What Role Will the Survival Concept Have In Gaming’s Future?

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Gaming, like so many other things, is not immune to trends.

With some regularity entire styles, genres, and concepts go in and out of fashion. Sure certain aspects of gaming remain consistently popular, and others remain consistently despised, but for the most part you really have to keep a finger on the pulse of gaming in order to hope to keep up with which way the winds of change are blowing.

Do that, and you’ve probably noticed that survival games have been growing in popularity over the years, and have become especially prolific throughout 2013.

Nowhere is this more true than the indie market, where it seems like every week brings with it the reveal of yet another title that cites sneaking, scrounging, and surviving as its main attractions. Sure there’s been a number of AAA games to use survival elements (“The Last of Us” is a great example), but if you’re looking for the heart of the survival movement, it’s into the indies you must go.

Now unlike some other trends in various walks of life, the emergence of the survival genre on the indie scene is one that’s fairly easy to understand and trace.

Simply put, survival games represent a marked departure from nearly everything that the majority of AAA games represent. They do not hold your hand, they allow for (and require) a healthy amount of creative freedom, and most importantly they present a very real chance of failure without glory. In a way they are becoming the James Dean of indie gaming. An icon that so perfectly represents the antithesis of the current cultural climate, that those with similar spiritual beliefs cannot help but be drawn to their magnetism.

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Unlike James Dean, however, whose global impact only required a few films, survival as a stand alone concept has yet to really produce a champion to the masses that so perfectly represents everything it stands for that its presence can no longer be ignored.

Now I want to make myself clear on that point. Survival has been a part of some of the greatest games of all time, but only a part of it. For instance, “Resident Evil” was survival/horror. “Minecraft” was survival/crafting. “Fallout 3” was an FPS RPG with survival elements. Hell, while we’re on the subject, just about every video game incorporates at least some elements of survival.

The survival genre by itself, however, is still so young that it’s not even a recognized genre on Steam of all places. You can look and look, but you’ll have a hard time finding any games which classify themselves as strictly a survival game, and there’s a very good reason for that.

Without beating around the bush, survival games on their lonesome just don’t work at the moment. It’s a realization I came to when playing “Day One: Gary’s Incident” and “Sir, You are Being Hunted.” One of those games (“Day One”) is a complete abomination of game design that shows how developing a survival game is not recommended for those who intend to go in with anything but their full ass. I’ll refer you to the infamous Total Biscuit review of it for proof.

“Sir, You Are Being Hunted,” however, is a much more interesting case all around. It’s writing is crisp, it’s world and tone are simply brilliant, and the care put into ensuring its survival aspects are clever and well implemented is quite simply second to none. Yet even then, it’s a game that is hindered simply by the fact that survival (and survival alone) is not really a compelling incentive for long term play. It’s a sort of perpetual motion predicament. You’re encouraged to survive, just so you can continue surviving.

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In so many respects though, “Sir” is the epitome of the survival genre as a standalone concept so far. While that isn’t to suggest that a better game can’t come along, the end result of it still being an overall unsatisfactory experience does place some serious doubts on the legitimacy of a survival only genre, despite the growing number of entrants to it on the horizon.

However, I still do believe that the next great trend in gaming is survival.

You see, ultimately it does not matter if a standalone survival experience comes along and stands as its grand champion, as the sheer amount of games that are beginning to incorporate survival elements into their design are already a victory for the concept. Every time a new rougelike comes out, survival gaming is victorious. With every game of the year award “The Last of Us” garners, survival gaming is victorious. With every bit of hype “The Division” generates, survival gaming garners some hype.

As mentioned, this is good for gaming if for no other reason than the fact survival games are radically different from so many other major releases today. Their presence then is beneficial for the simple reason that they offer an alternative to some gaming conventions that are quickly wearing out their welcome.

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The reason I think that survival will ultimately prove to be more popular than that, though, is because developers have done such a great job in the later parts of this generation when it comes to introducing survival naturally into more and more games. It’s to the point now where if a game doesn’t have aspects of survival, it feels somewhat hollow. While you could make the argument that survival would more quickly become a necessity if a game came along that used it in a way that “Modern Warfare” made the incorporation of RPG character building elements standard in most games, the survival revolution has already gathered enough steam to plow straight ahead into the next generation.

Gaming is very much subject to trends and fads, and all indications point to survival as the next one. That may sound like a bad thing considering the negative connotations of those words, but in this case it is very interesting, as the incorporation of survival has the potential to alter the current creative direction of gaming on a very serious fundamental level.

Whether or not you actively seek out survival games may soon be irrelevant, as survival games will soon be finding their way to you.

  

The Popular (and Absolutely Insane) Just Cause 2 Multiplayer Mod is About to Get a Steam Release

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While I have no problem calling “Just Cause 2” a good game, I’m hesitant when it comes to giving it praise beyond that.

