The Law of Unintended Design
First off, let me point out something that’s probably completely uninteresting. I was mortified to discover that in my last article, which got picked up by a larger blog site, I had used site instead of cite. I don’t know how many people saw that before I caught it myself, but it literally has distressed me since I noticed it Monday morning. Did anyone else notice? Probably only a handful. Did any of that handful care? Probably a small few. It’s not really about them, though, it’s about me. Argh!
Anyway, it’s rectified.
That’s not, thank goodness, the topic of our correspondence today. Instead, I’d like to discuss how in a 48 hour time period, DayZ went from what I wanted to play to what I don’t want to play any more. I mentioned DayZ a few days (weeks, perhaps?) ago. It’s a zombie-horror survival game wherein you play a survivor washed up on an unfamiliar coastline with nothing but a flashlight, a Band-aid, and a bottle of Tylenol. From there, you have to find food and water, arm yourself, equip yourself with tools to hunt, build fires, and cook, and see just how long you can survive.
It’s a masterful concept, but the more my buddy and I played, the more we realized the glaring design faults. This isn’t about the various bugs that exist everywhere in the game; it’s only in alpha, so we can hardly complain. No, the game clearly wants to be about one thing – survival – but due to poor design, it becomes something else – a Belarusian Counterstrike.
The primary outcome of the flawed design is that everyone becomes a “bandit.” A “bandit” is a player who kills other players for no reason. Now, I’m not against the PvP elements of the game; in a true survival situation, there will be bandits, even teams of them, and there will also be desperate situations where it’s kill or starve, and they’ll be misunderstandings that lead to bloodshed. But not everyone will be a bandit. It’s simply not realistic. However, after our first few play sessions, literally everyone we ever met shot at us for no reason. In most of those cases, we died. In a few, we pushed them back. In one, I killed the fellow. So to be clear: I’m not against the PvP. I’m against the concept that the whole goddamn game is PvP.
This comes from player upbringing. Since so many people are bandits, new players are constantly shot by people for no reason. As a result, they learn that they damn well begin to shoot first and ask questions later. Thus, a new generation of players arise who believe they have to be bandits to survive. The cycle continues from there.
This primary problem stems from a multitude of poor design decisions. First, the zombies in the game become a joke. While they’re very scary at first, once you learn how to properly deal with them, they cease being a threat, even when you do get “hawkeye” spotted by a zombie from 100m away with its back to you (it’s just a bug is my point). Additionally, if you’re really backed into a corner, zombies take little to kill; they have about 1/3rd as many hit points as players. This is completely illogical; it should be harder to kill an animated corpse than a living person! So, since the zombies aren’t a real threat, once you get to a basic level of gear, there’s not that much to worry about.
That’s design flaw #2; to truly “play correctly,” you should go into the deep woods, kill animals, fill up bottles at streams, and just stay out of trouble. But that’s boring. That’s even boring for me, who doesn’t like PvP. So the game inadvertently pushes players to take risks that they don’t need to, or, as is often the case, just voluntarily become a bandit so that you have something to do.
The final serious design flaw is the weird power scaling of the weapons. It takes 6 shots from a revolver to kill a zombie but 1 from a rifle. It takes 2 to kill a player with a sniper rifle but like a whole clip’s worth from a silenced assault rifle. The results of this flaw is that camp sniping becomes the primary way to “win,” as in to kill other players. In the 3 encounters that drove my friend and I to want to quit playing, in 2 of them we never saw our killer (and we were being “careful” in that we were taking our time, not running into places, scouting them out first, and so forth). In the 3rd, we were attacked from behind and 2 of us were killed (our 3rd buddy was at this one). The remaining 1 (me), circled silently around the guy, got right up behind him, and put 3 revolver rounds in his back. He didn’t flinch, turned around, and opened up with an Uzi, which killed me. It’s been suggested he was hacking, but I don’t know; regardless, he “sniped” first by attacking from a hidden position, and my weaker revolver – which absolutely would have put a stop to him in a realistic situation – did nothing.
Sniping in particular makes no sense in a survival situation. If you’re hidden, there’s no reason to reveal yourself by taking a chance. If you’re in a comfortable enough situation to be able to sit around in the first place, then you don’t need the food and water the others are carrying, you’re just killing to kill. However, there’s no drawback to sniping in the game; there’s no disincentive for being a bandit. Additionally, if you’re playing the “right” way, you’re going out, scouting, scavenging – moving around – which leads you to eventually becoming vulnerable, even if only for a moment. Camping snipers can just wait until someone does that and kill them; the full tactical advantage is to the sniper, not the “survivor.”
These three flaws have created a conceptually awesome game that’s fundamentally broken. I won’t go back to DayZ until these problems are addressed, until being a pointless killer is disincentivized. It wouldn’t be hard, either. Making the zombies spawn anywhere, not just near buildings, making them harder to kill than players, which makes sense with zombie lore, and making zombies more perceptive (they don’t respond to every stimuli, just close ones, so make them run towards gunshots), and more mobile (right now zombies climb like shit and can’t run inside buildings, so snipers on roofs are basically invulnerable to them) would make firing a weapon truly an option of last resort. Reducing the flow of ammo would, too, as would a better dietary system, so you can’t just live on cooked meat (which you can’t), forcing people to scavenge more. Additionally, if banditry was disincentivized, trade would become more viable, and a reduction of ammo and increase in food needs would supplement that. That would lead to a more realistic survival scenario, where some people are bad, others are untrustworthy, but most were just trying to live to see the next day.
Stubborn (and disappointed in how DayZ turned out)