Zoning Out: Vostok On Survarium Alpha Progress

Of all the spin off studios that materialised after the disintegration of STALKER 2, it was Vostok who remained most faithful to the vision. This time, though, they’re taking quite a different angle. Survarium will be a journey into a zone of alienation with other people along for the ride. It will be co-operative and competitive and very bleak indeed. I spoke to Oleg Yavorsky about how the current closed alpha test was going and he told me “Ultimately, I think fighting real players is way more interesting than combating against programmed bots, don’t you agree?”

I had to agree.

RPS: For those who missed our previous looks at the game, can you explain what Survarium is?

Yavorsky: Sure. Survarium is a free2play MMOFPS game set in a post-apocalyptic world of the near future. It’s a story filled with grim fiction about mankind fighting for survival after a major calamity on Earth. Our planet fights back after centuries of mankind exploiting its resources, poisoning and ruining the environment. The modified forest, hazardous spores, mutating animals and birds all attack humans to eradicate us for good. The survivors are few and far between, governments, borders and countries disappear – anarchy rules the world, while nature continues its advance.
The player is going to be one of the survivors trying to find his way in the new world of the game.

RPS: Can you talk us through the different game modes you have planned? What will players get up to in them?

Yavorsky: We are planning three game modes for Survarium, including PvP, Freeplay (PvE) and Co-op. We intend on delivering high quality in as shortest time possible. We decided to implement the modes one at a time, so the players could delve in the game while we are working on the remaining game modes and further updates. Therefore, currently we have the team-based PvP mode in production. It’s going to be the first play mode introduced and good basis to test the overall game mechanics and features to be introduced later on. So, PvP provides for session-based play experience where two teams fight with each other on dedicated maps. The goal of the players is not only to frag each other, but also to locate valuable game objects (highlighted) and deliver those to their base, all to help their team survive the “Storm” – an inevitable deadly blast of energy covering the location by the end of the session.

This said, players are also given story-based tasks they need to accomplish in PvP in order to gain reputation with certain game factions offering them unique weapons and equipment in exchange. Anomalies and artifacts will also have their place in Survarium’s PvP mode. So stand by for a unique hybrid of “stalkerish” experience in intense story-driven multiplayer combats. As for the other two modes on our list, the Co-op will provide for story-based missions and challenges for a group of up to five players. The Freeplay mode will have the players disembark on a mission on a huge PvE location where they play on their own possessing limited resources and have only one life; the players can make alliances, be helpful to each other or be sly and cunning – it’s all about freedom of choice. Both Freeplay and Co-op modes are a matter of future development, so we’ll talk about those in detail later.

Clicky for full size.

RPS: What do you say to the single-player sceptics who loved games like Stalker, but are wary of a multiplayer game like Survarium?

Yavorsky: Although a spiritual successor, Survarium won’t offer the same experience as S.T.A.L.K.E.R., that’s obvious. Nevertheless, we are doing our best to innovate and introduce a strong story component even in the context of an online game. Our S.T.A.L.K.E.R. background is still strong, so to certain extent, Survarium will pose the implementation of ideas we didn’t have a chance to realize in S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2. That spreads onto the atmosphere, game story, anomalies, factions and more. Ultimately, I think fighting real players is way more interesting than combating against programmed bots, don’t you agree?

RPS: Do you think the issues surrounding free-to-play games present you with any particular challenges?

Yavorsky: Free2play is full of stereotypes, and there are a lot of bad examples, I know. Too many games, and, unfortunately, too many of them are of poor quality.

Our thinking about free2play is that it’s not only a more modern way of monetization, but also a more fair approach between both players and developers. The players can download the game and start playing absolutely free; then if they like the game and have fun with it, they may decide to use in-game paid options to make their game more comfortable; or they may opt not to pay and continue playing for free. As for the developers, these days free2play gets them motivated to deliver the best possible experience – they need to create a game which will be top quality, fun-to-play and exciting enough to make players interested paying. This makes it a truly fair deal between the devs and the gamers, having said that, we are not advocates of paid options which affect the balance of the game (pay-to-win), for example, overly powerful armour or guns. The paid services we are after will be focused on delivering extra comfort of play without disrupting the game balance. For example, a premium account may help you gain experience and in-game cash in less time, access to more advanced statistics, visually unique items etc.

RPS: Can you tell us a bit about what’s been going on in the closed alpha? Has it gone as expected?

