The Problem With Survival Building Games [IMO]


The Problem With Survival Building Games [In My Opinion]

So before I start, this post will be completely biased to what games I like/want to play. As a game designer if you aren't making games you don't like to play... you won't finish them. I've played my games more then I've ever played any games ever (Skyrim included) because as a game dev you are testing the games over and over again. If you get bored with your own game, then it probably wasn't that good to begin with. So lets talk about Sand for a second.

Sand is (or will be) a survival/base-building/adventure game, or at least that is the plan. I worked on the coolest part first and that is base building. I've nailed down the feel I want and adding new things is fun and easy for me. I've got the adventure, exploring, story part (a la Fallout 1 and 2 [some of my favorite games of all time]) down as well. Lacking in content but the building blocks are there. I also enjoy the story telling and the world building part. The survival part well isn't really in the game yet. I mean you have water draining as you walk and food if you want to heal yourself in a tent, but that isn't a survival game. So I started to look at games similar to Sand and see what they did. This is what I discovered:

The Issue

All the games I've played with building and survival (again my opinion) does it wrong. I feel like, now, the two games styles are diametrically opposed. Let me explain. A survival game you are tasked with keeping yourself alive at all cost. You'll have to hunt or find water and craft things like tools and weapons to keep yourself alive. The player is focused on staying alive. You might argue that build a house or a stove is building. Well I guess technically it is, but it isn't base-building. Think of Minecraft. Hours are spent in the game building awesome things. The player is fully immersed in the gathering resources to build new and better things. Experimenting with the redstone and new building blocks the craft or discover is the key game loop. You might say "but you have to eat." Yes but it is just an annoying thing they added on (that as far as I know, no one asked for) that takes little or no time to completely negate through a tiny farm. It isn't true survival like building a workstation isn't true base building.

I just can't find a way to enjoy both building a cool and elaborate base and fighting to survive. If the survival part is too hard, I feel like it is just getting in the way of me sitting back and enjoying the building process. If it is too easy it just feels a cheep add-on (like Minecraft does). The balance is difficult. I haven't found anyone to do it right.

The Tissue

The point of this whole rant/post is to try and work out the survival aspect of Sand in a very public way. I've gone through this in my head over and over again. I think the only way I can proceed would be to separate out the building and the surviving. So think of this: you have a base your can sit in a build to your heart delight and an outside world you'll have to bring/find/craft supplies to survive in. So say you have hunger, tiredness, and thirst. None of that  will matter in your base. You'll never have to stop creating to eat, sleep, or drink. In your base though you are preparing your people to explore the wasteland by crafting canteens, bandages, weapons, tools, lunchboxes, etc but you aren't really in a rush because you are safe inside your base. When you leave your base you will then start the survival part. You might have to stop and rest to eat and sleep or find some cactus to fill up your canteen. Things will be more rushed as you struggle with the question "just one more square?" So you'll have this ebb and flow of tenseness and calmness that player (as the agent) can control. I feel like that is a better way to handle my dilemma.

Anyway let me know what your thoughts are about this. I could talk forever about some very specific examples cough... Fallout 76 ...cough but I've taken enough of your time :)

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I feel like you should define what you feel is would be a "tacked on" adventure element/mechanic, survival element/mechanic, and base-building element/mechanic; you need to see what would make sense for YOUR game.

Afterwards, you should try to narrow down what you feel would either need to be put into the dumpster (like hunger) or be made more interesting (like hunger dictating how fast you travel on the map, or damage you deal), really this part would (probably) be the hardest because if you just throw all stuff in the trash it may make it very bare bones, but hopefully putting everything out on paper will give you something to jump off of.

I haven't tryed your game yet, but a friend of mine has (that's why I'm here in the first place). I really want to help with it cause it looks very promising (and I have all the time in the world right now, so might as well) and really how could giving feedback hurt?

