The Lighthouse Customer: DayZ (Experimental Branch)

By Christopher Livingston on April 7th, 2014 at 9:00 pm.

Give me that old-time zombie religion.

Each Monday, Chris Livingston visits an early access game and reports back with stories about whatever he finds inside. This week, survival horror in DayZ’s experimental branch.

While nearly two million players have paid to act as DayZ’s beta testers, there’s a much smaller subset of lighthouse customers acting as beta testers to those beta testers. On a handful of DayZ experimental branch servers, changes are rolled out and played with weeks before being introduced to the early access game at large. This week I opted into the experimental branch, keen to inhale the future of DayZ before most players even get a whiff.

Aaaand I’m immediately disappointed. I was hoping for a sneak peek at hunting, cooking, or ragdoll physics, but the four experimental servers running right now are all titled “Accelerated Time Test,” an upcoming feature that will allow server admins to fiddle with the speed of the game’s day/night cycle. Apart from watching the sun pass overhead while counting under my breath, that doesn’t sound like something I can really participate in. Still, there may be hints at other new content, and if there is, I’m going to sniff it out. Plus, I’m expecting a different attitude among players on the experimental branch. After all, we’re the most dedicated and curious of DayZ gamers! I bet there’ll be a real feeling of community, excitement, and cooperation. As I spawn on the beach, I immediately spot another survivor running down the road. I put up my hand to greet this fellow experimentalist!

Experimental branch 4-EVA! Am I right? Uh. Hello?

And, he runs right by without a word. Okay, so, maybe not everyone is feeling the community vibe.

I race toward the massive shipwreck of the H.M.S. Hat Delivery Barge, though while exploring it for experimental content, I carelessly fall off the top deck and die. Reappearing south of Berezino, I decide to see if I can run back to the cargo ship and loot my own corpse (an experiment!). Along the way I spot two more players who also ignore me, though it’s slightly more forgivable since they’re both dead.

I know gas prices are high, but this seems overly dramatic.

I’m not sure what killed them (probably each other) but I’m still not really feeling a sense of community on the server. I take a backpack, a pitchfork, a hoodie, and everything else they’ve got, and get back to the shipwreck in time to find my dead body, though I’m unable to loot it for some reason.

Do these jeans make my dead butt look big?

I continue north to Svetlojarsk, where I find another player. He’s quiet, but pleasant. I give him my hoodie so he can carry a few more items, and he asks if I can help him find a melee weapon. A couple minutes later, he gets into a skirmish with another player brandishing a baseball bat. We pitchfork and punch the interloper dead, and after bandaging my companion up, I suggest he take the bat. He does. He then hits me with it, knocking me unconscious. I guess my usefulness was at an end.

I'll just wait here while you finish your plan to murder me.

Community! Togetherness! Experimentation! Yeah. This time, at least, I’m fortunate enough to spawn on the outskirts of Elektro. Here, surely, in one of DayZ’s busiest cities, with a full server, I’ll find some cooperative players. When I arrive, though, a few things begin to dawn on me. First, I’m alone. Second, I’m alone. Like, totally alone. There are no zombies anywhere on this server, and I’ve somehow just realized this. This branch is 100% zombie-free.

What if they gave an apocalypse and no zombies came?

I don’t know why the zombies are missing, but the absence of players may be explained by the fact that Elektro has been picked clean of goods. Every door on every avenue is wide open, and any contents of use have long ago been looted by others before me. As this is a test of the time acceleration feature, I presume the servers are being left on for extensive amounts of time, and without a server restart, no new loot will spawn. Even if I could find stuff, I’d have no way to carry it: I can’t even find clothes roomier than my starter duds. After long minutes of scouring, I’ve only got my flashlight, the rags of my former t-shirt, a large stone, and a bottle of disinfectant spray. So, I squat in the middle of the street and disinfect my stone. Why not? Call it an experiment.

Looks like I cleaned my rock just in time for company.

Then, suddenly, I’m much less alone. The guy, Dmitri, has an incredibly deep voice and a thick Russian accent. “What youuuu… doing?” he asks curiously. “Disinfecting my rock,” I say. He seems satisfied with that explanation, and I immediately like that about him.

