GDC 2013: Dean "Rocket" Hall: The Mind Behind DayZ

ZAM talked with Dean Hall about what we can expect from DayZ standalone


DayZ has captured the imagination and instilled passion in many gamers with its tension and ability to create game sessions that you will never forget. I will always remember climbing a high tower near Cherno to provide support to a friend who was firmly ensconced in a sniper position.

“I’m coming up the steps now,” I said on several occasions and, of course, as I got to his position he turned around and shot me in the face. Attempting to refrain from expletives, I had to remember he wasn’t trolling, he had just responded in a way that many do playing DayZ.

He’d panicked.

Few games in recent years have ramped up tension so unbearably and with such immersion.

When I met Dean “Rocket” Hall in a hotel near GDC central, the Moscone center; like many fans I was full of anticipation when talking about DayZ and its evolution into standalone.


What are the main challenges as you move toward the standalone game, particularly moving much of the game’s nuts and bolts over to the server side from the client?

The biggest thing is the way synchronisation happens. In ARMA, traditionally, events would be dictated on each of the clients and then they would kind of send them to each other and they would resolve, so it was [dependent] on which order things were received. So locality is a big issue so if an item is being run on a particular client or being run on a server, then it has precedent.

It resolves the situation where the hackers could change things, so it’s moving the situation to where the player is essentially just sending keystrokes and the server is doing all the things that are needed.

With that large undertaking, what is the main advantage that players will get with the”feel” of the game?

With the server/client architecture, that’s going to remove large chunks of the traditional hacking that’s been happening. Obviously combined with the other parts of the game I think it’s going to make it play much cleaner, much more like we had intended with the original DayZ.

One of the big changes in how you keep yourself alive in the standalone DayZ will come in the new crafting system. With the added dimension it will bring to the game, what was the main design focus for the system?

We wanted to be quite visceral, because most of the game is designed to be like that so we looked at ways even as simple as how you craft stuff. So we could create a crafting window and you drag the boxes, like in Minecraft, that works quite well. But we didn’t like that, we wanted it to feel like you’re crafting something.

We really like the idea of drag and drop. One of the things PC does really well is being able to drag and drop something, that’s the crafting menu that we do. So you drag an item onto another item and if it’s craftable you’ll see a context menu come up with what you can craft it into.

Pretty much our approach at the moment is just create hundreds and hundreds of items, everything from hammers to monkey wrenches to bandages, cans all that kind of stuff.

One of the first craftable items that you’ll get know, other than being able to use disinfectant spray is a gas cannister and cooker. You craft the canister onto the cooker and use it to boil water and things like that.

With new crafting comes a new inventory system. It’s a big change to what the fans have had to wrangle in the past. How is that going to make managing items a smoother experience for the player?

The ARMA inventory system had quite a large learning curve. I think once you got the hang of it, it wasn’t too bad and what I liked about it is when you open it up you saw all the stuff that was on your person, so again it had that visceral, instant feedback as to your progress.

We’ve taken that philosophy and pushed it forward. It was one of the things I liked on the original XCOM that when you opened it up you saw all that your dude had. We’ve taken that approach with the standalone, you have little containers for each pocket and you can open and close those containers. You can instantly see how your character is doing, you see what your character is wearing and when you want to drag something onto your character or off you’re actually dragging it off the character, you’re actually interacting with it.

Not only is it going to be easier to use it’s going to be more intuitive as well, like how much an item is going to take up in your slot, following that XCOM-style box [design].

Character models are also an aspect of the standalone that are being approached afresh. What changes can we expect?

The artist we’ve got is very good and there are more polygons so they are higher detail. There are a lot more clothing options; so you’re able to wear top wear, pants, shoes, gloves, vest, backpack and you can wear something on your face. Something like a facemask, glasses or oxygen mask, so there are a lot of options.

And also we’ve got the new skeleton coming in, it’s not implemented for the player yet, we’ve only got it for the zombies, but at PAX we did a little bit of footage on the zombie animations on the new skeleton and you can see just how much more fluid they are, they’re just way, way better.


The next phase of DayZ can be perceived that it makes the game more accessible for players. How are you ensuring the hallmark immersive, intense experience while making those changes?

I think accessible is kind of a bad word for me. I think what we’re trying to do is make it feel like you’re controlling the character. The complexity shouldn’t come from you controlling the character, the inventory screen and [so on] should be reasonably intuitive and it shouldn’t screw up when you’re trying to put something into a backpack. I don’t think it’s so much accessibility in that regard, it’s just common sense for me.

Your focus on the character is pronounced with the redesign. Is this an avenue for you to ramp up the player’s involvement and the game’s intensity by having the player care more about the character itself?

Exactly. DayZ is all about the character. In World of Warcraft you have your XP bar so you always see what your level is. With DayZ there is no XP bar. I think that your character is your leveling and what equipment, what clothing he has on him and we wanted to make opportunities for people to see that. I think that’s why people like to play in third person in DayZ is because they wanted to see the character and I think that’s going to be even more the case.

When we opened up the inventory screen that was a very critical thing we wanted to do, to actually have the character there. You saw it, you saw the gear you had on it.

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