I'm going to play it after it finishes downloading and give more indepth feedback after a day or two, but my advice for now is to put mechanics/game elements on a list to see everything you have to work with (it really does help)

Yes that is part of my iterative design. I was trying I think to hard to make the two fit perfectly. I think I've settled on the 2 types approach for now. I've also thought of you way where food is a buff if you eat it or a debuff if you don't. I guess it depends on how in depth I want to go into cooking. Thanks for the comment. I hope you enjoy the game and comment your thoughts about it!

Okay I took a paper and a half of notes on stuff that mechanics could move out on and polish that is needed (I'll find a discussion or make one for the polish and bugs half) I'll seperate the survival, base/building, and progress mechanic suggestions and do sub-catgories for them (which may overlap). (also please excuse some of my spelling, I'm not an english major) (also spoilers for people still playing) (I have also not made a car or wagon)

Survival Mechanics

  • Overworld (World Map?)
    • A tiredness mechanic would work well for a "random encounter/effect" sort of deal for travel, kinda like how the thirst is, but should happenway slower for a more realistic effect (as in you don't get tired 3 times before sundown). Pehaps also going down after exploring a tile (without resting) 
      • if you go for effects - losing an item or a half of how much you have (like losing 50 stone if you had 100), having half health your next stop (you don't die if you are on 1 health), and losing durability on an item. If I were you, I wouldn't make you go slower; it would only make a downwards spiral, leading you to lose more water and get more tired (also it would be more annoying than getting a message saying "you tripped and fell on your axe but your dense head broke it, instead the other way around) (and if you were going back to your base, you may die from dehydration if you get slowed)
      • if you go for random encounters - I wouldn't know how you would do this without it seeming like you clicked explore. However, you could make a smaller map area where you have to kill some skellys and move on, but it would still take longer going to your base and you may not get any effects from it if you easily kill the skellys
    • A food quality mechanic to your lunchbox would probably add more depth and strategy to camping by fully healing you for less, and encourage cooking. You could still fully heal at a camp, but you would have to eat more low quailty food instead of a few high quailty food.
      • To make this more viable you probably would need to nerf the regular lunchbox a bit (I think this is fine, I only used it after getting shot by a bunch of skellys when I spawned on a "explore" tile) and make it to where you could choose to bring better quailty food.
        • The player upgrade station, the veggie pot, or a station you are working on could be a good canidiate to have the menu for choosing the meals in the lunchbox
      • I don't think you really have to add a debuff if it is out or make it go down overtime, it feels fine how it is now (maybe just less of a heal)
    • The thirst mechanic right now seems okay, maybe getting all or just half of your thirst back if you visit Steven's Ranch or Anchor Rage would be a good idea to make it seem less of a timer for a trip and more of a thing you should plan a trip around.
      • Quests could make some areas give you more water, like Steven "the young" convince his older bro to give you more water the more skellys you kill.
    • Navigation - the map is a bit barren right now, the weather showing is nice but it doesn't add much to it with these two things it doesn't matter when or how you travel, you just do a straight line.
      • Hilly or Rubble areas could slow you down but give you more stone and metal if you explore it; so, you could go around or go to (also would help seperate areas/make "invisible" boundarys for where the towns and raid camps could spawn by surrounding half of the perimeter of where it could spawn)
      • Raid Wagons/Raid Llamas could circle around a pregenerated path that you can spot if you are 1, 2, or 3 tiles close, this would make traveling more exciting.
      • Weather could effect how bars go down or how fast you go, maybe rain could make llamas slower or the food bar even go down (if you want) and dust storms could make thirst happen quicker and not being able to spot Raid Llamas or having to more on a tile more than just touching it. 
  • "Explore Tiles"
    • Personaly I feel they are pretty good on the survival mechanic side, the reason you would explore them is to get more resources without trading; or for water for thirst, which was already covered in this, the only thing to add to these would be more structures that could spawn and more enemies to the game (suggestion I will post with the polish and bug stuff)
  • In Your Base  
    •   Most of it is fine how it is, and you want to keep the survival and base stuff apart, so really there isn't much to talk about other than:
    • Raids, raids can be improved by adding more enemies to the game (more in other post) but also with more specific variation and more specific scaling
      • Basically if you stockpile a lot of food, you'll be more likely to get roaches; if you stockpile a lot of sticks and stones, you'll be more likely to get skellys (because they use weapons made from them); if you stockpile a lot of goods and scrap, then raiders. These seem to be good bases for the enemies (and this may happen already, and my small brain just not notice it, even with devmode/debug)
      • A bigger raid being able to happen if a raid doesn't happen a the countdown for so many times, and you have more than enough people for two guards
        • Could just be a raid coming from two directions, or a raid with skellys and roaches
      • Weather kinda having an effect on the raids, like the game would check for a raid at the 0-1000 range on the countdown if a dust storm is happening (just making it more likely to occur at a dust storm instead of every dust storm) or the same thing happening when raining
  • Combat (or me asking for guarding/blocking)
    • being able to guard an attack for a third of your stamina (or however much those little lines indicate) would bring a bunch more depth to the combat system (which may be hard to code for some of the AI, or not... I'm ain't a programmer). 
      • If you add that knockout effect to the boxing gloves, blocking with "rightclick" could make it to where it won't happen to if a skelly with boxing gloves punches you. (this could also go for bleeding)
      • Player Upgrades could make blocking last a bit longer so you wouldn't waste a third of stamina if you block/guard early.