See if you attend the open world game design school, there’s really only two classes you can go to. One preaches using the large in-game world to provide a more intensely cinematic experience, while the other teaches the idea of using that same space to let players just go nuts with few (if any) design boundaries to limit or guide them.

While neither is inherently a wrong pursuit, “Just Cause 2’s” firm attendance and devotion to the latter design philosophy meant that while the game was insanely large and incredibly fun to just mess around in, elements like mission quality and story structure were either limited or non-existent.

Some time ago, however, a dedicated group of modders found a way to capitalize off of the built-in strengths of the game and give it a longevity that even a more cohesive and engaging storyline structure couldn’t do by simply adding a true online multiplayer mode to the game.

It’s not an unprecedented occurrence for a single player only game to get a modded multiplayer component, but when you consider that this particular mod allows for up to 600 players at once within the absolutely gigantic world of “Just Cause 2,” and factor in the game’s already zany and ridiculously fast paced nature, perhaps you can see why this drew so much attention from users who would have otherwise most likely stopped regularly playing the game some time ago.

Now it turns out it was not only individual users whose attention was caught by the mod, but the folks at Valve as well as it was recently announced that Steam will soon be making the popular multiplayer mod available for download as an official Steam release. This not only makes the mod much more accessible to the average person, but rightfully legitimizes it as an essential component of the “Just Cause 2” experience.

While the only available release date is still 2013, regardless of whenever this does actually hit Steam it’s already a big win for everyone involved. This is especially true for us, the players, who will now get an even easier chance to experience a sandbox action multiplayer game that is without chaotic equal. Expect to see a popular new wave of insane YouTube videos and jaws on floors when “Just Cause 2’s” multiplayer mode is released by the end of the month

  

Huge Sales Are Coming to the Xbox 360 Just in Time for the Holidays

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Not able to get in early on the next generation by purchasing an Xbox One, Wii U, or PS4? Don’t worry because with the holidays approaching, you happen to be in luck.

No I don’t mean insane deals are coming on one of those systems (though that certainly is possible), but rather that the previous gen console you own is about to see some serious drops in game prices, allowing you to go back and play some of those great games you may have missed the first time around.

While PC holiday deals started on Amazon and other outlets some time ago, it looks like the Xbox 360 is the first console to throw its hat into the holiday sale madness ring by offering up a host of hugely discounted titles starting today through Xbox Live.

What’s available? Well for now you can get a host of Arcade greats such as “Mark of the Ninja,” “Dust,” and “The Cave,” while some AAA greats like “Fallout 3” (and all the available DLC’s), “Tomb Raider,” “Sleeping Dogs,” and “Skyrim” for 50% – 75% off.

However, it appears that the real deals are coming later in the week, as one day only sales are available on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. This is particularly true of the Cyber Monday collection which features some best of generation titles like “Red Dead Redemption,” “Dark Souls,” “The Witcher 2,” “L.A. Noire,” and “Far Cry: Blood Dragon,” all for 75% off.

The full list of games can be found here and, while this is quite honestly nothing in comparison to the PC sales available this time of year, for 360 owners who aren’t ready to make the next gen jump and need some truly great games to play around with during the holidays, this is a sale you absolutely have to take advantage of.

  

Blood Bowl 2 Could Be A Much Needed Break From The Same Old, Same Old Sports Themed Game

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One of my favorite game growing up was “Mutant League Football” for the Sega Genesis. A parody of the NFL that read like it might have been proofread by the Cryptkeeper (Bones Jackson instead of Bo Jackson, Killer Konvicts instead of Dallas Cowboys, etc.) the game was far from perfect, but it’s complete devotion to making an over the top, often childishly disturbing version of football as we know it was admirable and almost always entertaining.

It was a game where fireballs and landmines were in play, and you could bribe the referee or even murder him if a call didn’t go your way. It’s carefree over the top nature is an even greater breath of fresh air than it was upon the games initial release, especially when weighed against the increasingly stale entrants in the “Madden” series.

Of course since it was an EA title and that company would go on to make all the money in the world from that “Madden” series, “Mutant League” got the axe before it became a full fledged franchise, and theoretical PR nightmare.

This disheartened me for years as I longed for a football game that actually took a fun and creative approach to the subject matter, without sucking too bad (looking at you “Blitz: The League”). It turns out though, that the “Mutant League” games were actually based on an old tabletop strategy game called “Blood Bowl” which has actually been a tabletop tournament staple for years. Unfortunately I’ve never really been able to get into the tabletop gaming scene, and the video game adaptations of the series have been a real mixed bag.

Even still, it’s getting hard to suppress my excitement for the forthcoming “Blood Bowl 2.” In development by Cyanide Studios (developer of the most faithful adaptation of the game to date), little is unfortunately known about the game outside of its usual promise to be the biggest and best digital version of the game to date, with claims of better graphics and animations as well as new modes to back them up.

It’s the usual sequel rhetoric to be sure, but I’ve got to say that the screen shots of “Blood Bowl 2” provided by the game’s publishers are fairly encouraging, and show off a game aesthetically closer to the “Mutant League Football” proper sequel I’ve always wanted.

