From Minecraft to ARK: Survival Evolved - Survival's race to the console space
What comes to mind when you think of a survival game? Minecraft Survival and similar titles — such as ARK: Survival Evolved — are often brought to attention in recent years. Alien: Isolation definitely has a place among them. With the right pair of perspective goggles, even The Sims is a survival game.
Hold your tongue feisty commenter, I know what you are thinking:
"The Sims is a sim-ulation game, not a survival game! Can't you read?"
- Feisty Commenter
Have you ever tried starting a 6-Sim Household from scratch? Trying to provide for that many people is brutal.
I'll let Google settle this if you're still skeptical:
- sur-viv-al (n.) - the state or fact of continuing to live or exist, typically in spite of an accident, ordeal, or difficult circumstances.
Every survival game follows a basic premise. In order to meet this, the player must start the game feeling powerless. This contrasts the power fantasy that many other genres try to convey.
The age of Minecraft brought us a remarkable new front, but many games since then have failed to emulate the idea properly. Now there are some true gems out there, but lately a lot of 'survival' games distract themselves from the very essence of the genre.
However, all is not lost. Clues have popped up recently that point towards the end of a dark age. History is beginning to repeat itself. Could one ambitious title refocus survival and cement its position in the console space for the future?
A History on the Brilliancy of Minecraft Survival
I am incredibly relieved that indie game studios have come as far as they have in the past decade. I'm not sure Minecraft would exist if we had to rely on AAA studios to make it. Just visualize the conversation between the developers and the publishers:
"We want to make a game where the player spawns with nothing and works to overcome the nature of the world around them."
"A game where you just walk around surviving? Who would we market this to? That's a terrible idea, let's make it a first person shooter instead."
How Minecraft Invokes Your Sense of Survival
It seems so simple, but Minecraft's approach to the survival genre is one of the most brilliant developments in video game history. Spawning players in a world with nothing but their bare fists to build from stacks literally everything against them, which is what makes it such a fantastic survival game.
From the first dirt house to a trap-infested safe-haven full of hoarded goodies, the climb to the top is steady and rarely stagnates. There is always something you could do to improve your stature in the world around you.
Minecraft Alpha's YouTube Popularity Boom
Nobody had seen another game like it, and since no two peoples' experiences were ever the same, it flooded the internet with an unprecidented amount of unique video content. Major gaming outlets focused on big-budget titles of the year while YouTube drowned in an endless stream of Minecraft.
Once Minecraft Beta launched and the overwhelming popularity of the game surged through the masses, major media outlets opened their eyes and discovered a gem they completely glossed over.
Minecraft Transcends the Survival Genre
Beta 1.8 — also known as the Adventure Update — brought a plethora of pivotal features to Minecraft pre-Launch, including a fully featured Creative Mode for the fans of the (now retired) Minecraft Classic. In one sweeping update, Minecraft's appeal was suddenly broadened by a wide margin.
The Survival Clone Wars
Minecraft's astounding revelation naturally paved the way for developers to follow its success and grasp for the spirit of survival. Unlike video game cloning phenomena of earlier years — such as World of Warcraft and Halo — many of the games reworking Minecraft's survival front are developed by indie studios.
From here, survival game developers take the bare-bones approach in two general directions:
- Survival with a Twist - The fundamentals of survival are mixed with a unique spin. Many of these titles offer unique and interesting gameplay that you can't find elsewhere — games like Don't Starve or Starbound. This is why the classic Minecraft vs. Terraria debate doesn't stand up — Terraria is more of an Action-RPG than a Survival game.
- Survival Evolved - These titles take the basic idea of survival and expand it in new and engaging ways. This is where Rust, DayZ, 7 Days to Die and various other survival games come to reside. These games often feel a lot like featured or graphical extensions based on Minecraft's core idea.
Consistently Unbalanced Survival Gameplay Standards
Rival players are part of the survival element in newer titles, and rightfully so. But none of these games offer players an incentive to band together. As a result, in-game communities are rarely formed and PvP is left in an overwhelmingly chaotic state.
