Downtime Podcast talks this week with Toronto-based indie game developer, Benjamin Rivers, to talk about being a one-man band and creating an experience.
Pit People‘s full release comes out March 2, and we provide a peak of the game’s creation with The Behemoth’s Dan Paladin!
Ever wanted to know a little bit more about developing games in a small company? Last week, I was privileged to sit down with Double Fine Production’s senior gameplay designer, Anna Kipnis.
It’s no secret that there is a oversaturation of indie survival games on Steam. While there are many out there hoping to be a hit, most are unfortunately a miss. Sure, some could be nothing but shameless cash-grabs, but there are many genuine indie survival games that get left by the wayside for a variety of reasons, even something as simple as not garnering enough interest to warrant further updates from the development team.
Still, there are those indie teams that land a hit—those few success stories of great indie titles that continue to live on with a thriving playerbase and gradual expansions—the survival games that actually survive. I cannot speak for all of them as there are many popular titles such as ARK: Survival Evolved which I have yet to play, but I would like to share with you three indie titles I still play to this day (or at least within the past year) that are still alive and kicking.
For this article I will be sharing some of my favorite co-operative experiences when it comes to survival. While there are plenty of competitive survival indies out there (PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds for example), these are generally not my cup of tea.
I tend to get carried away with writing so feel free to skip to the “In conclusion” paragraph at the end of each section for a quick summary or TL;DR.
7 Days to Die
Developer: The Fun Pimps
Initial release: June 28, 2013 (Alpha)
Latest Update: August 31, 2017
I will start this off by attempting to describe my experience with this game in the style of many of its reviews on Steam: It all started with me waking up in the desert naked and alone. Confused, I rummaged through a broken car and found some food to keep me alive as well as club to defend myself. After wandering for some time I came across one of my friends. He was just as confused, naked, and dehydrated as me. We made our way to an abandoned gas station by the side of an empty road where we had no choice but to drink toilet water. This gave us diarrhea, but it was the best option we had. We ventured too far from any buildings as night approached so we used crudely-made stone tools to dig a hole to hide in as waited out the night. When morning came, we went home and played 7 Days to Die and had a similar experience.
Imagine if DayZ and Minecraft had a baby—that’s how I’d describe 7 Days to Die (or 7 Days for short) to anyone who might be interested in this kind of survival, crafting/scavenging, multiplayer, and procedural generation sandbox game. Like DayZ, it’s a survival game in a large, zombie-infested world (if using the default map) that involves searching a diverse post-apocalyptic landscape for food and supplies with both PvE and PvP options. Like Minecraft and unlike DayZ, you can construct complex bases, grow crops to cook meals, and shape the environment through mining and deforestation. You also have the option to create a world using procedural generation that continues on infinitely. This world will generate many areas similar to the default map.
One of the new areas is a large city… it’s also one of the most dangerous.
For those unfamiliar with this title, the main aspect of the game that separates it from its inspirations is the “days” mechanic. The zombies in this world are slow during the day—similar to what you might see in the show The Walking Dead. They are easy to deal with in open areas and small numbers. Like The Walking Dead, you can sometimes see these undead marching in hordes across the landscape. If caught off guard, a large group can be dangerous. Otherwise, dealing with zombies during the day is pretty straightforward: avoid them or kill them carefully. However, come nightfall you will find that the zombies enter a berserk mode in which they gain both movement and attack speed which makes them exceedingly more dangerous, especially in groups. Nonetheless, you can still avoid them if you find yourself a nice hole or building to hide in and remain relatively quiet. Things change on the 7th day. This is when the game’s title is fully realized. On night 7, zombies will descend on your location in waves. You can’t hide from this one. They will always know where you are for the duration of the night so hopefully you have built yourself an adequate base and collected decent supplies by this point. This event will trigger every 7 days/nights and will grow increasingly more difficult which presents a rather exciting challenge and forces players to make as much progress as they can each in-game week.
Unfortunately, the graphics are nothing to write home about, but it’s really the gameplay that makes 7 Days worth playing. If you like sandbox survival games and graphics aren’t a primary concern to you, this may be a world worth jumping into.
