Dean Hall, the modding superstar turned project lead on DayZ, has been quietly working on a new game with his recently formed studio RocketWerkz. So just what exactly is he up to?
During a talk at this week's Slush Play, Hall teased information about the new, but still unannounced, project. The upcoming title is a trans-Pacific affair: A 20 person project with development taking place between New Zealand and London, England. The studio includes a former Bethesda artist, said Hall, with most of development taking place in the UK - this, despite earlier plans to create "Valve in the South Pacific."
Hall's aim for this project is to the point: "For me, the virtual world has got to matter to me. I want to feel what I'm doing matters." It's a principle that was central to the development of his zombiecentric ARMA 2 mod, he said.
"For me, the virtual world has got to matter to me. I want to feel what I'm doing matters"
"The world is cruel, and we identify with loss," said Hall during his talk on future trends in gaming.
"We intrinsically understand as humans the concept of loss and cruelty. I've never really gelled with the concept of superheroes, unless it's your everyman sort of superhero. And it goes back to that concept of loss, cruelty. Maybe I'm just really cynical but [those concepts] seem really real to me. DayZ was really an extension of that: You're not special, you don't matter, you die very easily."
"This is something I've been exploring a lot in my next game," he continued.
Unlike DayZ, which saw hundreds of players across numerous servers fight for survival from a first person viewpoint, Hall is developing something slightly more unusual. The game features an isometric view, a decision Hall said was made to ease himself in to the inevitable learning curve of a developer: "I still feel like even as a designer there's still so much I need to learn about building a massive world. Your whole game design decisions become different."
Despite this, the underlying structure of the game is classic Hall. Citing Eve Online and Crusader Kings, Hall remains a major proponent for complex and unforgiving gameplay. He referred to this as the "economy of difficulty," in which your skill in the game is the only accepted currency.
Hall's current project looks at the concept of madness, he said. Like in his previous work, he is continuing to experiment with creating experiences which introducing factors that make you more of an everyman and less of a superhero. As an example, Hall said that if the player stays in a room for too long they risk getting cabin fever. This is something we've seen previously from the designer, whose decisions to include features like starvation and body temperature to DayZ were controversial but later praised for bringing a fuller sense of immersion to the game.
"If you're making the player balance all those little factors it gives a really compelling emotional experience," explained Hall. "It becomes a massive interconnected experience that is not directly controlled by the developers."
"I think the VR thing is almost premature"
While a self described VR nerd, Hall said of the industry: "We get so obsessed with new trends" like the graphical arms race of the last decade, that developers often miss opportunities to experiment with revolutionary technology that simply isn't as trendy.
"Maybe I think the VR thing is almost premature," said Hall. "I'm really interested in the revolution that's already happened in terms of cloud computing and servers. I'm worried that we focus so much on that tangible thing, [that in VR] we'll get in that arms race again to do with graphics. And that actually hurt us for the last five or 10 years, as production costs skyrocketed. When that happens you can't take as many risks."
For Hall, perhaps the most important question to ask as a developer is instead: What best achieves immersion?