The War Z interview: a familiar zombie outbreak

Monday, 22 October 2012 08:25 GMT By Dave Cook

The War Z’s critics have accused it of copying DayZ’s open world survival template. VG247’s Dave Cook speaks with Hammerpoint to find out where the similarities end.

The War Z

Developed by Hammerpoint Interactive, The War Z focuses on a zombie outbreak in Colorado.

The game is set five years after an outbreak killed most of humanity. However, new mutated strains of the zombie virus could hold the key to a cure.

It’s a survival game with areas ranging from 200 – 400km square. Players must scavenge for supplies, drink and eat regularly, fight other survivors and of course, avoid zombie attacks.

The War Z is in pre-alpha, but you can check out more details over at the official site.

As I said recently, I’m bored to tears of zombies. I’m bored whenever they’re included as nothing more than a lazy piece of pandering DLC, bonus mode, or are simply there to ride the great undead money train all the way to profit-ville.

Zombie fiction – when handled well – focuses on the basics of human survival, such as food, hydration, disease and well, just staying alive in a hopeless world. Some games have nailed this format, and few moreso than Dean Hall’s DayZ.

In DayZ players are let loose into the open world sandbox of Chernaus. There is no plot, just survival against other desperate humans, the undead and the elements themselves. It’s brutal, unforgiving, but it accurately portrays zombie fiction to a tee.

Then came The War Z, Hammerpoint Interactive’s take on the survival sandbox genre, in which players are let loose into the open world sandbox of Colorado. There is no plot, just survival against other desperate humans, the undead and the elements themselves.

OK, so I copied and pasted that descriptor, but to make a point, because The War Z has been accused of following DayZ’s template so closely that it has earned itself some controversy since it first broke cover.

Accusations of copycat development and cash-cow mentality at the studio are regularly thrown at The War Z by gamers. So in an attempt to better understand Hammerpoint’s motivation, and to see how deep the similarities lie, VG247 spoke with executive producer Sergey Titov.

VG247: Many gamers and critics are comparing The War Z to Dean Hall’s DayZ. Is that criticism justified or is this truly a different experience?

Sergey Titov: We don’t mind being compared to DayZ at all – in fact we are fans of the mod. Ultimately, we hope that gamers will end up playing both The War Z and the DayZ standalone.

It’s difficult to compare at the moment, but, though there are similarities, we tried to create a game that was a little bit easier to access and play, and that would allow players to be creative and create their own scenarios.

We aren’t looking to be better than or displace DayZ at all – there is definitely room for two great games in the same genre and we think that the gaming audience will agree.

Both are open world games, and that regularly poses challenges to developers, particularly as there are no set missions or goals, other than to survive. Would you say it was a challenge?

This really isn’t a challenge as it was our intent from the start. We wanted to create a game where we provided the theme – a zombie-infested, post-apocalyptic environment- and the tools, but where the players could really create their own experience.

I think we achieved that and now it will ultimately be up to the community to make The War Z what they want it to be.

”We aren’t looking to be better than or displace DayZ at all – there is definitely room for two great games in the same genre and we think that the gaming audience will agree.”

So you’re giving people the tools to make up their own stories and to make the play-space interesting. How did you go about populating that world with enough distractions to sustain attention?

Well, this part was a bit of a challenge in that we needed to make certain that we provided enough intrigue for players that were just starting in the game and would primarily be exploring, scavenging and dispatching zombies.

We had to do this while still creating a challenging environment for veteran players that had logged some hours, had accumulated some gear and were now on to engaging and, possibly, attacking other players.

We will still be tweaking and sorting this out over the next couple weeks of Alpha and into Beta, so all is not set in stone. Feedback from the community will be crucial as we decide which features to build upon and which ones should be deleted.

That said, there actually a threadbare backstory that players can uncover as they play. How deep will this go?

There is definitely a back-story that players will uncover as they explore. This will be in the form of notes that players will happen upon that were left behind by survivors or deceased members of society. That said, players’ personal experiences will play a major role in how the story evolves.

How closely will you monitor and champion stories that evolve in the play-space over time? For example, EVE Online’s tales of betrayal are all player-created things that actually happened, and have now become things of legend.

We will be monitoring player experience and especially some of the instance creation on the stronghold server maps – these are smaller maps that players can “rent” and build off of. When we see something unique and cool, we’ll definitely promote it through our social channels and to the press.

Personal stories like these can be powerful, but freedom in online worlds can never be 100% absolute. Can you give as an example of when you would step in and take action against players, or to keep people in check?

Really the only things we’re concerned about are players that ruin the experience for others with cheats, hacks and so on. We will actively be monitoring and pursuing these players and will ban accounts if we find out these activities are taking place.

Can you talk us through the survival aspects of The War Z?

Players will need to stay aware of their hunger and thirst levels. These are crucial in terms of day-to-day survival, regardless of whether or not they encounter zombies or other players.

There is a standard health gauge, so players will not need to worry about extremity damage – such as broken limbs, but they will take damage from falls or blunt trauma. As for disease, players can be infected via a scratch or bite from a zombie.

The result will be blood toxicity, which will rise and eventually begin depleting health and eventually lead to death unless a vaccine is administered.

“For me, the zombie genre could never be saturated – as long as it is continually presented in different ways. When you look at the different types of zombie games you find an evolution of gameplay style and pace that keeps it very interesting.”

You are also employing a microtransaction model in The War Z. I’m presuming that this will not be a ‘pay to win’ model, given the tough survival aspect of the game.

Our plan was to make the spending of money be a true choice. All items can be found in-game and all currency can be found or earned in-game. So the choice of whether or not to spend money really comes down to convenience and whether or not the player wants to put in the work to find items in the game world.

It’s clear that if you’re wanting to make a zombie game that now is probably the time, given the popularity of the genre. However, what would you say to that opinion that the zombie genre is saturated?

For me, the zombie genre could never be saturated – as long as it is continually presented in different ways. When you look at the different types of zombie games you find an evolution of gameplay style and pace that keeps it very interesting.

Finally, are you still on track for a fall release?

We will be going to Beta at the end of the month and continually tweaking/adding content from that point forward. We view digital games as constantly evolving products that really don’t have a definitive “launch.”

Our goal is to work with the community and continue to evolve The War Z to make it the best it can possibly be while we maintain and grow our community.

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