Another player arrives. “Is that disinfectant?” she asks, noticing the bottle in my hands. “Can I have it?”

I drop the bottle. She picks it and begins drinking it.

“Mmmmm, so good,” she says after each gulp. “Oh that’s so good. Disinfectant… mmmm.”

I guess that's one way to protect against infection.

We laugh about this, and then stand around watching to see if she vomits. She reports some nausea but doesn’t actually hurl. Then, she suddenly begins punching us. We run in circles and she chases, laughing and punching, repeatedly promising to stop punching, but never actually stopping punching. Finally, Dmitri hits her with an axe and she expires. “At least sheeee… not dies of poison,” he concludes. “No suffering.” I agree, and take her hat.

Dmitri and I look around for something experimental to do. I find a bunch of frying pans, and I’m excited to see that they now have inventory slots, which I imagine will pave the way toward someday actually using them to cook. They also can’t be picked up, and they’re all standing upright on their handles because they’re now classified as containers. Experimental!

Frying pans are containers, but my wardrobe is an abomination.

Later, Dmitri playfully prays in a church while I try on pants and hats. “Hey. Come here,” he says quietly. “Come here. I ahhhh… got something for you.” Here it is, I think. The moment when he callously executes me. Of course.

Instead, he drops a pistol at my feet. “1911 pistol,” he rumbles. “Very good gun. No bullets, but youuuu… show to people? Point at people. Theyyyy… not bother you. It keeps you safer.” In related news, I’m now completely in love with Dmitri. A few minutes later, sadly, the server abruptly resets as we’re running toward Cherno. When I finally get back on, Dmitri is nowhere to be seen.

Farewell, Dmitri. We'll always have Elektro.

Now alone, I have to think up ways to be experimental on my own because there is very little in the way of actual experimental content. I decide to swap hats, clothes, and melee weapons each time I find new ones, even if it means winding up in a puffy coat and shorts or swapping a pristine axe for a damaged garden hoe. I also decide to carry the most baffling array of items I can find because if I get killed and looted, I want my murderer to be both perplexed and find nothing of value. My children’s backpack now contains a ruined sewing kit, a bundle of sticks, a working gas lamp, and bottle of alcohol tincture. After finding a pen and paper, I craft a note to whomever finds my corpse after making me a corpse.

And when you're done reading, roll it up and cram it.

Eventually, though, I start finding useful items that are hard pass up. Cans of food and a machete to open them. A compass for navigation and a full canteen. My desire to leave an entertaining corpse behind begins to wane and I develop the desire to not become a corpse at all. I begin discarding my collection of jokes and acquiring gear in earnest. I move inland, following power lines instead of roads, traveling away from the heavily-trafficked cities to the smaller towns and settlements. I find more and more loot and fewer and fewer signs of other players. Of course, it’s still DayZ, so an hour later, in a remote warehouse, I run smack into someone pointing a shotgun at me.

Don't shoot! We're floppy hat twinsies!

I put up my hands and say hello. He’s motionless and silent. I sigh. Either he’s AFK, in which case he’ll return, see someone on his screen, and open fire in a panic, or, he’s been playing with his headset off and is now scrambling to plug in his mic. It turns out to be the latter, and after a brief, friendly chat (in other words, he probably didn’t have ammo with which to shoot me) we run off in opposite directions.

No farming yet. But maybe someday soon.

I eventually meet my grisly end, slipping off a scaffolding when — after hours of silent and peaceful exploration — a deafening zombie shriek suddenly erupts in my headset. Apparently, they added zombies back to the experimental branch during the last server restart. Surprise! My legs broken (not to mention my heart absolutely pounding from shock), I’m easily finished off by the zombie, who slashes and lunges at the air two feet to my right.

I hope he at least appreciates my note.

As you can see, I didn’t experience much in the way of experimental content other than a new, immovable frying pan and some loot spawning in places I haven’t seen it before, such as train cars and certain houses. As far as the accelerated time experiment goes, I really didn’t notice anything different. On the other hand, DayZ has always been a game I’ll sit down to play for an hour and wind up losing an entire evening to. That’s definitely some solid time acceleration.

