Survival Games

Survival games. Sigh. There are so many right now on steam in Early Access that were well received by the community but they over-stayed their welcome in the Early Access. With some being in early access for well over 3 years. This definitely is annoying and frustrating for the the player base. But still, they have their own hardcore fans who stick to one game even if another 10 variants of that come out in the market.

So coming to the point. Designing them. I am going to talk about what differentiates these survival games and what works the best for the players and the developers?

If you look at the Steam Stats at this moment. I can guarantee, at least two of the top five most played games are survival games. And there might be one or two more in the top 10.

Currently(April 2017) the two games in the top 5 based on survival have the same objective. Battle Royale. You spawn on an island with 100 other people and then try to be the last man standing. PLAYERUNKNOWN’S BATTLEGROUNDS(PUBG) came out towards the end of the March 2017 and its competing against H1Z1: King of the Kill(KOTK) came out two years ago. The designers and developers on PUBG did exactly what KOTK went wrong with. They listened to the community and made sure things worked rather than KOTK which still has nasty bugs after two years of Early Access. PLAYERUNKNOWN(@BattleRoyaleMod) was the person who came up with the original idea in Arma 3 and that idea was used in KOTK but he decided to go along with an Indie-ish company based in Korea to develop an eSport game that would be well updated with community feedback and well maintained, and it looks like its working out really well for them. The game amassed a million sales in 12 days, which is really big for an early access game.

This goes on to show that, how the same idea can be implemented by two different developers and they both can be so differently welcomed by the community. A game came out 2 years ago and it is having a tough competition with a game that is barely two weeks old simply because the design was really well implemented in the game.

Coming to more traditional survival games where you have to go about and collect resources, craft weapons, build houses and SURVIVE. One of the first survival games I played was a survival server on Just Cause 2 Multiplayer Mod. I have spent a good 1000 hours playing on that server which I mostly spent building bases and raiding other players.

Our clan in the game was pretty well established and this is a screenshot of one of our clan bases that we had build upon. The only building blocks in this game were walls and doors. Like literally the base is made using only rectangular walls.

On the other hand, the following was the first base I had made in Rust solo.

Rust has an even advanced building feature where you can craft building items that have various shapes and types. You can build a support base and then build walls on top of that with windows and have an intricate stairway inside. Now take the game Rust and add Dinosaurs to it.

And that’s Ark for you. This addition of features works out for some people and is totally hated by others.

Ark came up with a Battle Royale-ish mode for their game and it was definitely not welcomed by the community, but the players enjoy the normal survival mode by them where they tame dinosaurs and use them to fight others and raid other bases. Also H1Z1 had a survival mode at first which was played by users but the users jumped onto KOTK as it was the first stand alone battle royale mode by them and the survival mode isn’t that famous.

On one hand there is the good old Minecraft that has a really well balanced and simple survival mode which is well customizable on custom servers according to needs by the server admins. On the other hand there is DayZ, which well, went horribly wrong in the dev phase and it should have just stayed a mod on Arma3. A great mod/concept ruined by over-ambitious developers. Sigh. When the game came out, everyone was so excited for it. I hope the developers get it out of the Early Access soon and release a stable and well balanced version of the game.

What I feel is, the game should have a goal and the design decisions and plans should revolve around the goal instead of adding more and more features that cloud the gameplay and might frustrate the players. In such games, community plays a big role too. There are some great suggestions that work out really well in a game but sometime, these changes might not be the best things to implement in-game because not every player can think of the pros and cons of some design decisions.

H1Z1: King of the Kill:
H1Z1: Just Survive:
Just Cause 2 Multiplayer:
Ark: Survival Evolved:
Ark: Survival of the Fittest:

Ingame Aesthetics and Items

If you’ve played some Role Playing Games where you get to customize your looks like TESV: Skyrim or Fallout series, maybe you have had the dilemma of “using a strong armor” or “look good”. In this blog post I want to talk more about how these design decisions affect game-play, or do they not.

