For me, the mark of a video game is when I slam my keyboard in disgust because my character died. Permanently. Only to come back to it an hour later, hungry for me. That is what DayZ does to you. It is an intoxicating love affair. It is terrifying, heart-pumping, and incredibly, frustratingly arduous. But it is currently the most fun I am having online.
The following details my first three lives in DayZ. Bear in mind that during these three lives, I didn’t know you could simply respawn instead of having to get yourself killed if you wanted to start over.
I spawn at the beach. I had read some tutorials so I knew the most important thing in the first few seconds was to get a good bearing on my position in the 225 square kilometer world of DayZ. This information appears in the form of the nearest town in the bottom right corner of your screen for all of two seconds. Yet somehow, as I looked around the completely dark surroundings, I miss that critical piece of information. I know that by walking along the coastline, I will undoubtedly come across some settlement, and from there I can get my bearings. I turn left, and start running. Since you spawn along the coast only, you could be headed south (if you spawned on the eastern shore) or west, (if you spawned on the southern shore). What I did not know, because I had missed the location information initially, was that I was near Kamenka, a the south-western most settlement on the map. And by going left (further west), I would never come across any other towns.
I ran for fifteen minutes, and in the first few minutes, the terrain turned into a bare, barren wasteland. I switched to a daylight server, and ran some more. I ran inland, hoping to find another landmark. I ran further along the shore. Soon, however, I realized that my water and food need was growing rapidly, and turning an uglier and uglier shade of red. I alt-tabbed, and read up on what I was doing wrong, since it had been a good half hour since I had spawned. Some forums tell me that if I can’t find any settlements and all brush, trees, roads etc. have disappeared, then I have traveled off of the map.
I run back to the shore then, and start making my way back. My thirst level reaches flashing red before I reach the play area, I start losing health every few seconds. By the time I reach Kamenka (I have been playing for close to an hour now), I have 2K health left, and no hope of finding water. I run into the first zombie I find, and I let him kill me.
I was upset initially, thinking I had fucked up. But the fact of the matter was that I had screwed up royally. I breathe deeply, and get into it again.
I don’t miss my spawn location this time. It says “Komarova”, but I have no idea where this is exactly. I open an external map, and see that this spawn location is very close to my previous spawn location, just a little east. I take a look around. To my west, I see a lighthouse in the distance. To my east, I see some docks in the distance. I decide to go west first, and see if I can get anything from the lighthouse. I keep a lookout for any movement, knowing that zombies are found near all settlements. But I suppose a lighthouse isn’t exactly a settlement, as I find none in the area. I get to the lighthouse, look around it, go inside, climb to the top, but I see zero supplies. Cursing myself, I realize that the height is a good vantage points. So I look to my east, towards the docks. I can see a big industrial building. Surely that must have some supplies.
I descend the lighthouse and start running towards the docks, closer to where I spawned I suddenly come across another survivor. My heart get caught in my throat. What the fuck is he doing all the way out here? I ask myself. The survivor looks around, realizes that I am standing barely fifteen feet away and goes completely still. Then I get a local text message.
“Don’t shoot, friendly!”
“I have no gun,” I type out.
“Whew. Well take care!” He takes off directly north.
“Wait,” I say, running after him. “You want to team up?”
“No offense man, but my team is in the S.Barracks,” he says. “And trust me you don’t want to be there, I just got sniped up there.”
I watch him leave, as he clambers up the steep hill, and disappears over the ridge. I turn east, and get back to making my way to the docks. Closer to the docks I crouch run. Then I crouch walk, then finally as I approach the crumbling concrete wall, I go prone. Thank god I did, because on the other side of the wall is a zombie, a fat dock worker wearing a beret. He shuffles aimlessly a few feet in front of me, and slowly moves away.
I realize I had been holding my breath. I exhale slowly, and crawl over to the blue double-doors of the first building. It has a ramp circling the internal perimeter of the building. I hear a noise. In the dank gloom, I realize I am not alone. The other inhabitant of this building is another zombie, crouching low and making low growling noises. I slowly back off, and it starts to move. I cut a small circle around the inside of the building, and I realize that it detects me. I have 1 visibility and 1 audibility, implying that at such a close range (3-4 meters) it can detect there is something there must get closer to investigate.
And that is exactly what it is doing, getting closer.
We play this cat n’ mouse out into the courtyard, and I finally manage to lose him by crawling in a straight line for a while, then making a sharp 90 degree turn, and going a little further. With the zombie out of the building, I am free to explore it. So I get inside, and try to get up the stairs. No matter how hard I try, or which angle, I can’t seem to make it up the slope. So I have to at least crouch. Crouch-walking creates a sharp “clank-clank” on the floor that makes me wince with every step. I find flares, a can of beans, some wire, some scrap metal and several empty cans. I pick up everything but the empty cans. If I had known at the time that the empty cans could distract zombies, I would have picked up some.
