He was a survivor with one life to live. His backpack: filled with beans. His world: filled with zombies. These are his tales, and the tales of his inconsistently-brave friends. And the tales of the woman played by a man who loved him.
is the Citizen Kane of unfinished zombie survival mods of military simulations, and I'm playing it a lot. In my second Day Z scrapbook, my friends and I explore the Terrifying Northwest Airfield, eat some hamburgers, throw a grenade, and solve a murder mystery.
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All by myself
Day Z played with a team of friends feels like an action-horror-comedy. But when you're alone—even in the comfort of the morning light—it's just a horror movie. I spawn kilometers away from my group, way up in the northeast nook of the map. My buddies are over in Vybor. Only one way to get to them: leg it. Arma could use an auto-run button, couldn't it?
I spot a deer stand on the way. My brain flips a coin and I head in, hoping for rare gear. Nope, just bandages and Winchester ammo. I already have a knife for gutting animals, but I grab the tool anyway—a teammate might need it. But now that I've climbed into this wooden nest, zombies are lurking directly underneath. Taking the ladder down would leave me totally vulnerable. What the hell do I do?
Wait, there's a smoke grenade up here. One of my friends mentioned that smoke grenades function like zombie catnip in Day Z, but I've never tried it myself. I pull the pin and pray to the patron saint of marking targets and gas-based cover, St. Smog.
Taking the bait
Oh my god, it's working. It's working! Yes, zombie: that red stuff is probably vaporized blood. Go over there.
Get to the...
I slink away, sprint for another click, and—
, is that a helicopter? That's a dead helicopter. My eyes get wide. I'm just outside Kabanino, and it's the first time I've spotted one of these. I've been told there's wonderful loot at these crash sites. But this one's more exposed than a Polaroid festival, and there's about 10 zombies having a goddamned ice cream social around it. If I want to get closer, it's going to cost blood or bullets.
I shift up the hill about 200m and lie down. God, I hope this position is far enough away for the zeds to ignore the thunderous blast of my hunting rifle. I fire the first shot. One drops; the other bodies slink on, unaware. Yes! I spend a couple CZ 550 magazines, but it's clear. I sprint to rob the copter corpse.
Aaaaand...nothing. It's empty. Maybe the loot didn't spawn correctly. Maybe another passing player grabbed it. Maybe it's just legitimately empty. Either way, I need to get the hell away from here—this is the only landmark for miles.
Just a peek
I've been hiking for about 20 minutes at this point. The chopper was a fun waste of ammo, but I'm getting bored. I pass north of Stary Sobor, Arma 2's largest non-coastal city. I hear the crack of rifle fire coming from the military base on the east side. I'm too curious and dumb to not check it out. I get prone on the hill and just watch and listen, holding my breath.
Well, well, well. Someone's looting the tents. She's holding a PDW (Uzi) and...what is that? I think that's an M24 on her back. I shadow her with my scope. I think really hard about shooting. She's checking bodies, but doing it quickly—she never crouches down long enough to give me a guaranteed shot. Whoever this lady is,
she knows exactly what she's doing
—she just looted one of the most dangerous areas of Day Z seemingly by herself. I will leave this demigod undisturbed.
I keep watching. Wait...a body! A player body. “Get the hell out of there, come to Vybor now,” one of my teammates Mumbles. They're getting nervous; they know Stary Sobor is usually really active. But there's a car, too. Does it work? Did the Uzi-packing girl drive it there? Did she kill this other player? I make a mental note, but decide it's too dangerous to run in alone and risk everything just for a chance to jiggle the handle of some diesel artifact. I keep hiking northwest.
Together at last
We finally rally up in a barn north of Vybor, about 40 minutes after I entered the game. My friends have just finished raiding a supermarket down in the town. We've got great weapon diversity: various AKs, a silenced M4, an M-16, and...
But this one is mine
My own M24! Other than that looter in Stary, I haven't even seen one of these in-game yet. Wraith, one of my teammates, had been carrying the M24 for me in his backpack as a gift. The military sniper is an upgrade from my CZ: the scope is better, and it should drop players in a single shot. Ammo will be less plentiful, though—I'm going to have to be extremely selective about when I shoot.