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45 Comments »

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  1. w0bbl3r says:

    I really wish people weren’t such moronic children in games like this.
    To have proper bandit type players, real survivalist players, and people trying to build a proper settlement, it would be the best game ever.
    As it is, I always play on a low population hardcore server that promises “zero kos tolerance”. I never see anyone basically, and that’s the best the game can be unless they somehow get rid of the dickheads (which would get rid of over 90% of the playerbase).
    I have met a couple people who have been helpful and friendly. And when you do meet people like that, the game really shines.
    Such a shame it’s so rare when it happens.
    Nice article. The dev branch should be more like the dev branch for the other bohemia early access title, take on mars. Those guys are awesome, and have done the best job of early access I have seen so far. Their updates always add something interesting, even if it’s only small, and you can easily switch between dev and main branch without hassle, although the saves aren’t usually compatible.
    Hoping this game gets better. Or at least the community gets better. Then it will be the only game I play, until the end of time.

    • SillyWizard says:

      It sounds like you might be looking for a different game…

    • SkittleDiddler says:

      The community is not going to improve until the devs introduce mechanics that encourage positive teamwork. That’s not going to happen for a long time (if ever), so don’t get your hopes up for a better experience anytime soon.

    • Chris Livingston says:

      I honestly find it about a 50/50 split between nice and nasty players. I think the nasties get a lot more attention. I mean, this story has one indifferent guy, two corpses, one jerk (though there was another I didn’t write about), one very nice guy, one goofball, and one polite guy. I think it’s a good mix. Of course, your mileage may vary.

      • w0bbl3r says:

        The server that I play on, although very low population, does have mostly decent players.
        The only time I found a complete douche was one time I spawned, and another guy had spawned next to me. He asked if I wanted to team up, so I said of course, then we saw another fresh spawn being chased by a zombie. I decided to go help him. I said don’t worry, help is coming in the chat, then went over and started trying to attack the zombie, making sure he could tell I wasn’t going to attack him and was only trying to help. We killed them zom, he kept running around, then ran over and punched me unconscious and left me to another zombie he had managed to attract the attention of. Nice guy.
        Then right after that I spawned, was struggling to find loot (I am a bit of a noob, admittedly), and met 2 guys from germany, who were fully kitted out. I had found a mosin rifle but no ammo, so they were wary of me. Told me to stand still and keep my weapon out of my hands while they came over.
        Once we broke the ice and they saw I wasn’t hostile, they stayed with me for over and hour, helping me out, finding loot for me, and even gave me a pistol and a screwdriver (for opening cans). Then they gave me some advice (“trust NOBODY, if you see someone, either shoot or run”), and we said our goodbyes.
        This is how a game like this can be awesome.

    • Lemming says:

      I think the game you are pining for already exists, although it was panned by critics when it first came out. It’s been going a long time since then, though.

      • Premium User Badge

        AngelTear says:

        It sounds nice, but 40€ plus 15€ a month? I don’t spend that much on games in general, let alone on one game in particular. I’d have to want to completely dedicate myself to it, to make it worth that price.

        • Lemming says:

          You’re not wrong, I guess it’s more an alternative to the ESO crowd, rather than the DayZ crowd. I’d swear from its description it sounds more like what an online Elder Scrolls should’ve been like instead of the theme-park variant of MMO.

          • Blackcompany says:

            Easy solution courtesy of BF Skinner: to change behavior change the environment.

            What if killing players came with a risk of damaging their loot & therefore CV coming up with nothing? The more powerful the firearm used or the higher the fire rate, the more likely you damage their gear & get nothing.

            Along with this same change you tweak zed ai. Zombies would be more aggressive Toward loners & more cautious toward groups.

            Lastly you make ammo more scarce & add an invisible effect to melee hits that makes zeds take more damage from melee hits if they were hit in the last few seconds,

            Just need better incentive for coeration.

          • shagohad says:

            Gear damage from bullets and melee attacks is already implemented (but needs some work)

    • bstard says:

      Just pulling something out the ass here: it might be karma though.

