My history with DayZ, the zombie survival mod turned standalone game, has been a long, labored exercise in expectation management. It was actually Ben Yahtzee’s review of the mod in his video series Zero Punctuation that ultimately lit the fire under my thumbs. No teams. No missions. And zombies. Lots of zombies. I wanted in; a significant conundrum because I was missing a key component required: A PC and/or money to purchase one.
After some late nights of scouring the web, searching for some magical thrown bone in various gaming forums, I devised a plan. It was simple: I would just use a pirated version of VMfusion, a pirated version of Windows, a pirated version of Arma II, and a weird server simulator called Tungle to finally propel me into the world of… well, whatever I imagined was waiting for me on the other side of all that shit.
And by god (after three or four attempts) it worked, and just like that I was playing DayZ. I spawned on a lonely beach in a shitty resolution and all of the game’s settings at their absolute lowest. For the first time in my life, I didn’t care that the graphics looked like a flaming pile of garbage. I was too busy basking in the accomplishment of getting all these puzzle pieces to fit together into something resembling a PC game on my Macintosh. It was glorious. In the days following, I invited friends over to my place in the hopes that they too would pat me on the back and offer excited congratulations for my technical achievements. Instead, it was more like: “Oh man, does it always freeze every fifteen seconds?” and “Can all the zombies run through walls, cause that doesn’t seem very fair.” But I didn’t care. I was playing DayZ. On a Macintosh from 2011, no less. The shitty performance took a backseat to the nerve-wracking survival elements, emergent interactions with other players, the sheer danger of the world, the tranquility one sometimes experienced… everything that hardcore DayZ players appreciate about the game.
But… it wasn’t enough. As I consumed hour after hour of FrankieonPCin1080p’s DayZ videos, I grew increasingly obsessed with the idea of getting my graphics up to par. Suddenly it seemed of vital importance that my frame-rate be at an acceptable level (a common obsession among non-console gamers). I had read somewhere that if you ‘boot-camped’ your Mac (ran the two operating systems completely separately) Windows would be much smoother, games would perform much better, and DayZ might finally be playable. With the promise of a standalone version in the works, I decided that this could potentially hold me over until I was able to save up and buy a proper gaming machine. Or at least a proper copy of Windows.
I partitioned my drives accordingly, leaving enough space for my Trial Windows OS and a handful of games; eighty gigs or so. I manned up and bought a legit copy of Arma II during a Steam sale. Surely, this would perform vastly better than my gigs upon gigs of past thievery. The mod booted up. DayZ’s splash screen takes so long to load that this is always a needlessly dramatic process. Would the game crash? Would it tell me my serial key was invalid? Would my computer punch me in the mouth and burst into flames? All possible outcomes. Then my avatar appeared in a white t-shirt and khakis on a lonely shore, and I was happy. The frames were better, almost playable even, and I began a new journey with my old friend.
About three weeks later, as rumors of the standalone began to ramp up, I grew increasingly tepid about the current state of DayZ. How was I supposed to continue my slog through this old-hat mod knowing better graphics and optimizations were right around the corner? I began to accept the depths of my obsession, trolling the Steam Database for changelog updates. “Oh shit, three updates in one afternoon?! It must be coming soon. It’s gotta be.” I let the excitement get the best of me, and I started to get sloppy. When a YouTube video appeared accompanied by a link that promised early access to the standalone, I clicked it. Shame on me. The moment I ran the installation, I knew I had fucked up. This was definitely a virus, or worse, a phishing program to steal my Arma keys so that some other crooked thief could enjoy the fruits of my DayZ labors without purchasing the base game. Of course it was the latter. Karma’s a bitch.
To make matters worse, it was summer hiatus from the show I was working on, which meant I had all the time in the world to not be playing DayZ. To make matters better, the company I worked for cut me a cheque for all my unused sick days and holiday pay, and I spent it all on my first gaming PC. Too impatient to wait for the standalone, I re-downloaded my copy of Arma II onto my shiny new toy. But alas, an error in the registry had somehow carried over and I was greeted upon launch with a “Serial Key Invalid” message. I raged. I sifted through hundreds of potential fixes proposed by other users in the same situation, but I just couldn’t get the bloody thing to work. I raged some more.
Months went by, and I would stay up at night staring at my phone’s tiny screen, watching helplessly as others enjoyed DayZ. Would I ever be able to experience the game as it was meant to be played? And then, finally, it happened. On Christmas eve of 2013, three years ago, developer Brian Hicks and other members of the dev team were acting especially goofy on Twitter. It turns out they had a secret. And those of us following the long, sordid history of DayZ’s development knew what it was. That morning, DayZ Standalone released on Steam’s Early Access Program. There was excitement. There were tears. There was the uninstalling of games I didn’t play anymore to make room on my hard drive. Frantically I booted up my absolute favorite game in the world… and it ran like a giant, wet, stinky pile of shit.
At that point, I just gave up. I surrendered to the facts: for some reason the powers that be—those orb-headed synthoids controlling our universe from the 5th or 6th dimension—did not want me to enjoy this game. Sure, once in a while I would hop in and goof around, convincing myself that this iteration was every bit as fun as the mod. But knowing I couldn’t guarantee myself at least 30fps in a fire fight inevitably made my play-throughs tedious and disappointing. Eventually I decided to mentally close the chapter on DayZ. And that’s how things stayed. Until last night.
For those following DayZ’s development, the promise of a new renderer has long been taunting us from behind the closed doors of Bohemia Interactive. Among other much needed changes, this significant alteration promised to finally fix the frame-rate issues plaguing the standalone ever since its initial release in 2013. And now, after two hours of trying to get into an experimental server, and one successful log in later, I can finally and joyfully confirm to you that this is exactly what it delivers. The game looks fucking great. And it runs as good as it looks.
Let me be clear: this is a massive achievement for DayZ’s developers who no doubt have suffered the slings and arrows of angry redditors for years; and I, for one, am truly happy for them all. And so it was that after materializing on a desolate beach of the Chernarus coast, I did something I’d never done on any of my previous DayZ play-throughs: I left my graphics settings alone. There was no need to touch them. Instead I began to roam the grassy fields towards the quaint town I had spotted in the distance and, my hunger levels beginning to creep into the red, I felt very, very happy. What can I say? I’m just excited to play my favorite game for the first time… again.