Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Survival RPGs and Dead State

Posted by Rampant Coyote on June 21, 2012

A few years ago I started talking to friends about what I termed “survival RPGs.” There weren’t many, to my knowledge. I kinda put the Ultima Underworld and Arx Fatalis games in that category.  Though I haven’t played it, it sounds like Robinson’s Requiem would firmly belong there. Several roguelikes would probably fit, too. But since I didn’t ever come up with anything approaching a formal definition of what a “survival RPG” meant, it’s hard to really say what would belong there or not.

My general idea was limited resources and the need to consume resources to stay alive. In Ultima Underworld, things like food and light were necessary and consumable (though low-level spells could turn them into unlimited resources pretty easily).  In my view of a ‘survival RPG’, the player is like most sharks – he must keep swimming or die. Also, there were no endlessly-supplied vendors to provide a constant influx of new resources on demand (or provide a constant money-sink). I guess having a semi-closed environment would be the key here. You had to live off the land to some degree. While some resources may be replenished over time, they should feel limited at any one time.

Yeah, that’s a pretty blurry line when you can almost argue the point with any RPG. But the more critical factor (for me) was simply the feel. The need to keep moving and fighting to survive.  Where loot is important not because of its sale-value, but its direct utility.

Years ago, the Twilight: 2000 CRPG might have been been a contender for this category, but I don’t remember that there was any need to consume resources.  That distinctly changes the flavor of things.  Sure, ammunition or other ‘consumables’ might be used up in the course of action, but it isn’t naturally expended by inaction or any action- that’s the key. I guess playing Fallout: New Vegas in hardcore mode might be similar to a survival RPG, but it lacks that closed environment. Vendors with replenishing supplies kind of invalidates that.

So in my mind, it’s not a style of RPG that has a ton of representation or many stand-out examples. But I feel it has a lot more potential.

The upcoming indie RPG Dead State looks like it will be a pretty stand-out example of my own made-up subgenre.  Survival isn’t only inherent in its gameplay, but it’s also the core theme of the game: surviving an apocalypse. I hope that it will take that ‘feel’ that is so rarely represented and truly take advantage of that potential.  I also hope that it will demonstrate a solid combination of some old-school gameplay (which is as fun today as it was years ago), modern interface, and new ideas and directions for the genre. So far, everything I’ve read and heard from the developers seems to support those hopes. Hopefully I really do “get” their vision.

It sounds like it wants to be a thinking-man’s RPG. Very replayable. Interpersonal relationships that change by events and choices. Turn-based combat. AI where the personalities are as statted out (under the hood) as their combat abilities. This is some pretty dang cool stuff that – at least right now, as a general rule – can only be done by indies. Whether you say mainstream studios can’t or won’t, it doesn’t matter: the mainstream games  industry right now is in such a state that they cannot or will not take those risks.

But indies can. Indies are.  Indies like DoubleBear.

And these are experienced developers, not newbies with a wish-list of items. This is something that can and will get done. It’s really just a matter of how soon and to what level of scope / quality it will achieve in the end.

They now have two weeks left on their Kickstarter, and it looks like they are going to hit their original goal without a problem. I’d personally love to see them blow past it, hard, both for the game’s (and studio’s) sake, as well as to help send a message to the industry (indies and mainstream) that there is an audience for this kind of game. Survival RPGs. Or simply RPGs that step outside the traditional boundaries of the genre (by something other than ‘being more of an action game’).

To me, as much as any other indie RPG in development right now, this one seems to represent what the indies are capable of. Forget the metroidvania and platform-puzzle games that catch all the hype from the indie “scene” and get put in Indie Game: The Movie. The DoubleBear folks – and others like them – are the ones I think of when I think “indie.” It’s not just the genre or the zombies (which I couldn’t really care less about), it’s about hard-working indies laboring (often in relative obscurity) to make games specifically for smaller but passionate audiences.

I want to support that.

Dead State Kickstarter


Filed Under: Game Announcements, Indie Evangelism - Comments: 10 Comments to Read

  • Albert1 said,

    Am I wrong or Dead State uses Torque Game Engine?

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    I believe it’s the newest incarnation of the engine, Torque 3D, heavily modified by the Iron Tower guys.

  • Attila said,

    Looks so awesome! Sad to see it’s expected to be done in Dec 2013 though…we probably won’t see it till a good ways into 2014

  • hexagonstar said,

    Robinson’s Requiem is certainly a survival game, maybe not exactly an RPG but still a cool idea that was somewhat let down by the slow voxel graphics. There’s a whole sortiment of survival actions, from stealing eggs from a bird’s nest to amputating your own legs and arms (yes, if you’re strong enough and don’t die of shock before you can amputate both your legs and arms, don’t ask me how that works ;).

  • Modran said,

    Ah, Robinson’s Requiem…
    I remember falling into a chasm while fleeing from something, and breaking my legs, then trying a bit of surgery in the cramped up zone I was in, getting fever and then dying.
    Good times, good times…

  • hexagonstar said,

    LOL Modran, good example from RR. I love it when games are _that_ realistic! Someday I need to get back and play the game more seriously.

  • hexagonstar said,

    The problem with Dead State for me is that it’s yet again another Zombie-themed game. My god, can we carry on finally? The zombie-theme has been so exploited over the last 3-4 years that I’m fed up seeing how everyone is totally unoriginal and jumps onto the zombie bandwagon.

  • Mike said,

    Seriously… I’ve had enough zombies.

  • Albert1 said,

    I don’t think Dead State is yet another zombie game – it has a quite unique feature: George-Romero-ish zombies. The great part of past zombie games featured these super-fast, able to use weapons zombies. The zombie in the “of the Dead” movie serie were slow, they weren’t even evil – just mindless creatures behaving by their primitive instincts. They were dangerous only in large number. An RPG statistic a game like Dead State should have is the humanity level of the player vs. these dead creatures. The fact you need to kill ’em to survive doesn’t mean you are free to torture them for fun. It’s like in the remake of “The Night of the Living Dead”: it was good that Ben and Barbara fought the zombies to survive, and yet the rednecks at the end of the movies were very immoral, treating zombie like dancing bears, torturing them for fun! An RPG game should take into account these aspects!

  • Xenovore said,

    The concept of Dead State is interesting; I’ve always been a fan of the post-apocalyptic genre. And I’m fine with zombies. But I can’t get excited about this game; it’s just not grabbing me. It’s like HexagonStar said: it seems to have no originality at all. And maybe it’s because I’ve already played excellent post-apoc games like Fallout, Fallen Earth, Left 4 Dead and Half-Life. Dead State just doesn’t look that great next to those.