Yavorsky: We started the closed alpha-testing in the Russian-speaking territories in mid-May. During the last couple of months we received plenty of players’ feedback and even more crash reports, so fixes are being implemented all the time and we are happy with how the game has progressed so far. Those interested in tracking the testing process in detail are welcome to do so, on our forum.

What I’d like to say, we received A LOT of alpha testing applications (to our great surprise), but so far only a small number of players have been admitted to the game. We are sorting out the current technical issues and optimizing to be able to admit more and more players.

RPS: What challenges as developing a multiplayer game present the team with? What has making a multiplayer game meant in terms of setting up a new studio?

Yavorsky: Developing Survarium is basically a challenge for us in general (and this makes it even more exciting), since our background is traditional retail PC games. The potentially the biggest bottlenecks for any development team considering an online MMO (especially if they want to use an in-house technology) would be to deliver a really stable server part, solid anti-cheating mechanisms and a strong story element. Monetizing free2play games can be rocket science too.

Regarding the second question, whichever game you are trying to make, you need to understand what you want to achieve really well, both in terms of technology and game vision: this helps save time and costs. So do your best to learn and plan before you start developing. Obviously, you also need a team of developers, the more experienced they are, the better.

RPS: Have you guys gone back to the Chernobyl zone at all for research?

Yavorsky: Well, twice in the last 9 months. It seems we can’t live without it any more. I find the Chernobyl zone a perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of the city life. Part of the locations in Survarium will be based around the Chernobyl premises. However, this time we are stretching the game zone way beyond the notorious 30 square kilometers of barb-wired cordon. The apocalypse in Survarium is a global effect, so potentially we could make any place on Earth a scene in the game. Our current focus though is on the good-old post apocalypse areas around Ukraine and Russia.

RPS: What’s the roadmap for the game? When can Westerners get our hands on it?

Yavorsky: We are targeting to launch the game‘s open beta in Russian-speaking territories by the end of this year (with PvP mode only). From next year on, we’ll continue developing the other game modes and planned features, as well as look to release the game beyond the ex-USSR territories – Europe, North America or Asia, whichever ones work out first for us (it’s a matter of negotiations right now). We also have a detailed development timeline for this year presented on Survarium website on our website.

In the context of the ongoing Alpha test, we plan on launching the international (English-speaking) version for testing very soon, so stay tuned!

RPS: Thanks for your time.

Survarium is in closed alpha.


  1. Paul says:

    I would still prefer singleplayer only STALKER 2 :(

    Especially after amazing Call of Pripyat I was incredibly excited about its future…and now we are getting multiplayer free to play game :(

    • Jim Rossignol says:

      Personally, I’ve always wanted co-op Stalker, and this looks like it might go in that direction.

      Fingers crossed.

      • Paul says:

        I dislike MP and co-op generally, always loved the solitude and lonely atmosphere of Stalker games..especially CoP, with its huge maps, unique anomalies, just inviting me, lonely explorer.
        With other people around I just cannot fully immerse myself in games. And even though he listed PvE, I wonder how that will work, and even when is it going to get implemented. But I would definitely prefer full sequel to STALKER. I will never understand what Grigorovich thought. I guess he never gave interview or anything about why he did what he did? Or did I miss it.

      • MellowKrogoth says:

        The part of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. where you attack a bandit base to kill them and get their stuff would definitely benefit from being PvP in teams. And it allows new scenarios that are difficult to make with AIs and usually ends up being heavily scripted, such as a race to get an powerful artifact that has just been discovered. Or any moment where the game gave you AI buddies.

        However the athmospheric wandering through a desolate wasteland, which was a huge part of the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. experience (as well as the being alone and terrified part), is virtually impossible to recreate in an MP game.

        Maybe if you forbade any kind of chat and forced people to communicate using token russian phrases or ukranian slang it’d be better :P . At least nobody will ruin your day by discussing weapon DPS and bloodsucker farming.

        • Samuelson says:

          DayZ? I was alone and scared most of the time. But yeh, hackers and the like can’t be avoided.

          Role-playing servers would be the bomb.

  2. dE says:

    Ultimately, I think fighting real players is way more interesting than combating against programmed bots, don’t you agree?