This is really all the mechanics for survival without getting nitpicky/asking for polish; I'm prolly going to touch back on these for the next two catagories

Building/Base Mechanics

Most of these will boil down to adding more buildings instead of "hit the G button to the beat to make a wall" but there is some stuff worth considering.

  • Guard Management
    • Having little flags or markers (like on a digging site or a little golf hole flag) that you could make (square, triangle, semicircle) and dye from the shop in Anchor Rage could make little paths for guards to follow (or better described as points/objects to go to after reaching the last point/object).
      • This could be behind a workstation 
    • A intercom or speaker that requires energy to work
      • could be the workstation for the flags, also could act like the bell but only for guards, or dictate how they fight (ranged, close, hit and run)
      • Would give another reason to start making energy other than automation
    • Guards seem to get weapons you have never made or don't have in in a display case
      • May be intended, but it's weird when you are using a bow but they have guns (not including Duke 'the sniper')
      • May also just be me having a small brain and not realizing they are using only their fists.
  • Trading Management (getting into the polish zone with this one)
    • Weather 
      • Rain could make selling water cost zero or make it act as if you where selling none; rain could also slow down business and make traders take shelter in the toliets without giving you "dirt"
      • Dust Storms could make water cost one more for selling and make it higher in demand; dust storms could make traders take shelter in toliets like rain (if you were to do this)
    • Raids
      • Traders still appear when a raid is counting down, and don't act scared when monsters appear, it's kinda weird to have trading and commerce while a roach is K.O.ing a dude.
      • I haven't got killed by a raid (yet) but if not implemented, I think monsters and raiders should be able to take goods you put into stalls that haven't been sold
        • Monsters could take or target specfic items like roaches taking vegatables, water, and meat; but skellys taking wood, stone, and metal.
    • Lighting and making traders see your stalls
      • Building light sources around your stalls could make trading happen in the night, along with making paths around them - of course you would have to make trading NOT happen in the night, but if you do you should probably allow it to happen if the stalls are in light.
      • (This is in the polish zone and "Rewrite how AI pathfinds to stay on my paths that I made and how they see" zone)
  • Slaves Worker Management
    • You don't get to choose if non-guards should fight or not, which leads to they punching roaches before the one with the gun gets there
      • Could be toggable in a workstation (like the one suggested for the guards)
    • They all have tools even if you never made them or have spare (basically the same as guards having guns while you have a bow, but with axes and brooms)
  • Outposts? or Walls? (delaying raids)
    • I haven't made a wagon, so I could just be dumb down here and you can do this and more (I don't know if it destroys the town you've made)
      • Maybe make a job for an "outposter" that can build a wall or tower to delay or chop down the number of raids.
        • You could place these north, south, east, and west one tile of your build to stop a raid if it said it was coming from that direction (maybe by checking if you have a post that direction after it chooses what direction, so it actually "blocks" the incoming raid, which would make you feel nice of putting it there)
        • This could open a can of worms by making you have to make another job for keeping the posts up and working, like a "trader" that takes 30 food, water, and materials (like wood if you made the outpost wood) to keep them up and running.
        • All of this you may not even be in your vision for this game, so take it with a grain of salt

