The Survivalist: ARK Survival Evolved discusses early access, launch, and wipes

Could ARK: Survival Evolved finally be launching? That’s a question many survivors would love to see answered soon. Unfortunately, we can’t provide you with any date as one hasn’t been announced. But it appears there could be a light at the end of that tunnel thanks to a Studio Wildcard interview earlier this week in a podcast dedicated to the survival genre.

If you are a fan of survival games as I am (and chances are high if you are reading this!), you might really want to check out Infection – The Survival Podcast. ARK fans especially will be interested in this week’s episode 122; it features a lengthy discussion with Kayd Hendricks, the senior technical game play designer. Hendricks touches on many subjects, including the team, early access, wipes, launch, narrative, and more. Even without a launch date, it’s really worth a listen/watch; a couple of his remarks really struck a chord with me.

Don’t forget the story

As much as ARK is about surviving in a land of prehistoric beasts, it also has a story. Admittedly, it is pretty easy to forget that there is a narrative woven into the game when you are running from the salivating jaws of a Rex. But I appreciate that there is a story behind it all, and I am very interested in discovering and learning it. How will the narrative play out? That I don’t know, but I was heartened to learn that Hendricks’ favorite games were the Balder’s Gate series precisely because it was a well done story telling, narrative driven game. Hey, I know it doesn’t guarantee anything, but is nice to know that the devs do understand good story-driven games

Hendricks did share some tidbits about the narrative. He explained that the additional mods and modes, The Center and Primitive+, are not a part of the narrative of the game. They aren’t canon. However, the DLC Scorched Earth will be important. When asked what the purpose of Scorched Earth was, Hendricks noted that there are many answers, but in general, “It informs an important part of the narrative not only currently but in the future retrospectively it will inform more of the narrative.” He stated that the DLC is important to Ascension. Ascension in ARK is the process of completing all the bosses in the game, learning about the true nature of The ARK, and moving on to a higher level (which will in turn raise your level cap and make bosses harder). But what about those who only buy the base game? Not to worry:  He also emphasized that the core Ascension loop will be available to anyone who buys the base game; the DLC will have a greater narrative bit, but it isn’t necessary for Ascension.

Early Access as a tool

Perhaps what struck me most during the interview were comments made about Early Access and players’ involvement in the development process. Hendricks said, “Early Access as a platform needs more people to use it as a tool for making a better game and communicating with the community and less as a method of funding.” Here, here! Isn’t that what we read in many an EA description, that it’s for players to help take part in development to make a better product? Developers on projects that take the money and go silent or worse tell players off with “This is our game we’ll do whatever we like, who cares what the community thinks” really rub folks the wrong way.

I’ve personally always had a bit of a hard time with that last train of thought. True, the game does belong to the devs, and sure they can do what they want, but I never understood how alienating  your players could be a good thing. Yes, maybe you save the artistic integrity of your vision, but if no one is playing your game, what’s the point? You certainly can’t continue development without a player base! That’s why I perked up when Hendricks started discussing the symbiotic nature of players, developers, and the Early Access model. Hendricks talked about the reality of game development, saying,

“Players, when they get a game, always turn that game into something different. And by that I mean players choose how they play your game, and as soon as they make that decision the game is a little bit less yours and a little bit more theirs.  And when you look at what the players are making out of your game you can discover a better game.”

He continued, “Realizing that the players who play your game will decide what that game means to them opens up a lot of avenues for you to go, ‘OK, so here’s our plan. Here’s what we expected out of our game’.” Hendricks emphasized that Early Access has given Studio WildCard the means to have a dialogue with players. Even more, that dialogue has, in his opinion, not just provided information but has in every respect “improved the overall game that we are providing.” Have devs always listened and done what players wanted? No. You can’t do that. He said sometimes you bite the bullet and still address an issue that goes against what you have envisioned for game even if it really upsets players, and sometimes you have to cave in because the fans are right. Hendricks added that you have to find a balance between supporting how players choose to play the game and making the game exactly as the devs envisioned.

