Gaming Middle Class

Gevlon had an interesting post musing about the gaming middle class.

The current situation is this: if you are a time-rich player without a lot of money, there is no better time to be a gamer than now. Just think about how many F2P titles out there that are available. Similarly, if you are a money-rich gamer looking to get their whale on, look no further than damn near anywhere. If you fall somewhere inbetween, then you essentially get the worst of all possible worlds – pwned both by the time-rich players able to dedicate more time than you, and the money-rich players who buy every advantage.

Making things even worse, Gevlon notes the very model seems to squeeze out the middle-class:

The same question can be asked in every monetized game: why pay anything unless you go full whale? Either enjoy the game for free (if it’s enjoyable), or pay enough to be the king of the hill and enjoy pwning “n00bs”. I believe more and more people will realize this and stop paying/playing. Which in turn creates the wrong impression that potential players are either free or whale, making the games more monetized.

I have experienced this several times in the various phone apps I use to kill time. Clash Royale is an example, insofar as you should either be going all-in or not at all. If you buy a little advantage in the form of bonus chests or upgrades from the shop, you will likely be able to leverage that to boost your rank on ladder. Problem is, you then are facing either whales who are less skilled than you but are leaning on overleveled cards, or people who spent a lot of time getting to that rank with their normal cards and are likely better than you head-to-head. Eventually you will settle at your 50/50 skill range, but that doesn’t make the games in which you lost to overleveled garbage players feel any better.

Another example is a gacha-style anime-inspired game that I will leave nameless, as they are all basically the same. While you can unlock new heroes randomly from “vending machines,” there is a special vending machine that only unlocks when you reach VIP level 9. Ranking up your VIP levels is 100% dependent on spending real money buying diamonds, and VIP 9 requires $200 total to reach. That’s right, two hundred US dollars. This is quite literally pay-to-win, as the special vending machine has exclusive heroes much more powerful than anything else.

Nevertheless, I have still spent ~$35 and ~$20, respectively, in both games over the year or so I’ve been playing them. Like many games of their ilk, a “small” “investment” towards the beginning of the experience allows you to remove some obnoxious barriers for the rest of the game. In Clash’s specific case, there was 10x value deal that remains the best deal to date, such that if one was ever going to spend cash, it would be for that.

As noted, the trouble is that the very monetization scheme punishes middle-class gamers, further polarizing the remainder. How would you even focus on the middle-class in this or any scenario?

Well, just ask the WoW devs.

After thinking about it, the (intentional or not) design philosophy behind WoW from Wrath onwards caters almost directly to the middle-class gamer. The time-rich player will be decked out in the best gear either from raiding or grinding, no matter which expansion we’re talking about. The middle-class though, is unlikely to be able to raid very much given inconsistent hours. Enter LFD, enter LFR, enter Badges/Honor/etc.

Many people will try to exclaim that constant gear resets – happening on a patch basis rather than expansion – hurts people by invalidating all the work you did. Guess what: if frequent gear resets hurts you, you’re time-rich. If you want pain, try doing anything useful outside of a progression raiding guild in the Burning Crusade. If you were not cresting the wave of attunements at the right time, you were stuck in the backwash with little way forward.

So, if you want a model for capturing the gaming middle-class, WoW is it (and presumably FF14). Subscriptions to put everyone on the same field, then allow the time-rich to grind/raid their way to advantage, but cap said advantage with things like weekly lockouts and frequent gear resets. Keep the delta between the haves and have-nots at a reasonable percentage. Make progression possible without needing to specifically put a videogame event on your IRL calendar. Season with some whale-bait (WoW Tokens, cash shop) to taste, and you’re good.

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Airspace

Has there ever been an interesting and/or fun flying mechanic in any game?

I keep asking myself that question, as my eyes glaze over while holding Shift + W in an attempt to get somewhere in Ark on a flying mount. Flying anywhere in Ark is especially egregious, as not only is there no auto-Run/Sprint, letting go of the W key will cause your mount to stop moving altogether. Flying is not particularly engaging in WoW either, but at least you can hit NumLock (or other keybind) and then Alt-Tab for a while.

Which then begs the question of why flying commonly works the way it does at all.

In WoW, it is in perhaps its most banal form: a land mount that moves on a 3rd axis. Up, down, sideways, for infinite periods of time. Back when Flightgate was occurring, I was firmly in Camp Fly, but not because flying itself was particularly fun. Back in Burning Crusade when there were actual concerns – Fel Cannons and flying enemies capable of dismounting you – but those have largely been abandoned in favor of… attunements and grinding. Not a particular improvement.

In Ark, things are a tiny bit different. The biggest difference would be the existence of a Stamina meter, requiring one to eventually land somewhere. This need for landing does slightly alter the gameplay of flying, insofar as you must make decisions to, say, attempt to cross the Swamp at low Stamina or rest up beforehand. Otherwise, flying is largely identical, with no real to worry about running into trees or being attacked by really anything (PvP aside).

Know something that I do find compelling gameplay? Gliding. A lot of people have gone on about GW2’s introduction of gliding in Heart of Thorns and how great it is, but I’ve never experience it there. In WoW though, the Goblin Glider has been my fam for most of Legion. And don’t get me started on how lethargic it feels to play any other class after experiencing the Demon Hunter for 20 minutes. Double-jump plus glide everywhere? Give that dev a raise.

Gliding has a lot going for it, mechanically. There is the gameplay necessary to get to a high enough location to glide in the first place, for example. Once you actually take the leap, your time is limited in a very real, intuitive way. Stamina bars can technically limit flight too, but only abstractly. There is something engaging about the way you might scan the ground ahead, making minor course corrections, seeking to avoid the dangers at the end of your decaying trajectory. Even if you are not actively moving left or right, your mind is still performing the prodigious, subconscious calculus of triangulation every second. Compare that to Shift + W.

The “obvious” solution is to make flying mounts handle more like gliders. But is that really a winning combination? Maybe.

