The War Z is giving me mood swings. I feel like I have a pair of contradictory spirits on my shoulders; Yes, I would like another open-world, PC-exclusive survival game, Shoulder Ghost #1. Duh. But the promises made by the game's creators (who are so newly-established that they don't have a website) invite arm-crossing and skepticism. Can these guys really execute the tremendous list of features they’ve laid-out? 250-player capacity, PvE/PvP, unrestrictive-but-accessible gameplay, multiple open worlds that will rival or exceed the size of DayZ’s, free content updates, player-owned servers, and stuff like bounties and vaccination?
I got Executive Producer Sergey Titov talking about his studio's lofty promises for The War Z, and poked him for hard details on its systems and what sort of shooter it’ll be.
PCG: The War Z seems an extraordinarily ambitious type of game to design so quickly. Is it accurate to say—from start to the planned release later this fall—The War Z will have taken about a year to make?
Sergey Titov, Executive Producer: Well, actually there is a little more to it. It’s true that The War Z specific features, characters, art, animations, etc. have come about over the past year, however the evolution of the game has really been in process for quite some time. We’ve actually been thinking about and drafting the design for a large, open world, zombie-survival game for the last couple of years. We also already had the technology, solutions and expertise that had been developed over the last few years with our game engine, licensing that engine, and developing/operating War Inc. Battle Zone. So we literally spent several years prepping ourselves for this production cycle.
Is The War Z more of a shooter or more of an MMO?
ST: The War Z is first and foremost a game of survival. Your goal is not necessarily to hunt zombies, or unlock achievements, or shoot anyone. Your goal is to explore the world and survive. It’s up to you if you want to work to rebuild society or destroy it and we really don’t set hardcore goals for you to achieve. As for the game controls and the game feel, it’s more of a shooter. You have a choice between first-person or third-person perspective and you’ll have very tight and direct control over your character and actions. The MMO aspect comes into play because the world will be persistent and populated with many other players besides you.
Will The War Z have traditional quests?
ST: There are no quests or missions in the traditional gaming industry sense of the word. We’re not building an objective based game, but instead building a sandbox with lots of tools that will allow players to create their own experiences. We took a basic theme that we love—the zombie apocalypse/survival genre—and asked ourselves what the world would look like in this scenario? What means of interacting with the world or other players would be available? What would the world economy look like? We built the game design around that. If you think about our feature set with that perspective it makes more sense. For example, we have what we call “safe settlements,” that are really not completely safe at all. They are built by people that survived the infestation and are working to rebuild civilization, so they are taking precautions to make sure that their home remains safe. If you obey the rules, there’s no danger for you, but it’s not a place that you can go anytime and expect you’ll be 100 percent invincible.
The same thing goes for currency. We’ve seen some comments that “gold coins” takes away from the realism. But, if you think about it—gold has been around for ages and, until very recently, it was the ultimate measure of wealth. In the game, Wall Street and other financial institutions have collapsed so we’ve reinstated gold’s value as a universal currency. That said, it is not the only currency in the world and, more importantly, we’re not forcing it on the players. We’re not saying “you either look for gold or you can’t buy anything.” Nothing prevents you from taking ammo for guns and using it as currency when bartering with other players. I don’t even actually remember using gold in the alpha version of the game. I think I used M16 ammo more often as a way to barter with other players for food
One thing that’s unclear to me is how much of—and what sort of—shooter The War Z will be. What will your guns feel like?
ST: Think of Battlefield 3 and think of War Inc. Battle Zone. I think those two examples best depict what the shooting and gun handling experience will be.It’s taking the reloading realism of War Inc., for example, where if you drop a half emptied clip and put in a new one, you effectively just lost all the bullets that were left inside the old magazine. Firing will have similar ballistic characteristics as you see in Battlefield—that is, if you shoot at longer distances, you’ll have to take distance and bullet drop into account.
One thing that I think is quite different is weapons stats. In most games (including our own War Inc.), you have to compromise between reality and gameplay fun. That is, your guns should feel different and fun, even though it doesn’t make much sense in the real world—after all you don’t really expect that two guns built on the same platform and using the same bullets will do dramatically different damage. So this is what’s different between War Z and other shooters—weapons stats are much more in line with the real world. It’s more simulation than just a fun shooter.
That’s pretty ambitious. What weapons specifically are you putting in the game?
ST: All sorts of things you can expect to see in a real world. Starting with “classics” like baseball bats, knives and crossbows and going up to light machine guns and grenade launchers. Yet—gun availability will depend on how hard it is to obtain them in the real world. For example, you can’t expect just to go into any house nearby and find an M16 lying there. You may be lucky and get your hands on a shotgun or handgun there, but stuff that is military grade can only be found near military installations, police stations, military roadblocks, etc.
Same goes for gun attachments—grips, silencers, different types of options—there are dozens of real world modifications available for your gun. Some will be relatively easy to find (forward grip for M4 for example or flashlight), but some—like high quality military grade optics—will be really rare.
Also just to clear any doubts—unlike the War Inc. attachment system, we’re not going to modify weapons stats for “gamification” purposes (i.e., a scope won’t improve a gun’s spread or anything like that). Some attachments like silencers and grips will affect stats: a silencer will slow down your bullet, grip will help you control recoil. Like they do in real life.
