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Why do Survival games work in turn based games

Here I write about how the survival genre might not be used correctly.

Claude-Emmanuel Jouvet, Blogger

July 27, 2017

5 Min Read

I was watching a video made by Jim Sterling a while ago that was about how we should, as game developers start dropping the idea of status bars in survival games because of how they would often break the flow of the overall gameplay. I was 100% agreeing with what he was saying. This shows how a lot of game developers or maybe, to be more precise, self-taught game developers forget or simply don’t understands how the flow in their games works. This can become problematic since the developer then designs more by guts and less methodically.

At that moment, I started thinking about how I could, as a still newbie game/level designer, find new and fresh ways of designing survival games. That's when it struck me. The more and more I thought about gameplay, the more and more something became clear. These games might just not be using the right gameplay mechanics. So, I asked myself two questions: Why is it NOT the right gameplay for those games and What might be the right choice then.

So, let's start then with the first thing on the list: Which gameplay style are we talking about? What Jim Sterling doesn't specify here is probably the style of most of the games he says that aren't good survival. Most of them are in first person perspective. Why is it important? Because this gameplay type will have a specific flow in games, for example, you can clearly imagine how different the flow of a simulation game will be compared to a platformer. This is exactly the case with first person survival or at least the form they tend to get designed by all those developers. In itself, first person survival games can be good. For instance, look at S.T.A.L.K.E.R. call of Pripyat. In this game, you do not have to manage character needs. Instead, it'll be more linked towards environments and how you as a player will interact or improvise with the different environments and how you will apprehend different situations. This shows how the game was design with these moments of flow and how not to break them, but just slow them. Slowing your flow is good; it gives the players time to absorb what happened and gives them time to prepare for what's to come. Your character is not bound by some bars that you have to manage from time to time. They serve only as countdowns that'll tell you when you are going to stop everything that you are doing so that you can handle those basic repetitive things. Like I said, those are basically only cooldown bars that you only need to refill. Just think about how you are in the middle of exploring a huge radioactive forest, you are somewhat lost but you are getting a sense of where you are going and feel that you are probably really close to finding the exit just to be reminded by a sound or by looking at your watch ('cause now the watch seems to know better if we are hungry or not?) to see that you are really hungry and that if you do not find food quickly you'll die a fast death because of all the health you lost finding your way through that radioactive labyrinth. That here is exactly why you see First-Person Survival games failing nowadays.


With this in mind, I started to think about which type of gameplay would fit with this genre, and it came to me, while I was finally playing a game on steam that is in early access that I desired to buy for quite some time now. The game in question is Wayward. The idea is basic: you are stranded on an island and you need to survive. That's it. But everything is turn-based. All the actions that you take works within a big turn wheel if we can call it that way. What I mean is that even doing actions in menus counts as turns, so you have to think carefully about what your next action will be. This type of management is perfect for a turn-based game because you have time to think about those actions, you do not have to work against the clock. Each turn has its own flow. This game focuses heavily on the "being stranded on a deserted island with nothing and almost no knowledge of what to do" side, making you concentrate on basic stuff like finding food and distilling water to make it drinkable. Even exploring makes more sense because of the preparation you would make before leaving for your journey. You have almost all the information needed to see what you need to bring with you, exactly the stuff that you need to consider when designing a turn-based strategy game.


The other game I played with this idea in mind was NEO Scavenger. This game was a little bit more on the managing side compared to Wayward, that was more with exploring in mind. Again, though, NEO Scavenger is really good because the intention behind all the action you take is to make you think before you act. Managing things like how comfortable you are or your body temperature  and making sure that all your decisions will be hard to make.


The third one was Zafehouse: Diaries. Not the perfect game since it does rely heavily on luck and can make a lot of your decisions frustrating. There is almost no strategy in what will be happening, especially with the relations system. The characters in the party you manage will have social standards and prejudices towards one and another and that can make ways to some pretty frustrating moments in the game. Still, this game makes you manage hour by hour what will happen next with your team and where you will send them next and it's the key to succeeding in a turn-based game.


Overall, It's all about the flow you want to have in your game and it's almost all the time this misunderstanding that makes a survival game take a wrong turn.

With all this, I'd really love to have your opinion on the subject, if you agree or disagree and where I might be wrong with what I'm saying here. After all we are all still learning forever and ever. :)

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