Looks vs Utility

Imagine this scenario. You buy a game and pre-load it. You are waiting to decrypt it on steam so you can play it. After waiting 30 minutes its ready for you to play and you boot the game. You see the intro which you have seen before the release. You click play and after a short intro you are allowed to customize your character. How much time do you actually spend customizing the character?

Also do you think it matters in the long run? Many AAA RPG’s allow you to play the game either in third person mode or the first person mode. The first person mode allowing a higher immersion in the game but you can’t see the character. The third person mode allows you to have a nice sense of the surrounding and get immersed.

Higher strength armor looks visibly strong and players tend to stick to it because as the game progresses, it is not easy to survive with a light armor.

So coming back to the question, does the character aesthetics matter? Personally I feel they don’t matter much. Generally players tend to find themselves with the characters and customize them very close to their looks and views. Either how they look or how they wished they look. But it is still very close to their self. I read this article talking about the “Psychology of Video Game Avatars” that talks more about why people tend to do that. So thought people try to make a custom avatar, they tend to get the best armors and parts that work well and at the same time feel empowered as they tend to associate themselves with these characters.

So how does this effect designing and the aesthetics?

I feel, if these items blend well with the game theme, it increases the immersion. Having a cybernetic armor in a game from medieval times takes it away from the game theme and makes it feel off even if the player can see it or not. At the same time if the item is over powered, there is still a chance that people might use it by not caring about anything.

Another thing to consider is the audience. In one of the previous posts I had written bout demographics, audience and community. The game made is for these three sects that may or may not be pleased with the theme and items which leads to people making custom mods to satisfy their needs and liking’s. 

Take the game Fallout 4 for example where, there are crazy and amazingly themed armors that scale well with the theme and are aesthetically pleasing at the same time. But you end up using a bigger tactical armor for most part of the game during combat that hides it. I myself play the game for the story but I have spent more time on building than story and I make sure I am in a 3rd person mode with items that I like so that I can take great screenshots. Maybe someone else plays just the story and completes the side missions in the tactical armor and don’t even go in 3rd person mode. Every person has a different perspective.

As a designer, I would try to theme everything really well and play-testing with a wide audience from a wider demographic to find the balance between the strength of how each suit works and scale it so that it feels much more natural and immersive for the user. 

Game Demographics, Audience and Communities

When a game is released the users are the one who “kinda” decide the success of the game. Written below is some of my views about these three sects for games


A game when conceptualized and being produced, has a group of people in their demographics. It can be as general as “teens” or “kids” or “preschoolers” or can be as super niche as “17 year old girls into death metal and pink fluffy unicorns”. It can be anything and the design decisions that are made are generally for those demographics. Like, the buttons can be bright colored big ones like felt to make it intuitive for kids.

The game Stardew Valley is a farm simulator with visuals very much kiddish but is played by and made for the general audience. Not many kids play it with a lot of detail and strategy because of the mechanics, but a LOT of grown ups play it. Heck there are lot of mods out there that make it look even more kiddish or better.

Another example is contra. This game was(maybe is) a classic on every NES system for kids but has guns and some violent elements, but is enjoyed by everyone out there. This is one of the G.O.A.T. games whose demographics were really fuzzy.


When a game is released, the game can be downloaded and played by anyone. Literally. Kids to adults to old people. Some elements are pleasing to a certain demographic. Like some visuals can be appealing to kids, but the mechanics would be a bit complex and played by adults. The game is meant for a certain sect of audience, but can and will be played by anyone out there.

Take candy crush for example! Back in my home country, everyone plays this game. Small 3 y/o kids like the visuals and play this. They don’t play for winning, but they like to swipe and the mechanics are intuitive. On the other hand, young kids play this game and get to a certain level where it gets complex and hover around that level. Adults play this to pass time and are pretty efficient to form some strategies and think abut the moves they make and go on to reach a pretty high level.

The game 2048, is once again played a lot by everyone. Kids try their best to go higher and are happy reaching a decently high number but its difficult to reach the final goal without having some strategies which adults love to think about and keep their mind occupied.