I get out from the eastern entry, and crawl around to the next building. There is a door that serves as a ramp between the floor and the ledge that leads into the second warehouse. I crouch again and make my way up there, and in that same moment, the beret zombie comes shuffling around the northern corner of the building. I hit the deck, hoping it has not noticed me, but to no avail, it has changed direction and it walking towards me. In short, it has not seen me, but it knows something is there. I hastily crawl into the building and look around for an escape. There is a door on the other side. I crawl over to it, only to realize it has barb wire all over it.
I am trapped, shit!
I realize that the building has several ladders that go up to higher platforms. The zombie is at the entrance of the building. I crouch walk to get to the first ladder and climb up as quickly as possible. Once at the top, I go prone again, with the lower half of my body dangling off of the ramp…
… and then a very prominent glitch causes me to fall through the ramp. I land on the floor, there is the sound of a crunch, my interface flashes a broken bone icon, and an hourglass timer appears, indicating that I am unconscious. And that is when the zombie starts eating me. So much for life 2.
This time the text says “Prigorodky”. Looking at the map, I realize I am someplace between the two largest urban centers in Chenarus, which also happen to be two major PvP hubs because of the plethora of supplies, equipment and weapons that spawn there. To my east is Elektrozavodsk (or Elektro for short), and to my west is Chernogorsk (or Cherno for short). My first instinct is to go to a city, and Elektro being the smaller of the two seems like a reasonable choice. But as I start making my way over to Elektro, I hear shots in the distance. There are small bursts, like a rifle, and then a few, sharp, cracking shots, like a high-caliber sniper rifle. I decide that I don’t have enough know-how in this game to just waltz into a major city, so I take a u-turn and head back towards Prigorodsky, along the main road.
Once I am right next to the main town, I crawl around, avoiding the first few zombies. I decide that one of the best ways to try and learn the game is to crawl through the middle of the town, avoiding zombies as I go searching the different houses for supplies. This is where I learn two very important lessons. First, avoiding zombies is actually very easy, as long as you understand how they function, and how sight and sound work as you move around at <insert speed> at <insert day time> on <insert surface>. Second, and perhaps more importantly, not all houses can be entered! Several houses are just static markers, useful for cover and just about nothing else. The first house I actually manage to enter has some ammo that I cannot understand, it has a long, complicated name. I also find some food, a can of soda and blue chemlights. On the porch of another house, I find camo clothing. I get super excited and immediately change into it.
I realize that there is a large barn in the distance, and I know barns have a high chance of spawning at least the starter weapons. I start making my way towards the barn, crawling ever so slowly through this suburban nightmare. During this long crawl, I realize that you can move faster by pressing shift (or by toggling it with a double-tap) in any mode, walk, crouch or prone. I finally get to the barn, and on the first landing I find a hatchet. Further up, I find wire, some empty cans and flares. From this vantage point I look across at the other ledge, and see a rifle. I am elated! Finally a weapon. The weapon turns out to be a Lee Enfield rifle, complte with two magazines (that’s 20 rounds total). I also find some more food, a bandage, and two cans of coke.
I decide I have enough gear to at least try and flirt with the outskirts of one of the major towns. I get out of the barn, head north into the treeline, and then head southwest. After a little distance, I realize I need to do a little more research on what to expect once I get into Cherno. I crouch by a tree next to the railway tracks, and alt-tab out. When I tab back in a few minutes later, I see a zombie, crawling in prone, moving determinedly toward me. I have no idea where it came from, but it is so close that if I go prone, I might not have enough time to get away and it could get a few swings in. If I run now, it will detect me. So I do the only thing that this split-second allows me, I aim my Lee Enfield at the little fucker’s head, and fire off a shot.
Worst. Idea. Ever. (see footnote)
I am still in close proximity to Prigorodky, and at least half a dozen zombies. I start firing shots. I get hit a few times. I start bleeding. I fire off more shots. They keep coming. I have only six shots left when the last zombie collapses to the floor. My heart is thundering in my chest, I have a dry throat. I am frightened. But I know i have survived my first real fight with the zombie horde.
The screen goes black and white as I take damage. My screen is clear so I turn around, and realize at least a dozen other zombies have been attracted to the gunfire from a settlement that is neither Prigorodky, nor Cherno. I manage to get three shots off before another melee swing results in a broken bone, and I lose consciousness. I die before I wake up.
Footnote: Firing off a Lee Enfield near a settlement is a terrible idea. The weapon has an effective audible range (for zombies) of 234 meters. Compare this to a sidearm’s average range of about 55 meters, or an M16′s or M4′s 80 meters. No wonder it attracted zombies from half a kilometer diameter!