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Of course, “Blood Bowl” isn’t meant to mimic the real time mayhem of “Mutant League,” but its still going to be interesting to see if Cyanide can do justice to the popular strategy game, and make it accessible enough so that those of us longing for a football inspired game that doesn’t take itself so damn seriously can get on board and find a new addiction when “Blood Bowl 2” is released sometime in 2014.

  

The Top Five Fixes and Features That Need to Be in Fallout 4

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In what is quickly becoming the internet’s worst kept secret, it appears that famed developer Bethesda is gearing up to announce the highly anticipated “Fallout 4.” As one of the general public’s most beloved games of the previous generation (feels weird saying that…), the hype train for “Fallout 4” is beginning to resemble a locomotive in India, as fans across the world eagerly await any news regarding it.

While developer Bethesda is usually so generous with their game content it can feel greedy to make requests, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t a few items on every fan’s wishlist for “Fallout 4,” as well as a few generally accepted flaws in “Fallout 3” that could use a fix. Personally, I know I can think of five things, I’d really like to see in “Fallout 4.”

The Ability to Play In A World Affected By the Ending

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I’d have to say my biggest disappointment with “Fallout 3” was that the game just kind of ended. There was the usual climatic final mission, but then you just got a cinema explaining the consequences of your decisions in the final moments. At that point if you wanted to keep exploring the world, you could only load up a save before the final mission and do it from there, with the finale being forever left on your to-do list.

It was a baffling decision that felt like one of the few genuine design flaws in the game. How could a game with so much to see and do just end? While the expansions and New Vegas fixed this particular problem, I expect that Bethesda will learn their lesson from “Fallout 3” and allow us to not only continue to explore the world after the credits role, but hopefully alter it in some noticeable way based upon the ending.

Incoporate Greater Grey Area Options

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While “Fallout 3’s” karma system was one of the more involved of all the games that afford you character building moral choices, it’s hard to deny that if you really wanted the world to reflect your personal choices, the only real paths available were to be a paragon of virtue or the most evil bastard that ever lived.

That’s always been troublesome to me considering that morality in the “Fallout” universe is ambiguous to say the least. Forcing players to ultimately choose between comically good and evil just to get the game to react never really felt in-line with the rest of the world. It would be great if the karma system better incorporated the choice to live somewhere in the middle (neither entirely good or evil) and if the world reacted to you in this manner just as they would if you lived on either polar side of the morality scale. After all, as Bruce Campbell quipped, “Good…bad….I’m the guy with the gun.”

An Expanded, Region Specific Soundtrack

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As much as I loved Three Dog and the game’s unique (and often disturbing) selection of 40’s and 50’s music, after a while I’d often turn off the radio as the DJ banter and songs didn’t take long to repeat. While this is expected in a game of this length, it was nonetheless annoying.

An expanded song selection would certainly go a long way to fixing this in “Fallout 4,” but what would really be great is if more individual regions of the map had there own radio stations. After all, it’s not hard to imagine a number of small range pirate stations would pop up here and there, and having certain songs only available in certain areas through those stations would go a long way to cutting down on the music monotony.

Longer Emphasis on Survival

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When you first enter the world of the Capital Wastelands, you feel appropriately small and helpless. Nearly everything could kill you instantly and, since the game allowed you to go anywhere at any time, getting in over your head was easy. In those early moments it was vital to scrounge for any and all available resources, even if it meant near certain death to do so.

As the game went on, however, it didn’t take long before you were so stocked with equipment you would often pass up valuable items simply because you couldn’t carry them. Within only a few hours of play you go from fist pumping because you found a clean bottle of water, to better stocked than the local Wal-Mart. While this kind of character building is expected in RPG’s, it would be nice if a better balance was placed on resources availability so that the incredible survival aspects of the game don’t just disappear after the first few hours.

It’s understandable that your character will become more powerful and adapt overtime, but you should never feel as complacent in your available resources as you did in the later parts of “Fallout 3.”

More Imaginative Weapon Crafting

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One of the things I liked about “New Vegas” is how developer Obsidian wasn’t afraid to take some chances with the design, since they knew the established “Fallout 3″ formula was strong enough to hold the weight of the occasional tweak and innovation. Among those tweaks was an expanded ability to better your items and weapons through the occasional pick up and crafting. It worked because it makes sense that in an apocalyptic world you would become somewhat adept at making do with what you have, and making what you have better based on what you find.

It was a step in the right direction, but it could go much further in a sequel. There’s tons of seemingly useless items floating around the “Fallout” universe, and it’d be great if you could find uses for them through a more involved crafting system. “Fallout 3” did have the occasional blueprint that allowed you to do this, but it felt too clean and simple. Allowing players a crafting screen to play around with that isn’t necessarily dependent on strict recipes would go a long way to expanding our involvement in the world, and our desire to explore it.

  

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