Note: This blog entry contains my personal opinion on survival games in general. As always, I welcome all to join the conversation in the comments.
So, what is the deal with survival games?
Jokes aside, there is a problem that most of you can probably see right away: There are tons of them out there, countless of them in the making and it doesn't seem to stop. It begs the question: Why? The reason I think they are so popular is that they've all been born from the single wish that gamers have been dreaming about for years. The one true RPG game, the true survival, where every little choice matters. And now that technology has come up with this dream, a lot of people stood up to the challenge, flooding the market, trying to make that dream come true, even though I don't think it can be ever fully realised. There is not enough manpower and time to even play these games to their full potential, especially since they are expanding all the time.
Before I get into it, I feel that it's important to note that I don't hate survival games, I spent a lot of hours in them, but they have some minor and major flaws that I wanted to point out. And with that said...
First of all, let me show you a list of some of the (both finished and in-progress) survival games out there (in no particular order):
- Minecraft (obviously)
- Project Zomboid
- 7 days to die
- Sir, you are being hunted
- Dying Light
- How to survive
- Day One: Garry's Incident
- Star Made
- Sings of Life
- Untold Universe
- State of Decay
- No Man's Sky
(This list was sponsored by the letter: S)
That's a long list, isn't it? And I only scratched the surface. Although I included some games in there that do have an end goal, a lot of them can last as long as you like. Ever since Minecraft's debute the market has been flooded with other survival games and they are getting more grander and ambitious. But they all suffer from the same problems that are true for most of them. Problems like:
- Engine limitation:
You can either have good graphics and pseudo-random generation or simple graphics and true random generation. Or at least that seems to be the trend. I think the currently existing game engines can't really handle generating a landscape that is truly random and I'm not really talking about the terrain here, I'm talking about the assets. It's the most noticeable in sci-fi survival games. Isn't it a bit "disappointing" to the see the same kind of tree or the same kind of wildlife you just saw on the last planet? The problem is that hundreds of assets need to be made and coded that it will give out a truly random feel every time I load up a new game and that's currently not possible because of the engines, budget and development team sizes. Although they are trying, which brings us to the second problem.
- Early access forever:
Early access games slowly phase out the alphas and betas. It's have it's own set of problems that I don't want to focus on right now, you can watch TotalBiscuit's informative video on the topic if you are interested: Youtube.com (He can probably explain it better than me.) The way this affects survival games that, like early access games, they are in constant development. They are getting new content all the time. That's good, right? Yes, but how long will that last? Minecraft has officially debuted, but still gets updates from time to time. They are fun and all, but Minecraft is probably like Mojang's biggest source of income and that money will run out at one point. The other thing is that they probably don't want to develop Minecraft forever. But than the game won't be true random survival since it will be "missing" a lot of stuff. I know it's more of a philosophical question than one that can be correctly answered. It's the problem with most survival games really: They sell for a fix price, the people who are interested buy it, then the sales will be so low that it's not worth it to develop new content for it. Team Fortress 2 has the advantage that while it's free, you can buy a lot of cosmetic stuff that generates a steady source of income and even if tomorrow the TF2 dev team announce that they won't produce any more content just ship occasional community items we would probably be sad for a while, but the core game is there and finished. Survival games are always expending and what if the developer tries to quit? Well you can check Terraria for example. The main developer stopped updating for a long time (before coming back for Update 1.2), and the community was pretty upset since he promised a lot of content that wasn't in the game yet. So there is almost no real finish for a true survival game, but what are the options? Well Minecraft's planned Modding API is a good start, leave the game for the community. But it's another question of course how long will it last after that.
- It's boring alone:
Maybe this is just me and because I'm getting older, but I found playing survival games alone pretty boring after a while. I've got Minecraft for a long time and I'll be totally honest here: I never killed the Ender Dragon the legit way. After a while the whole thing becomes so tedious and monotone. You have no one to talk to, you are alone with no help and that, for me, really kills all the fun, even when I tried to set goals for myself. I feel like "Why bother wasting all this time in pretend survival, when I can just live my real life and do something actually productive." The removal of an end goal doesn't make the whole thing feel like life, since as a game it's way more limited. Don't get me wrong, I still admire when someone or a group creates some fantastic looking architecture in-game, but I personally don't have the patients to do that alone, and believe me I'm a really patient guy. I don't have many people to play with sadly and if I would then setting up a custom server makes the whole process much harder. There is an option, of course, to play with strangers, but that brings up another problem.
- There isn't any value for player life:
I noticed this mostly when watching DayZ and Rust. If you have a lot of gear there is really no reason to spare the life of your fellow players who aren't your friends. And why would you? They can backstab you and take your stuff. Since weapons and food can't be crafted only found the game is quickly ruled by the people who have the most. It's a bit better in games where you can craft, since you can more easily restrain yourself from killing strangers, but still the same problems apply. The only way I can think of that could fix this if there would be a skill/class system (like in a MMO) in the multiplayer part of the game, so not everyone can do everything, they are limited by certain skill that they choose or get randomly, and then they would actually forced to work together to create better stuff: One player can only hunt then one can use the meat to cook, the other can use the fur to craft, some would mine, some can guard or fight and so on... But this would require development time to implement and probably a lot of people would feel like it that it takes away from the freedom part of survival.
- Zombies! (and AI in general):
This is a minor complaint, but why does it always have to be zombies? From the games I listed above, at least 11 out of 18 have zombies or zombie like creatures in them. It's getting awfully boring. I get that they are a trend and are a cheap, cookie-cutter enemy that can be easily programmed, but that's the problem: They are everywhere and with little variety. There are to many survival games that have these "They come at you and melee hit you for X damage" type of enemies. I want to see something different. Maybe an enemy that can think, that takes cover or work in groups. I want to be surprised by an enemy sometimes, where I can say "Wow, they outsmarted me", because most AI that I see in games are really predictable and move in a certain pattern. I'm not asking for the "Fighter AI" type enemies to be removed, I only ask to add some next to them with some "flavour". But please developer teams, no more zombies! I think we all had enough at this point. Try them again in 5-10 years.
That is all that I can think of now. If you have anything other that bothers you that I didn't listed or disagree with a point I made, feel free to leave a comment. In the meantime, I hope I can kill that freakin' dragon one day. Maybe after I build a proper house and don't get bored doing it. :)