I think the challenge is the threading of the needle between making flying engaging without it being onerous. Having to press Spacebar for each flap of the mount’s wings is probably not the way to go. Being able to dive bomb though? Catching updrafts? Gliding around obstacles? Having to actually pay attention when flying through forests? That is something I can get behind. One of my favorite mounts in Ark is actually the Giant Toad, as its huge jumps are infinitely entertaining in of themselves. Can you imagine a game, MMO or otherwise, that had a flying system fun enough to be its own reward, rather than merely a mechanism to get from A to B?

If it already exists, let me know where.

Auspicious Timing

Looked at my email earlier today, and saw these three right in a row:

SteamTiming

While I neglected to unsubscribe from the Humble Monthly before and got burned a month or two back, the current offering is something I am interested in:

Raider1

The wishlist item on sale in Steam today? Hmm:

Raider2

Technically, the above Steam offering includes the Season Pass for the game, which includes DLC that adds ~3 hours to the story, some new game modes, more outfits/weapons, and so on. You can buy the Season Pass for $12 by itself, making the Steam bundle technically cost the same as the Humble Monthly… aside from the free mystery games, of course.

Looking back years from now, Steam is still going to be known as one of those transformative phenomenons that changed the way we bought and played games. But more and more, sites like Humble Bundle are going to deserve something more of a footnote on that same page of history.

Advanced Ark Guide

A lot of the fun of survival games is learning from your early pain and suffering, figuring out how everything works, then coming back and steamrolling those same challenges. If you are just looking for some early-game direction, I recommend reading the Spoiler-Free Beginner’s Guide. It gives you a leg up, but not the whole body.

The rest of this guide? The whole damn body. Read at your own risk of adventure.

 

General Base Considerations

First things first: build two beds. You can stick two practically on top of each other, while still fitting in a 1×1 Thatch hut. Beds have a ~5 minute respawn cooldown, but it’s per bed, so having two will effectively remove the cooldown. This is a good idea whether you’re at an outpost or your main base.

Second… go ahead and double or triple up on everything, wherever you are. A stack of 200 Metal Ore takes over 30 minutes to smelt in one Refining Forge. Split that stack across two Forges, and now it only takes 15 minutes. Chances are good if you managed to collect a whole stack of Metal Ore, the extra 125 Stone and 65 Hide for Forge materials are not going to be a limiting factor here.

Ark_Campfires

Resources are cheap, time is not.

Similarly, if you’ve unlocked the Preserving Bin and have a dino capable of harvesting a bunch of meat, go ahead and throw down 3-4 Campfires at a time and light them all up. Stacks of Cooked Meat are always going to be useful, either as general walking-around food or Cooking Pot materials, and the collected Charcoal will useful for Gunpowder.

Third, take a moment to reflect on your base layout and location. How far are you from water? Are there strategic resources nearby? Is this area defensible? There is nothing particularly stopping you from recreating a primary base elsewhere… other than the logistics of either moving all your old stuff and/or tamed dinos. Better to get it right the first time though.

As far as layout goes, there are some obvious-in-retrospect ways of arranging things. For example, you are going to want most of your crafting stations and containers within reaching distance of each other without moving – this will allow you to move hundreds of pounds of resources between containers, e.g. double your max carrying capacity. Likewise, you will want there to be room for you to do the same thing when removing items from tamed dinos to your containers.

This was my base setup originally:

Ark_BadLayout

Not like this.

While everything was within reach, I actually had to hop over my Smithy to get out of the circle, and I was constantly running out of room for stuff. After watching some Youtube videos of other setups though, I realized that yeah, you can arrange your Large Storage Containers like this instead:

Ark_BetterLayout

Doubles as a good OCD test.

Four times the storage and more room to move around. I removed the Refining Forge entirely, because my main base is nowhere near natural Metal deposits, and it’s much more efficient smelting on-site, and either bringing back the Metal Ingots or finished products.

Base Locations

Speaking of that, where should you be building a base? The answer is: wherever you want.

But, really, here are some other considerations:

Ark_Map

Consideration 1: Metal Nodes

The above map displays Metal Nodes around The Island map, along with the Obelisks. No matter what you plan on doing in Ark, you will need Metal eventually, for weapons, ammo, structures, tools, or even just saddles. It’s not impossible to build your main base over near, say, the Red Obelisk, but you will be performing some serious long-distance trucking to get those ingots.

Another consideration? Check where beacons come down. That’s right, there are specific, set locations where beacons spawn on the regular. Most of them will be filled with garbage, especially if you build up in the southern areas of the Island. But, hey, free is free. If it’s all the same to you, I’d suggest going over to that next ridge where they spawn before setting down roots.

Finally, consider where some more esoteric resources might be available. Giant Beaver Dams, for example, are great sources of Cementing Paste and Wood. While the specific spawn locations are not fixed, there are some rough guides. Giant Bee Hives can spawn pretty much anywhere, and can technically be moved, but if you manage to find one near a potential base location, that area should be considered prime real estate. Oh, and if you’ll be needing Sap, maybe choose something closer to the Redwood Forest area.

 

Countering Dinos

When you are just starting out, just about everything is scary and can kill you. Once you figure out “the trick” for specific tiers of dinos though, they start becoming speed bumps instead of brick walls. Less scary, but can still kill you if you’re sloppy.

Here are the tiers:

Slingshot: This tier encompasses any dino encounter that can be defeated by simply backpedaling at normal speed. This includes any passive creature like the Dodo, but also more dangerous ones (once provoked) like the Trike and Turtle (Carbonemys), provided they could catch you. Which they shouldn’t be able to.

Spear: The simple spear provides enough knockback to keep the target at bay until death. Quintessential example being the Dilo (Dilophosaurus), aka the spitting one. Insects and most fish belong to this group too. Troodan, notably, do not, since they can leap back at you.

Bola: Too fast or large to be affected by the spear’s knockback, but small enough to be rooted by a Bola. Most common contender in this tier is the Raptor. While the Bola can trivialize encounters with these dinos, keep in mind that it takes a few seconds to wind up the throw, and most of these dinos are especially dangerous if they get the jump on you on the ground.