We move out. Destination: the northwest airfield, probably the third or fourth most-dangerous spot in Day Z. We're ready for this. We're well-armed, and we've got sugarplum dreams of nightvision goggles in our heads.
Encounter at Wheatpoint
"Friends! I'm so glad you're here. I've lost my wallet somewhere in this field."
I love this shot, actually. It's a happy display of the discipline we're occasionally capable of—we didn't want to waste precious silenced ammo unless we had to, so we let this walker drift close to us in the field before firing. Communication, patience, tension: these are some of Day Z's fundamental pieces.
Cow! A cow. We find a cow grazing south of the airfield. Sorry, cow. Gutting him nets us eight units of meat, and we take it all. This ain't The Oregon Trail—we leave nothing to waste on the plain.
Change of plans: we're not going to breach the airfield, but a wooded barracks adjacent to it. There's high-level gear there, my teammates say. We find a gap in the wall, get prone, and army-crawl through the perimeter. Mumble chatter goes quiet. Everyone starts listening for non-friendly activity.
Our leader turns the corner and gets eyes on the barracks. “Contact front, three,” someone whispers over voice chat. “I've got it,” someone replies. Our pointman/woman's silenced M4 puts them down like bowling pins.
Wraith and I raid the barracks while everyone else watches the door. There's a buffet of ammo, but a DMR is the real prize: this semi-auto sniper has a 20-round magazine. It's Day Z's best PvP sniper rifle; and an invaluable asset against bandits. We name it “Professor Charles.”
Time to extract. We leave the way we came, relying on the suppressed M4 to clear the way without alerting any zombies shambling around the fringes of the base. As a tool, it is a quiet snow plow.
We're out. Everyone starts breathing normally again. In open areas like this, we let our formation shake loose. Sprinting to the nearest treeline is the only goal.
We hit a ring of trees and decide to stop and cook the cow. The grove should give us some cover. I get a fire going.
Silliness has a way of creeping into these rare moments of safety in Day Z. Emualynk performs a strange dance by see-sawing the Q and E keys to lean left and right. The world being without psychologists, we are doomed.
Not even the autumnal glow can soften Wraith's stare. What untold darkness have these eyes seen?
Anyway, he's the right man to trust with our DMR, sorry—Professor Charles. He's been a regular on the PC Gamer Arma 2 server for years.
On the move
Grishino is the next town over. We probably won't find any rare loot there, but it's a spot we haven't hit before. Learning more about it could help us in future. Does it have water source? Are there any barns? How many zombies tend to spawn there? Do other players usually avoid it? Can you make a suicidal jump from the top of the water tower? Only one way to find out.
More faux-realistic military roleplaying en route. “Stay in column formation, 25-meter spread.” “Copy.”
Grishino's rotting populace seems to be having some kind of block party. We observe curiously at the treeline and plan our approach.
Against all common sense, we decide to split up to check three different enterable structures. I break off to peek inside the fuel station.
Guess who's coming to dinner?
I've made a terrible mistake. The fuel station has a second entrance that we didn't see, and a zombie creeps in behind me. I blast it in a panic, and my Makarov sounds the Grishino Dinnertime Bell. I lead a tail of six zombies up the hill, apologizing over Mumble the whole way.
My teammates vocally roll their eyes, but run in to help.
I peg one or two in the front yard. It's messy. Using my M24 at this range would be like bringing a javelin to a knife fight, so I spam my weak Makarov. I get hit and rush inside to bandage myself and reload.
No dining room is safe. My buddy Keenan drops the unwelcome guest as I heal up.
Death of fashion
Things settle down. We can hear the wind again. I take a second to check corpses and snap a shot of this grim fellow. Goodnight, neighbor. Your handsome beret did not protect you.
We scout the rest of Grishino, including a long barn beside the water tower. Nothing of note within.
The watering hole
A well, thank goodness. We refill our water bottles. I usually carry three or four in my backpack in case a teammate runs out.
Stand and deliver
We plot a route that'll take us past a few tree stands on the way to Devil's Castle, Arma 2's biggest fort. With a group, these are some of the safest bets in Day Z: there're opportunities for great loot, and they're usually only guarded by three or four zombies.
“Hey Evan, you have a frag, right? Bet you can't hit those zombies from here.”
