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The Road to E3 2014: DoubleTake: H1Z1

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Posted on May 29, 2014 AT 11:47am

Going viral

So, H1Z1. It honestly seems a little silly to be giving our hands-on impressions of the game, simply because there’s just not that much game there yet. I mean, we’re talking about a project that was just announced a few months ago, and since Sony Online Entertainment has made an effort to involve the community in the design process from a fairly early stage, it’s a long way off from being anywhere close to done. On the other hand, though: MAINSTREAM ZOMBIE MMO. I can’t even begin to tell you how long I’ve been waiting for a game like this, and just being able to wander around a post-apocalyptic world scrounging for supplies, avoiding the undead, and encountering other survivors was neat, even in its very early state. Josh
Eric I know some out there are tired of games centered around zombies at this point, but I’m pretty much like you—I’ve wanted a real, open-world, zombie-survival game for as long as I can imagine. There’s so much promise and potential in the idea that went untapped for so long, and now, it almost feels like we’re tripping over games trying to build on that idea. It was surprising when SOE announced the game, because there are numerous other projects attempting this, but what’s interesting about H1Z1 is now you’ve got a major developer working on the idea. It’s tough to judge their efforts so far, because—as you said—the game is very, very early. Still, I think that potential is there. Before we get to what the game might become, H1Z1 does show the potential of the idea: Being in this world, starting out with nothing, never having that security of knowing you’re in a “non-combat” portion of the game. Though there was very little to do just yet, the setup really does show just how different games like this can (or will) feel from most of the zombie games we’re used to.
I mean, it’s hard not to point out that DayZ has been doing a very similar thing for a while now, and Rust has a similar vibe minus the actual zombies. I feel like it’ll be easy to look at H1Z1 and pass it off as a clone of that. But for me, I think it’s more than just a big studio that sets this game apart in my mind. It’s the fact that it’s going to enormously dwarf those other games in scale. DayZ currently caps out at 40 players per server. The tech SOE is using will allow for thousands. And that’s not a pipe dream, either, since they’ve already proven the tech could work in PlanetSide 2. My favorite part of any zombie fiction is the way the survivors band together and rebuild, and the fact that so many people will actually be able to do that in H1Z1 is fascinating. Josh

Eric Yeah, the real question comes down to how all of this ends up playing out. You mention Planetside 2, and in a game like that, you need to make sure one person can kill another person, score points, maybe take control of part of the map—the basics are pretty easy. However, I think for a game like H1Z1, it’s going to need some real depth to it. What does working together with others mean? How will that play out? How about betraying others? What ways can I do that? Can we set up camps? Defend locations? There are just so, so many options there, and I’m worried that what I want and what the game can realistically be might be too far apart. Still, I had fun with the demo we played, even though there was little to do. Running away from zombies, scavenging for supplies, exploring the landscape, trying to meet up with you (or other players)—those basics were pretty cool. How fun things will be long-term, that’s my concern.
I think the important thing is going to be giving tons of options without forcing a bunch of structure, and it seems like they’re on the right track there. What MMOs really need at this point—at least to get me interested—are worlds where the players are the most important characters. I don’t want a bunch of quests that tell me to raid some camp or kill 10 zombies to collect zombie skins. I want to meet other people in this wasteland, build our own little fortification, and have everyone play a role in keeping each other alive. I want to be the guy that goes out and hunts other survivors to steal their supplies and bring them back. I want to be the guy picking off zombies that get too close to our fences. I want to go to war with another band of survivors and take their camp for ourselves. As crazy as it sounds, I think with the right systems in place and the right balance, H1Z1 can pull that off. I got to tool around with the crafting a bit more than you, but there’s already enough in place there to build basic fortifications. My one worry is how resource intensive everything felt, and how little resources I felt like I was finding. I don’t want to walk into a supermarket and find everything I need to survive for a month, but it’d be nice to feel like I could get on my feet in the most basic way inside of an hour or two, provided I can actually stay alive. Josh
Eric Two questions, and these might seem like they aren’t connected, but I think they are: Are games like H1Z1 popping up because of Minecraft, and does this game even need to have any sort of quests in it? I don’t want to say Minecraft is solely responsible for any open-world game where you try to survive and you craft things, but I can’t help but feel like its success showed that such ideas can be viable outside of what companies previously thought a “game” needed to be. And, yeah, I don’t want to have a bunch of generic MMORPG quests—and maybe H1Z1 doesn’t need any, period. I want a game where the players create the world, not the developer. That’s a scary idea, because if players don’t help build up the world and make it interesting, the game’s popularity can die pretty quickly. If it does catch on, though, I think that’s where you really have the power to have a compelling experience, far more than any pre-created storyline or tasks could provide.

Yeah, I think it’s fair to say that Minecraft’s meteoric rise kicked up interest in these kind of soft-touch sandbox games. And I really don’t want any objective in H1Z1 other than just surviving. I don’t even want achievements. Everything I’ve read from SOE so far makes it sound like they get that direction and want to deliver on it, but I’m still hesitant to believe it’ll stay that way forever. It’s mostly because, as you said, getting a community of thousands of players to collaborate on building an interesting world seems like an impossible challenge if you’ve got the bare minimum of control over what they’re doing at any given moment. I think there’s always going to be the temptation of adding more structure. Even Minecraft got an endgame of sorts at some point, didn’t it? And maybe it’ll prove to be necessary. Maybe there’s no easy, minimalist way to encourage people to develop their own factions and societies at any meaningful scope or in any persistent way. But I think I’d rather see H1Z1 try that with the full talent and financial support of SOE behind them and fail than live in a world where no one ever tried at all. Josh
Eric OK, so, I just had a flash of brilliance here. We’re wondering if H1Z1 will get ported to the PS4, right? What if Sony also ported over PlayStation Home, and then, right after it officially launches on the new console, the world starts to go to hell—and becomes H1Z1. And Home’s main hub city would be like this last bastion of humanity that you’re trying to defend. Gold, Jerry. Gold.
It’s a good thing you don’t work for Sony, Eric. Josh

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