Platform: Encompassing the rest of Ark’s carnivores unaffected by the Bola, you will likely need to be on a platform (e.g. cliff face, rock, structure) in order to safely take it out. Alternatively, sometimes a platform can be substituted with a Wooden Spike Wall instead. This works well with creatures like the otherwise deadly Therizinosaur, who will happily attack the 3500 HP wall while you re-feather its head with arrows.

All of the above assumes you are trying to take down a dino unassisted, using common weapons around the level of the beast you are encountering. Facing down a Carno on foot with nothing but a Crossbow is scary. Doing so while wielding a Pump-Action Shotgun and 400+ HP with armor? Much less so. Hell, add two Trikes to your bodyguard detail and you can take out a large chunk of the food chain using just a Spear yourself.

Taming Dinos and Utility

It always bear repeating: Ark is a dinosaur taming game. What balance exists in the game is dependent upon it; a lone survivor isn’t one for long. Here is some early-game progression:

  • Unlock the Slingshot at level 5. Go tame a few Dilos.
  • Unlock the Wooden Club at level 8 and Bola at level 9. Tame some Raptors.
  • Farm Hides for a while, using your Bow (level 10) and/or dino buddies.
  • Unlock the Trike Saddle at level 16, craft it, and go tame a Triceratops.
  • Unlock Mortar and Pestle (level 6) if you haven’t already, and use the Trike to collect hundreds of nacroberries in less than a minute so you can turn them into Narcotics.
  • Tame another Trike, and leave both parked in your base for protection.
  • Unlock Tranquilizer Arrows at level 21. Enjoy your ability to tame damn near anything.

Along with their normal characteristics, many dinos have “secret” talents that elevate their value far beyond normal. For the most part, you will need to have a saddle created for the dino in order to take advantage of their skills, but sometimes you do not. Here is a non-exhaustive list, based on the level at which you can craft a saddle for them:

  • (Lvl 6) Phiomia: Force-feeding Stimberries will create Medium Feces on demand.
  • (Lvl 16) Trike: Excellent tank/base defense, gathers 100s of berries at a time.
  • (Lvl 18) Raptor: Best early-game mount, and protector while exploring.
  • (Lvl 20) Equus: e.g. wild horse, has reduced Stone weight and is fast. Saddle acts as Mortar & Pestle.
  • (Lvl 30) Iguanodon: Infinite Sprint on four legs, high jumping on two. Can turn plant into seeds.
  • (Lvl 31) Mammoth: Wood gathering machine, and makes Wood weigh 75% less.
  • (Lvl 34) Doedicurus: Stone gathering machine, and makes Stone weigh 75% less.
  • (Lvl 36) Ankylo: Metal gathering machine, and makes Metal weigh 75% less.
  • (Lvl 37) Sabertooth: Efficient at gathering Hides, Chitin, and Keratin. Decent speed.
  • (Lvl 38) Pteranodon: First flying mount. Pretty speedy too. Can grab tiny dinos.
  • (Lvl 40) Beelzebufo: e.g. giant toad, huge jumps, turns insects into Cementing Paste, fast in water.
  • (Lvl 43) Pelagornis: Flyer that can land on water. Harvests fish easily. Fishing Pole from saddle.
  • (Lvl 61) Castoroides: e.g. giant beaver, Wood gathering machine, gathering Wood automatically while Wandering. Wood, Stone, Thatch, and Fiber weigh 50% less. Fast swimmer. Saddle is mobile Smithy.
  • (Lvl 62) Argentavis: Fantastic flyer with lots of Stamina and Carry Weight. Can pick up most medium-sized dinos, including Raptors, Titanboas, etc. Best everyday flying mount.
  • (Lvl 69) Therizinosaur: Insanely versatile, bordering on OP. High health, high DPS. Left-click harvests Meat and Wood incredibly fast. Right-click harvests 100s of Fiber from bushes. C attack harvests Hide and Chitin from corpses, Berries from bushes. Each level-up also allows greater specialization in harvesting types (Delicate vs Power) via Interact Menu.

As you might expect, higher levels give you access to better options. Do note however, that your ability to actually find and/or tame these dinos are not assured at the level you could. For example, while you unlock the saddle at level 34, the Doedicurus curls up into a defensive ball after losing health, which makes knocking them out difficult without having Tranq Darts (unlocked at level 62). One of the few ways around that is to use a Beelzebufo’s attack, which adds Torpor while dealing little damage. But even then, the Beelzebufo saddle is only unlocked six levels after the other one.

Then there is the matter of finding these dinos. The Mammoth and Equus are relatively low level tames, but they are not commonly found in the South, which is where you might be spawning as a newer player. So, if you want to be taming creatures when you unlock their saddle, you might have to, ahem, hoof it yourself and find them.

Cooking Like a Pro

There are two types of recipes: Standard and Custom. It’s a good idea to utilize both.

Standard Recipes

All recipes below require there to be water in the cookpot, in form of a filled waterskin.

  • Enduro Stew (+melee, +healing): Mejo (10), Carrot (5), Potato (5), Stimulant (2), Cooked Meat (9)
  • Focal Chili (+crafting, +movement): Mejo (10), Yellow/Blue/Red (20), Lemon (5), Cooked Meat (9)
  • Lazarus Chowder (+underwater): Mejo (10), Corn (5), Potato (5), Narcotic (2), Cooked Meat (9)
  • Calien Soup (+hot area): Mejo (10), Yellow/Red (20), Lemon (5), Stimulant (2)
  • Fria Curry (+cold area): Mejo (10), Blue (20), Corn (5), Carrot (5), Narcotic (2)
  • Medical Brew (+40 HP): Red (20), Narcotic (2)
  • Sweet Vegetable Cake (special): Fiber (25), Corn (2), Carrot (2), Potato (2), Stimulant (4), Sap (4), Giant Bee Honey (2)

As you might expect, the feasibility of having a ready stock of most of these items is dependent on having a robust Greenhouse situation and/or playing on a server with Crop Growth cranked up. Medical Brew is the exception, needing only some Narcotics and 20 Tintoberries, both of which can be harvested enmass by a Trike or other herbivore. The catch is the 2 hour spoilage timer, although it lasts longer when refrigerated.

