DEAD CERT
PC Gamer|October 2021
For hundreds of days, Brian Hicks battled to finish DAYZ – and didn’t quite get there.
Jeremy Peel

You may not be able to see them, but there are secret PC gamers hidden deep within the bowels of the major console companies. Back in 2013, Brian Hicks was a project manager at Microsoft Studios – a professional Xbox evangelist. But behind the scenes, he was working to build relations between his bosses and the makers of a quintessential PC game he had fallen in love with: DayZ.

“You know, I’m doing this so much,” Hicks wrote in one email to DayZ creator Dean Hall, “you should just hire me.” Asked to fly out to Prague for a two-week working interview, Hicks was shocked to discover that the DayZ team, as development on the standalone game began, was roughly five people.

“It was a very, very barebones team,” he says. “It’s hard for me to overstate how garage development it was.”

That turns out to be literally true. At Bohemia’s Mnisek campus – a collection of countryside cabins 30 kilometres south of Prague, once used for weekend retreats during the communist era of Czechoslovakia – the garage was converted into a motion capture lab. The DayZ team was squeezed into 120 square feet above the laundry room.

“I was very charmed by this small village life,” Hicks says. After a couple of awkward months back in the US awaiting budgetary approval from Bohemia, he got the thumbs up, took an 80% pay cut, and packed a couple of suitcases.

“I remember walking out of Microsoft on my last day at 11 pm because I didn’t want to leave anything undone,” Hicks says. “There was a big LED clock in the lobby, counting down to the launch of the Xbox One, and there was less than 48 hours on it. The next morning I flew to Prague and started working after maybe a four-hour nap.”

WAKE UP DEAD

DayZ’s development was no less hectic. Hall and Hicks spearheaded the march to launch on Steam Early Access, which came sooner than expected. “I remember Dean telling the team that the word from on high was that if we didn’t get DayZ out onto Steam before the end of the year we might not have a job,” Hicks says. “It was crunch, I won’t lie about it. It was a fucking tornado, there was so little time to breathe.”

The launch build of DayZ was held together by “duct tape, wooden matches, and prayers”. The team watched for spikes in resource consumption and, over a 12-hour bridge call with server hosting company Multiplay, optimised where they could. Valve pulled down a trailer that showed a character committing suicide, infuriating Hall, who had been up all night making it.

Hicks was pulling late nights himself. Due to a misunderstanding of how Valve Anti-Cheat worked, DayZ launched without any protection from hackers. Hicks filled the gap by watching streams to find cheats, waiting for them to log off, then moving their characters into the ocean so that they’d freeze to death.

The consequences of sleep deprivation became clear when Hicks accidentally deleted the game’s live database during peak hours. “I remember realising what I had done,” he says. “I remember the feeling of all the blood in my face leaving.” Thankfully, Multiplay had backups, and the game was restored to an earlier version by the time Hall had returned from an interview – the same in which he announced his departure from Bohemia.

“I am a grenade,” Hall told Eurogamer. “I have a specific use. I can talk people up to the ledge and get them to jump off it. But eventually, that’s the bad person to have.” Through the first half of 2014, the DayZ team toured the world’s biggest game shows, addressing its millions-strong player base from Rezzed and PAX East. And then, in the summer, Hall transitioned to an advisory role, having already stayed at Bohemia far longer than planned.

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