Development

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The history of DayZ Standalone's development goes back a few years, and begins with Dean Hall's initial idea for the DayZ Mod. Below you will find a semi-comprehensive history of the game's time spent in development, starting with that initial idea and working its way up to 2017. This article will necessarily change over time as the game continues development both up to and after its retail release.

NOTE: Much of the text on this page comes from a series on the game's history written by Tatanko, himself an administrator of this site. While care has been taken to avoid applying bias to its contents, it is not to be considered the final word on development history. It should be noted that there is always room for improvement of both the content and accuracy of the information presented in this article. Please do your best to keep controversial or unconfirmed information on the discussion page.

DayZ Mod & Pre-Release

Humble Beginnings

Before there was DayZ Standalone, there was DayZ the Arma 2 mod. While the standalone has achieved some success in its own right, it owes both its existence and its notoriety to the mod that came before it. Therefore it is important to understand where DayZ came from and what made it so fun before we can talk about how the standalone came into existence.

Originally released as a simple batch of files on January 21, 2012, DayZ the mod was created by Dean "Rocket" Hall as a personal project. It was his intent to create a harsh survival experience that he could pitch as a form of emotional and psychological training for soldiers, based on his own experience serving in the New Zealand Army. The story goes that Dean was critically injured while undergoing survival training in the jungles of Brunei with the Singapore Armed Forces, and that experience served as direct inspiration for what would eventually become the DayZ mod.

On April 18, 2012, Dean gave the mod a more formal release via the Bohemia Interactive forums with a thread titled "DayZ Zombie RPG." Prior to this point, he had been running a single personal server for the game, and now it would become less difficult to obtain and easier to access (though perhaps still a challenge for players used to one-click installs). It is after this point that DayZ explodes in popularity among the PC gaming -- and especially Arma -- communities, to the point of putting Arma 2 at the top of sales charts and selling hundreds of thousands of copies of the game to players interested in the new zombie survival experience.

This level of success was something the game's creator never saw coming, and less than a month later he would begin discussing the next move for DayZ.

Riding Momentum

On May 15, 2012, in an interview with PCGamer, Dean brings up the idea of making a standalone DayZ game for the first time publicly. At this point it isn't a certainty, but at various times over the following months he would bring the idea up during interviews and at trade shows/conventions. Finally, on August 7th, he makes it official: DayZ will be developed as a standalone game directly under Bohemia Interactive as its own IP, with Dean as the project lead and a release target of "the end of 2012."

For some of the game's fans, this announcement brings with it a mix of elation and anxiety. What will happen to the mod? What will the Standalone be, and how will it be different than the mod? When will it be finished? These are just a few of the questions that begin flying around after the news spreads, and in short order they would be answered -- though these answers would change over the next year, for better or worse.

With his attention focused on defining and developing the standalone game, its creator faces the tough reality that he cannot continue to devote himself to the original project. On October 29th, further development of the mod is handed over to the community, and on February 21st of the following year it is given an official Steam release under the title "Arma II: DayZ Mod."

The Long Wait Begins

With 1.1 million people playing the mod at the time of the standalone's announcement, it's fair to say that a lot of people were excited to see what the future had in store for DayZ. The idea right from the beginning was that development would be done by a very small team and in a way that would be very transparent so that fans could follow along with it.

Dean announces in September 2012 that he has a team assembled and has begun reviewing other Bohemia IPs for assets to use in the development of the standalone. In October of that same year, we began seeing teasers of new building interiors and the decision is made to shift DayZ to a client-server architecture more closely resembling an MMO. At this time, the team begins stripping away unnecessary parts of the existing game engine's architecture to simplify the code behind zombies.

What began as an improved version of the mod with critical issues fixed and additional content quickly becomes something else. In November, Dean reveals that development of the standalone will be going further than originally planned because of the game's continued success. At this point, the team is still focused on creating new architecture and tools for the future. An example of this would be shifting weapons and items into the realm of "entities," meaning they can now have customization and variables assigned to them. They are also looking to develop a new UI and greatly improve upon the controls of the game.

As 2012 comes to a close, it is declared that DayZ Standalone will eventually receive a full Steam release including Valve Anti-Cheat (VAC), server browser, and delta updates.

The Year That Would Never End

After some radio silence over the month of December, the year 2013 begins with some fans upset that the standalone has missed its targeted release for the end of the previous year. Dean has this to say about that missed goal: "Put simply, DayZ Standalone isn’t here because we had the chance to go from making a game that was just the mod improved slightly, packaged simply, and sold - to actually redeveloping the engine and making the game the way we all dreamed it could be."