I have been with this game since the beginning and have about 230 hours invested in it to date. Granted, this is a game I have played on and off throughout the years as there are many other games that peak my interest, and it’s difficult to make time for more than one survival game. However, the latest update to 7 Days was quite significant so it brought a few friends and I back to it recently, and it’s more fun than it’s ever been! We’ve built a functioning base complete with a drawbridge, lived and died, gotten diarrhea (in-game of course), and have barely explored half the updated map. Everything from the graphics, UI, and game mechanics have been altered since earlier versions. More importantly, both difficulty and creative potential have been increased tremendously.
Took us a while but we managed to turn a small house into a base (bunker underneath).
In the earliest version of the game, you could find various rare weapons such as sniper rifles and submachine guns and then create molds for the parts, crafting them endlessly to create an infinite supply of the most powerful guns. This allowed you to take on even the hardest zombies at the time with ease, including cop zombies that hurl acid at you. With the most recent version, you can no longer craft the most powerful weapons from scratch but have to find weapon parts of varying quality which will determine the damage and durability. There are also much stronger zombies out there with the potential to spawn with modifies such as “feral” or “irradiated.” This has ramped up the difficulty quite a bit, but it’s a welcome change for a survival game.
Along with the difficulty change, plenty of features have been added over time that make the world more interesting and add a lot more to the player’s to-do list. This includes a multitude of RPG-like skills which have been revamped, notes you can find that lead you on treasure hunts, NPC traders you can buy rare items from or use to sell your excess supplies, more creepy areas to explore, and a minibike you can craft that is invaluable when it comes to transportation across the dangerous wasteland.
As mentioned before, you can generate an infinite world based on a seed which you can save and share with others if you want to replicate your random-gen world or let others check it out. In the latest version of the game you can also find skyscrapers which act like vertical dungeons complete with rare loot and dangerous enemies on each floor.
The in-game map generator gives a decent preview before finalizing.
While you can play on a PvP server, it is my understanding that hacking and griefing are still a present issue. Even on a public PvE server you may find yourself spawning into an area with little to no loot which will immensely decrease your chances of surviving. The server’s options may result in loot not spawning for several in-game days or even an in-game month. I highly recommend creating your own session to play privately with friends as I feel this is where the game provides the best experience possible. It’s frustrating to die alone because you fell into your own spike trap or because you shot a zombie bear too close with a rocket launcher, but it’s hilarious when you’re with friends!
In conclusion, 7 Days to Die is an insanely fun zombie survival sandbox which stands out among the many similar titles on Steam due to its limitless potential and constant updates. Although it may not be the most visually appealing, it offers hundreds of hours of gameplay, especially when played with friends.
Developer: Endnight Games Ltd
Initial release: May 30 2014 (Alpha)
Latest Update: September 8, 2017
Imagine the dramatic plane crash of a commercial flight reminiscent of the show LOST except instead of crashing onto a tropical island, this plane crashes into a North American forest located on a mysterious peninsula that is cut off from the world by an ominous mountain looming in the distance. Fast forward a couple days and a survivor of the crash—whom I shall call Survival Dad—runs around dark caves chucking dynamite at mutant cannibals on his quest to save his son. It’s hard to get more intense than that!
The Forest is a first-person survival horror game about a man who finds himself stranded in a lush forest after a devastating plane crash. Not to mention, he wakes up briefly to see his son taken away by a mysterious native, and the natives of this forest have a tendency to kill and eat anyone who isn’t them. Luckily, this main character has a handy dandy survival book and some outdoorsy skills to keep him alive as he hunts for his son and fends off the violent inhabitants of the forest.
What’s cool is that the crash site spawns somewhere different every new game.
Originally, this game was released in 2013 as a single-player horror experience. Being the coward that I am, I had no interest in it as I did not want to play a game where I was alone in a forest with mutant cannibals trying to eat me (yup, they are both cannibals AND mutants). However, the developers eventually implemented co-op play and I knew I had to buy this game to play with friends. The host of the session plays as Survival Dad, the main character, and the other players (up to 7) will play as random survivors. Never die alone!
While this game fits into the same crafting/building survival horror genre as the aforementioned 7 Days, it is a lot more realistic, visually stunning, and contains an actual story (as well as a dramatic ending). It is possible to play the game without ever touching the story elements, and while this will allow you to play endlessly, I found that the story is indeed very intriguing, and it will answer a lot of the questions you may have about the mystery beginning of the game.
The graphics aren’t #1 in the world, but they are fairly good for an indie in my opinion.
