My old post “3 things that would make my Survival Craft more fun…” is insanely popular, easily gaining the highest reads every day, but it’s also slightly out of date now so I thought it was high time to update it. There are, of course, some repeats from that older list in this one because not all of those issues have been fixed, addressed or improved but I feel that my months of further gameplay experience allows me to shed some new light on them. At the same time, and because no one likes a whiner, I’m attempting to suggest solutions to each issue I raise because I really love this game and don’t want it to vanish into obscurity under the juggernaut that is Mojang’s Minecraft Pocket Edition. So, with all that said, here are the 8 (cough) things I most want to see happen in and to Kaalus’ wonderful Survivalcraft.
1) An end game to give me the motivation to repeat play. Nothing but nothing is more unsatisfactory than a poor ending except no ending at all and that’s why this is my number 1 bugbear with Survivalcraft. The start of the game is brilliant! You are marooned, you see that happen and that simple cut-scene opens up so many possibilities and delivers the perfect amount of narrative to direct your gameplay. This start differentiates SC from other games such as Minecraft PE but then what happens? Nothing! You never work towards anything other than an endless repeating cycle of survival. There is no attempt made to discover why you were marooned and who marooned you. There is no desire imparted to extract revenge or even just simply escape. Presumably the character you play had a life before being marooned and that this wasn’t a service paid for in order to become a tax exile, so it’s likely that they would have a desire to escape back to their former life. In any book or film I’ve ever come across where the protagonist is marooned, whether it be by an enemy or by chance and fate, they then fought and fought damn hard to get home. Homer’s Odyssey isn’t great because it describes his travails to build a house out of wood and catch some fish but because it takes us on his journey through hell to get back to to his family. Without that motivation, what is the point of his carrying on? And that’s how Survivalcraft feels right now; once you have built a house and gathered some food it’s either game over or rinse and repeat of what become a game of The Sims: Castaway Edition. I have never liked playing The Sims as I already have a life where I live in a house and go to work – I want games to take me away from all that and allow me to escape. Which is exactly what the hero of Survivalcraft should be trying to do and is what would make me want to play again and again.
My Suggestions: Put at least one end game in there – it doesn’t have to be hard to achieve as Mojang found out when they implemented the Nether Reactors in MCPE because people just want some sense of achievement. If they can get there early on that’s not a problem as they could then delay that decision until they have done other things in their game. I say put at least one end game in there because I’d genuinely like to see more than one – I think the game is flexible enough to allow for that. One could be the simple act of escape, another could be the sinking of the original ship when it returns to maroon another soul, yet another could be finding some natives and rising to be their (good or evil, choice is yours) ruler. There are a great deal of end games that could be written into the game but ultimately Kaalus is only one man and would never be able to cover them all. My suggestion would be he put an escape end game in and then develop a modding pack so the community can start to develop their own mini-games and endings. If he manages that then I think Survivalcraft will have a very long (and profitable) life whereas the rise of MCPE will ultimately bury it and relegate it to an almost-ran.
2) A sense of mystery and the desire to explore. Why explore in SC? I mean, really, why? The terrain generation algorithm is nice and the sky is lovely so you can always take nice screenshots, but there are only so many pictures of the Taj Mahal or Uluru I can bear to look at in real life, let alone shots of sunsets over lego hills. The simple fact is that an endless world just means endless boredom unless it has something in it worth discovering. Now, I know that Kaalus is looking at structural generation and this is a very good thing as the villages, mineshafts, dungeons & temples in Minecraft are brilliant at providing a sense of mystery by removing some of its artifice and allowing you to become more immersed in the world. But I want Kaalus to go further than Mojang and add structures that make you *want* to find them, both because of what they may protect but also because of the narrative opportunities they offer. I don’t just want villages and temples, but half-destroyed castles and broken machines. I don’t want just abandoned mineshafts and buried dungeons, but tunnel systems between locations that contain hints of a strange underground race! Give the game some mystery and people will go looking for answers.
My Suggestions: Kaalus is already starting to test generated structures but I’d like to see two things emerge from his experiments; a wider variety of structures than appears in Minecraft possibly with electrics involved, and the ability to allow modders to create their own as this would help to provide mods with a palette of items to theme their creations with (I’m thinking ruined temples for Cthulhu mods, burnt-out evac centres for zombie mods, deserted control centres for alien world sci-fi mods, whatever the modders can make and add as generated stuctures). I’d like to see Kaalus put a scaffold in place and then let the players do the hard work of creating his game for him.