    • Universal Quitter says:

      90% of the player-base are not dickheads. I don’t know what you’re doing wrong, but I’ve put *checks real quick* 250+ hours into the standalone, and easily HALF the players I’ve encountered were totally friendly.

      The other half are people that try (and usually fail) to KoS, people that are rude but do not fight, and encounters that result in both parties running in opposite directions. If it wasn’t for that other 50%, player-encounters wouldn’t have any tension, and the adrenaline rushes that I enjoy would fade away.

      I always get the feeling that people aren’t really upset over someone shooting on sight. They get upset because they were killed by it. If they survived the initial contact, got it an actual gun battle over it, or were chased for a few kilometers, having to alternate between sprinting and cowering under a bush, they would get what makes the game so great.

      It’s the wide RANGE of player interactions, not holding hands and skipping down the streets of Elektro.

      • AdmiralTrask says:

        Precisely, also I recommend playing this game with your friends and teaming up with them, it is really fun to run around talking with your friends and finding other players to play tricks on!

  2. SillyWizard says:

    Hey Chris — I’ve been consistently enjoying these articles of yours.

    Yay!

    • Chris Livingston says:

      Woo!

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      AngelTear says:

      I wanted to write the same thing. I enjoy your articles a lot, even if I generally don’t like the games you write about. Looking forward to next week’s.

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        Rizlar says:

        Perhaps they will appeal more once they are finished?

        But yeah, high five for the great articles!

  3. Elmarby says:

    Dutch word of the day: Mierenneuken.
    Don’t just stop at the translation of nitpicking and discover the literal translation.

    • FurryLippedSquid says:

      Higher THAN normal. Not THEN.

      Sorry, just a little grammar irritation. Bloody Americans… :D

      Edit: OMG, and you did it again in the last sentence! Poor form!

      • EPICTHEFAIL says:

        HEIL GRAMMATIK!

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        AngelTear says:

        I always want to do it, but most of the time I don’t, because I know people find it annoying, even if I find their poor grammar equally annoying.

        Thank you.

        • Eddy9000 says:

          I’m pleased you don’t, because I like all your posts but find grammar facism unbearably educationally, intellectually and culturally elitist, especially online when you can’t know a person’s schooling opportunities, educational/developmental difficulties or first language.

          • TWChristine says:

            I fall in the same boat as AngelTear, but I agree with you. I think it’s especially bad form on site that people know has a very large English-Is-Not-My-Native-Language population. At best you might help someone with a bit of grammar, but at worse, you might make people nervous to comment because they feel self-conscious about being called out for a simple mistake. I think it’s also ridiculous that people have to comment grammar corrections for the articles themselves, though thankfully I haven’t seen it in a while.

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            AngelTear says:

            I find that most of the people who make that kind of mistakes (their/there/they’re, then/than, would of etc) are in fact native English speakers. Those who speak English as a second language usually don’t get to the point where they confuse words based on homophony, they’d sooner make a syntactical mistake. (which is also easier for me to let go of, for some reason)

            But I do see your point. I’ll try to keep my inner grammar nazi chained and guarded by wild beasts. Plushies of wild beasts, to be precise.

            Anyway, thank you for you kind words concerning my posts ^_^

          • TWChristine says:

            Gaah! *muffles your attempts to say “plushie”* Careful what incantations you speak, at this hour! The Babtridge stalks at midnight!

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            Gap Gen says:

            Yeah, criticising non-native English speakers’ grammar is actually pretty dickish, especially if you’re never learned a foreign language fluently. I mean, sure, sometimes in the right context you can correct stuff if the person would find it useful, but no need to go all Munich Beer Hall on it.

  4. BananaMan3000 says:

    Bought the Alpha a few weeks ago and really enjoyed it at first but it tailed off after a while.

    One big problem is there really isn’t much to do right now apart from attempt to gear up and then look around for people to kill once you’ve got enough food/weapons/ammo. Helping people is likely to result in a quick betrayal and death.