On top of that, the environments rarely shelter any real danger, leaving players with only one true fear: other players. Allowing soloists to grasp power quicker than any group of players could creates a real griefing problem. Many of these games unfortunately end up as playgrounds for maniacal-sandcastle-kickers.
Survival's Fall from Grace
There are some pretty nifty survival games out there. Rust brought beautifully humanizing concepts to the table, and DayZ even managed to summon the Zombie craze (with varying levels of success). But it became tiring to continually watch mis-matched survival games crash and burn with so much potential floating in the air.
Fast forward to the current year of 2015 and most major game media outlets are rarely caught reporting on the survival genre anymore. There is no obligation to continue following survival games since they don't come from AAA developers.
When Minecraft became a legend, it transcended the genre. The duty to find the next great survival game was passed back down to YouTubers and Twitch streamers.
The media set itself up for "Minecraft" to happen all over again.
ARK: Survival Evolved - Pretentious or Daring?
With a name as outrageous as ARK: Survival Evolved, one wonders whether Studio Wildcard is being pretentious or rather daring. I'm inclined to say the latter, considering the game's refusal to step down from its cemented position on Steam's Top Sellers list ever since they launched Early Access.
With a name as outrageous as ARK: Survival Evolved, one wonders whether Studio Wildcard is being pretentious or rather daring.
Dinosaurs are not a new concept to survival games. However, the powerful impression that prehistoric creatures give off has been largely absent. Even interactions with the exotic have been extremely limited.
The Bewildering ARK Environment
The island of the ARK is not exactly the safest place to end up. Studio Wildcard meticulously balances the dinosaurs around every difficulty level, so it can stay a challenge no matter what range of ridiculous numbers you are pulling. And that says nothing of the vast sense of wonder you get from being surrounded by such exotic wildlife.
ARK builds an environment exclusively out of creatures no one living has ever seen before. It is rather impressive once you consider how few games actually do that — even fictional ones.
Studio Wildcard cleverly utilizes the ARK's dinosaur theme to add an extra layer of survival: the fear of the unknown.
The Tribe Mentality
After progressing through the ARK's early levels, it becomes increasingly difficult to progress on a vanilla server without any sort of group. You will never have enough Engram Points to spend on everything you want to craft — and you will soon be faced with particularly daunting material costs.
This pushes many players towards creating and managing their own Tribes to gain more power in the ARK. The player progression that Studio Wildcard is creating allows for a smoother introduction to PvPvE servers and can make for some interestingly honour-bound communities.
New Early Access Gold Standard?
Early Access has been blatantly misused since its recent break-out, and it is not showing any signs of getting better. The original purpose of Early Access is often cited yet nearly forgotten. It seems many games either show very little outward acknowledgment or are cursed with poor design decisions when met with negative feedback.
Studio Wildcard has built an incredible track record over the past two months. Some would even name them the Santa Claus of Early Access. Not only are the developers patching multiple times a week, they are pushing out fixes, balance changes and new features that the community inspired. Ho, ho, ho!
Ambitious Design Inspires Future Creative Potential
The roadmap for ARK is so ambitious that I can't even begin to guess where they are taking the game. Whatever the destination, it is going to inspire a multitude of survival games to come — especially after its launch on Xbox One and PlayStation 4 in 2016.
With a presence in the console space, the evolved survival genre is bound to turn heads. Who knows, maybe even AAA developers will finally start working to bring us survival games for consoles! Then again, any more super-trends could have negative repercussions.
A Slow Race to the Console Space
Ever since Minecraft appeared on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, console survival games have been a long time coming. I can only wonder why more survival games haven't made their way to consoles already.
Does ARK: Survival Evolved have what it takes to push survival games to the console space? What would you like to see in a console survival game? How do you think they will adapt to consoles? Share your thoughts in the comments below!