Custom Recipes

While custom recipes might sound both cool and complicated, it is really neither. The steps are:

  1. Craft a blank Note.
  2. Place Note and ingredients in Cooking Pot.
  3. Click Make Recipe
  4. Ensure Recipe note is in Cooking Pot with ingredients, then start fire.

The final output is an item with a percentage of the effects of the individual ingredients. What percentage that ends up being is based on your Crafting Speed stat at Step 3 only. A full optimization would require a level-capped player to consume a Mindwipe Tonic, place all of their upgrades in Crafting Speed, consume a Focal Chili, and then pen some recipes before using another Mindwipe Tonic to get their stats back. Thereafter, whoever uses that recipe will get the full benefits no matter their Crafting Speed. Because that makes sense.

For the rest of us, the “hidden” benefits of custom recipes (with the help of Focal Chili) still makes things worthwhile. For example, a custom recipe for 20 Raw Meat creates an item that grants 43 Food and 32 HP. That may seem pitiful considering a single piece of Cooked Meat restores 20 Food and 8 HP. The upside is that the custom recipe doesn’t need to be cooked, weighs 0.3 pounds, and lasts for 48 hours in your inventory, rather than 20 minutes.

So, really, custom recipes are mainly about saving space and avoiding spoilage. Did your Mammoth get bogged down with hundreds of pounds of berries when it was harvesting lumber? A 10 lb stack of Tintoberries can get refined down to a 1.1 lb paste that grants you 53 Food and 15 HP.

Bonus tip: Stimberries and Stimulants are great for giving a Stamina boost at the expense of thirst. Cut out the downside by creating a custom food (as opposed to drink) recipe of, say, 50 Stimberries. That’ll give you 27 Food, 8 HP, and ~89 Stamina back without the thirst. Just note that these gains are capped at basically 1/second, but it should still aid in your sprint out of danger.

Harvesting Specialty Resources

Beyond the basic building resources like Stone and Wood, there exists a lot of specialty resources to craft more advanced items. Gathering these special resources is sometimes a pain, depending on the method. Here are some of the best.

Cementing Paste

The default method of creating Cementing Paste is x4 Chitin/Kreatin + x8 Stone. This is incredibly inefficient though, as it would require 200 Chitin/400 Stone for an Assault Rifle, or even 2400 Chitin/4800 Stone for a Wooden Tree Platform.

The best and easiest source are wild Beaver Dams. These are built by Castoroides, and are located on land or in the water. While accessing the inventory of a Beaver Dam will cause all nearby Castoroides to go hostile, each one usually contains 150+ Cementing Paste. Since items do not respawn inside containers, it’s best to loot (and drop) the rest, so that the Beaver Dam collapses and another one can spawn later.

Ark_BeaverDam

Basically, any water feature not the ocean or swamp.

The second best source is from the Beelzebufo mount. Using Right-Click against insects will result in 5-15 Cementing Paste apiece, along with some Chitin. The biggest challenge is finding a stable enough insect population. The good news is that the mount is adept at navigating the same areas where Beaver Dams spawn, so one can double-dip in farming.

Third, there is a “passive” form of collection: from tamed Achatina, e.g. giant snail. These creatures will slowly accumulate both Achatina Paste (same properties as Cementing Paste) and Organic Polymer up to 100 apiece in their inventories. The catch is that Achatinas only eat Sweet Vegetable Cake, which requires both Sap and Giant Bee Honey, which are themselves specialty resources.

(Organic) Polymer

The default method of Polymer production is x2 Cementing Paste + x2 Obsidian. This isn’t too terrible by itself, although it requires the construction of a Fabricator, which uses Gasoline as its fuel. Organic Polymer can be substituted for Polymer in all situations, and the Ghillie Suit actually requires Organic Polymer specifically in its construction.

Note: You will want a Wooden Club or Metal Sword for harvesting Organic Polymer. A tamed Pelagornis will also work effectively. Hatchets or Picks will give you none.

The best and easiest farming target are Kairuku, aka penguins. Each iceberg in the NW corner of the Island has a dozen or so, and they react basically like the Dodo when attacked or threatened. Tragically, the babies have the most Organic Polymer, so club them first.

Ark_Duck

They are basically… ahem, sitting ducks.

If you are far from the North, the alternative source will be from Hesperornis, aka duck-like birds. You can typically find them swimming around shorelines and rivers hunting for fish. While they have zero offensive capabilities, note that that they frequently exist in otherwise dangerous areas. Keep an eye out for Sarcos, Spinos, and other river terrors.

Considering that Organic Polymer spoils extremely quickly (~30 minutes) and is unaffected by most preservation techniques, be sure and have the other materials/blueprints ready to go for when you collect this resource. The last thing you want to happen is collecting a bunch and then scrambling to find the other materials.

Obsidian

Black rocks on mountains. Go mine them.

Oil

There are several different sources of Oil in Ark, with different levels of ease of acquirement.

The first would be the Oil Rocks up in the NW corner of the Island, and scattered about in other snowy regions. While the environment is hostile, mining them is almost as easy as clubbing seals for Organic Polymer. The tricky part is actually traveling all the way up there, so be sure to stock up via boat or wagon train once you’ve made the effort.

Second would be the Oil nodes located in many places in the ocean. These are usually closer to home, but often require long dives in hostile waters. Cook some Lazarus Chowder and bring a dino that can breathe underwater. Underwater caves are another source, but chances are that you won’t be needing this guide if you are advanced enough to be plumbing those depths.

Third, is from killing/harvesting Trilobites and Leeches. You actually get a respectable amount of Oil from each kill, but the trouble is actually finding a suitable amount of targets. In that regard, be sure and stop what you are doing and kill them if you happen to spot any, no matter what else you might have been doing.

Finally, there is a quasi-passive source: Dung Beatles. These animals have to be tamed and brought out of the caves they inhabit, then be fed a constant source of Feces (tame a Phiomia) before it is turned into Fertilizer and a bit of Oil. While it ain’t nothing, Medium Animal Feces is turned into x2 Fertilizer and x4 Oil after 15 minutes. This might be enough Oil to keep the lights on (via Gasoline), but not for those endgame Industrial stations that need 400+ to craft.

