DayZ dev Dean Hall: "I want to make a Valve in the South Pacific"

Hall talks DayZ on console and his Tycoon style game.

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DayZ developer Dean Hall during a climb up Earth's highest mountain, Mount Everest.

DayZ creator Dean "Rocket" Hall will return home to New Zealand at the end of 2014 - and there he hopes to establish the Valve of the South Pacific.

In an interview with Eurogamer at E3 last week, Hall said he will set up a studio in Queenstown, dubbed the adventure capital of the world. In fact he's already started hiring for it.

"I'm really looking forward to going back to New Zealand," he said. "I want to make a Valve in the South Pacific, if Valve focused on making games and not making Steam."

Hall said he admired Valve's approach to making games, as well as the way the studio behind Team Fortress 2, Left 4 Dead, Dota 2, Counter-Strike and Half-Life goes about hiring talented developers.

"Gabe Newell is always looking for really good modding teams," Hall said.

He also praised Valve's Chet Faliszek, who wrote Left 4 Dead. "Chet Faliszek has been a huge mentor to me," Hall said. "He's a really awesome guy. I love how Valve is everywhere, but you don't see them. They don't have big booths. They don't do lots of interviews but they're everywhere. But they're there to meet with developers and find talented people and walking around the indie booths. That's the direction I want to head with."

Hall said that he has no interest in setting up a Steam-style content delivery platform, however, even though "that's where they make their money".

Hall told Eurogamer about his plan to leave DayZ studio Bohemia, based in Czech Republic, back in February. He will do so by the end of the year - a plan that remains on course.

In fact, Hall has already started hiring people for the studio. And it has a name, although he won't say what it is. "I do have a name but I haven't registered the trademark so I don't want to say what it is. It's got Rocket in it, I'll say that much."

Hall has already visited a number of studios to get advice on video game production, including Destiny maker Bungie, the aforementioned Valve and Eve Online maker CCP. He's still settling on a direction he wants to take, but this much is clear: Hall wants a strong internship program. "Fostering and developing these little concepts to come out as games is where you get the next DayZ to come from," he said.

"I can't say what it is but it's more of a Tycoon game."

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Hall's grand plan is to focus on multiplayer games, which is no surprise given he hit the big time with DayZ, but his first title may surprise. It's a single-player only Tycoon style game for PC and Linux - and it could be out as soon as early 2015.

"It's not a particularly overwhelming game," Hall said, "but it's really important to get the direction and approach and the team set up properly. I can't say what it is but it's more of a Tycoon game."

Hall continued: "Multiplayer is in my blood, but this one won't be a multiplayer game. It's more to get the juices flowing, make sure the team is set up. You've got to have all the production processes. It's not a good idea to jump in and try and make some massive big MMO game. You've got to get there in stages."

Hall is considering sourcing funding to help set up the studio, but he's under no pressure to do so. The success of DayZ and the nature of his deal with Bohemia means he has plenty of cash available to self fund the operation.

"I guess I'm considering a strategic investment," he said. "Whether there's a publisher out there who can help me to deliver on the vision I have for multiplayer gaming. Multiplayer for me is the Holy Grail. It's the end state. And not far away either. My plan is to develop many games concurrently with the idea of developing risky games at a reasonably low cost to prototype them. Let's say you develop three concurrently. One of them might break even. One of them might be a complete and utter failure and one of them might be a big success. That's the recipe I want to follow: going for risky, multiplayer, out there titles."

Much of the design work for the Tycoon game is already complete because Hall began working on it before signing on for Bohemia's Arma. It's been in development for a while, he said, and he's considering a Steam Early Access release.

While all this is going on, Hall is still leading development on DayZ, which is approaching 2.5m copies sold and still shifts between 3000 and 4000 copies a day.

Hall said he was "incredibly confident" that it will be feature complete at the end of 2014. As part of that effort, the game is moving over to a new engine, called enfusion, which enables DirectX 10 and 11 graphical effects and triggers substantial performance improvements. Vehicles are being worked on right now, as well as barricades.

"There will always be people who won't be happy with it," Hall admitted, "who say it needs dinosaurs or whatever. But I think it will be at the point where it's like, okay, we need to polish this. I think having someone who says, right, I'm going to have a really long term approach with it... I don't want DayZ to be my next seven years of my life. So it needs someone who says, yes, that's me."

As he's said previously, Hall will make himself available to help out with DayZ development even after he's left for New Zealand, but he's adamant he won't lead the project.

"Obviously I have a lot of architectural knowledge of the game and the engine and how it's set up. So I'm sure I'll be involved next year, but not from a project lead standpoint. It's unfair to try to lead a project from another country. You have to be there."

"We need to look at the console and work with the console manufacturer and say, what is the strength of the PS4 and Xbox One, and try and pull that together."

There's also the issue of DayZ on console, which Hall believes could be a reality by the end of 2014. But the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One ports will not release until after Hall is satisfied with the PC version, he stressed.

"We've toyed around what to do with the console side of things," Hall said. "I think a lot of manufacturers would like to do that kind of stuff. But I think we'd be doing a disservice to the manufacturers and to the community as well. We have to get the core aspects of the game finished before we commit to doing anything. Otherwise you make a big announcement and then you wait for six or 12 months.

"So we really need to lock down the core of what the game actually is now. I think we're really committed to that. We had a big think about it over the last few months, what should we do? Where should we put the focus in? That's when we thought, we have to commit to this new engine."

So what might DayZ on console look like? Hall said he wants the console ports to make the most of the hardware they're on, so "there's a reason for you to buy the game on that console".

"It needs to utilise something special about it. We need to look at the console and work with the console manufacturer and say, what is the strength of the PS4 and Xbox One, and try and pull that together."

But what might that look like?

"From my understanding, the public hasn't seen the full power of both those platforms yet," Hall teased. "There's stuff they're preparing on both sides that will be really interesting, particularly how they approach multiplayer. I don't think I can say, but I've been impressed from what I've seen, and I'm reasonably difficult to impress because I'm a PC gamer. I don't own an Xbox One or a PS4. But I like what I'm seeing of their approach."

Crucial for Hall is the PS4 and Xbox One's potential for early access style games, or games as a service that are updated and improved upon over time.

He said Sony's work on CCP's first-person shooter Dust 514 for PlayStation 3 paved the way for an early access style system on PS4, and that a Game Developers Conference presentation by Microsoft convinced him that a similar system will be enabled for Xbox One.

But, crucially, is it likely DayZ will end up on console?

"Yeah, I think so," Hall replied.

"Even to our existing consumers, we owe it to them to get the PC version in a state where we can say, this is alright. We're getting close.

"It's important for DayZ to evolve if it was on a console in a way that benefits console gamers. It could be [this year].

"I'm pleased with the direction they're taking with their consoles. It really does feel like to me that they want to capture what I think is the magic of PC right now. And of course they do, because the benefits of it are massive. The tiny budget we spend on DayZ and with no marketing... that comes out of your bottom line. That money is just gone. Whereas we don't have any of that. So when you pull it off the results are just tremendous, and you can take big risks then because your budgets aren't huge.

"It feels to me like they're like, we want this on our consoles. Sony has the experience with Dust with CCP, and cut their teeth with, how do we make the processes easier? How do we get these games out? And I think Microsoft are committed to it as well.

"So I'm cautiously optimistic, which is more than I would have said last year at E3."

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