Please, Steam Dinosaur Game, Don't Suck

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Goodness gracious, ARK: Survival Evolved looks cool. So of course, I’m worried.

I don’t mean to sound cynical, but well, we’ve been here before. A bunch of times. With survival games specifically—especially ones headed from the frying pan of hype into the sloooooooow burning fire of Early Access. And for some reason, double-especially when dinosaurs are involved. Remember The Stomping Land, which evaporated? And theHunter: Primal, which has no business being a “full release”? And numerous other dinosaur games that started out bad and clawed their way to mere mediocrity?

But OK, first let’s find out what exactly ARK is. Why is it all-caps shouting its name at me, bellowing like a skateboarder who just got clotheslined by a mailbox or a dog who only knows three of the four letters of the dog alphabet? Here’s the 100-player survival game’s deal, per its Steam page:

“As a man or woman stranded naked, freezing and starving on the shores of a mysterious island called ARK, you must hunt, harvest resources, craft items, grow crops, research technologies, and build shelters to withstand the elements. Use your cunning and resources to kill or tame the leviathan dinosaurs and other primeval creatures roaming the land, and team up with or prey on hundreds of other players to survive, dominate... and escape!”


Sounds pretty par for the course, but what sets this one apart—or at least seems to—is all the promises the developers are making for their Early Access version, specifically. Apparently on day one (or day zero, I guess), we’ll have access to over 30 creature types that can be tamed, level-ed up, and ridden, a full construction system, crafting, farming, a tribe system, massive environments, robust mod support, and a permadeath system that allows for you to “knock out, capture, and force-feed other players to use them for your own purposes, such as extracting their blood to for transfusions, harvesting their fecal matter to use as fertilizer, or using them as food for your carnivorous pets.”

Oh, and let’s not forget the titular ARK, which is “a formidable and imposing environment, composed of many natural and unnatural structures, above-ground, below-ground, and underwater. By fully exploring its secrets, you’ll find the most exotic procedurally randomized creatures and rare blueprints. Also to be found are Explorer Notes that are dynamically updated into the game, written by previous human denizens of the ARK from across the millennia, creatively detailing the creatures and backstory of the ARK and its creatures.”

And there be dragons, for some reason:

Illustration for article titled Please, Steam Dinosaur Game, Don't Suck

(The reason is probably Arks. Sorry, ARKs.)

That’s a lot of stuff! The developers’ plans are ambitious, that’s for sure. Also exceedingly optimistic given that, again, that’s all for Early Access, straight out the gate. They want all of that to be their base, and then they’ll build onto it kinda like in that genre of game they’re making. Oh, and they’re exceedingly optimistic about their update schedule:

“Over the next year, the game will be rapidly iterated on with updates usually coming 3 times per week, almost always including new features, balance and polish improvements, and bug fixes. We are extremely fast at development, and will continue to push forward with maximum energy to make the game ever-greater on a daily basis.”


Yes, they plan to keep ARK in Early Access for a year, which is... a refreshingly honest admission, if nothing else. But they’re also committing to a torrid update schedule, all of which sounds almost impossible to keep up consistently. “Oh yeah, I can totally solve this rubik’s cube and juggle these sharks and reconcile with my estranged, drug-addicted father,” says the man about to solve the rubik’s cube and juggle some sharks and reconcile with his estranged, drug-addicted father, but only up until the part where he starts to actually do it. Shortly after, he tends to sing a different tune.

I like it when it seems like people are taking Early Access seriously, and I’m really itching for a dinosaur game that is a) good and b) not so half-baked that I worry about dying of natural causes before it’s “done.” But you know, I (and we, as a site) have been sucked in by hype around smaller, out-of-nowhere Steam games before, and I’ve been let down time and time again. ARK has a hell of a trailer and it’s making big promises, but I refuse to get my hopes up or tell you that it’s certain to be the greatest thing ever. I can’t do it this time. I just can’t. I guess we’ll see when it hits Early Access in less than a month.


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Crafting, harvesting, hunting... zzzzzzzzzzzz... I think I’m done with these mechanics for awhile. They have basically become the padding of the modern indie game. Yawn.