From that point on, the year would be marked with regular updates on the team's development blog showcasing the team's efforts. Though it wouldn't be until the end of 2013 that the game would see its initial release, it's because the standalone became something entirely different than it set out to be. Following along as we take a high-level view of 2013...

January

  • Standalone release misses its original target of "end of 2012." In the first update of 2013, Dean Hall explains the delay.
  • Work done to inventory system and UI. Much new art has been produced.
  • Massive late-month update regarding lighting and material improvements, volumetric cloud system, new server architecture, clothing/inventory, art & map updates, character customization, and weapon customization.
  • Internal, closed testing begins.

February

  • Video blog details how clothing will work and showcases a potential map addition in the form of Utes.
  • Disease system is being worked on. The ability to leave notes for other players is being worked on.
  • Player inventory is now fully synced with the central database.
  • Team continues to grow larger. Initial internal stress testing is aimed at up to 150 people in a server.
  • As of this time, private hives are a consideration but ruled out for initial release. The Humanity system is still a consideration at this point.
  • Enthusiasm surrounding the future availability of APIs.
  • Motion capture session is done for zombies.

March

  • External testing begins using moderators from the official forums and Reddit.
  • Work begins on health system, loot spawning, crafting, and zombie pathfinding. Zombies being spawned in the thousands server-side.

April

  • New zombie animations, radio implementation, and continued work on zombie pathfinding.
  • Lots of new game items being developed and old ones recreated.
  • PAX and GDC presentations regarding the current state of development.

May

  • Not much real development news. A video is released about the "real" Chernarus and the work that has gone into map development.

June

  • No official news on DayZ SA.

July

  • Dean Hall releases a statement essentially saying that no news is good news because they've been too busy working on the game.

August

  • Closed alpha test video released on Aug 3rd. Shows more items and an improved inventory screen compared to what was demonstrated in April. The game is much improved from a visual standpoint.

September

  • Video blog released on Sep 7th. Showcases player restraints, near-complete inventory screen, item condition states, item interaction, etc.

October

  • No official news on DayZ SA. Early entries on the Steam database begin to appear for the standalone.

November

  • Video blog released on Nov 15th. Showcases melee combat and many new items.

December

  • Dean Hall releases a statement on Dec 14th regarding delays in getting the alpha out the door. On Dec 16th, the Standalone is finally released in Early Access.

Everything in Flux

The pre-release development of the standalone was not always a straightforward process, and many of the original ideas for the game had to be scrapped due to time constraints or because they didn't align with the new direction the game was moving in. While they were good ideas on their own, some of them didn't make sense in the context of the standalone or were better suited as additions to the mod.

Before development got fully underway, Dean participated in an impromptu Q&A session via Reddit on August 13, 2012 -- less than a week after the standalone had been announced. During this time, he outlined his goals for the new release as a "simple" improvement to the mod. One of these goals was an end-of-2012 release window, though he was very careful at this time to state that such a release would only be a public alpha, contrary to the "fully finished game release" myth that gets thrown around these days.

Even at this early stage, he saw the standalone as a massive upgrade from the mod. Some of these planned new features included:

  • A reworked Chernarus map, including more enterable buildings and more islands.
  • Hand-to-hand combat.
  • Animal companions (dogs) and other additional wildlife.
  • Item degradation.
  • Web interface (for player statistics).
  • More clothing, more weapons, more items. Weapon crafting was also a possibility.
  • Additional player customization.
  • Stronger, faster, more challenging zombies.
  • Increased player count per server (100 to 200 was the goal).
  • Greatly improved animations.
  • Completely new UI.
  • Underground bases.
  • Support for player factions.
  • Player diaries.

This is in addition to better performance, fewer bugs, improved anti-cheat, and a more robust network when compared to the mod. Perhaps even more interesting is that the standalone was originally slated to have more of a backstory that would have explained the origins of the virus. Obviously not all of this made it into the game, and some of it is yet to come when the game gets closer to its final release, but much of it will never be realized due to feasibility or a change in direction.

Closed Alpha

Beginning in March of 2013, the first testers outside Bohemia were welcomed to join the closed alpha. This group of people primarily consisted of moderators from both Reddit and the official forums. They would serve to provide valuable bug reports and feedback, helping to shape the game into what it would become by December of that year. Although they would see the game at some of its roughest points in development, it was necessary to put the game through the ringer before letting the general public dive into it.

A few of the pre-release dev blog videos showcase what it was like to play the earliest builds of the standalone, and they are all still available to watch if you care to take a look. The most noticeable differences with the game in this incubation stage were legacy assets from Arma 2. Until the art team and others populated the world with new clothing, weapons, buildings, and more, placeholders were used from the Arma series.

