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The Long Starve

I was reading through The Long Dark’s (TLD) wiki the other day, when I came across the missing piece of the game’s puzzle: it’s okay to starve. Mind. Blown.

Fundamentally, you die in TLD when your Condition meter reaches zero. There are four separate meters (Needs) that affect the Condition meter: Warmth, Fatigue, Thirst, and Hunger. If any of those meters reach zero, you start losing Condition. However, you can still do things while a Need is zero, e.g. chop wood while hungry or thirty or cold. When at zero, the Condition loss per hour is:

  • Warmth -20%
  • Fatigue -1%
  • Thirst -2%
  • Hunger -1%

While you technically regain Condition as long as all four Needs are above zero, the gain is like 1% per hour. Meanwhile, if you sleep in a bed for 10 hours, you can regain up to 65% of your Condition bar in one go. The requirements? Drink some water before bed and consume ~600 calories. That’s it.

LongDark_Sleep

The exact calorie cost depends on a lot of variables.

To understand the implications, here is a paragraph from the wiki:

2800 calories would be consumed during 14 hours harvesting carcasses. But if no calories are available (Hunger is empty), about 15% of condition would be drained instead. Only 600 calories are required during 10 hours of fully replenishing sleep. So eating only 600 calories prior to sleeping can maintain a character with only briefly lowered condition taken as a trade-off. This is a great reduction from the 3,400 calories that would have been required to keep hunger satisfied the whole day.

In other words, instead of consuming X calories a day, you really only need ~600.

I always thought it was a bit too gamified how I had to maintain such a large calorie intake for normal things, but I chalked it up as one of those weird genre requirements. Turns out that was not the case. So, if you were like me thinking The Long Dark was a bit too brutal of a survival simulation with the constant juggling of resources… just stay hungry, my friends.

Freedom from Hunger

I am currently playing through a rougelike called “Wasted,” and the experience has been interesting. It is an Adult Swim Game that I believe came in a Humble Monthly Bundle or something, as I don’t remember purchasing it. The premise is very non-serious – think Borderlands rougelike with permadeath – but that’s not particularly relevant. What’s relevant is the addition of the SOB Purifiers.

The general gameplay in Wasted pretty common in terms of opening doors, killing enemies, avoiding traps, grabbing loot. After about two minutes on each floor though, an extremely deadly (albeit predictable) enemy spawns at the entrance and slowly makes it way towards you. The first few times I encountered these SOBs, I very nearly quit playing the game entirely. Why do they need to exist? How much bullshit is it that their miniguns basically stunlock you? The SOBs seem to have sucked all the fun out of exploring the levels.

After a while, I realized something. Namely, that I wasn’t experiencing Fallout-esque burnout.

As the developer has gone through great lengths to point out in the Steam forums (even getting a bit saucy in the process), the Purifiers exist as a gameplay element to shepherd the player around and drive them forward. You aren’t supposed to be exploring, you should be making some strategic gambles on your way to the exit. If I had all the time in the world, I would be fully healed before opening any door, spending 99% of the gameplay crouch-sneaking, and micromanaging an incredibly-limited inventory with the attention of Warren Buffet. In other words, I’d be playing it just like I play every other post-apocalypse game. Or most games, period, if I’m honest.

Other roguelikes have addressed the “problem” of over-exploring characters with Hunger mechanics and the like, but the Purifier feels really interesting to me now. Mechanics like Hunger don’t actually impact my behavior in those games; if anything, it just makes me more committed to looting all the things in the vain hope that there is some half-rotten morsel in that broken filing cabinet. Hunger also evokes that most-hated of all gameplay mechanics: the Breath meter in underwater levels. It feels oppressive, cheap.

After I got over the first few bullshit deaths to Purifiers that nullified hours of progression, I started to realize how… well, elegant is not the term, but perhaps “fair” they are. The Purifiers always spawn in the same location (the entrance to the floor you started on), after roughly the same amount of time, and always move towards your location decently slowly. If you happen to be in a circular sort of area, you can lure them to your location and then double-back behind them. Yeah, getting caught in a long hallway or dead-end sucks, but the Purifier’s arrival is announced both when they spawn and as they get closer to your location (the music changes).

In a real sense, Purifiers give you a sense of agency that Hunger does not. If I hit a fork early in a level, I might skip the locked door (which the exit is never behind) so as to give myself more time to explore a later fork. Or maybe I’ll lay some traps near the entrance to the level so that the Purifier spawns in a mine field that will hopefully cripple a leg and give me additional time. And, hey, even if I just barely escape through the exit at the last possible second, I know that I still get a full X minutes to explore the next floor without having to worry about them. That is a far cry different than Hunger or whatever, which often represents a cumulative loss of time.

For the record, I am taking this mechanic way more seriously than the game does. Indeed, the premise of the game is drinking Booze and getting radioactive hangovers that will help/hurt your next Booze run. But the problem that Wasted solves with Purifiers is a problem that exists in every roguelike (and arguably any survival game), and it’s the best solution I’ve seen in quite some time. I’m not sure it would be especially applicable in future games ala Fallout 5, but I hope the eventual solution is more akin to this than something else.

I don’t think I can stand the freedom to collect 10,000 tin cans anymore.