Battle royale: “The War Z” and “DayZ”

Forget the pub crawls and apocalypses: This year’s real zombie war rages in the gaming world.

Simon Benarroch

It’s been quite a year for zombie games. While zombies as subject matter are far from fresh, the theme has seen something of a resurrection in 2012.

The conversation starts with “DayZ,” perhaps the most fertile discussion piece that gaming has offered up this year.

Basically, some clever developers made a mod that converted Bohemia Interactive’s “ArmA II,” a strict, polarizing military simulator, into a terrifying, online zombie survival game. It was far from “ArmA II”’****s first mod — even its first zombie mod — but this one caught on.

A hard-boiled zombie survival game may not sound revolutionary, but here’s the rub: Nobody had ever actually pulled one off before. Just by serving up the first few ingredients of the fantasy recipe gamers have been cultivating for the last decade, “ayZ,” a free modification, led to a five-fold increase in “ArmA II” sales.

The mod shortly accounted for almost all of “ArmA II”’*****s online presence. People were buying the game just to play “DayZ.” Forget zombies — this was a huge deal because it sent an unexpected message to the industry: There’s a real market for slow, methodical and punishing free-form games.

To top all that off, “DayZ” got one last spike of media limelight when two Bohemia developers were arrested in Greece on espionage charges. The Bohemia public relations folks originally told reporters that the men had been taking research photos of a Greek military outpost for “ArmA III” art assets but later amended their story, telling tech blog Ars Technica in September that the two “visited the island with the sole purpose of experiencing the island’s beautiful surroundings.”

The developers remain imprisoned as widespread strikes and government protests in Greece are backing up legal cases.

By this time, a new game had appeared on the horizon: “The War Z,” an open-world, do-what-you-want, roughneck, online zombie-survival game from Hammerpoint Interactive, a relative newcomer.

Immediately the question sprung up of whether “The War Z” was a malicious rip-off of “DayZ” — it certainly looked to be the case. People were wary.

They wondered whether “The War Z” was just a mockbuster, a cardboard cut-out of a game released only to catch stray “DayZ” sales. Developers insisted their game had been years in the making, but close readings of a few interviews suggested otherwise. Theories took form.

Web sleuths first identified the project lead, Sergey Titov, as one of the creators of “Big Rigs: Over the Road Racing,” a game widely hailed as one of the worst ever made.

However, the game’s website was brand new, its YouTube account was untouched and its Facebook page had posts only dating back to July.

Gamers were poised to cry “scam” one last time when server woes caused delays Oct. 15, the first day of the closed alpha.

But “The War Z” finally did come online and the torch-and-pitchfork lapsed into noncommittal “DayZ” vs. “The War Z” name-calling.

Overall, “The War Z” players were happy to be killing zombies at long last, but they had no misgivings that Titov had not been honest about the development process.

Due to the mod’s enormous popularity and lack of structure, players ultimately dictate each others’ experiences with the game. As servers swelled in the past months, “DayZ” players have bemoaned the decline of their society.

Those of this opinion looked forward to the structured and arcade-like appeal of “The War Z,” to what they consider softer, more pedestrian gamers.

With “The War Z” scheduled to enter beta by the end of the month and a standalone “DayZ” alpha to be released later this fall, the real war — that of the fans — is sure to rage on.