Throughout the closed alpha period, the dev team continued to release teasers and bits of information through regular blog updates and appearances at gaming shows. For veterans of the Mod, this period must have been an unbearable wait. From March to December, they watched as the game went from infancy to something more closely resembling what we play today, getting drip fed information all the while.

Timeline of Major Events

Below you will find a timeline of major events in the standalone's development prior to initial release:

January 21, 2012 -- DayZ Mod released in a very basic form as files. Around this time, Dean Hall also begins doing some work for Bohemia Interactive as a Multiplayer Designer on Arma 3.

April 18, 2012 -- Alpha version of Mod gets a proper release via BI forums as "DayZ Zombie RPG."

May 15, 2012 -- Dean Hall does an interview with PCGamer hinting for the first time that he believes DayZ will get a standalone release.

August 7, 2012 -- DayZ Standalone development officially announced.

October 29, 2012 -- DayZ Mod officially transitions to a community effort.

February 21, 2013 -- DayZ Mod gets an official release via Steam as a free mod to Arma 2.

June 11-13, 2013 -- An Alpha version of DayZ Standalone was playable on the floor at E3 2013 and allowed attendees their first actual playthrough of the standalone game.

September 12, 2013 -- Arma 3 is released.

December 16, 2013 -- DayZ Standalone (Early Access Alpha) released to the public for $29.99 / €23.99.

Early Access (Alpha)

What We Started With

The road to launching the Standalone was not a quick or easy one, but even once DayZ had been released to Early Access, it would begin life as a fairly barebones shooter of sorts more resembling its Arma roots than the game that we experience today -- even still in Alpha. Much of the crafting, cooking, diseases, environmental effects, item modification, and even clothing & equipment that we take for granted in the present was not available to use or experience at the game's launch. It was also still very much established in its military simulator origins, including all of the associated quirks and shortcomings inherent in using an old (but very heavily revised) game engine.

Though it's easy to look back at the game's original version as being devoid of content by comparison, it actually debuted with a fair amount of "stuff" -- 156 items in total as a matter of fact. It also came with a greatly refreshed Chernarus map that included many new locations unique to the Standalone, 47 total towns & cities, and many more enterable buildings than the original map. What we didn't have any of at this point were vehicles and natural resources. Here's an overview of what we started with in the 0.28 release:

As a comparison, we now have 75 total towns & cities and 516 total items. Here is where we stand as of the 0.61 release:

What We've Gained Along the Way

Note: This information is current as of the 0.61 release of DayZ Standalone.

Throughout its time in Steam's Early Access program as an Alpha release, DayZ has enjoyed regular updates ranging from small hotfixes to game-changing new versions. The timing of these updates hasn't always been consistent due to the challenges of development, so it's important to understand exactly what this game has been through during its incubation period in order to appreciate everything that has been (and will be) accomplished.

The largest and most important changes have been to the game's foundations. It is now a long way from its beginnings on a modified version of the Real Virtuality platform, though there is still some work to go yet before the transition over to its new engine -- called Enfusion -- is complete. This new engine is a complete rethinking of how to approach the needs of DayZ as a game, and a complete retooling of all the underlying code and components in order to better support those needs. All of the major legacy parts of the RV engine are being gutted and replaced with components that have been crafted from scratch by Bohemia Interactive's own programmers, a massive undertaking that has been in progress for several years and is seen as the future of the company because it will also serve as the foundation for additional upcoming (but as yet unannounced) titles.

The process for converting the old engine into a new engine includes strategic overhauls for anything pertaining to sound, animation, visuals, physics, AI, item economy, scripting, network communication, client/server performance, the server browser, and more. Essentially everything. Development of major components is occurring alongside similar improvements to the engine used for Bohemia's other major title, Arma III, and in particular the work done on sounds is a direct port of the same efforts put into that game's "Eden" update. The development team is handling implementation of the biggest changes by adding one component at a time, beginning with the renderer in 0.60, sounds in 0.61, and animation expected in 0.62. The smaller components have made their way in over time or will be included in future releases prior to the 1.0 milestone.

As important as all of those changes are, DayZ has also seen an influx of new content with each update in the form of items and game mechanics. Aspects such as horticulture, wildlife, and crafting have made their way in alongside staples like weapons, clothing, and food. That's to say nothing of things that have evolved over time such as the UI and inventory of the game.

