Reminiscing: RUST and the Story of Survival Games
In 2012, the DayZ mod for ARMA 2: Operation Arrowhead went online and changed the landscape of PC Gaming. In the three months after this release, DayZ mod had accounted for 300,000 sales of ARMA 2 and kept it on the front page of the Top Seller list of steam for seven straight weeks, quite an achievement for a three-year-old game.
This mod arguably spawned an entirely new genre of open-world zombie survival with multiple titles coming out based on the concept of DayZ such as H1Z1: Just Survive and Infestation: Survivor Stories. Even in 2017, games are being released which is an extension of the same concept such as The Forest, The Long Dark, and Distrust.
Don’t forget to check the first part in the series – Reminiscing: What the Gaming Industry Can Learn From ARMA 3
All good things must come to an end, and unfortunately for Zombie Survival Games, things came to an end all too soon. Bohemia Interactive hired Dean Hall – The creator of DayZ – and had him as the lead designer for a standalone version of the game. The game entered Early Access on 17 December 2013 and was a huge success with people actively trying to support the game developers in return for the game quickly leaving the Alpha stage and fixing all the various game-breaking and performance issues.
Fast forward 4 years later and the game has a lamentable 64 percent approval rating on Steam with the recent reviews averaging at 27 percent approval. Other games like Just Survive and Infestation are in a similar place with developers having all but given up on making these games enjoyable for the general public.
The primary reasons for the fall of survival games were not only the poor execution by the developers but also the incomplete ideas for what their games represented. Early Access was overused and unplayable games were released onto the market for a quick cash grab as the game was years away from a fully functional release. More and more games were abandoned and the community was generally filled with trolls and kids whose primary purpose in the game was to make the life of others miserable.
However, the biggest reason for the fall of the genre was that it had no endgame. The only thing you could do was to loot items, kill a few people and die. Repeating this a hundred times made life monotonous and without some objectives to adhere to, the games would start to bore people after some time. Playing these games alone was also an atrocity in itself, as that would immediately remove a massive part of the game that made it so fun. It would also mean that you were constantly outnumbered and would die a lot.
How RUST Became a Better Product than DayZ and H1Z1
The survivors of this era were few. However, games with innovative ideas like 7 Days to Die and good execution of their ideas like Unturned managed to come out of this mess better than others. Perhaps the greatest example of stalwart development and metamorphic game design is RUST.
The hit survival game from Facepunch Studios has an 80 percent approval rating – iconic for games in this genre –
and over 30,000 peak concurrent players with 550,000 unique players every 2 weeks. We take a look at the reasons why RUST managed to out-do so many of its competitors.
As stated before, the entire point of the games was to loot, hunt and survive. What this meant was that games were essentially clones of one another with different worlds, guns, and graphics but essentially the same core gameplay. What this was leading to was redundancy; a person who got bored of DayZ would already be bored of H1Z1 and would not consider buying a game that essentially just offered different graphics and a new map.
RUST too was just one of those games. Garry Newman, the CEO of Facepunch studios himself admitted to the fact that RUST started as a DayZ clone. However, upon realizing the ramifications of the inflation caused by every new game being a DayZ clone, Facepunch studios realized they needed to step up.
Following its initial alpha launch, updates for Rust were released, adding mechanics such as animals, hunting, armor, and weapons. In February of 2014, the developers decided to remove zombies from the game altogether and although this was initially met with a lot of backlash from parts of the community, it was undisputedly the correct move for the game.
In late 2014, the old RUST – now known as RUST legacy – was abandoned in favor of RUST experimental, which is now the only version of the game still in development. This featured a complete revamp of the game including porting it over to Unity 5 and a new anti-cheat system. They also removed the ‘Russian’ feel from the game and revamped the radiation process to better accommodate the procedural maps in the game.
Stuff like Radiation was replaced by thirst and Hypothermia was added along with other hidden statistics to make the game more interesting and difficult. All of these changes led to RUST standing out amongst the hordes of games that attempted to imitate one another. The constant updates by the developers also made them earn the faith of the community as their player base realized how passionate they were about making the game what they envisioned it to be.
It would be wrong of me to end the feature without explaining the specific features that make RUST such a satisfying experience. RUST is quite stable for an early access game and features are being constantly updated and added into the game so this information may not always be accurate.
The first thing I have to mention is the freedom that RUST provides. Rather than taking after DayZ that gave specific clothes depending on your playstyle – to help identify players as bandits, etc. – RUST just lets you do what you want and encourages strangers to use voice chat to help each other and feel safer. Although players in RUST still kill you on sight most of the time, there are still quite a few players who help you and offer peace when you meet them. There are multiple ways to do everything in RUST and that leads to a better gameplay experience.
When developers removed the zombies from RUST, they needed to do something to replace it. Instead of trying to revamp the genre and come up with something revolutionary, Facepunch decided to do what they know works best and took inspiration from Minecraft.
RUST has a very expansive base building process and crafting menu without it being too complicated. There are no notebooks or blueprints required and the menu shows you what materials you need to build everything. This makes the base building very fun and much less of a chore than it has to be in other games.
Another massive plus point of base building and crafting is the various amounts of ways to save your gear. One of the fundamental problems with early Zombie Survival games was the fact that people would just collect loot and then die, losing it all to some other player before rinsing and repeating the process.
RUST has a lot of boxes, closets and even fireplaces where you can store your items – although the fireplace would burn the items if turned on. This means that teams can build massive places to store their loot and then go and scavenge for more together knowing their loot is safe.
Perhaps the greatest positive of RUST is the rich vibrancy of the world and the dynamic weather. The colors of the procedurally generated maps make you go ‘Holy Shit’ and the dynamic changes of sunlight to snow after walking just a few steps up a cliff is amazing. Rust does not embrace reality, rather it creates its own reality and that is why it is such an interesting game to play.
Nighttime is genuinely scary and the choice of being almost blind but stealthy or using your torch and being visible a mile away is very difficult. Night time is also when all the big clans of each server try to raid the other massive clans so as to capture their loot and that is when all the amazing YouTube videos of the game are made.
Lastly, the developers have given RUST full workshop support to enable a plethora of mods, skins, and maps. Mods can make a bad game good and a good game great. Moreover, for this reason, we can have various interesting mods such as Deathmatch or Battle Royale for RUST.
In conclusion, it is safe to assume that Facepunch Studios did an amazing job with RUST and instead of RUST trying to clone DayZ, it has started to go the other way around with DayZ announcing a few days ago that the BETA version of DayZ – out in a few months – will introduce mods and base building.
It will be interesting to see how the future of this genre pans out and whether RUST is able to keep its throne or whether the revamped DayZ will or any of the newly released games in the genre will be able to overthrow it.