Are you using your own engine technology?
ST: Yes, the game is using our own online game engine called Eclipse. It’s been in development for a while and has been tested by millions of players worldwide, so we’re pretty happy with what we have.
About the skill system: will it feature any active abilities? In the IGN interview, you described them as enhancements—unlocks that boost your stamina or the health restored by bandages.
ST: Haha. I’ve actually been criticized over last few days for calling our system a “Skill Tree.” Turns out it resonates well with traditional WoW style MMO players, but everybody else is thinking—okay this must be an MMO with quests, raids, level ups, grinding and a skill tree that will mold you into one of the “professions” available in the game.
This is as far from the truth as The War Z is far from being a traditional MMO RPG game. What we have in the game is a set of “training skills” available and as you progress through the game, you will decide what you want to train. Do you want to spend more on physical training to be able to carry slightly more weight, sprint for a longer time, etc. Or do you want to do more gun training, allowing you to aim better, reload your gun faster, etc. The point is—this is something you would expect from people in this situation in a real world—that they would train themselves to improve certain skills. So in the game, you accumulate “experience points” that you can spend on learning those different skills.
How are you handling maps and navigation within the world?
ST: From the start you will have access to the world map and be able to mark waypoints to assist with navigating. Other than that—it’s up to you to find the best route to your destination wherever that may be.
Will The War Z feature proximity-based voice chat?
ST: As of now, we don’t have solid plans for VOIP communication built into the game. This may change based on feedback we get from the closed beta test, but so far universal feedback we’re getting is “don’t worry, we’d love our teamspeak, we don’t need anything else.”
What do you see as The War Z’s endgame? This is arguably one of the shortcomings of DayZ currently: once you get gear, killing other players for sport is the natural thing to do.
ST: Ultimately we hope that there won’t be an endgame. Our DNA as a company is not to produce “packaged” games. What we’re making is a sandbox service for our players. We create the toolset and set the theme for players to use and build their own individual game experiences. We don’t have a goal like “okay unlock all achievements” or “find all guns.” We’re saying, here’s a world that just survived a viral outbreak that took the lives of most of the population and left a world full of brain-hungry zombies. This is also why we’re allowing players to rent their own servers and create their own private worlds with their own rules. Some will do just that—building their own virtual “strongholds” so to say and inviting other people to join as long as they are going to follow their rules. Some will band together into clans and will fight other clans—either on public or private servers.
So, with that focus on PvE, how are you going to promote something that doesn’t feel like a conventional FPS deathmatch in an open world? What are you doing to build opportunities for cover and concealment, for example?
ST: Find Ghillie suit. Hide in bushes. I think that two things will affect this most—your posture, how you move and lighting conditions. I don’t want to say we’ll be the first game that’s doing this right, but we’ve spent the last couple months perfecting our light adaptation system to mimic how the human eye works in real life. For example, unlike traditional “gaming” implementation of this feature (often called “HDR lighting”) we’re not just making things brighter or darker instantly based on how well the scene is lit. Depending on what’s happening, we simulate real human eye response. So for example if you get out of a dark space into sunny bright day, you’ll only be blinded for a second or so. Yet if you get into a really pitch black dark space—it’ll take up to 10-15 minutes for your eyes to adapt so you can see what’s going on around you. This can give you some advantage at night. Yet if somebody blinds you with a flashlight or flare—you’ll pretty much be a sitting duck…
Tell me more about the significance of the stem cell-carrying zombies mentioned in your first interview.
ST: Oh, they’re pretty special to me and we’re going to uncover more about them in the coming weeks, but let’s just say for now that they hold a key to what happened to the world. More importantly for the player, though, they hold the key to the cure for the virus that nearly destroyed civilization. Visually they’ll look very different from other infected, they’re much more aggressive, fast and agile. They’re rare, they hunt only at night, so the best place to find them will be larger cities at night time.
Gameplay-wise, you can hunt them down, kill them and extract their stem cells, which can then be used to create an antivirus for the zombie virus. This so called vaccine is used to heal you in case you are bitten during a zombie attack. This is why those cells are really worth a lot—and effectively your best, yet super dangerous way to get gold coins. It probably will require a team effort, so the whole thing alone will create lots of interesting interactions between players.
At the same time—finding these zombies will not be your primary goal. As I mentioned before—this is just one of the tools we give you to build your own game experience. Players will decide if they want to go this route or not—it’s totally up to you.
How do you feel about Dean Hall’s comments about The War Z, specifically that you might be making a lot of promises about features that aren’t necessarily developed yet?
ST: Over the last week, since we announced the game, thousands of players have posted comments on various forums, blogs, and gaming websites as to why they think the game will be great or not. We love to read the comments, but in the end it really doesn’t affect our development in any way. When we announced certain features publicly, it was not a wish list that we thought would sound cool in a press release; it was an action list for us. These are things that we are working on and that are concrete enough today that we feel comfortable saying, “Yes this will be part of the game release.” Most of our team members come from very large projects and companies with very strict policies about the announcement of features—so that carries over into how we talk about features for The War Z.
Thanks for your time, Sergey.