Sap/Giant Bee Honey

These are combined because the only real reason you might need either is for Sweet Vegetable Cake, so they go hand-in-hand.

For Sap, there is no reasonable way to avoid crafting at least one Tree Sap Tap. Then you have to specifically place them high up in a Redwood Tree. Being able to collect the Sap will require either a Wooden Tree Platform (600 Cementing Paste!) or constructing your own janky scaffolding out of Wooden Pole and ladders. Once that’s done, visit it periodically to collect your 20 Sap.

Giant Bee Honey can be harvested from Giant Bee Hives, tamed or wild. The taming process to set up your own Hives in convenient locations is quite difficult, and requires a lot of prep work – Bug Repellent, Ghillie Suit, hand-feeding Rare Flowers to the Queen Bee, etc. If you don’t need a constant source of Sweet Vegetable Cake, it might be better to just note the locations of wild hives and swipe their honey when needed; a Ghillie Suit and fast escape mount are recommended.

Final Thoughts

Ark is a fascinating sandbox experience, even when just played in Single-Player. No matter how powerful you end up feeling, the game world is ready to remind you to take it seriously or suffer the sometimes absurd consequences. While even a low-level Argentavis mount can effectively (albeit slowly) murder the meanest Alpha predators with impunity, all it takes is one Microraptor sailing out of trees to knock you off your mount into a pool of Megapiranha before you realize how dangerous the world still is.

Hopefully the above guide is enough to give you the edge necessary to survive out there. Or at least live that much longer.

Spoiler-Free Beginner Ark Guide

There is no tutorial or hand-holding in Ark. The game is unfair, the world hostile, and the dinosaurs are without remorse. While that is part of the appeal of the game for some people, it can also serve as a barrier to others who might otherwise enjoy the experience. That’s the purpose of this guide: provide enough hand-holding to get you out of the nest safely, and into free-fall.

Whether you flap your wings afterwards, is up to you.

Spawning

When you first start Ark, you will have to choose a general starting area to spawn into the world, but the specific location will be random within that area. As the game text mentions, some areas are easier than others. While you cannot do much about the randomness at the beginning, one of the first things you will want to accomplish is removing the randomness by building a bed, and NOT a Sleeping Bag. Beds have infinite respawns, sleeping bags have one respawn.

Note: You can build more than one bed. In fact, I highly recommend you build at least two, even in your first starter base. There is a respawn cooldown of 5 minutes, but that’s per bed. This will allow you a 2nd chance at collecting your stuff if the first naked run doesn’t work out.

Basic Gathering

At the beginning, think Minecraft: punch trees for Wood and Thatch, collect rocks from the ground, then craft a Stone Pick. Use that to collect some more material to craft a Stone Hatchet. Between the two, the Hatchet will collect more building material (Wood, Stone, Hide) from an object, whereas the Pick will collect “special” material better (Flint, Metal, Meat). For the majority of the game, the Hatchet is where it’s at.

By the way, save every piece of Flint, Charcoal, and Spoiled Meat you find/create. You’ll be using those quite a bit for mid-game stuff.

Death

Dying in Ark is practically an everyday experience in the beginning, especially before you get to taming a lot of dinos. When you die, everything that you were carrying will drop to the ground into a backpack, which will despawn in 15 minutes. Additionally, your backpack will (usually) have a beam of green light shooting out of it, to assist in recovering your gear.

There are some key things to note here, given the above. The biggest is the fact that whatever killed you will still be hanging around your corpse. Dinos will wander around randomly, but they frequently do not roam large distances, and certainly not within a tidy 15-minute timeframe. So, you will need to make a decision about whether or not it’s worth trying to grab your stuff. That decision will also be informed about whether or not you can grab your stuff naked, which is your immediate condition having just respawned.

Here is a good breakdown off “the rules” then:

  1. Only carry what you are willing to lose.
  2. Die in a convenient location.
  3. Don’t be greedy.

The first rule is just a basic philosophy that you will need to embrace in Ark. Do you really need to be running around in your best armor and weapons all the time? Are you sure that carrying two rafts in your inventory is a good idea when exploring a cave? Unlike a lot of games, the basic armor and weapons of Ark are still viable for a large portion of encounters you’ll face. Once you have tons of resources and duplicates, sure, go out there in your Sunday best. But only do that if you’re not afraid of losing what you got.

A convenient location to die would be one in which is farther from whatever killed you to begin with, but easy to access for your replacement. Sometimes this means throwing yourself from a cliff, sometimes this means not throwing yourself from a cliff. Similarly, forcing that Carno to chase you into the water means there will be a buffer to snag your stuff back. Then again, there could be a swarm of sharks in the area too. Try your best, but also acknowledge that sometimes you will need to cut your losses and move on.

Finally, being greedy means hitting up one last node despite having already collected more than you need. Every moment away from home is a risk, and nothing in your inventory is really yours until it makes it back into container. Besides, you’ll likely have more than one death due to something dumb like Compys who ate your ankles because you gathered 20 more pounds of Metal Ore and became too encumbered to run away.

Inventory Interaction

By default, E is the button to interact with just about everything: containers, campfires, dino inventories, etc. This will get annoying over time though, because pressing E around a campfire will light/smother the flames rather than giving you access to the Cooked Meat you wanted. Get in the habit of pressing F to access inventories instead. Pressing F will directly access the inventory of your target, up to and including a dino you might be riding.

Taming

This might seem silly to mention, but this is a dinosaur taming game. When I first started playing, I didn’t tame anything until level 21 when I unlocked Tranquilizer Arrows. This was a mistake. You can and should be taming dinos as soon as you have your basics covered, e.g. hut with some storage and a bed.

Here are the steps to taming:

  1. Render a dino unconscious.
  2. Feed it food it likes.
  3. ???
  4. Profit

Some dinos are tamed “passively,” which means skipping step 1). For the vast majority though, you need to knock them out. You accomplish that by dealing Torpor damage. The early game options available for inducing Torpor are: Slingshot, Wooden Club, and Tranq Arrows. While it will be quite a challenge to knock out fast-moving predators like Raptors with something like a Slingshot, there are a lot of dinos that are fairly slow and can be kited around. In the early game, for example, Dilos make excellent guard dogs. And if you manage to make it on top of a rock or cliff that the dino can’t reach, you can typically knock out just about anything.

