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The Lighthouse Customer: DayZ (Experimental Branch)

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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Christopher Livingston

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