3) A sense of danger, and I don’t mean more bloody animals. Both SC and MCPE have mobs that are dangerous to the player. With the single exception of the werewolf I have never, ever, *ever* been worried about a single mob in SC whilst in MCPE I have squealed like a little girl and run away from the goofy zombies, skeletons, spiders and creepers. Why? Because they are fundamentally more dangerous. Sure the wolves in SC want to kill you, but you can’t get away from the fact they are just wolves. As a human being I instinctively feel approximately 99.9% more superior to them and therefore they simply don’t scare me. Now the werewolf… well that’s a different kettle of fish! The only time I’ve been truly enjoyably scared in SC is when I was stuck outside in the full moon and could hear the fizzzzzz and see the blue lights of wolves transforming in bi-pedal horrors! Right from the outset Kaalus hit upon gold – turn the creatures into nightmarish hunters and then he dropped the idea in favour of adding a huge family-friendly menagerie that I have failed to care one jot about.
My Suggestions: Stop adding more and more ‘real world’ animals and add some monsters. Something smarter, faster, tougher, meaner than the hero that wants to hunt and kill him. Of course a pack of wolves can kill a human, but a human can build any number of devices for killing or deterring wolves so what’s there to be scared of? Now a walking, exploding cactus you never hear coming! Or a massive bloody spider with glowing red eyes! Or a leaping, growing man-wolf… now they are scary. They make me want to build a shelter and protect myself from the night and that is a lot more fun than killing a bear with a machete.
4) The environment should hate me – part 1. I don’t know if you’d noticed, but caving is pretty safe in SC. Once you dig a hole, and as long as you aren’t dumb enough to dig down into lava or hack away at loose sand and gravel above your head you’re going to be OK in a cave. I hate this. Caving should be one of the most dangerous things you ever do.
My Suggestions: In MC & MCPE holes in the ground spawn mobs. In SC they harbour bears who are often so far away or down holes with walls deeper than 1-block that they either never notice you or can’t reach you. This needs to stop and caves should be given over to the monsters I talked about above. Werewolves, vampires and my personal favourite, giant burrowing worms – all should live in caves and all should resent you disturbing them. Add to that the fact I’d like to see earth tremors and cave-ins that could trap or kill a player, or just destroy all his good work between visits, and you make cave something to fear and prepare for, not waltz into without a care in the world.
4) The environment should hate me – part 2. I love the weather in SC, really I do. It’s done pretty much better than any other game I’m played including big MMOs like LOTRO & Guild Wars 2. Why? Because it changed things, or at least one aspect of it does – lightning. It strikes the ground and sets fire to things such as grass, trees, animals, houses and even the player. Brilliant! Right there I have a reason to fear a weather change rather than just think “Ohhh, that’s pretty” but as with the werewolves that brilliant idea is relegated to one thing only. Where are the tropical storms? The tidal waves? The bush fires? The volcanoes? The earthquakes? Surviving should just be more than dodging wolves and catching fish, it should be about running for your life from a raging fire, losing everything you own in a tsunami or finding your weeks of work in a diamond mine ruined by a massive cave-in and flood.
My Suggestions: I would love to see Kaalus add more weather types that interact with the world. Make lightning strike fires more deadly to start with, then add typoons and tornadoes that scrub the land clear for 5 blocks deep in a path across the land! Add earthquakes that fill in mines and bring down walls! Tidal waves that destroy everything in their path from the coast to one day’s walk inland! Bush fires that devastate a plantation! Snowstorms that bury a house suffocate the player! Add all of these and more on a random timer as well as allowing modders to trigger them and we will have a reason to think about where (and what) we build and to truly fear the weather.
5) A better landscape system – part 1. I’ve written about SC’s landscape before and although Kaalus has certainly tweaked his terrain generation system in the last few updates there is still no getting away from the fact that the land in SC is a confused mess of yellow, green, brown and white. Strips of snow between a sandy beach and a sandy desert makes no sense and an endlessly repeating mixture of the same lands looks, in turns, ugly, confusing and boring. It never feels special when the land changes in SC, not in the way it feels special in Minecraft, and that’s what I want to feel in SC – I want to notice when I’m entering a new area, not just absent-mindedly shrug and note that I’ll find another area just like it over the next couple of hills.
