Brian Hicks on DayZ, Game Development and Online Gaming

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Brian Hicks and Steve Waskul discuss Brian’s work on DayZ with game designer Dean “Rocket” Hall.

Brian began his career in gaming when he was young. His stepfather purchased all the parts for him to build an Intel 286 PC and encouraged him to continually learn from this experience by modifying and updating his PC. From there he was hooked on computers and later on gaming.

Brian met game designer Dean “Rocket” Hall while Hicks worked for Microsoft/Xbox in Seattle. At the time, Hicks was arranging survivor games events on Twitch for Hall’s game, “DayZ.” Hall saw this as “the Super Bowl of DayZ” so the men had something in common – Brian liked playing Halls mod and Hall liked what Brian was doing with it. Hicks originally intended to connect Hall with Microsoft, but ended up joining him at Bohemia Interactive as part of Hall’s production teram. “Working on DayZ has been a non­stop thrill ride,” comments Hicks, whose title is now “Producer” at Hall’s Bohemia Interactive.

Waskul explores the role of Producer for a moment and Brian responds. “It’s a lot like producing for film. I have to wear a lot of hats, to be able to talk with artists and talk tech with designers and programmers, and to ensure each of the leads has everything they need­ to enable the team.” What Hicks is most proud of as Producer is how Bohemia Interactive allows for user modification, therefore allowing people to create their own stories and their own mods. “That’s what I want my flagpole to be,” states Hicks, “We make our vision, but then we let people craft the game in their own direction.” Steve adds that this seems like a great incentive for customer loyalty allowing fully engaged players who modify the environment to share their version with friends, family and the world. “You do what you want with it. That’s how I got involved with DayZ in the first place,” replies Brian. And for him, it opened up friendships and the world as he has engaged with people from all over and is now working in Prague.

Through streaming his DayZ mod on Twitch, Hicks met friends who later became his roommates and co­workers. “A lot of people don’t think of the community aspect of [gaming],” comments Waskul. The conversation turns back for a moment to the survivor games events Hicks created. At times more than 190,000 people would be watching the stream on Twitch. Steve asks how this has affected Brian. “You can’t quantify,” he comments, “how [it feels when] something that you spend your free time in becomes something people become passionate about.” There were many heated discussions about the gameplay and the outcomes, etc. But what unites all gamers to Hicks is the fact that “we all love creating our own worlds with the tools that were given to us by game creators.”

Waskul then asks how Intel got involved with Bohemia Interactive. Hicks recalls how Intel approached them to acquire access to their builds and their updates so as to be able to test the games and consult on improving performance. “Intel is one of the vendors that is most engaged. They dived into how the game is performing on a hardware level and offered advice on what we could improve,” explains Hicks. He states this assistance has been vital to their success with DayZ because it is a CPU not GPU heavy game. It is also a server dependent game with roughly 85% of the processing happening on the server level. Intel’s help with optimization is really making a difference by helping them to bring more interactivity to their game and to populate their world with more engaging opportunities for players.

To think back on the beginning of Brian’s career, Steve asks him a poignant question: “For folks that are beginning their journey in PC building or game development, what advice do you have?” Hicks offers:

  • ­Tinker with as much as you can.
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  • Read forums.
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  • Figure out what you can do with your community.
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  • Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.
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  • Try it.