Once unconscious, go up to the dino and access it’s inventory by pressing E or F. Transfer food from your inventory to theirs, either by left-clicking for individual items, or by pressing T to transfer the entire stack. While there is special “kibble” that can be used to speed up the process, you can stick with raw meat for carnivores and berries for the herbivores. Special note for the latter though, do NOT give them Stimberriers – eating those can make the dino wake up faster.

Depending on the server settings, taming dinos can take a long time. To keep them unconscious, you’re going to need to keep their Torpor meter up. Beating them with a Wooden Club can do this, but any damage taken will reduce Taming Effectiveness, which in turn makes the dino gain fewer bonus levels. Typically, you’ll want to use either Narcoberries or Narcotics. Place either one into the dino’s inventory, hover over the icon and press E. This will “force-feed” the dino the item. The Torpor gain will not be immediate, but rather gradual. Depending on the dino, you may need to force-feed them quite a few.

Note: many older videos/guides used the term “Remote Use Item,” which doesn’t exist in the game anymore. Pressing E on an item in the dino’s inventory does the same thing.

Controlling Dinos

Once you have tamed a dino, there are several means by which you can control them. If you have a saddle available, you can directly mount them and ride around. Some dinos are more useful than others as actual means of transportation though. Raptors are extremely fast, for instance, whereas Trikes are extremely slow. That said, saddles give you access to a given dino’s special talents, which sometimes more than makes up for its other deficiencies. For example, that same slow Trike can harvest 100s of berries at a time from nearby bushes, but only if you are riding it with a saddle.

Dinos are still extremely useful even without a saddle. If they are on Follow Mode and Attack MY Target, they will, well, follow you around and help kill your foes. This can and will save your life many a time if you happen to stumble into a bad situation you were not prepared for. If you are trying to tame additional dino pals though, be sure to switch your current bodyguards to Passive.

Surviving the Early Game

As mentioned previously, Ark is unfair. But it is unfair in fairly consistent ways. There will be times when there really is nothing you can do to avoid death. Other times? You can survive. Here are some quick tips for the common causes of death in the early game.

Dilos – Counter: Spears. The biggest gimmick with Dilos is their spit attack. It’s sometimes difficult to juke, so I like to jump right before they spit, which usually causes it to sail over my head. Beyond that, a simple Wooden Spear has greater reach than their melee attack, and will knock them back far enough to strike again with relative impunity.

Raptor – Counter: Bolas. Raptors are too fast to outrun, and spears aren’t near strong enough to keep them at bay. But a single Bola will automatically root them for ~30 seconds. Once rooted, shoot them in the face, or maybe beat them unconscious with a Wooden Bat if you have one handy.

Carnos – Counter: Turtles. Truly one of the more annoyingly unfair dinos in the early game, Carnos have a HUGE aggro radius and will relentlessly chase you down with what seems like infinite Stamina. One trick though, is that if you can kite them into the path of a turtle (i.e. Carbonemys), the Carno will injure itself and start attacking the turtle instead. Take that opportunity to book it or try and take it down.

—–

Hopefully the above is enough get you started in your Ark experience.

Ark Life

Ark can teach you a lot about life. Namely, man’s futile struggle against a hostile, uncaring universe.

Ark_FeelingLucky

Don’t do it… it’s a trap!

It all started when I returned to my base with a handful of Obsidian from a scouting expedition. Emboldened by my success, and reading about the usefulness of the Sabertooths (Saberteeth?) I spotted on the mountain, I took flight again to snag a pair.

Life 1

I made it to the mountain in one piece, and scout around. I spot a pack of four Sabertooths, land on a nearby rock, and tranq two but the others had already wandered off. While taming, I am stuffing my face with Cooked Meat, because the temperature of the mountain is below zero. During this process, I realize that I’m out of Raw Meat, rapidly losing health due to the weather (no Fur clothing, because no Fur from these dinos), and while I have plenty of arrows, my crossbow itself is about to break. Shit. In a frantic bit of survivalship, I manage to kill some dinos for meat, tame the Sabertooths, and make my way to the warmer beach. Then I begin the journey back to my home base.

Along the way, I have to go through the Swamp biome. I stick to the edge, between the Swamp and the ocean, to avoid the more dangerous swamp creatures. What I did not avoid was the seemingly endless amount of piranhas. Despite doing only 15-20 damage per hit, one tiger dies. I hop off my bird to try and assist the remaining tiger. One minute later, the piranhas eat the remaining tiger and, somehow, my flying mount. I embrace the darkness.

Life 2

Take a backup bird to fly back and get my dropped items. This time, I load up on a fresh crossbow and extra meat. Spot my corpse, pick up my items. In the distance, I notice a low-level Sacro (e.g. giant crocodile). Thinking this might be a worthwhile tame to assist with the piranhas, I land on a rock and start shooting tranqs. With the Sacro down, I hop off the rock to start feeding it meat.

That’s when its mate shows up and starts feeding on me. Turning around to try and escape on my bird, I notice that the bird has simply dematerialized. No death record, it’s just glitched out of the game. Cool. I die.

Life 3

Fuck it, Imma build a boat.

Tour length: 3 hours.

I spent the next few days collecting resources and constructing a boat and adding crafting stations and such to it. The goal was originally to boat up to the mountain, tame the Sabertooths, then boat them back. That’s when I realized that the snowy biome sounds more interesting, and hey, those penguins give you tons of Organic Polymer when you beat them with clubs. No, seriously, that’s how it works. Since I need a bunch of Polymer to craft advanced weaponry, let’s head North instead.

After a long time, I make it to the Snow biome. Club some seals, mine some frozen Oil, good times. Off in the distance, I see a Carno and some of hell boars. Huh, interesting. I craft some stuff for a bit, and then start to prepare to take my bird out to collect more resources. Except now there is a Carno and some hell boars, having aggro’d and swam out to greet me, clipping through the bottom of my boat killing my birds and my favorite mount. Fuck this.