My Suggestions: This is an area where Minecraft clearly wins, even with their tiny worlds in MCPE, because they stick to the biomes model. I’d like to see SC ditch the patchwork and opt for huge biomes with some tight rules – no snow next to any beach or desert for a start, if fact snow should only be seen if surrounded by tundra or on the tops of large mountain ranges. I’d like to see dense forest region that stretch for several days walk, mountain ranges that cross the land for seemingly endless miles rather that just a few mountains long or deep, Minecraft uses rivers really well and I would love to see Kaalus use rivers that snake between biomes for miles and miles and miles to act as natural deliniators. Chasms are another great barrier I’d like to see in SC, different biomes on either side. The game needs a more coherent landscape and using forests, mountains, rivers and chasms would help separate these large biomes in a much more enjoyable way that simple plopping them down next to each other and hoping for the best.
5) A better landscape system – part 2. I asked for islands, people agreed with me and we got them. I’m not saying I had anything to do with that decision but you’d think I’d be happy with it, right? Well I’m not. I’ve spent a lot of time lately just flying out to sea to see what I could see – and what I could see was a lot of sea and some islands that don’t really live up to my expectations. At first I couldn’t understand why, but it hit me between the eyes one morning – it’s not so much the islands that disappoint me but the mainland. You see, no matter how far you sail out to sea, no matter how many islands you find, no matter how far you travel over the waves or in what direction you always know that if you travel west and follow the setting sun you will always, always hit the mainland because it is not a self contained landmass in the way that an island or continent is – it’s just a bloody long stretch of land from north to south to west and that is not what I want because it defies and defeats exploration. There is simply no reason to keep exploring if all you will ever find is more of the same.
My Suggestions: Whilst the island idea was a sound one, it didn’t go far enough so here’s how I think the world of SC should look.Assuming the world is drawn on an infinitely large square piece of paper I would like to see something like this:
The large green pentagons are continents or super-islands – truly massive land masses requiring many weeks of in-game time to walk across and all around them lie countless islands of all shapes and sizes. The scale of this should be huge so that crossing the ocean from one continent to another is a mammoth undertaking requiring lots of planning, resources and, frankly, good luck. This is a system that I think would result in a more satisfying experience when exploring and travelling.
5) A better landscape system – part 3. SC gives great water, let’s get that straight right now. True I want to see rivers (and mountain streams and waterfalls – where are all the waterfalls?) but when it comes to large, deep lakes and ocean SC does a damn good job. But then you can’t use all that space, can you? It’s just wasted and that’s a real shame – if SC was brave and smart enough to open up its sub-aqua regions to players it would give itself a huge area of difference to other games that, in my opinion, would be green with envy!.
My Suggestions: I’ve tried to tackle this one recently, but I don’t think I did a good job. Essentially this is one I think Kaaalus should open for the modders to tackle – he should just make it possible for water to be inhabited and manipulated and trust the modders to do what they do best (which I sincerely hope is gibe me a Captain Nemo style world to play in!).
6) Let me build a better mousetrap. The one thing I love about Minecraft on the PC that I’m looking forward to in MCPE is redstone. Well, not redstone per se, but what it allows you to do – build stuff. Of course that isn’t the redstone alone, it’s also the blocks that move that allow you to create traps and puzzles and transport and all sorts of clever, labour saving fun things. In SC we have an electricity and logic system that is far superior to what the PC version of Minecraft can offer but unless, for some reason, you want to build a digital display or a music system that makes you want to pull your ears off you are out of luck. This is a huge missed opportunity! SC could allow modders to create anything and everything they could imagine, powered by electricity and driven by analogue logic. Instead we have a 1980’s phone-hold-music box.
