It was the best of early access, it was the worst of early access. We needn’t even stop there: It was the age of wisdom and it was the age of foolishness as well! I venture to say that Dickens didn’t know he would be so on point in relation to video games. As much as I know players are disappointed about the announcement from Conan Exiles that multiple anticipated features will not make it in for launch (trust me, I’ve been looking forward to them as well!), I actually really appreciate the decision. You see, I have already experienced the maddening delay of “just a few (hundred) more features before launch” and I lost heaps of respect for the studio that went that route. A studio, I might add, that was the epitome of doing early access right for a long while.
In this week’s edition of The Survivalist, I’ll juxtapose these two examples of early access in the survival sandbox genre and show how Conan Exiles’ latest announcement secures this game the title of doing early access right — a position once held by the other.
Let’s talk exploits. And no, this is definitely not a how-to guide! For shame! If you are a person who exploits, a pox on you. No, we are going to discuss how exploits — and more importantly, how those exploits are handled — can seriously harm, if not irreparably damage, a survival game.
This exact principle was highlighted this week with Studio WildCard’s announcement and its accompanying emergency update for ARK: Survival Evolved. I applaud the studio for jumping on the fix, even when it meant a surprise major version change that locked folks out of unofficial servers until they updated. However, how the exploit and the exploiters were handled is a different matter. In survival sandbox games, cheaters can ruin the long-term experience for the entire server, as does the subsequent action (or inaction) against those cheaters.
After the latest guide introduced even more possible games to sink our survival teeth into, it is understandable that the question cropped up again asking whether Massively OP would be officially hosting any servers for any of these titles. Think of it, life and death alongside your fellow MOP fans! Of course, we think it could be great fun, and we like playing games with ya’ll. However, as much as we love having folks congregate and have fun together, the answer is unfortunately no. Could it happen in the future? You could say there is a possibility, but it is extremely remote. Remote as in you have a higher chance to win the Powerball lottery. (Of course if you do win and want to fund such an endeavor, let’s talk.)
But why, you ask? Didn’t MOP have an ARK: Survival Evolved server? There are a number of reasons that official servers are not in the future, some of which the official unofficial ARK server helped illuminate or reinforce.
A new year, a new batch of survival games! Yes, the genre has become so popular that one guide, no not even two guides could contain all of the survival goodness. More keep cropping up. I certainly can’t say as I mind, since this is the style of game that has been giving me the feeling of having an impact on my environment. And it’s not all the same collection of zombies, although there is still plenty of that. It is interesting to see what new takes developers are bringing to the table. Want to do a survival reality show? There’s a game for that! How about living like a viking? Yup. What if you want to be the psychotic killer that survivors are trying to, well, survive? Got you covered. Fell like upping the ante and surviving via VR? There are a few of those available.
If you are looking for a new survival to sink your teeth into, here’s the addendum for some newer games in development as well as some newly discovered ones since the last mega double guide. Note: This collection will be a mix of multiplayer and single-player titles with some uniques thrown in.
You know that moment when you just can’t take it anymore? I am there, right on the cusp. I know many folks have gotten to their “I can no longer support <insert name here>” phases for various games and studios for a variety of reasons, but I had never yet reached such a point in my own gaming. (That one studio doesn’t count because I never supported them in the first place.) And now here I am. I don’t think I can continue to support Studio WildCard.
That is definitely a shift for me. I have been an ardent fan of ARK: Survival Evolved. I championed the game pretty heavily: I have streamed it for over two years, I personally host two servers, and this very column was born largely on the back of ARK. I have almost 1500 hours of playtime, and I own the expansions. I had praised the game and Studio WildCard for a long while, holding it up as an example of things done right.
Then things changed. The accumulation of many remarks and actions that ate away at my trust was topped off by the way the studio shows disregard for its current customers, treating them as disposable cash cows. And then came the sequel talk this very week.
Surprise! ARK: Aberration, the survival sandbox’s next expansion that was slated to launch this month, is delayed. Shocking, I know. Actually, if any fans were actually surprised, they obviously haven’t been following ARK: Survival Evolved very long. The delay, along with a other news, was announced during Twitch Con 2017; Studio WildCard showed off the expansion to a host of streamers who, in turn, showed the game off to the rest of us. Fans got to see hours of Aberration gameplay, learning little tidbits about the world and its unique flora and fauna as streamers experienced the malfunctioning ARK for the first time. And the world does look fascinating!
Besides the delay and the peek into the underground world, we learned that the Structures Plus mod will be officially integrated into the game. This is fabulous news for builders who’ve been waiting a long while for this feature to get some attention. And for those who want some real-world ARK goodies, the ability to purchase the The Collector’s Edition of ARK: Survival Evolved sans game and expansions was also announced. Also, ARK itself and the expansions are on sale this weekend only.