    The ancient argument why PVP is supposedly always a better experience. I disagreed when I first read it during my Ultima Online days, and I still disagree to this very day. Real Players in an Open PVP Environment aren’t interesting, they’re annoying and detrimental to my enjoyment of a game. A lot of them are actively doing their best to make my experience as bad as possible. In an ideal environment where griefing and cheating aren’t existant, the argument might work. But not with the players we have. xXxUberSlayerShadowDriizzzt3000xXx just killed me with a headshot from inside a wall he clipped into. Fun.

    • Archipelagos says:

      Preach it!

    • Suits says:

      I know that guy!

    • Arglebargle says:

      Yep, another one of those things that sounds good in theory, but tends to fail in practice.

    • MultiVaC says:

      It’s funny, when he asked that question I immediately thought “No, not really.” Even when players aren’t cheating or being actively malicious, they are still going to going to be disruptive to the experience in ways that NPCs wouldn’t. Even among decent, well meaning players there are going to be people who just play the game in an immersion breaking way, such as obsessing over stats, flooding the chat with “WTB AK-47 of Greater Snork Slaying” or “Gauss Rifle is so OP”, rage-quitting, and taking advantage of game design flaws. And that’s not even counting the obvious, inevitable crowd of awful people who we are all too familiar with from ever online game ever. The point is that good AI NPCs are designed to act in ways that add to the sense of a believable game world, and they never break character. Real people playing a video game will seldom act like anything other than people playing a video game. Just like how Day Z went from an interesting, unpredictable survival sandbox to deathmatch on a huge map with zombie scenery once everyone figured out the “optimal” way to play. The question he presents is a bit of an oversimplification. Would you choose real people over bots in a deathmatch arena or capture the flag game? Sure you would. In a post-apocalyptic survival game where atmosphere and sense of place absolutely key? I’ll take AI every time.

      • Maritz says:

        You’ve just written almost exactly what I was going to comment. Saves me typing it now – cheers!

        Here’s hoping for another Stalker-ish single player experience sometime in the near future.

    • AngoraFish says:

      Amen brother.

    • GunFox says:

      Not to mention immersion breaking. Human players do not value their lives nearly as much as they would if they were really there. An NPC, on the other hand, can mimic that. An NPC can generally mimic humans much better than humans can because an NPC can simulate the non-combat aspects of living. Human players are there to fight, but NPC’s can be programmed to at least appear to simply be living their lives. Things like ambushes, people surrendering, or enemies fleeing can all be modeled.

      Counterstrike in a Stalker environment is going to have nearly zero atmosphere and will likely suck.

      Plus it is free to play, which is really the final nail in the coffin. This will be awful.

    • cowardly says:

      You queers must be really bad at games.

    • dufake says:

      I respect AI coders had invested AAS, FSM, GOAP and Behavior trees.

      Their creative minds are better than ten billion mindless teenagers online.
      At least I could play with opponents who would not cheat.

    • Shooop says:

      It can be, but in STALKER games it wasn’t because your most dangerous enemy was the environment itself.

      That was way more interesting than any human player enemy.

  3. Sparkasaurusmex says:

    How big is that line between f2p that sells you better guns, or f2p that sells you increased xp and cash gain? Maybe you don’t sell the big guns for cash, but you certainly sell an easier path to the big guns for cash. Is it enough of a difference?

    • InnerPartisan says:

      I have to disagree. A “play to wind faster” model is fundamentally different from a play to win model, because it doesn’t take anything away from the non-paying players.
      All you’re paying for is, in essence, time – and that strikes me as a fair deal. Of course, if monetization is achieved exclusively by the sale of silly hats, that’s even more fair – after all, that gives everyone clear targets to aim at :D

      • Sparkasaurusmex says:

        Even with the TF2 evidence staring me in the face I can’t believe a f2p game could be successful by cosmetic items alone. I guess I’m wrong about that!

        The problem I forsee with pay to win faster is that in order to entice players to pay, they may have to make it uncomfortable to play without paying. In a regular retail game let’s say it takes an hour (arbitrary) to get to the next level. In the same game going f2p maybe they would decide it should take 3 hours unless you pay to speed it up.

        So it just depends on the default speeds. How grindy is it without paying? They keep saying they will make you more comfortable if you pay, but I read that as making me uncomfortable for not paying.

        Remains to be seen, but I hope they pull off something good.

        • Darloth says:

          Planetside 2 is pretty much this pay-to-get-more-stuff-faster model, and it does it reasonably well (for PS2 players – I’m not touching the potential of implants right now).