We get bored in the woods; a redneck's dare is issued and accepted. It's a deadly and stupid thing to do; grenades are rare, and I've thrown plenty of them in Arma, but it wouldn't hurt to get some practice playing bocce ball against the undead, right? I chuck the frag at two standing zeds about 80 meters out.
I've thrown it a bit too high. The nade detonates in the air. But it catches the undead sentries anyway. Buy one, get one free! We mop up and move on.
Shaking the trees
Another tree stand to knock over. This'll be cake, right?
Or not. We casually pop one of the tree stand defenders, but more undead come rushing in from either flank. In our single-minded lust for loot, we didn't see two nearby structures. Zombies streak in from both sides. Everyone is firing and yelling and firing.
But we manage. I catch this veteran in the middle of the Macarena as Keenan is bandaging up beside me. I invite him to experience the well-documented hole-creating ability of the the .45 ACP.
Bullet trivia: the .45 ACP was designed by one of the most prolific weapons-makers in history,
. Browning probably would've liked to know that two guns he designed, the M1911 pistol and the Winchester 1886, were so useful in Day Z.
Bodies hit the floor. We search them for anything useful, then unwrap our treasure in the tree stand.
Hey, an M16A2. It's a pretty good present, and there's some more ACP ammo up here for me. Score. We leave behind the machinegun bullets in the box to the right. It takes up too much inventory space. On top of that, firing an M249 or M240 is like sending a personalized evite to every zombie within a kilometer.
We roll into our final destination, Devil's Castle, breaching from the SW wall. It's quiet, but we're on alert. This is a huge, attention-attracting landmark, and the interior is treacherously cramped. A nervous player could be lurking in the tower, in the gatehouse, or in another nook. We make a revision to our rules of engagement:
shoot first, don't think, kill anything
Everyone heads up to the tower, I stay downstairs to keep an eye on the entrances. A few moments pass while they circle up the stairs, then I hear: “Get up here. Get up here. Holy shit.”
Whoa. Two dead survivors. They're still clutching their rifles. We approach the roof cautiously, ready to kill anything we see. “Break, break—” someone calls out, signaling an emergency interruption. “There's another dead one on the roof.”
What the hell happened to these guys?
We talk over the clues: their weapons, maps, and essential gear are still here: their packs are full, so they almost definitely weren't looted...unless the person or people that did the killing left their former equipment in their victims' hands. There aren't any zombies around.
We piece together a vision of the horror that went down: roof man must have been alone inside the tower and heard the other two survivors coming. With nowhere to run but up, he took the high ground. When they reached the top, the roof survivor got nervous and got the jump on them. The pair of survivors returned fire, but died where they stood. The roof survivor didn't die immediately—he must have slinked up the the roof to bandage himself, but by then he'd lost too much blood, collapsed, and died.
I reflect a little on how special this is: we've created a story in our minds about what happened here based on some evidence. Then I remember what I'd do if I were gunned down in a wild west-style gunfight in a zombie-filled Czech castle: I'd respawn and marathon-run it here—or send any nearby friends—to recover my gear. We need to get the hell out, now.
Survivors must wash hands before returning to the apocalypse
Outside the castle wall, the threat of permadeath doesn't get in the way of outhouse antics. With Emualynk's privacy comlpetely violated, we carry on.
Someone aggros a zombie on our way out. There's a bit of panic and laughter, but we welcome the chance to shoot our guns a little more before we end the day.
Oh, and check out my new camouflage outfit, nicked from one of the dead survivors in the tower. The skin is low-detail because I hadn't reinstalled Arma 2's
British Armed Forces DLC
To be continued
We exchange goodbyes and pose for a final photo, but I liked this candid one better—it captures the way we must've looked when we emerged from woods several times that afternoon, and a small aspect of our teamwork. Our decisions of where to go, to pull the trigger when we maybe shouldn't have, to check out a house, to pick up a weapon—that web of actions shaped our afternoon.
We form a Steam group to commemorate the day and make it easy to play together in the future. “
The Responsible Adventures of Shampoo Holmes
,” named for our strange detective work in the tower. The group description:
DIRECTIVE ONE: acquire friendship
DIRECTIVE TWO: acquire guns
DIRECTIVE THREE: acquire memories
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