Basically the base building mechanics are just better management of guards and workers, along with a subconscious longing for a nerf to the trading system (it could be overpowered with a right exploit) and more base defense option on the world map.

Now on to the last and not least main catagory -

Progress Mechanics (or uses for XP)

  • Player Upgrade Station
    • You have two main options:
      • Spend XP while you upgrade along with the other costs (self explanatory)
      • Spend XP to raise the cap of what you can upgrade to
        • This make it to where if you have the scrap and supplys you can go up to a certain extent, (level five perhaps?) until you have to "upgrade" the station by using XP, which you would probably have if you been using the upgrades given to you
        • It could raise the cap of all of the options or just that one, really it's your choice (your the "one-who-codes" after all)
  • Bargaining (?)
    • If you want to make the shops delve deeper into the mechanics of buying stuff, you could have the option of bargaining with the shop owner by interacting with them
      • This could be a spin of a wheel if they lower the price for a bit or raise it cause your acting rude; a sure-fire "yes kind stranger demanding a lower price on my gems"; or a mix of the two (like if they raise the prices, if you spend XP again they will definitly make the prices normal)
  • Unlocking Weapons and Armor (maybe tools?)
    • Getting to make guns and grenades is cool, but it can be weird if you haven't made anything else yet (itcan happen if you use the power of trading all your goods for plastic and metal)
    • Getting to make Flame boots and Rocket boots without making a regular boot or looking at it is weird (but the flame boots are nice)
    • Tools could be an option for this, but it may be weird to limit early game so much (maybe have a joke tool, like a bucket that scoops up water from multiple rain barrels with the flavor text saying something along the lines of "you finally learned that a bucket should only have one hole"
  • Upgrading Weapons/Armor/Tools
    • This could add more durability to your weapons/armor/tools
      • If you do this, you may want to make the durability less from the start and make the XP to upgrade low
    • Really durability is all I got right now, I've been typing this for hours
  • Cooking (?)
    • I don't know how cooking is going to work, so this will probably get scrapped; however, making more XP give you better quality (or a chance for higher quality if you want it like a chance to get junk or get 5-star steak)
  • Overworld/World Map Changes you could add(not XP)
    • Paths/Roads/Highways
      • After completing quests (like killing skellys for steven the young) or a more specfic quest (like kill skellys inbetween the tiles of your house and Steven's Ranch to make a path that speeds up travel between the locations
        • Maybe allowing them to be upgraded to a road and to a highway that allows you to go even faster
      • These could attract the Raid Wagons/Raid Llamas after a while (if you were to add those in)
  • Lore & Brooms (Not XP)
    • This is the last and most important suggestion (only because I said so)
    • Brooms could and should have more uses in the progress of expanding the worlds lore, and dusting off signs
      • You could add "glints" which can only be swept up by the broom, otherwise the object would be crumpled, torned, or shattered
      • Signs in random generated structures could have a chance to be covered in sand (leading to you killing those chickens first and only then uncovering the sign saying "please don't eat my chickens")
        • Basically to use to set up jokes
      • Broom should be able to dust of E.D.I.E., I was very sad when I couldn't even after putting wooden floors under him, and even sadder when it just dissappeared when I came back to my base once.
        • This is getting into polish and bugs, which I will do in a different post somewhere else; however, this was a really important one because it was the one that made me sad.