    For me, the central problem for the game is that everyone is totally 100% anonymous and cannot be identified ever and thus there’s no way to tell what anyone is likely to be like – what this means is that you rationally cannot trust any other player ever unless they’re a friend from outside the game. There is no logical incentive for them not to put an axe in the back of your head at some point, basically it’s the Prisoner’s Dilemma.

    In other MMOs or in a real survival situation people who kill others are marked out in some way or get a reputation – a title in Ultima Online, Sec Status or killboard records in Eve, some sort of reputation that allows you to see what they’ve done. Total anonymity logically forces players to act very paranoid and makes them very unlikely to cooperate because there is no way to tell what a player is like.

    In Eve, which I’ve played for years – you can kill betray and steal from other players freely within the game, but the point is it sticks with you since people can see who you are and you cannot change your character name. Doing a massive corp theft is great, but you there are lots of doors that will be closed to you (well – that character) afterwards. The game doesn’t punish you arbitrarily using a crappy mechanic, but other plays might. People facing the consequences of their actions is actually really fun and interesting and makes the game more authentic. It makes transgressing much more interesting and real too (I’ve spent a lot of time having fun as a pirate) because it does have consequences.

    Being able to see the name of players without covered faces in Dayz would change the game a lot imo. People might actually be able to differentiate between PK’s and friendlies (so and so would get a repuation as a KOS murderer – someone else a helpful guy unlikely to hurt you) which would both make cooperation more likely and choosing the become a PK much more interesting.

    Right now DayZ is just a game full of totally anonymous people that look and are dressed very similarly and because you can’t tell who anyone is or what they’re like there’s no reason to trust anyone. It’s really limiting the level and complexity of the interactions between players and for an MMO that’s pretty devastating.

    • Chris Livingston says:

      See, the anonymity is what I find so thrilling about encountering other players. It’s a genuine rush to me when I run into someone and have no way of knowing what they’re like until I interact with them. Sure, I’ve been burned plenty of times, and I read a lot of people saying they’ve given up trusting anyone and just start shooting no matter what. And they may have to change the game at some point to address that. Right now, though, I love the way it’s set up. You just never know.

      • FurryLippedSquid says:

        Yup, the unpredictability is the core mechanic. Same with Rust. It’s delightfully frightening.

        • chris1479 says:

          Uh are you sure you want to define ‘unpredictability’ like this? I would say DayZ is fairly predictable for the most part: If people see you, they will brutally murder you. This is why I’ve gone from playing it more than is healthy to just getting outright bored with it and now I can’t bring myself to log in any more.

          I want teamwork, cooperation, a frisson of risk. Not boring HARHAR Call of DayZ. It’s absolutely mindnumbing and infuriating after a while, there needs to be some indication of people’s past behaviour so you can judge that person by their profile for example.

        • BananaMan3000 says:

          There is very little unpredictability – ninety percent of people kill on sight unless they’re totally outgunned and it makes for a very boring and predictable game after a while. For a game that has such amazing potential for complex player behaviors and interactions, it is being severely limited by the enforced paranoia that total anonymity brings. The point is not to force people to be revealed (masks and helmets are extremely common) but to provide a mechanic where people can be identified if they choose uncover their face (or perhaps it’s forcibly removed by other players to identify them).

          If you’d played Eve for a while you’d understand what DayZ could actually become, it’s tough to get people to realise what real dynamism and complex player behaviors are like because the number of games that actually have it can be counted on one hand.

          Eve is full of human interest; war, politics, alliances and betrayal, industry and capitalism, intrigue, spying, greed and hubris, martyrdom and folly. The anonymity in DayZ means players can’t actually inhabit a real role or have a place in the world and be known or notorious for anything – their actions are essentially meaningless beyond each individual situation and their character is totally blank. No one will ever know who they are and they cannot ever be anyone. The result is everyone reverts to the lowest common denominator of killing everyone they see. Right now it’s not even close to being as interesting and complex as it could potentially be.

      • BananaMan3000 says:

        My suggestion was that only people with their face uncovered we be identifiable – people could choose to cover their face to remain anonymous. This would result in some interesting situations where people may be forced to remove their masks/helmets to prove who they (and that they’re not dangerous) or people might have to keep their face showing if they don’t want to be killed on sight by people.

