For those of you who’ve been following the wildly successful alpha release of DayZ by Bohemia Interactive, developers of the record setting title have announced at E3 that DayZ will be moving to a new engine. This, for the majority of the gamers that have stuck with the title after its launch and the subsequent fallout of other alpha survival announcements (I’m looking at you, Rust gamers), is a major step in the right direction, right?
DayZ started as a mod for Arma II and quickly became popular leading to Bohemia Interactive’s decision to throw all its resources at the project to develop a standalone title for the lovers of Russian zombie madness. DayZ standalone was released in December of 2013 and shattered pre-release sales records on Steam in selling about 366,000 copies in its first week. The title has now officially passed 2 million copies sold and it’s still in its alpha stage of development with the earliest possible date for a beta being rumored to be December of 2014 (I won’t be holding my breath on that one). For most of us that have played DayZ and stuck with it over these grueling months of development; we’ve seen our characters seamlessly clipping through floorboards only to be trapped in the basement of abandoned buildings, losing precious ammunition while reorganizing their inventory (because there’s a heaven for hollow point bullets, too), and of course maintaining perfect health and hydration levels just to break your leg causing instantaneous death and befuddlement; the announcement of DayZ’s move to a new engine was pure music.
Bohemia Interactive is calling it, Enfusion, and therein lies the rub. Enfusion (as its name suggests) is actually the same engine that DayZ has been running on (at 10 to 20 frames per second on two enthusiast class gaming computers that I’ve played on) for the last eight months, infused with a few new goodies. Rocket (aka Dean Hall, the beloved game designer whose brainchild was the original DayZ mod and who remains active in the development of DayZ standalone) in essence has announced the ‘naming’ of the clunky, unflattering game engine that has caused so many of us zombie survivalists nightmares and have seen us tip-toeing along an abandoned airfield with a fully geared character only to have frame rates drop to below freezing temperature (that’s in Celsius) and then spike back up once that character’s leaking from the temple and you hear the grunting of the sniper looting your warm corpse.
Yes. I understand this is still alpha. Yes. I understand that they’re introducing DirectX 10 and DirectX 11 support for the engine that will drastically improve lighting effects and not to mention the way in which modern graphics cards are used to render the immense environment. Right now there’s just simply too much reliance on the computer’s processor (as opposed to the GPU) to render the endless amounts of objects that DayZ throws at it and hopefully these engine updates will address that. My dear Rocket, here’s the thing. I didn’t spend years of my early teenage life performing rocket-jump feats of awesome in Quake 1 (compliments to John Carmack and id Software in their brilliance of bringing us the first true 3d environment gaming experience) because it looked pretty and its lighting was just right when I bounced off my enemy’s head from the mound to snatch the Quad as it spawned at the rotunda on DM3.
I wasted those years of my life because of the physics that the Quake 1 engine offered. If gaming is supposed to be an escape from the real world, then gamers want an adequate extension of themselves to be represented in an authentic feeling virtual world. DayZ excels in concept at immersing the gamer into what it would be like to survive a zombie apocalypse in a series of Russian towns and wilderness but it suffers in the physics department of how clunky your character can feel sometimes audibly stomping through a city with Wellies on that attract every single Zed within a 1 mile radius. The act of stepping over an obstacle is one where I’m done yawning before my character plays out the animation of the action. Even the interaction of meeting a fellow survivor on the road who isn’t intent on taking my head off before saying hello becomes boring when all your clunky character can do is wave their arm in a perfect right-angle to greet.
DayZ definitely did come in with a bang but by the time it takes to see the project through development to its first bug-free stable release, its novelty will have run its course and it will actually need play-ability to keep it alive in a genre that’s now being flooded with new spins on the survivalist frenzy. Give us a real engine for this game, one that makes the physics of the game feel as satisfying as sneaking up on a sniper with a fireman’s axe.