I make computer games, mostly small ones, in Java. My favorite games to play are probably Armageddon Empires, Minecraft and Master of Orion II.

Latest Media

No images, videos or audio files have been added to this gallery. Join now to share media with the community.

Blog RSS Feed Report abuse Latest Blog: Beyond mere survival

1 comment by Zarkonnen on Feb 26th, 2014

Once you have survived in a survival game, what do you do? You have found or made clothing, shelter, a steady source of food, means to defend yourself and heal yourself. You have mapped the dangers of your environment and can defeat or avoid enemies. What comes next?

What I enjoy about the survival genre is the tension produced by scarce resources and immediate dangers, but this is kind of self-limiting. If the player is able to progress at all, this scarcity and danger will abate, and interest has to come from somewhere else.

Different survival-type games I've played solve this endgame problem in different ways. NEO Scavenger acquires a plot with supernatural elements. Minecraft becomes a sandbox block building game. Resources are still limited but by no means actually scarce. Other games become entirely about combat.

What follows is a proposal how to keep a survival-type game interesting beyond the immediate "I have trousers and food now" stage with less of a shift in gameplay.

Willpower

In nearly all computer games, your avatar or units have infinite willpower and obedience. A few marines in Starcraft will gleefully charge a whole army of Hydralisks, getting torn to shreds in seconds. And your avatar in NEO Scavenger or Minecraft never despairs. As long as you are fed and rested and healthy, you can keep going, no matter the exertion. A bed in a tiny cave in the soil is just as good as one in a beautifully appointed master bedroom. Your clothes always fit and never chafe.

Now contrast that with a realistic assessment of what would happen if you got stranded on a remote island. Apart from the need for nourishment and shelter, you would have to deal with the psychological stress of being alone and the hardships of mere survival. You may end up having to paint a face on a volleyball just to stay sane.

Game mechanic one is willpower: It's a resource that recharges with good rest, good food, good clothes and the experience of beauty. You can use up willpower to temporarily boost your abilities: carrying more, moving faster, working harder. It allows you to keep going when you are tired, or ill, or in pain. You can function with zero willpower left, but it is tedious, dangerous business. You start the game with quite a bit of willpower in the bank, so it's not your most immediate concern. You can spend it to smooth out the bumps when you are doing your best to not die immediately. In the long term, though, replenishing your willpower becomes important.

Experience

Another issue with lots of survival games is that variety is kind of irrelevant. One foodstuff is as good as the next, and your avatar is fine with staying in the same place forever. For the player, discovering new stuff is part of the fun: a new plant, an interesting new landscape, a new item to craft, a different kind of shelter. But because of the mechanics of survival, going exploring is discouraged: you are safer staying in a place where you know the dangers, the food sources, the shelters. The game's rewards structure hence works against the player's desires.

To bring these two in line, game mechanic two is experience points that are gained only from having new experiences. Killing stuff does not gain you XP, nor does crafting or mining. XP is gained by seeing new things (plants, animals, landscapes, artefacts, books) and experiencing them directly: different food, drink, clothes, steeds to ride, and so on. This XP can then be spent on new skills, abilities, crafting recipes.

Together with the willpower mechanic, this should provide in-game rewards for extended play that includes exploration, experimentation, and working to move from mere survival to thriving comfort.

A Prototype

I might code up a really stripped-down prototype for showing off these two mechanics in a simple survival game. The prototype would track hunger, thirst, health, willpower, and XP. You would have to find food, water, clothes and shelter, all of which available in both aedequate and willpower-boosting variants. And you'd start out with zero crafting recipes, but could "buy" recipes with XP.

Start a group Groups
Indie Gamers

Indie Gamers

Hobbies & Interests with 1,015 members, open to all members

For fans of indie games and hardcore indie gamers, no matter at all whether these indies are commercial or freeware/opensource! This is a hub used for...

Swiss Game Developers

Swiss Game Developers

Geographic with 9 members, must apply to join

This group shall connect all game developers, designers, artists, etc. who live in Switzerland.

Turn-based strategy fans

Turn-based strategy fans

Fans & Clans with 302 members, open to all members

For all fans of turn-based strategy genre, those that are entirely different from regular wargames or grand strategies, like tactical squad TB based games...

Post a Comment
click to sign in

You are not logged in, your comment will be anonymous unless you join the community today (totally free - or sign in with your social account on the right) which we encourage all contributors to do.

2000 characters limit; HTML formatting and smileys are not supported - text only

Level
Avatar
Avatar
Offline Since
Sep 2, 2015
Country
Switzerland Switzerland
Gender
Male
Member Watch
Track this member
Statistics
Activity Points
839
Rank
2,778 of 524,082
Watchers
3 members
Time Online
8 hours
Comments
73
Site Visits
4,396
Profile Visitors
4,036 (3 today)
Contact
Homepage
Zarkonnen.com
Private Message
Send Now
Email
Members Only
Twitter

Latest tweets from @zarkonnen_com

Added heraldic marshalling to Airships, inspired by the famous Grenville Armorial heraldry T.co T.co

20hours 36mins ago

RT @SylkeGruhnwald: This image (!): Police remove helmets during the march to welcome refugees in Vienna T.co T.co

Sep 1 2015

@zarkonnen_com Airships: Conquer the Skies is kind of a Wuselspiel as well: all those crew members running around, doing jobs.

Sep 1 2015

@zarkonnen_com The Settlers (the German computer games) is the archetypal Wuselspiel, but it also applies to aspects of Dwarf Fortress etc.

Sep 1 2015

Useful descriptive word for certain games English should loan from German: "Wuselspiel" -- a game where lots of little things move about.

Sep 1 2015

@the_author_ Yeah, if you think the rapist will just give up and go home, well, that means you still think it's about "asking for it".

Sep 1 2015

My current monster design notes on giant robot ducks: "they poop a lot". Concept may need a bit of work.

Sep 1 2015

Emotional Support Zergling is here for you. T.co

Sep 1 2015

@DarkestKale T.co Helping!

Sep 1 2015

@katzenfabrik *hugs*

Sep 1 2015

No one is friends with Zarkonnen awww. You should invite your mates to the site, or make new ones.