        • d1rtyd33dz says:

          I’ve always pondered on whether or not they should add some sort of stats tracking system.

          For example: you pull up the player list and click on a random player’s name. It generates stats in the pane on the right that say, “Number of hours played: xxx.xx, Number of player kills: xxx, Number of deaths: xxx” and so on and so forth.

          Obviously if someone has more deaths than player kills, you can probably rest assured that this particular person isn’t going to be hostile.

          But that brings up another quandary! It’s impossible to identify players unless they handcuff you, force feed you, or insert an IV line into you. An option on the DayZ mod allowed for a players name to be displayed over their head you were close in proximity to them. I feel that they could add something similar. Instead of names immediately becoming available, if you were to zoom in with a scope on someone for an extended period of time, their name would slowly fade into view over their head.

          Then you can check their stats and make an educated guess as to whether or not they’re friendly or if they’re hostile.

          Of course, everyone will most likely disagree with this because of how “unrealistic” it is. You wouldn’t be able to identify someone in real life just by staring at them long enough. That kind of mind-numbing logic absolutely flees me. You’re trying to compare realism in a video game… Thank you… I didn’t need those IQ points anyways.

          Anyhow, it’s just a suggestion to alleviate the folks who murder and murder and suffer no repercussions for it.

  5. MrThingy says:

    And the award for most lavishly detailed Iconostasis goes to…

  6. Premium User Badge

    quietone says:

    These games need some sort of “ignore” list. You add the person to the list and they can’t hurt you, nor you can hurt them.

    • Atrax says:

      That would make absolutely no sense in a game like this. Otherwise you’d just go around and keep blocking everyone until you have enemy players left. Which would be completely the opposite of what this game is trying to achieve.

  7. HothMonster says:

    Maybe he means Castle Arrrrrgh.

  8. -.-XDD._.XDD-.- says:

    A guy came with a gun pointing at me, he said ”I’l bandage you” he then tells to me go down because for some reason he said it didnt work when i was crouching. He then says ” 1….2…3…” and shoots me in the head. best game ever 10 out of 10.

  9. kazzi says:

    When I began playing this game I would think like a real survivor would “Where am I?” “What would make sense for me to live the longest”. I would go inland and follow streams and watch the sun for the time of day etc etc.. Now That I’ve began to play it more its just like go to airbases, get guns, change server, kill people etc. I want to just run up in the hills and hunt shit.. survival MMO IMO would make this game cooler if you could get away from all the bullshit in electro and just live in a hut in the woods. well maybe theres a game for that but it wouldn’t let you go back into the fighting if you wanted to.. and I like the feel of DayZ

  10. d1rtyd33dz says:

    As someone who runs in a group of players who generally KoS, I don’t feel like there’s anything wrong with doing it. Not saying that everyone, or anyone for that matter, will agree with that statement but it’s apart of the game play mechanic, one even embraced by the company behind DayZ. The motto for the game is literally, “This is DayZ, this is your story.”

    As in, play it how you want. As long as you’re not using hacks or exploiting glitches to do things like make yourself bulletproof or turn invisible (as was the case in my most recent demise), play in a way that fits your style. Don’t ostracize or insult other people because they don’t play this game the way you want them to.

    Funny enough, I wasn’t originally KoS. Back in the DayZ mod, I went out of my way to try and help people survive, form a clique, become mountain men in the woods to the north. It very rarely ever worked out. Even when the DayZ SA was released, I went into it with a complete overhaul on how I wanted to represent myself towards other people. As usual, I got burned by the one guy who asks for help and then turns around and puts a bullet in your back with the .45 he had concealed on him the entire time.

    Over time, I become jaded and distant from random players. If you’re on my friend’s list and we link up, obviously I won’t kill you because you’re a friend and my friends are the ones that I trust to play with (as should anyone with a common sense of logic. Strength in numbers, brother). While I won’t kill fresh spawns (why waste the ammo?), if they have a gun on their back or if they’re completely decked out in military gear, and if I possess the means to kill you for your stuff, it’s going to happen.

    After all, this is my story.