When a game is released, there are communities that form. The main reason they are formed is because of their love for the game and also they are passionate. Most communities like to talk about the game and the mechanics, and also review and feedback any updates or changes that are introduced by the developer.

For example, there are many Reddit communities for games like Dota2, CS:GO, H1Z1:KOTK and a lot more that go in-depth about the game and come up with crazy and new strategies and ways to use the game mechanics. These big communities like to come up with concepts that sometimes the developers prefer and make their way into the game.

The r/dota2 sub-reddit is almost an “unofficial” Dev forum where people hunt for bugs and suggest features that many a times make it into the game. Their passion for the game makes them go really in-depth about the game and lets the developer make some changes to the game specifically catered to that audience. Dota2 when releases new heroes, has an artwork for the new hero and since the release, every artwork has hints and ideas towards the next hero. An Example about how people find things and then go on to discuss possibilities about the new things. Also, it is difficult to keep every community happy and satisfied. 3 years ago, Valve decided to sideline the Diretide Event(Halloween Event) as they were working on something with higher priority and due to lack of communication, the community went ape shit and spammed the Volvo subreddit and also fucked up the metacritic score to get the developers attention.

Like, there was a Sombra ARG that revealed the character and some details about it long before the character was introduced into the game.  These communities come together and solve such ARGs and gets the community much more interested in the game.

One such notable and interesting community I have come across is the /r/TheSilphRoad commnity for Pokemon Go which has a huge base and they come together to find more about the game. They were the ones to discover the “nests” in Pokemon Go and went on to build a Nest Atlas where one can track the nests all over the world. There are some people who also mine the APKs of the app to find information that can be spoilers for next events or some information that isn’t cared about the general audience. Pokemon Go when came out, no-one knew about IVs that contribute to the Pokemon attack, stamina and defense. TheSilphRoad went on to find more about it and some member went on to create a calculator for the general audience to calculate IVs that would allow dedicated users to collect high IV Pokemon and grind the lower ones into candy.


All these three things are not entirely different. They are very much overlapping and as a game designer, one should always consider the thing that no matter what demographic the game is build for, there is an even wider audience waiting to try out the game and critique it. It is almost impossible to satisfy the entire audience, but one needs to make sure the audience is kept involved and the changes/updates are pushed out that makes the game a better experience than it was earlier!

How Protoyping changed my life

So before I stared my immersion semester at the ETC I worked on a couple long term web stack applications. Where you make a product, test it, fix some bugs and hand it over to the client.

And then BVW happened.

I was supposed to make games within a 2 week time frame with Interims after the first week and then the final presentation the week after that. This meant we needed to have working protoype with working base mechanics before the interim and a final working game before the end of second week.

This needed to get us game mechanics working as soon as possible considering we spent the first couple days brainstorming and coming up with ideas and then fixating on the idea.

The two week games had to be made in a team with two programmers, designers and sound artists. The artists took a long time for their assets which isn’t entirely their fault. As a programmers we couldn’t really wait for the assets to be ready so we had to come up with basic prototypes that worked. We used capsules, cylinders and cubes to represent basic elements and got the mechanics working.

During this period, we actually did realize if any of the mechanic is going to be a pain in the butt to implement and then we needed to redesign or reconsider it. Although there was the “First Penguin Award” in case we shot too high, no one really wanted it. We needed to fail at the earliest to realize where we had to work harder and make changes. And it always worked out in the end.

Except that one round.

The second one with “indirect control” where we really should have got out prototypes sooner and play tested as I think we didn’t keep it simple. We wanted to make a survival game, in VR with no instructions, where you have to light a fire and then save yourself from the wolves! Should have prototyped earlier and quicker and playtested even more as we were short of time towards the end of the two week deadline!

Anyways, rapid prototyping and play testing is something that is an integral part of designing any game and that without it, you won’t know if your game is “fun” and if it “just works”.