Getting ready for launch

The million-dollar question is, When will ARK launch?! Hendricks didn’t give a date, but he did offer some information. He stated that the upcoming v258 is the last large content patch coming out before launch. After that, “the next several months” will be dedicated to bug fixes, touch ups, polish, and performance improvements. That has to be music to fans’ ears, fans who have been waiting a long, long time for said fixes and improvements. During that time, plenty will happen. Hendricks noted that the big bird nerf was still not finished being balanced. There’s also a list of things to do to give the land dinos better roles, through balance or mechanics.

Will the studio have enough manpower to pull it all off? Hendricks noted that the team has grown from around a dozen devs when the project started to a little over 30 now. There’s a content team in Seattle and a technical team in Florida, with less work being sent out to external sources. Hendricks conversed a bit on how the Studio is striving to not grow too fast and risk destroying the culture.

Part of that culture is that there is direct access to technical teams and leads so that ideas can be explored and issues can be resolved. He described how the team is able to quickly offer hotfixes after content releases to address problems: “Our reactiveness is largely supported by the fact that as soon as we put out any content we make sure that everybody from the internal Q&A team is ready to triage any issues that come up.” He noted that the team scours everything from social platforms to forums to livestreams to find any issues so problems can be sent to the engineers immediately for fixes> he also indicated that lines of communication are open. (Some of that openness is also seen in how devs can communicate with the community directly instead of through PR filters, but Hendricks did acknowledge that there have been a couple of incidents with that where staff needed to be talked with when they weren’t representing the company well.)

A nod to mods

It was refreshing to hear a studio give appreciation and acknowledgment to the modding community. When asked why Studio WildCard would pay folks to make mods, Hendricks stated that the mod community is valuable. He acknowledged point blank that “their mods are monetarily valuable to us.” So why not share that wealth and ensure great additional content? Hendricks explained his view that shutting down folks who mod  can essentially be taking great ideas and throwing them in the toilet. “I think that as a whole the gaming community, especially from a development standpoint and not from the community standpoint, would be richer if more companies embraced modding and gave up their kind of paranoid control over their intellectual property.” He added that “[modders] can only add value to the game.”

Wipes: Will there or won’t there?

OK, so that is the question too. And the answer is: There is no answer yet. Many folks want to know if there will be a launch wipe on the official servers, and Hendricks acknowledged that either way that answer ultimately goes, there will be plenty of folks who are unhappy. He stated that the time will come when the team will sit down and seriously talk about it, and the answer will come out then. When pressed, however, Hendricks did say that if it was up to him and only him (which he emphasized “fortunately it’s not just my voice at the table and the discussion for that will be far broader than just the things that I think”), he would wipe the servers. Why? “There have been so many issues that have caused the state of the official servers to become not great for gameplay,” he explained, “that have allowed for people to entrench themselves incredibly deeply and almost irremovable due to having unlimited supplies due to any number of things.” Simply put, “The health of the game I think could use it on release.”

Odds and ends

Hendricks touched on even more topics. He noted that Survival of the Fittest is basically in a stasis chamber until the team has time to put more effort into it, but there is just too much else to do right now. While he can’t quantify how much has changed with the early access development, Hendricks also discussed content creeping and dropping, sharing examples of things that came into game that were not planned in original design (such as the DodoRex) and other things that were dropped down (like underwater bases) because of technical constraints. Hendricks also noted the reason why DirectX 12 isn’t fixed is because the team simply does not have the engineering time to devote to it.

Did you catch all that? Don’t forget you can hear it all for yourself by watching the embedded podcast. I don’t know about you, but I am excited to hear that the content influx is ending (just until launch — there will be more after!) and the optimization, bug fixes, and polishing is going into full drive soon. I am eager to see ARK slough off its Early Access and become a launched game, and to see where that leads the The ARK.

In the survival genre, there are at least 1001 ways to die, and MJ Guthrie is bound to experience them all — in the interest of sharing them with you! The Survivalist chronicles life and death struggles against all forms of apocalypse, outbreak, mutation, weather, and prehistoric wildlife. And lets not forget the two-legged savages! Tune in here and on OPTV to see who feeds better: MJ or the Death Counter.
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25 Comments on "The Survivalist: ARK Survival Evolved discusses early access, launch, and wipes"

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Melissa McDonald

I always hear comments about “optimization”, but the game runs flawlessly on my system, although it’s a powerful one. I admit it didn’t run smoothly on a GTX 970 at max resolution and highest graphic levels. On a 1080, it’s smooth as butter.