Below is a high-level overview of everything that has been implemented so far since the game's release to Early Access:

  1. Survival
    1. Horticulture
    2. Hunting / Fishing (Animals)
    3. Foraging
    4. Crafted Tools
    5. Crafted Clothing
    6. Fire-building
    7. Cooking
    8. Temperature (Player + Environment)
    9. Water Saturation (Player + Items)
    10. Diseases
    11. Cannibalism
    12. Traps
  2. Weapons
    1. Parts Swapping
    2. Painting & Camouflage
    3. Total Conversion (sawed-off)
    4. Redesigned Weapons Handling & Reloading
  3. Clothing Modification
    1. Painting
    2. Dyeing
    3. Multi-Part Clothing
  4. Barricading & Base Building
    1. Basic (Locked Doors)
  5. Vehicles
    1. Vehicle Repair
  6. Game Engine
    1. Central Loot Economy
    2. Physics Engine
    3. Zombie Pathfinding
    4. Dynamic Spawning of AI
    5. Anti-Cheat (BattlEye)
    6. Item Persistence
    7. Procedural Coloring
    8. New UI and Inventory Systems
    9. Redesigned Server Browser w/ Login Queue
    10. Redesigned Graphics (0.60)
    11. Redesigned Sound (0.61)
    12. 64-bit Client

What is Yet to Come

Alpha, Beta, and 1.0

Before DayZ can be released as a "full" title, meaning an exit from the Early Access program on Steam, a number of things still need to be added or overhauled. The game must also then meet targets for stability and performance in order to be acceptable to the public at large. Below is a semi-complete list of items, mechanics, and other aspects which must be included in order for the game to be ready for release.

As of the 0.61 release, the game is still considered to be in its Alpha stage. What this means is that a focus is placed on adding new things (like items and mechanics) and making major changes to the game engine itself. Once the heavy work on the game engine is done, and most of the expected features are in place, the game will move to its Beta stage where the focus switches to creating a polished experience and clearing the backlog of content that is already complete but awaiting changes to the game engine.

Below is an overview of just some of the changes and additions to be made prior to the 1.0 release of the game. Nothing on this list is guaranteed, but everything here is at least highly likely to make the cut.

Game Engine
  • Animation system & player controller (0.63*)
    • Weapon handling, falling, gestures, actions, injured movement, etc.
  • Scripting (new language called Enscript)
Game Mechanics
  • Base building (barricading, storage)
  • Crafting (advanced items, shelter)
  • Diseases (more)
  • Hazardous environmental areas
  • Lifespan (soft skills, aging)
  • Stamina
Chernarus+
  • Coastal islands
  • Many additional updates to make the map look destroyed & overgrown
Clothing
  • HAZMAT suit
  • Various additional items
Equipment
  • Base building materials
  • Vehicle parts & maintenance items
  • Communication (radios, megaphone, etc.)
Vegetation
  • Forest overhaul (0.62*)
  • New plants / trees
  • Mushrooms
Wildlife
  • Bear
  • Environmental (birds?)
Vehicles
Weapons

* = Expected release, but not guaranteed.

Post-Release

Though it remains to be seen exactly what this would mean, Bohemia Interactive has pledged to support development on DayZ for several years after its full 1.0 release to the public. This kind of support would likely look similar what we get from their other titles like Arma III, with regular bug fixing and the occasional medium-sized release of free content along with the potential for larger paid expansions (akin to Arma III's Tanoa). This means that features and content which are too ambitious for the initial release -- or which need additional time to be thought out and put together, but are not critical to the game's core mission -- can be included after the release rather than holding back development on more crucial aspects of the game necessary for 1.0.

Other Information

What We've Lost

The development of DayZ Standalone hasn't been all about adding things, and quite a few things have drastically changed though they are still present in the game. As a whole, both the map and the game mechanics have been highly altered to shift the experience away from its military simulator roots and alter the flow of player travel across the map. Much of what has been removed could be considered "Arma leftovers" that were originally included as placeholders until a more appropriate item or component could be developed to replace them -- or because their removal would have catastrophic results to playability without something to take their place.

For the most complete record of everything that has been taken out of the game or heavily revised, see: Removed Content.

Trivia

  • Only one town was lost in the creation of Chernarus+ out of the old Arma II Chernarus: the small town of Petrovka, which was eventually replaced with the city of Novaya Petrovka a few years later as part of the 0.50 update.
  • Though the DayZ Mod was built on top of the military simulator Arma II, the Standalone game was originally launched with a modified version of the engine used for Take On Helicopters -- another simulator title from parent company Bohemia Interactive. The TOH engine was itself a modified version of the engine used by the Arma series, called Real Virtuality.