility that H1Z1 will be more than just finding trying to survive against other players as well as the zombies.
Still lots to prove
There are still many unanswered questions with H1Z1 such as will it support some of the DayZ features like disease, broken bones, bullet wounds, etc. These are the type of survival aspects that are crucial to make SOE’s entry an immersive experience and not just a shooter dressed up in a zombie apocalypse skin.
Questions on how the free-to-play monetization will work also arise as well as why the game currently appears to use a third-person, over the shoulder view and not a first-person view. What kind of server customizations will be allowed is also of interest since the game will solely be hosted by SOE.
H1Z1 will be released as a Steam Early Access Game in the next four to six weeks for around $20. It will be free-to-play when released and also be included as part of SOE’s All-Access subscription for $14.99 a month though details on what perks that includes is unknown. The PC version will be released first followed by a PS4 version much later.