My Suggestions: I would like to see blocks that move when powered. I’d like to see the start of a transport system akin to rail carts and redstone powered rails, but I’d like to see the ability to craft engines added as well because once you have an engine block in the game you can power so many brilliant things that the world opens up. And in case you think this unbalances the game somehow then make them very expensive and hard to build and prone to blowing up! That way they’ll be unpredictable & fun and SC will eclipse MCPE once more by becoming as flexible as MC mods like Tekkit, Flans & BuildCraft- something MCPE will never do (although I suspect they will open it up to modders so it will come to MCPE one day, just you watch).
7) Let me play with other people. Oh god this is a biggie. I would never have thought this was important until my son started playing MCPE on a Kindle Fire HD and I could magically join him in his world on my Nexus 7. The sheer joy this simple thing has brought to both of us is immense, but more than that it has ensured that MCPE is the game we play the most precisely because we can play together. He likes SC. I like SC. But only in MCPE can be both build together, both survive the night together, both hunt for diamonds together, both dodge arrows together, both fight off creepers together and both have fun together. SC walls us off from each other where MCPE opens the door and beckons us in to play.
My Suggestions: If nothing else on this list is going to forever separate MCPE from SC then it is this and Kaalus needs to implement a WiFi co-op system ASAP. Of course I’d like a true internet solution but seeing how much trouble that is for Mojang with their resources, I don’t think Kaalus can be blamed for not implementing it – it must be hell! But WiFi needs to happen and it needs to happen before MCPE Realms puts a huge gulf between the two games that I don’t see Kaalus closing for a long, long time. Like I said, MCPE is finally catching up to Kaalus and whilst I don’t for a minute thing they want to bury any competition, SC could easily become an ‘almost ran’ next to the sheer popularity of Mojang’s creation.
8) Be kind to my mistakes. The game has a few small areas that really tick me off. For instance, it’s a game in which 95% of the time you are perfectly safe but then for the remaining 5% you are dead and it is this 5% that needs some serious work. Issues around death are annoying if they involve a bug, but Kaalus is very good at fixing those, but then having your inventory vanish when you die (or, rather, not stick around long enough to reclaim) is just bloody annoying. It’s not a good mechanic, simple as that. Another annoyance is the fact that navigating is so hard. No one who is stranded would just accept wandering about blindly – they would invent a system of markers, survey their environment and make some form of map. No in SC, oh no. After that there is the small matter of growing trees. How hard does that have to be? And why are spears so useless and why can’t you stack them? If you can only afford to carry one spear but that one spear won’t kill anything first time 99% of the time, what is the point (ho ho) of crafting & carnying a spear? Using gunpowder to mine is useless as the explosion destroys any ores or gems in the stone so what is the point of making gunpowder and how can mining be made easier if not by explosives?
My Suggestions: No game should have un-fun mechanics just because they’ve always been there. Un-fun was just the reason I left SL and LOTRO. Un-fun has been the reason I’ve stopped playing SC in the past and un-fun will be the death of SC for me. I can take any number of updates with features I don’t care about (horses, for example) but the constant grinding away at my soul by annoying mechanics will see me off every time – and once gone I never really go back because there is always something else out there to interest me.
In Conclusion: Give it to the people. After watching Kaalus develop this game for most of this year, I now firmly believe that whilst he’s working on a vision of his game he had a long time ago, he’s now become deeply interested in a few features that, for me at least, don’t improve my gameplay experience, namely more and more animals and a very powerful electricity & logic system. That’s fine as it is his game and vision after all, but I can honestly see Survivalcraft being steamrolled into the dirt by the Pocket edition of Minecraft, a tiger that is no longer sleeping but actively waking up with a rumbling tum. Kaalus needs to differentiate his game for MCPE and bloody fast otherwise we will all look back on 2013 as the year that Survivalcraft rose up and fell back down the charts, rather than the year that the only real alternative to MCPE rose up to sit next to the pack leader. How do I think Kaalus can achieve this? By opening the game up to the players, by giving them a flexible ‘engine’ for them to mod in to any damn game they like. Let them mod it into a million weird and wonderful games because only through the crowd-sources genius of the modding community will Survivalcraft survive.
So there you have it – this pretty much sums up how I feel about Survivalcraft right now. I have no idea if any of this matters and no idea if Kaalus will ever see this or give a damn if he does. My limited experience of game devs is they are pretty focused people so I doubt this will get past this blog if I’m honest, but never mind – it made a great post at least 😀 In the meantime, let me know what you think in the comments below.