Six months ago, Dean "Rocket" Hall was a hard-working game developer, transplanted from his native New Zealand to Prague, helping to finish Bohemia Interactive's upcoming military shooter ArmA 3.
He is the creator of DayZ, his personal weekend-project ArmA 2 zombie survival mod that's attracted a million players and spawned a standalone product. Now, he's one of the most feted game developers in the world, sought after by the media, invited to speak at live events.
So what's it been like for him to go through this extraordinary process?
In a frank email exchange this week, he told me, "I guess the most obvious change is in the time I have available. I have less and less time, and more and more commitments. This has also left me with very little time to either relish in the success, or really have an appreciation of what is going on. It means I have to make hard decisions about what interviews I can do, time I spend talking with people in the community, and actual development."
Hall, who has spent time dealing with severe stress as part of his time in the military, says success is no bed of roses, most particularly for the people around him. "The hardest aspect has been trying to maintain a sense of balance, particularly when dealing with others. This means I can be a bit unpleasant to work with sometimes, certainly when sleep becomes scarce! Decision-making becomes hard, and can be a pretty lonely experience.
"Many of the decisions needing to be made recently have been big ones, with far reaching implications. Choosing the right paths through getting the right advice is difficult. Fortunately I already knew a few experienced people in the industry who were able to give me really good, impartial, advice. A few people you thought were friends seem to go a bit crazy when they smell money, and that gets really unpleasant really fast."
He adds, "In the end though, I think really it will only change what I let it change. I've pretty much carried on as normal, just working longer hours. The success of the project has enabled it to become a reality, so all my efforts and energy are focused on realizing this. Later, I guess, will come the inevitable reflection much as it did after anything eventful that happened to me in the military. There is always plenty of time to reflect on these things later."
Before joining the New Zealand Army, Hall spent two years working against tough deadlines on console games for Sidhe Interactive. He writes, "I think it is fortunate that I had a good grounding in developing console games, because it gave me good perspective on the issues both with the mod and going forward as a standalone. Without some awareness of actually what can go on with negotiations, realistic budgets, structures, and development estimates -- I think the situation now could be much different. One positive outcome personally has been that the experience will enable me to do things that I had always wanted, and have not been able to do -- both within and outside of the video game industry."
The success of DayZ has propelled sales of Bohemia's ArmA 2, most particularly on Steam where it has been a top-five seller for months. The game has attracted its vast following through social networks like Twitter and reddit and, more recently, glowing attention from consumer games websites
It drops the player into a post-apocalyptic hinterland, populated by zombies and equally malevolent human players, without weapons. Players must roam the enormous wilderness, brave populated areas to find food, water and, with luck, crude weapons. This week, the mod hit its millionth registered player, and was announced as a standalone launch.
Hall explains, "I think the project has proven the concept is extremely sound, and it does represent some extremely hard work and it is really innovative, but the real innovation and true test is still to come. I guess people see what I do, that they have wanted their experiences to be more about them -- as gamers -- and that the mod shows that it is possible and it doesn't need to be provided within a massive blockbuster game budget."
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