So I have to wonder exactly what the target rig is for this game, and that it’s more of a requirements issue than an optimization issue.

Reader
Necromonger

it runs smooth if you are not having a big base or come near a big base.

Once you near it no PC can maintain smooth frames not even a double Titan as many youtubers have shown how extremely bad it gets once you are close to a base.

My 970 on decent settings also have 60 fps, but thats without 20 dino’s and a medium sized base.
Once you get a few dino’s and buildings up your frames just burn out of the atmosphere.

This game runs like a turd and have always ran like a turd.

flatline4400
Reader
flatline4400

The thing is, the engine is complete crap. I’m running a (now modest) 290, and it holds up well enough at 2560×1440 ~40fps with some options turned down, but it’s 100% utilization 100% of the time. If you bury your nose in a rock so that all you can see is grey mist, the GPU is still being used 100%. It’s like there’s no culling or anything going on. So it’s no wonder it runs like crap for most people, when it’s seemingly rendering the entire world all the time, whether you can see it or not.

Side note… it’s a 1080, dude, of course it runs fine. But 99% of their playerbase isn’t running one of those…

Side side note… MJ please change “cannon” to “canon”… ;)

Reader
Arktouros

This can be broken down into two separate issues:

First, the game has certain options that are just absurd on the amount of system resources they can take up. For example if I turn on Sky Quality, in addition to making the game largely unplayable due to visibility issues, can make me jump from using around 4-5gb of RAM to 6-8gb of RAM and when flying too fast (Wyvern now) can easily get the out of memory errors that lead to the client shutting down. So there’s issues there, for sure.

Second, the game has bad design. A lot of dino game play revolves around kibble. This is because dino tames are egregiously long (hours) without it. You also need it for imprinting on dinos you breed (around 16 types). So that’s 16 dino types minimum you’ll need to keep around for making imprinting kibble, which is 48 dinos you end up needing to keep around ranging in size from a dodo to a Stego. However there’s a huge number of players can mess with you and your base (PvP or PvE), so that encourages building huge bases to house all these dinos, let alone any other dinos you might have. I had my humble little water pen to hold some Basis and a Shark and it quickly ballooned to handle my new tentacled friendscomment image

This destroys performance with the amount of items you need, and if I didn’t play on a private server I’d have to protect all that with even more buildings. At best it takes a while to load, but then there’s issues with glitching into places with that and other errors as well which cause even more issues.

This doesn’t even cover longstanding other bugs and issues such as your corpse ragdolling through the floor or how things in the ocean when eaten don’t leave a backpack etc.

Reader
Melissa McDonald

it was definitely sky quality that was the hurdle for my system.

Reader
steve

I don’t have any issues with my 970 (Running in 1080, of course). The biggest problem I’ve had is the memory leak from loading bases that don’t properly clear out of memory when I move to another area. Turning off the truesky module seems to eliminate the problem, but I don’t know if that’s an optimization issue.

Of course I’m still in a state of butthurt boycott over the flyer nerf, not because flyers didn’t need some work but because of the method used. Wildcard took the stance that intentionally overnerfing flyers and then walking it back in increments was the best choice, as the players would hate them either way so they’d rather just deal with a huge backlash all at once. I’m still waiting for them to complete rebalancing flyers before I decide if I want to return.

Since I only played on private servers it’s not entirely fair of me to have an opinion about server wipes on officials. On one hand the officials have a lot of established history already, and wiping all of that work might eliminate the sunk cost that keeps their most active players grinding away. On the other hand there’s a lot of gear and blueprints in the game that wouldn’t exist if the game were launched under the current ruleset.

Reader
Melissa McDonald

Memory leaks can really wreck things, no doubt.