Compared to 7 Days, I think the Forest can function quite well as a single-player experience as it will add more to the horror aspect if that’s your fancy, but co-op definitely makes base-building and defense against the natives much more efficient. It also makes the caves less scary… still scary, but at least you have someone watching your back as you plunge into the darkness with unsettling noises echoing in the distance.
After finishing the game’s story (no spoilers here), you unlock a creative mode you can enter in order to experiment with infinite resources and invulnerability, but the game is much less interesting if there’s no challenge. Still, it’s fun to craft boats with catapults and hurl rocks at each other or construct giant towers to jump from without fear of death.
We built a crazy tower in creative mode… Then we blew it up… I still need to edit the video.
The game still receives regular updates that increase the challenge and add to the already detailed world. The latest updated added the ability to use turtle shells as makeshift sleds in the snowy part of the map as well as revamps to the games HUD and crafting. They’ve also added a camcorder in a previous update along with videos you can find scattered across the map, allowing players to unlock some of the forest’s secrets. An update from a while back also added a matchlock gun you can find which is pretty powerful but difficult to obtain. I have yet to find many of the items added in the game’s latest version, but I have plans to wander the forest and its caves sometime soon.
In conclusion, the Forest is a quality survival horror game with a riveting story and an intense atmosphere. It works well in single-player, but those without balls of steel such as myself can play with friends to take on the wilderness as well as the cannibalistic natives together. Trust me, you will go into the caves of The Forest, and you won’t be the same once you see the light again.
Oh, forgot to mention, you can chop up, cook, and eat the cannibals too. Conquer your enemy by becoming them, right?
Developer: Chucklefish Limited
Initial release: December 4, 2013 (Beta)
Latest Update: July 18, 2017
Latest Developer Post: September 4, 2017
Now this one is a bit different from the other two I mentioned. If you are familiar with the fantasy sandbox game Terraria, it’s basically that but in space! While 7 Days and The Forest are first-person games with eerie horror themes, Starbound is a light-hearted, action adventure 2D side-scroller that takes place in a procedurally generated and vibrantly colored universe.
In Starbound you play as a space explorer who is thrust into a dire situation in which you (and potentially with your co-op buddies) must search the galaxy for ways to stop an ancient threat that could destroy peaceful existence as you know it. You can completely ignore the storyline, but if you do end up finishing it you can still continue to play and explore just like before.
The in-game star map allows you to go anywhere as long as you’ve got the fuel!
Whether you follow the story or not, you will find yourself heading out to a variety of procedurally generated planets and moons in order to find new resources, trade with settlers, defeat monsters, and collect some sick loot! The different weapons and their stats are also randomized so there are endless possibilities for the loot you can obtain. Want a laser sniper rifle with a grenade launcher attachment? What about a sword that’s also a flamethrower? How about a rapid-fire plasma shotgun? There are so many possibilities!
As you progress, you will also be able to upgrade your ship, hire allies to fight by your side, and craft new items to help you on your adventures. You can even collect pets at some point and summon them at will in a very Pokemon-esque fashion. To achieve an experience similar to Terraria, you can also setup a home base on one of the worlds you explore and place a teleporter to which you can beam to when needed. Don’t forget to collect all kinds of paintings and statues to decorate your base and ship with as well!
Most of my goods are on my ship, but I keep a small farm on an ice planet for food supply.
Here’s a pic of my upgraded ship, complete with my hoarder storage and my alien crew.
Although the game was released as an early access beta in 2013, I hadn’t picked it up until last year. I have about 50 hours played so far, but it has been a few months since I have touched it. However, while I’ve been away the dev team has revamped space travel, added mechs, and made it possible to encounter friendly or hostile ships in space. Recent developer posts have stated that the game is set to receive even more updates which includes the ability to join the ranks of Samus Aran and Boba Fett as a spacefaring bounty hunter! Despite the developer having other titles requiring their attention (including a new IP), I’m glad to see they continue to expand the inspiring universe that is Starbound.
In conclusion, Starbound is a great indie title for those looking for an epic 2D space adventure they can share with friends. The procedural generation makes every planet different, allowing for hundreds of hours of play and endless worlds to explore. This game has everything you could want from a survival adventure—new and challenging dungeons, infinite loot, upgradable equipment, companions to meet, lore to discover, and so much more. New and exciting features are on the way as well!
Thanks for reading!
This is my first article with Triangle C. I’m new and haven’t written in a while, but I hope you enjoyed my work. Feel free to leave me any feedback! Peace out!