Oftentimes, the next big thing in videogames is borne out of the mod community. This has been especially true for First Person Shooters. “Day Z” may just be the next step in both the FPS and the zombie genres.
“Day Z” is a mod for the ultra-realistic military simulator ‘ArmA II’. I have always summed up the ‘ArmA’ experience this way: If you want to wait in a field for hours at a time in hopes of sniping someone, go purchase ‘ArmA II’. The Day Z mod utilizes the ‘ArmA’ engine and its special emphasis on realism to bring players a massively multiplayer experience that occurs just after the zombie apocalypse.
It can take awhile to pick up on what’s happening in this video, but once the narrator starts to run out of ammunition and the group starts to get picked off, the tenuous survival dynamic among the player and his allies becomes really clear. Rock, Paper, Shotgun has a diary write-up that further explores the dynamics at play in the Day Z mod.
Several big game franchises have introduced zombie modes in the past. Even when popular, the zombies often just feel tacked onto the games. They come off as just another thing to shoot, kill, score points and rack up achievements for. Where zombies are portrayed as slow, dumb and yet obviously threatening, other human characters’ threat levels may be less than clear. Less well-explored in games is the risk-versus-reward nature of zombie fiction, compounded by the scarcity of resources or safe harbor.
The Day Z mod seems to bring this aspect of zombie fiction into a game world, and gives players the freedom to really experience these dynamics. Take zombies out of the equation and consider some other popular stories such as ‘The Road‘ or ‘Battle Royale‘ (and, yes, ‘The Hunger Games‘), where so much of the tension is derived from a need to survive while having precious few resources. Balancing the need for food/water/weapons against allying/fighting or meeting other potentially dangerous people adds a layer of complexity to the story and gameplay. In the case of Day Z, the near endless environment with zombies and supplies spread everywhere, as well as Player-versus-Player combat, compels players into a mode of behavior that feels like a struggle to balance their humanity against their survival. That seems a lot more interesting than just picking off undead hordes.
The Day Z mod is currently in Alpha Test status.