Reader
Colin Goodwin

This has been my experience as well, recently upgraded my GPU as the last part of this year’s round of upgrades to a 1070 ftw by evga and now the game runs like butter on Epic settings, before the new GPU though, wouldn’t even attempt epic unless I just wanted to have a lovely slideshow experience instead of a game lol. ( Other upgrades helped as well but not nearly as much as the jump I saw when I installed the new GPU.) That being said though, I’ve literally never since it launched stepped foot on an official server, opting rather to either single play or host a special server for my friends, so I feel like I’m always out of the loop when people discuss issues they have with the official service.

ceder
Reader
ceder

It was refreshing to hear a Studio give appreciation and acknowledgment to the modding community.

I know you don’t mess with mods MJ but they’ve been mod centric and mod appreciative for a very long time.

Reader
Koshelkin

The actual launch is now so close, did they actually fix the horrendous performance of the game or are we expected to deal with this forever?

I mean when it’s pretty it runs horrible, if it runs good it looks horrible.

Reader
StonerMk2

Not tryin to be an asshole here but pretty sure they said somethings about performance fixes and whatnot in the article above…….v258 says it’ll have some performance stuff shipped with it..

“He stated that the upcoming v258 is the last large content patch coming out before launch. After that, “the next several months” will be dedicated to bug fixes, touch ups, polish, and performance improvements.”

Reader
Tanek

The actual launch is, at best, 4 months out if we go by what was said in the interview. And the performance should, I hope, be one of the big things addressed in that time.

The big patch mentioned (258) is supposed to kick that off with what the patch notes say will be
“- Optimizations!!!!!!!!!!!!! Memory reductions, texture memory & mesh optimization, and performance gains via GPU and CPU utilization & threading improvements.”

I hope they really can do it. We will have to wait and see.

Reader
Koshelkin

Sceptical, I don’t know why they waited so long with changes they could have implemented *and* tested some time ago.

Reader
Tanek

Party line is that they could not do the optimizin’ and performance tweaks while still adding content. At least that is the answer you will get from some players when you bring up the topic. I’m not sure Wildcard themselves have been saying the same for a while.

Not sure I buy it, but even if it is a valid reason, it can no longer be the shield after 258. At that point we either see the performance improvements start rolling in or we don’t.

Reader
Koshelkin

I don’t really buy that. The most important performance improvements have to be done under the hood, e.g. how the engine handles and stream textures, draws objects, processes network packages, etc.. The rendering pipeline should be done *before* implementing more assets. The network layer should be done before rather than after it as well. The first concern should be performance and *then* you start adding stuff.

I guess they just didn’t bother as long as it did sell. If they want to optimize their rendering pipeline now, they would have to go back and probably edit all their assets to comply with the new pipeline.

Broadly speaking, they might get some performance improvements after polish, but you shouldn’t expect too much.

Reader
Melissa McDonald

I like this game a lot but I play it superficially. I believe it is in danger of being a bit too hard to comprehend exactly what it IS.

ceder
Reader
ceder

The game’s identity is really more or less defined by the unofficial server and mods used with it more than anything else. It is wholly a mod centric game.

Reader
Nordavind

Psh, they released the day they made the first P2P expansion.

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Loyal Patron
Kickstarter Donor
kgptzac

maybe a couple more of paid DLC before “release”? xD

Reader
Darthbawl

Tune in here and on OPTV to see who feeds better: MJ or the Death Counter.

This a !vote situation? :P

what-4
Reader
what-4

Not wiping after EA is a horrible idea. RElease the game, a flood of new players start only to be slaughtered by 2 year old alpha tribes? I mean how can you not have an answer to “will there be wipes when you go live?””

Reader
Sray

I think that the only reason they “don’t have an answer” right now is because it would kill a lot of sales and the active community. If you say “yes, we’re wiping the servers at launch” you get a lot of people leaving/not buying the game because “there’s no point if my progress is going to wiped out”, and there’s also people who will leave/not buy if it looks like there’s no chance of ever unseating these long established tribes with unlimited resources.
In my opinion, they’d do best to do a split, with some wiped, some not; but no transfers from “legacy” servers to wiped ones. This way all the big tribes with all the toys can hold on to them all they like, while fighting more evenly matched foes. Everyone wins, except for the guys who don’t really want a fair fight; and to be honest, I couldn’t give a crap about those jackasses.

Reader
Melissa McDonald

I think you’re both right

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