This took four hours to write.

hope your devoloping of the game is going good,(and your (or yalls? you have studios but I don't know if there is one person working on this great game) health in these trying times) I'm going to take a break from sitting down and typing until tommorrow when I write the different post about bugs and what could have polish/details that need more attention to.

Super Awesome Post! I'll respond to all these in detail soon. It is late here when I read it :) A lot of things I planned or wanted to add and some that I never thought of!

Sounds like what you are describing is, SOMEWHAT similar to monster hunter?

Where you slightly build-up and improve your base as a sort of way to gain an advantage for the rest of the game which takes place outside of it?

I do think what you're hitting on is that survival is to an extent contradictory to building, as surviving SHOULD progress towards thriving as you build, if it does not your building will feel pointless, fruitless and unrewarding, why build this awesome base if I'm still somehow left hungry and cold shivering in a ditch?

Personally I find a game that handles this really well to be RimWorld, as the threats of the world scale up as you do, you can definitely feel that you are making progress without feeling like an untouchable god king.

My question to you, is which games of the survival/building genre combo have you played and felt this level of imbalance with?

Rimworld - is a great game, but I don't consider that survival. Maybe it is? It is a strategy/building game IMO.

Fallout 76 - but maybe that game just doesn't work for me because it is Fallout 76. I do remember being ticked of that in the CAMP I was building I still had to stop and go cook or gather more food.

Don't Starve - everything feels like a a chore. I like the game, but imagine the game with a secure base to build what you want with no time constraints.

Monster Hunter - isn't really a survival game either, is it? I've played it a little bit but I don't remember having to eat and drink. I do get what you are saying though; you have a home you comeback to and gear up for the next fight.

The whole Rust genre model I just can't get into. It isn't my style to be a hard core PVP jerk.

I don't play a lot of mobile games but the Last Day On Earth type of games. I've tried several and they run into the same problem. Although they are probably just trying to sell you some MT loot boxes or whatever.

Maybe instead of having food something you MUST eat to survive you could make food give you buffs that will help you tackle great challenges. First game I can think of would be WOW. So if you spend time leveling up cooking or growing crops you can get better loot sooner.

I guess my problem is the time constraint. For example Fallout 1 had a time constraint and I modded the game to basically take it away. I want to take my time and explore. Also maybe if I gave those games a chance it would get better managing all of that stuff. Other might not be like that, I get it. Again this is just my opinion. My taste is games have changed since my child hood. C64 and arcade games are no longer my jam.

Personally I'd 100% consider Rimworld to be survival, it's just that you're not playing as a single entity but rather as the colony as a whole, you still need food, water, temperature, even social interaction and comfort, as well as health, and health for all of your individual body parts and organs, honestly to me it's far more survival-y than most survival games.

Monster Hunter definitely isn't survival, I was just comparing it to what I envisioned what you envisioned may look like, personally I love games where you can build up a sort of home base which aids in all of your adventures, from full on progression, such as new gears, skills, quests or more available to you that simply wouldn't be otherwise, to convenience increases (without making the base unpleasantly inconvenient), for example in raft or even factorio, the ability to slowly automate tasks that once required your full time attention and effort is some of the most satisfying feelings offered by any sandbox game.

An example of that sort of expansion based progress that I personally love is FTB Infinity Evolved skyblock, a minecraft modpack where you start on a TINY, virtually useless dirt island, typically 3x3, 2x2 or 1x1 with a single tree, perhaps a hammer, and from that you begin the process of expansion, cutting trees, planting trees, composting leaves into dirt, expanding your tree farm, creating a crook, collecting silk worms from trees, using silk and wood to make a sieve, sieving dirt to get things like stone, seeds and other resources you use for expansion, the entire game is basically a tech tree that opens up until you've got automated tree/coal/lava/water/obsidian/everything farms, obviously that same scale would be nigh-impossible for a small team to meet, but that feeling is something I think is worth trying to replicate, that feeling of "wow, I can't believe how far I've come"

Honestly, a lot of that was probably of very little use, but I hope you managed to gleam SOMETHING of worth from it. :)


I'd definitely agree on the other examples you gave though, they're definitely games where you are expected to survive, not thrive, which TYPICALLY makes your advances feel insignificant, in contrast, rimworld has an ending, where you leave the planet via starship, effectively making the game a massive roguelike, where you start again if you lose and you have a specfic goal in mind you very well may not reach, factorio is similar in that boat, although I guess Rimworld has saves and Factorio has respawns, so not quite roguelike-y.