          Right when you begin the game, it does actually suck a bit, because you essentially have slightly below the bare minimum for fun – certain classes really benefit from certain items, and aircraft with the default weapons are lame… BUT, either you invest a chunk of time and a bit of money, and you get enough stuff to be good at one thing, say, shooting vehicles. You spent the time or money, now you have a pretty nice rocket launcher, you still have all the other basic stuff – from now onwards, it works. Sure, you won’t have all the toys everyone else has but you have enough to do that thing you picked (which hopefully you enjoy) and as you enjoy doing that you’re getting enough time-resource to open up another thing, and another. Sometimes, you may wish to put down money to get something right now, but once you’re at that plateau of “can have fun” it’s not necessary.

          Only time and demos will tell whether Survarium will go the same route and give you enough (or nearly enough) base stuff to work, but I just wanted to comment that this method can and does work. (For reference: I have only spent about £15 on PS2, and only when it was at double the usual value. I only occasionally feel I’m missing out on things now.)

  4. Sidewinder says:

    If S.T.A.L.K.E.R is comfortable for you, you’re doing it wrong.

  5. Scumbag says:

    Maybe I’m just looking at it wrong, but what is going on in the first pic? It looks like a cross between R2D2 and a girl.

    • Muzman says:

      I was wondering that as well. Completely unreadable image. I keep seeing the head one of those guys who operates the control rooms on the Death Star stuck on someone’s over loaded sledge.

  6. DarkFenix says:

    The absolute most multiplayer I’d want from any game like this is small scale co-op. Other players typically get in the way of immersion and atmosphere, this applies tenfold when the other players are in competition with you.

    All I want from a STALKER-esque game is small scale coop and a much larger world (and a proper open world at that), the Zone in STALKER was frankly a very densely populated area. You couldn’t walk a hundred yards without bumping into yet another patrol of *insert faction here*. In fact give me a map the size of ARMA 2’s Chernarus, dotted with interesting things to explore, leave it a lonely, desolate and hazardous place.

  7. choie says:

    I know I’m probably the only person who feels like this, but… I *loved* the story of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. I felt genuine empathy for ‘The Marked One’ … I don’t know how, but the few cut scenes/dreams/memories we saw touched me (I thought the facial animation was really good), and by the end I wanted him to survive and find some comfort. When I got “the good ending” and saw that simple, relieved smile, I thought–this is better than any number of fist-pumping “You are the greatest soldier-hero ever!” endings. Just lying down. That’s all I needed to see. Beautiful.

    My point being, I wanted to see more of this sort of story. I loved the atmosphere and the fighting, but mostly it was because the narrative meant something to me. For this reason, I was hoping for a sequel where we saw more of TMO, although I admit shoving him back into the Zone might be cruel but hey, it worked for Chell in Portal 2. Anyway it’s all moot because it’ll never happen because life is mean mean mean. And I don’t like multiplayer games because I’m quite simply aware that I’m a pretty low-skill player. I don’t need eighty asshats who could be my children to headshoot me or say “you suck, bitch” to get this confirmed. When playing singleplayer, I can pretend I’m awesome. Multiplayer ruins that.

    Sigh. Ave atque vale, Zone.

  8. OMMad says:

    I want role-playing servers, please. I’ll play and even fork over hard-earned ducats for your F2P, PvP, MMOFPS, but only if everyone else agrees to stay in character and adheres to a standard of agreed naming conventions. Admittedly not for everyone, but i think it would be a boon to them in the long run to cater to those hardcore fans that want as true a S.T.A.L.K.E.R. experience as possible. I just can’t believe that I’m a survivor/scavenger in a post-apocalyptic wasteland after being headshot and teabagged by SukkMyKokk3000.

    i think the gameplay mechanics of DayZ would be a perfect match for a game with the atmosphere of S.T.A.L.K.E.R., and that was what I had originally had my fingers crossed for, though it would definitely be tough to create a decent F2P experience from that that wasn’t grotesquely Play-to-Win. Having played Call of Pripyat recently, the concept of players forming tribes and being instinctively distrusting of new faces, a feeling everyone seems to understand in DayZ, seems to be what the developers were trying to emulate in CoP’s main campaign.

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  10. Shooop says:

    …it was Vostok who remained most faithful to the vision.

    No. No he didn’t.

    One of the reasons fans of the STALKER series love it so much is because it’s you versus the world, not you versus other players playing a deathmatch.

    It’s fine he wants to make this game, but don’t confuse it for STALKER because it’s the farthest thing from STALKER.