Life 4

I ruthlessly murder every Carno and hell boar that I see. At one point, I got a little too zealous and fell off my rock perch, and the hell boars got their revenge.

Life 5

Let’s just avoid that area and get a little further North. What’s the worse thing that can happen?

This. This is the worst thing that can happen.

—–

It should be noted that I am actively save scumming in Ark, e.g. backing up files. Why they just don’t add a Quick Save functionality to Single-Player Mode, I don’t know. Perhaps it goes against the general principle of Ark, or might give people the wrong impression when/if they try and go to public servers and lose all their stuff for real.

In any case, I don’t even feel the least bit bad for what I’m doing. I cannot possibly imagine a scenario in which “cheating myself” out of that last loss will result in more game time than rewinding it. Maybe if this was more of a roguelike with a definite end, like Don’t Starve (Adventure mode), or even Binding of Isaac, I can see less replay value overall. With Ark though, losing an entire boat worth of stuff along with some of my best tames? I would be more liable to quit altogether than start over. Or perhaps never to have set sail in the first place, which is kinda the same thing.

I guess we’ll see. I managed to craft a modern pistol and assault rifle with my (rewinded) resources, while avoiding the anti-boat whale area. If the novelty of Ark wears off after gaining such weaponry, perhaps I did “cheat” myself out of time. Then again, I still have projects that I want to complete, caves I want to explore, and map to uncover. I’m thinking it’s better overall to trade future game time of uncertain value for non-frustrating gameplay right now.

Especially because of all the bullshit Ark throws at you out of nowhere.

Ark de Solo

In the comments for my last post, SynCaine questioned my decision to play Ark solo:

I’m not sure I’d understand the point of solo ARK. Say you push past the initial curve and get to the point where you have a base that dinos can’t mess with, you are near max level (so all blueprints you would want you have), and you have some low-mid range dinos tamed. What then?

In solo, again after the initial challenge, there is zero risk of another player causing problems, or of working together with a tribe on something bigger. So it’s just a slow grind that doesn’t have an end (you can’t ‘win’ in ARK), and gets slower and less rewarding as you go (taming a t-rex takes longer than a raptor, but what does the t-rex really give you over the raptor?).

The “what then?” is the same answer as any survival game: play until you get bored.

Ark_NormalDay

Meet Pinky. He’s basically a jet ski that flies occasionally.

I’ve been playing Ark pretty much the exclusion of anything else since the beginning of September. This past weekend’s project was shepherding an Ankylo up a mountain and setting up a metal refinement base at the top. Big improvement over riding a train of dinos to a now-depleted smaller hill along the coast. It was not until just yesterday that I got my first node of Obsidian, which was up a completely different mountain, near a full day’s flight (on my slow bird) away.

My next project is to try and snag Dung Beetles from somewhere – possibly a cave – so I can have easier access to oil, as I want to avoid underwater shenanigans if possible. Then I was looking at taming one of those snails, which requires the vegetable cake, which requires Sap, which requires a high-cost collection piece most easily inserted on top of an extremely high-cost tree structure, then you can’t forget Giant Bee Honey… and so on and so forth.

Until yesterday, I hadn’t even left the SE corner of the map. I’ve seen the Redwood Forests, but haven’t actually been inside yet. Much less anything North or West of that. Steam says I’ve been playing for 60 hours.

Ark_Hours

Actually kind of impressive.

Sure, exploring and exploiting shit is only going to get faster from here. I’m way more confident in my ability to handle (or avoid) hostile dinos than before. But the game is still interesting to me, still dangerous, and I still have things I’d like to do. Maybe try out some of the caves, maybe see how far along the tech tree I can get before things get too annoying. I don’t know how much more novelty the game necessarily has – could be another 60 hours playing solo, maybe only 20. At my current rate, I’m leaning more towards the former.

If I do get bored, I can try a fresh character in a different starting zone, for a different experience. Or perhaps on a different map entirely, e.g. the Center, or Ragnarok. There is already one paid DLC map on top of that, with another on the way. There is even apparently a procedural generated map option, or custom maps.

What I don’t need is other people to make my gameplay meaningful. I’ve gotten 200 hours out of 7 Days to Die so far, and who knows how much time in Minecraft. All solo. If I want the experience of social obligation and responsibility again, there are plenty of MMOs to fill that non-existent void. Personally, I’m still enjoying the ability to close games without having to apologize for leaving, or doing exactly what I want to be doing in that moment without asking for permission.

Is Ark more fun with friends? Possibly. It is also completely, 100% fine by yourself too. There is enough sand in the box to make for a good time either way. At least alone, you avoid getting sand into your shorts and hair from other people mucking about. These days, I’m good, thanks.

Arked

Maybe there was some fanfare somewhere, but it came as a complete shock to me that Ark came out of Early Access this past week. As in, it’s fully released. It even has a Big Boy Pants price going on:

Ark_Price.JPG

Glad I picked it up for $12 a year and a half ago.

Deleted my prior saved game and started fresh on a “Single Player” server. The results were… rough.

The early-game in Ark is essentially broken as shit. I spawned in the “Easy 3” section of the default Island, which puts me on a beach. The first few minutes is the traditional Minecraft experience of punching trees to create tools. As you gain levels, you can spend Engram Points to purchase schematics according to your level, which kinda allows you to differentiate yourself between a builder or scavenger or whatever. Which is fine, but particularly sucks in single-player considering that I’m level 10 but still can’t build a Thatch house (since I went for weapons).

The real problem though is the absurd difficulty spikes. The beach where I spawned has a cliff face blocking access to the interior of the Island, and the water is filled with massive sharks. No matter which direction you travel down the beach, there are extremely aggressive raptors essentially trapping you in a corridor of death. You can respawn after being eaten, but whatever items you were carrying will have been dropped, and the dinosaur responsible will still be by your corpse.

Ark_SpawnCamp

Carno corpse camp.

Oh, and your items despawn after 15 minutes.