I have sooo many opinions about this! Firstly let me say thank you for your work and for continuing this great game!


Survival

I typically don't want to play a survival game, but rather an adventure game. I tolerate survival if the adventure is good. So mix the two. If I'm sitting at home, I should be safe, and be able to build with stone, wood, and perhaps stucco. However, if I want gold, marble, or other exotic materials I'm going to have to brave the outdoors, which get more dangerous the further I adventure. When I get 5 tiles away from the base and have the exhilaration of adventure, I'm equally gripped with the fear of losing everything.

Inventory

I've never heard anyone say they love spending time sorting and managing their inventory. However there is still a dynamic it can have in a game. Instead of making inventory management compulsory, make it a risk. Everything I have on my person is left on my corpse when I die, and I'll have to adventure back out there to get it back. Therefore if I have lots of loot on my back, I'm going to be motivated to drop off at base and adventure out again.

Farming

Superfluous Sand hits farming versus automation really well. I don't want a Factorio. However, when I play Minecraft, I tend to try to automate everything. Why? Because after beating down 500 trees, it gets a little tiring. Also since I never liked the food mechanic, automating a farm has high value. However, I play for adventure (which Minecraft does poorly) and base building, which Minecraft knocks out of the park. I don't play Minecraft because I enjoy sorting inventory, eating food, or living in fear of creepers in a well-lit town full of life.

Adventure

This part IMO is the hardest. Adventure isn't about exploring N+1 procedurally-generated caves. It's about CONTENT. It's about going one tile further into the danger, hoping to see some new enemy, material, or story that I've never seen before. Recoloring a sprite doesn't make it new, either. It should have its own AI, and its own backstory. And above all, when I finally kill them I really hope to see new loot. As you see, adventure is all about content. 

Multiplayer

Multiplayer is the only reason that some games were ever successful, because the content was very limited. It seems like multiplayer can boost your game's publicity, but also drastically raises the difficulty curve of maintenance. I would recommend the Farmville approach. Make one of the tiles public. Anyone can visit my home tile, and interact with it. Their interactions are private (they can't see me and I can't see them). Their interactions cannot negatively affect my town (they can't take my things). However, they can drop off letters or goods if they want to help me out. Now my aspiration is to have a base that other people will see and drool over. 

Base Defense

Base defense is like industrialization. It's not fun in its own right, but when it overcomes a massive nuisance, it can be very satisfying. If my base gets attacked and destroyed by mobs every night, and I finally make an automated-turret perimeter that ends the annoyance once and for all, it's like finally getting rid of an itch or pain after hours of trying. The itch or pain wasn't the positive interaction. My recommendation would be to keep the home tile safe, but allow the player to own an additional home tile outside of the base. Perhaps to extend adventures a little further by not running out of gas. However, the forward-deployed base runs major risk of attack, and setting up a perimeter, while not compulsory, can have a major advantage. 

I agree with all of these things! Adventure is the hardest part because it takes time to do well.

Interresting. And how do you see the interraction of your base with the outerworld ?

For example would it make you more competent (through whichever mecanism) for exploration ?

Trading, caravans, travellers giving quests, unique events tied to the story. The base is where you research and build new tools and upgrade your player.

I think your game lacks brightness. Everything looks too monotonous, and the screenshots and videos (mistakenly) make you bored. It's a time for bright games like Furager and Rimworld.

lol you are probably right. I started this game years ago and went with a desaturated color pallet. Nothing a little shader won't fix though :)