It’s no secret that I love to explore. And exploring the dangerous new worlds of survival games has been something I have really been enjoying this past couple of years. But there is dark cloud looming over each of these experiences: They end too quickly. These games, most of which are still in early access, have a very finite map. Once I’ve poked my head into every nook and cranny, once I’ve built what I wanted, and once I have completed the game tasks, there’s nothing left for me to do. I am not one who likes the whole wipe-and-start-over idea, precisely because there is nothing left to explore for me. And the PvP scene is no long-term draw either. Sure, maybe the studio was happy to have folks for just those few months, but wouldn’t retaining players be better? So how do you keep things fresh and keep players playing?
Different games are exploring different approaches. Currently, Conan Exiles is releasing new areas and expanding its map, offering plenty of new spaces to survey. ARK: Survival Evolved releases expansions that are completely new worlds. But to explore those new areas, you have to buy them. It’s actually a different strategy that ARK employs that I think solves the problem best, especially for games with a smaller map-type. Three words: procedurally generated maps.
This past summer, ARK: Survival Evolved finally officially launched, ending its stint as an early access game just three days before PAX West, then promptly announced its second expansion on the first day of the convention. There wasn’t even a week between launch and the second expansion’s unveiling, and there will be fewer than two months between the two launches; Aberration is scheduled to launch in October.
While at PAX, I sat down with Studio Wildcard Senior Producer Navin Supphapholsiri, who thanked fans for supporting the game: “We really appreciate the support for the past two years. Just to see how far we’ve come along, it’s all thanks to the community.” Then we talked about the launch, about Aberration, and about the team’s focus going forward.
A couple of weeks ago, when Osiris: New Dawn introduced new classes, I’d delved back into the sci-fi survival sandbox after a bit of a break to check out the state of development in. I was pleased as I perused the new skill tree, doubly so when I saw all the new items that could be crafted. Once I got to the task of actually surviving, I found that that beginning experience had also changed a fair share, from crash landing farther away to new missions to direct you. True, I missed my little robot companion and my inflatable dome, but overall I was pretty impressed with the progress and started a penning this Survivalist to say so.
So imagine my surprise when just before completing my thoughts I read the dev blog about negativity toward the game and its changes. Here I was happy to see how far it had come and others were ripping it absolutely to shreds. Fenix Fire CEO Brian McRae was so affected by the negative reviews and complaints that he penned a response addressing the issues. I admit, when I started reading I was taken aback and even a tad annoyed at the negative Nancys bashing the game. Didn’t folks appreciate the fact that this early access with forging ahead at a decent pace? Sure there would be bumps, but that was a part of actual development.
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.
Previously, while discussing ARK: Survival Evolved’s big bird nerf, I touched on the subject of the early access model. My focus then was on the model in relation to ARK, but it isn’t unique to the dinosaur survival game by any means. In fact, that model pretty much defines the entire multiplayer survival genre, which appears to be (perpetually) stuck in early access. Just take a gander at our guide: Practically every title is in EA. Some have even been in this unfinished state since 2013!
So what gives? Why isn’t anything getting completed and actually launched? Or is this really what launch looks like nowadays? I certainly hope not. Early access certainly has its place, but there are issues — especially with games that use the model for years on end. And that isn’t doing the survival genre any favors in the long-term.
As Massively OP is centered on the “massively” part of gaming, it makes sense that my first guide to survival games was focused on multiplayer titles. Similarly, The Survivalist will mostly (but not always!) concern itself with the multiplayer games in the survival genre. However, after researching this topic, I felt that not highlighting the single-player offerings would be a serious disservice to the genre. There are occasions when you want to test your survival mettle without the interference of other players; sometimes you just want to live or die on your own merits and not at the hands of someone elses decisions. Besides that, some of these titles — like Subnautica — offer an awesome premise you can’t get elsewhere.
Ready to survive on your own? Here’s a a taste of a number of games you can dive into when you want to scratch that survival itch in private.
I know I said part two of the survival guide, containing a host of single-player survival games, would be the next entry in this new column (and it’s still coming, I promise you!), but what happened this past week is just too big a thing to pass up. The big bird nerf. No, Sesame Street wasn’t attacked: ARK: Survival Evolved’s fliers were. Swatted down hard, in fact. And folks are not happy. I’m not happy. A major portion of the known game took a major hit, nullifying tons of gameplay.
When the feathers hit the fan last Friday night, I was all set to rant to high heaven in this edition of The Survivalist; I’d already set up this topic in full preparation of grousing about what some folks hoped was simply a really bad April Fools’ Day joke, and I expressed my displeasure on OPTV the morning after the nerf. It’s no secret that I’ve been losing faith in Studio WildCard, and this latest change felt like the ultimate example of screwing over your veteran players in favor of grabbing new ones. Then it occurred to me: This is the real ugliness of Early Access rearing its head. What is actually best for the game overall may very well not be best for current testers. Because we aren’t launch players — we are EA testers, and we really did sign up for this.