In other words, in the early game, consider your former items to be permanently lost. Which wouldn’t be too bad if not for the fact that getting back to some baseline of combat readiness requires you to punch trees, craft a Pick, mine some stone, create a Hatchet, gather some wood, then make some Spears. Oh, and hold E down when near about two dozen bushes so you can craft some clothes. All so you can maybe engage some raptors that you cannot outrun and will likely kill you. So you can do the whole thing over again. And by the way, you can actually spawn into the game right next to a raptor or T-Rex and start getting eaten before you even have full control of your character.

If you make it past this early game though, you can craft a house and a bed that will let you respawn at a stationary location. And perhaps build some storage containers filled with surplus equipment, so that you aren’t starting from zero every time.

Ark_HellNo

Carno, Alpha Raptor, Therizinosaurus? No thanks, I’m good.

This terrible beginning experience will not deter my Sisyphean struggle however. Part of the reason I stopped playing Ark 1.5 years ago was the terrible optimization that caused my PC to run it at 24 FPS max. With some settings tweaks, the game runs basically around 50 FPS at all times now. I’m hesitant to say everything is fixed on this front though, because I have a GTX 1060 now instead of a 970, so your frames might vary.

In any case, what I’m curious about is how the single player portion will play out. Supposedly there is an actual storyline involved, rather than this being a pure sandbox experience. [Fake Edit: Nope, no story] I routinely boot up 7D2D despite there not being any particular narrative, but the fundamental fact is… I like these sort of survival games. Ark scratches that “collect hundreds of Wood to build things” itch, in spite of being unbalanced as hell thus far. So, I will persevere. And should the boulder roll back down, I shall smile as I walk back down to push it up again.

At least, unless I spy a more interesting boulder somewhere else.

The Big F2P Correction

Big props to Eph for bringing my attention to a recent Gamasutra article entitled “How the Data Implosion will trigger the Great Game Dev Correction.” In it, the author put his “100% predictive accuracy” record on the line to portend the coming (Date: TBA) collapse of the F2P market.

If you want the short version of the 3100-word article, here it is: erosion of Consumer Surplus.

Really though, the author points to two primary trends that have entangled with one another in a negative feedback loop. The principle one is that the User Acquisition Cost, e.g. how much money spent on advertising/etc, continues to increase. One of the main drivers of that is the simple fact that there are thousands of competing titles on the market, with more arriving all the time. While we like to imagine that more options are better, the truth is that nobody really goes past the first two pages of Google results, much less browsing all 21,000 new games that came out in the last month. By “mathematical certainty,” costs go up trying to find new customers, revenue goes down as a result, and studios close their doors.

…but not before engaging in some Consumer Surplus shenanigans.

See, the second part of the feedback loop is how most F2P game companies are engaging in their data-driven quest to extract the maximum amount of Consumer Surplus from each user. Think lockboxes and timers and “special, one-time deals” that are psychologically honed to trick you into believing them to be worthwhile purchases. The very real problem though is that consumers have finite money. Shocking, I know. Since all of these F2P titles are trying to extract the same pool of dollars, all that happens is that each individual app only receives a smaller share of them.

And even worse than that is what we as gamers come to understand intuitively: these games just have less value as a result. In every sense of the term. Studios are spending more time and development dollars on ever more novel ways of tricking you to part with your cash, than they are with creating content worth purchasing in the first place. But even when those two points intersect, we’re left with little to no Consumer Surplus. At a certain point, you are better off watching Netflix than having to spend precisely the amount of money as enjoyment received from a game.

Now, the author is predicting a Correction at some point, with the Creative forces – as opposed to Big Data – rising up from the ashes of a devastated (F2P) game market and commanding a higher salary since we all suddenly realize we want better content again. I’m… not so sure.

For one thing, the F2P genie is out of the Cash Shop bottle. There is zero reason to believe that the surviving games of a post-Correction world will leave that extracted Consumer Surplus money on the table. Secondly, the game industry itself has proven rather resistant to the notion that content creators should be paid practically anything. Undoubtedly part of that is due to the fact that everyone wants to be a (armchair) game designer and thus there is no market pressure to improve working conditions/pay. Hell, I wanted that job so much that I spent two years of college studying programming and Japanese so I could try to break into the industry back in the early 2000s.

Finally, there’s Minecraft. You know, that little indie game that was sold to Microsoft for $2.5 billion three years ago? While an excellent case study in why Creatives are better than Big Data, the fact remains that this “simple” game won the lottery in a way that will inspire decades of copycats and dreamers, just as WoW convinced everyone that MMOs were the next big thing. The MMO fever has mostly died down, but that’s because it costs $60 million a pop to roll the dice. Meanwhile, there are hundreds of thousands of people creating apps in their basements for free, let alone the corporate code monkeys churning out thousands of Flappy Bird derivatives. The cost of each attempt is so low, and the payout is potentially so high, that there is no reason to believe investors wouldn’t keep some pocket change flowing into basically purchasing Powerball tickets each week.

So, while I do agree there will be a Correction of some sort in the game industry, it’s ultimately not going to fix the flooding of garbage games. What I expect to see is a return to Curation: a sifting through the river of shit for those few nuggets of value. People will find the voices that they trust, and those voices will end up picking the winners and the losers. At least, up until the Curators become corrupted by studios throwing money at them, and the great cycle repeats.

Destiny Window

Unfortunately, I have missed the Destiny 2 beta window. Technically, I could still have picked the game up midweek and tried to squeeze in a few hours, but the GreenManGaming sale price went from -18% off MSRP to -10% by the time I remembered to check. That’s technically only about a $5 difference, but… Consumer Surplus, people. Fight for it.

The other complication is that I could technically purchase the game outright via the money I earned via selling WoW Tokens. It’s funny money, but I’m still averse to paying full price for anything. I would still plan on purchasing the next WoW expansion and a month or two to play it, and that is unlikely to go on a similar deep sale ahead of time. We’ll see.

All that aside, I do plan on picking up Destiny 2 on or around release. I have never played any of the original game or expansions, primarily due to not having the requisite console. I couldn’t even really tell you anything in particular about the game that caught my eye either.

If Destiny 2 is anything similar to Borderlands 2 though – which I believe it to be – then I will be satisfied with a outlet in which to shoot things in the face and collect its loot. Overwatch was supposed to be that outlet, but… not anymore.