Colin Le Sueur

Colin Le Sueur
Colin Le Sueur

Alpha Wolf – Day Z

In this series I’ll be looking at pre-release Alphas, games released for early access by developers, sometimes as a free demo but increasingly for real money.

The trend started with the release and massive success of Minecraft, which initially offered an alpha at a reduced price. The next big step in the alpha movement was the release of Arma 3 from Bohemia [TK]. I bought the alpha of Arma 3 shortly after release and put a lot of hours into it. I was a fan of the Battlefield series and really liked Arma’s focus of simulation over action.

Bohemia followed the pattern with their next big release, a standalone version of the Day Z mod for Arma 2 Combined Operations. The mod had been a breakout hit, driving sales of Arma 2 and making a name for the developer Dean Hall. Bohemia released the Day Z standalone as an early access alpha through Steam. The alpha soon broke sales records and set the model for future early access releases.

I received a copy of the Day Z alpha for Christmas and to date I’ve put about 60 hours into playing it. My experiences with the standalone are pretty typical. I lost count of how many times I’ve been killed on sight or punched to death by another freshly spawned player. I tried playing in a group but quickly found I preferred to be on my own, a lone wolf survivor.

That’s what I like best about the Day Z standalone, and one of the reasons it frustrates me so much. I love starting with a fresh spawn and gearing up by searching towns and cities, killing all the zombies I come across. I like the progression, moving from a small backpack to a large rucksack, moving from a rusty old splitting axe to a pristine fire axe, or building a bad ass post-apocalyptic soldier with an M4 and full Army camo. I loved exploring the landscape, finding a cool little bridge or abandoned shipwreck (not that one, another smaller one).

And then I’d run into someone who’d kill me without a word. And I’d respawn only to be beaten to death by someone in a motorcycle helmet. And the cycle would continue. Gear up, get killed, respawn.

I soon grew bored with the repetition. I used to think I’d prefer some interaction prior to death, like being robbed at gunpoint (which happened once but I ran away and survived) or having a tense shootout (which also happened a few times resulting in a 50% survival rate for me), but I realised that I don’t like social interaction in Day Z.

A lot of people would argue that social interaction’s the point of Day Z, that most of the fun and challenge comes from dealing with other players, but my preferred play method is lone survivor. I followed a similar path when I played World of Warcraft. I like building a character on my own terms but didn’t like having to deal with other people.

I’ve taken a break from playing Day Z. I’m waiting for the update that’ll bring improved zombies, as at the moment they’re completely broken, phasing through walls and spawning in limited numbers. In its current state Day Z is a large scale slow moving deathmath and that has a certain appeal but doesn’t make for particularly involving gameplay.

I am a fan of early access alphas, provided the developers are upfront about the bugs and limitations (as in the case of the Day Z standalone); these alphas offer players an opportunity to help shape development and get their hands on a game months and potentially years before an official release. However, Day Z sets a potentially dangerous precedent that could see developers shipping an unfinished game with little or no reason to complete development.

Gamers need to know what they’re buying when paying into early access or risk being eaten by the alpha wolf.

(This article was originally published as a video on

Colin Le Sueur
Friday, March 28th, 2014
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So, what do you think ?