Survival Tropes

Tropes are a thing. A lot of people feel like tropes are the worst thing imaginable, and every new title should be breaking new ground every time, or what is the point? That’s a bit unrealistic, I think. To me, tropes can be comforting. Experience in one game does not often transfer to another, so when it does, it can help in understanding the mechanics that interact in new ways. Plus, sometimes the tropes make the genre what it is.

That said, I have been playing a lot of survival games lately, and some of these tropes have got to go.

Starting out naked with no items? That’s good, important even.

Crafting recipes that require a resource that should be abundant, but turns out to be super rare? That shit has got to go. I’m in Conan: Exiles and there are two early-game arrow recipes: one requires bones and the other requires feathers. Just guess how many bones exist in the average human or animal. If you guessed “a similar number to the amount of feathers that are contained in a clearly-feathered ostrich-like creature,” you would be correct. Zero, specifically, on average.

Although, arguably worse is how little bark you can harvest from trees.

Shit like that didn’t phase me much in the past, but I think I was spoiled by The Forest. In that survival game, you can just chuck dead bodies on your campfire, and 6-7 bones would pop out a few minutes later. Oh, and it has the best building mechanic in any survival game I have played: you set down a blueprint and then have to carry the materials to that location. That makes way better sense than putting 540 stones in your (loincloth) inventory, crafting a Furnace that mysteriously weighs 50% less, and then plopping it down wherever.

At the same time, having experienced the ability to climb anywhere in Conan, it will be tough to go back to other survival games in which a waist-high cliff is an insurmountable obstacle.

One step forward, two, three, sometimes forty steps back.

Posted on July 9, 2018, in Commentary and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. I’d be careful with that appeal to feather-counting realism. Fake scarcity partly offsets our survivor’s ability to build and use all these things in the first place, usually with unerring expertise and reliability. Which is, if you think about it, quite a bit more ridiculous.


    • I get that notion. Exiles actually addresses it somewhat with the Thrall system – the player is never able to craft better weapons or armor than a Tier 3 or 4 Artisan Thrall, whom has worked their whole life at the craft. If I had to choose between an abstracted system in which arrows were hard to come by, or easy but I misfired 80% of the time, then I would absolutely choose the former.

      But, fundamentally, the abstraction is jarring and getting moreso by the day. I am not even particularly certain what meaning it holds anymore. Imagine if killing one ostrich gave me 100 (usable) feathers. We could say that crafting an arrow takes 3 feathers, and thus one bird gives us 33 potential arrows. Or maybe just jack up the requirements further (6-10 feathers) to simulate a failure rate that can be eventually overcame with invested skill points. Or in the most extreme scenario, imagine if one ostrich was enough to cover the feather needs for your entire playthrough.

      …so what? Make a thousand arrows. In Exiles, 100 arrows weighs 10 lbs, so it is not as though you want to be carting them around all the time anyway. All the scarcity seems to be doing is requiring one to kill ostriches for a while, which becomes a rather trivial task by the time you hit level 15. Unlimited tree bark will not break the game in any way either – the bark is just a means of smoking meat and tanning hide, both of which also required you to go out in the world and kill things.


      • You kind of answer your own complaint, though: some abstraction has to exist, resulting in food units per time spent. If we decide that our Tier 1 player experience requires that 60% of daytime be devoted to accounting for hunger and thirst and the remainder can be devoted to other exploration, shelter improvement and teching up, then we have to find an immersive way to achieve that. If we let players ritually kill ten ostriches and bark ten trees to unlock unlimited arrows and smoke, something else will have to give. Maybe animal density or resilience, which would lead to another suite of complaints about unfindable, seemingly invincible deer.

        Which, as you observe, would feel worse for dopamine reasons. The little hit of finding each fake-scarce bark is still a hit in the moment, however much one may grouse about the triviality of the task. Spending requisite time on that process cuts down on allotted hunting time, which allows the game to give you easier hunts when you do hunt, which produces more success-feelings.


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