The Lighthouse Customer: TUG

I'm here to chew gum and kick ass and I'm all out of... enthusiasm.

Each Monday, Chris Livingston visits an early access game and reports back with stories about whatever he finds inside. This week, a little digging, a little building, and a lot of failing in survival crafting sandbox TUG.

I’ve survived the survival modes of many survival games, and I went into TUG figuring it wouldn’t be any different: I’d whip up a house, dig a mine, get my smelt on, build an arsenal, kill whatever animals were around, and consider the game conquered. Instead, I built half a house, dug a shallow hole, got killed by a cat, and spent the rest of the time fighting with the smallest backpack in video game history.

I recently watched a movie called Blue Ruin. It’s a revenge thriller of the sort that would typically star Liam Neeson as a man with a particular set of skills, those skills being the precise ones necessary for exacting some thrilling revenge. In Blue Ruin, the protagonist refreshingly possesses no skills at all, which makes it highly relatable to a viewer who also possesses no skills (me). It was fun because while watched I was able to think to myself, “What would I do if I were in this exact situation?” instead of the usual “What would I do if I were in this exact situation and I were an expert at dealing with this exact situation?”

I’m finding that TUG reminds me of Blue Ruin, only instead of trying to exact revenge with no skills, I’m trying to survive in a forest with no skills. The problem is, I should have some skills. Not real skills: if I were really stranded in a forest I would die sobbing almost immediately. But I should have some early-access survival game skills, because I play a lot of early-access survival games. TUG makes me feel like I have none. I don’t think it’s intentional. I think, in its current form, TUG is just a damn awkward game.

Welp. This rock ain't gonna bash itself. Unfortunately.

For instance, I’m doing some mining. With a pickaxe, I dig into the ground in a staircase fashion. I’m finding materials like copper, which I want, and dirt, which I don’t. The minerals I’m unearthing don’t get automatically added to my inventory, so I have to pick them up individually. If I don’t stop to pick them up, they start getting in my way, physically preventing me from traveling further into my mine, meaning I have to pick up the dirt I don’t want as well as the copper I do. The mouse-click that digs is the same mouse-click that picks things up, so sometimes I go to dig and pick something up instead, and sometimes I go to pick something up and dig instead, which means the thing I was trying to pick up falls into the hole I just accidentally dug. Like, when I killed a goat and tried to skin it or harvest it or whatever, I wound up missing and instead dug a little grave for it, which it immediately fell into. And then felt like I should say a few words. And it turned out I couldn’t harvest the goat anyway.

I wanted you to rest in pieces, in my backpack, but I guess just rest in peace in this accidental hole.

Anyway. I have to pick up the minerals because they’re in my way, which quickly fills my tiny (4 x 4!) backpack, so I have to return to the surface almost immediately to empty my pack. To remove things from my inventory, I open it and drag something out, but every time I do that, my inventory window closes, meaning I can’t just drag ten things out in rapid succession and then get back to my hole: I have to reopen my inventory every single time. Not to mention, tools don’t last long at all — at all — meaning I have to bring as many axes as I can down into the hole with me, which means less room in my inventory for the dirt I have no choice but to pick up.

Maybe I'm spoiled, but I think the entire contents of a giant trench should fit in a small backpack.

So much for my mining skills! Instead, I chop some trees and put together some cubes of wood to build myself a cabin, which works pretty well until I run out of wood and realize I have very little interest in chopping more since I would first need to construct new chopping tools, because, like I said, tools barely last for any time at all. I settle for half a house, and I remove a block in one wall to act as a window. I stare out of it for a while. I’ve built myself a lot of shelters in survival games. This is the worst one.

Finally, half a box to call home. And a square to peer through.

My staring done, I make a bed — this will let me respawn here, plus I can fast-forward through the nights — and try to put the bed inside my half-house, only to have it wind up sort of hovering above the ground and sticking through the wall. It’s about as triumphant a moment as gloomily peering through a square of not-wood was. I can’t even put a bed on the floor properly. That’s not even a skill — that’s gravity — and I blew it.

I... meant for it to be that way. That's how I like it.

Even eating seems problematic. Eating a pumpkin or gourd leaves you with a handful of seeds. Thing is, you’re probably not going to plant seeds directly after eating a pumpkin: you’re probably going to eat eleven more pumpkins because you’re probably starving to death because you’ve probably ignored your energy meter for as long as possible. So, you’ll need to tuck your seeds into your inventory or chuck them on the ground before grabbing another pumpkin to eat, thus filling your hand with seeds again. There’s really very, very little I don’t find awkward or irritating in this game.

Have at thee! Only I may kill goats!

With my home half-built (or my half-home completely built, to be a bit more optimistic), my bed stuck through the wall, and a sort-of deep hole dug nearby, I decide to do something even an unskilled survivalist can’t screw up: explore a bit. I romp for a while, then meet a giant cat and fight it, and it kills me despite my spearing it repeatedly. After I respawn, I realize why: I was fighting in third-person mode, and in third-person mode you can’t actually do anything. You can’t chop things or mine things or stab things. Even though it shows you performing those animations, nothing actually happens when you swing a tool or weapon.

I'm gonna go all Liam Neeson on these mushrooms.

I explore a bit more and then stop, because, okay. Here’s the thing about procedurally generated worlds: they need to be interesting. It’s great that your game can whip up hills and valleys and trees and resources in endless combinations, but if the combinations are all kind of same-y I guess I don’t entirely see the point. Look around in Minecraft, for instance, and you’ll spot something — some insane cliff or massive crevice or interesting terrain feature in the distance that will draw your attention and make you want to explore.

Not much point in going over there when over there looks like over here.

I just don’t find much of that in TUG. I don’t think the game looks bad, it’s just that every place in a biome mostly looks like every other place in the same biome. Another side-effect, other than not feeling inspired to explore, is that it’s easy to get lost if you do explore. I discovered that when I realized I couldn’t find my half-house, and then I realized I didn’t want to find my half-house, and then I quit.

TUG is available on Steam for £7/$10. You’ll need — NEED — a DirectX 11 compatible gfx card. It is not DirectX 10 compatible. This column was based on version 0.6.5 (released September 16, 2014). I would suggest waiting for an improved version.

37 Comments

  1. MrFinnishDude says:

    I wish this game will survive. Not just because of the yogscast, but it also seems to have potential.
    Too bad that the yogsquest fiasco is creating some bad press for it.

    • Sam says:

      Pedantry:
      The game was (is?) called Yogventures.
      Yogsquest is a series of videos with a bunch of the Yogscast people playing a simplified D&D-like while wearing silly costumes.

      On the subject of TUG itself, I think it’s a great shame that they’ve still not got around to the parts of the game that were most interesting in the initial pitch. All kinds of stuff about the application of social science and Big Data to create multiplayer worlds, cultures, and various other slightly vague but exciting sounding things. As is it’s a rather clumsy Minecraft but with marching cubes instead of actual cubes and lots less content.

      • AngoraFish says:

        TUG link to kickstarter.com and Yogventures
        link to kickstarter.com were always separate games.

        When Yogventures collapsed backers were given TUG keys as a consolation prize, which may indeed have inadvertently served to create some mistrust of TUG by virtue of the association.

      • solidsquid says:

        From what I understand, Yogventure was a joint project from the beginning between Yogscast and Winter Kewl (I think that was the dev), but TUG was originally independent and Yogscast joined the project when Yogventure started stalling.

  2. Wret says:

    I have version 6.4 installed, and after reading this took a moment to build a a loot hut. I backed this game a while ago and checked each new build just to get a feel for their progress, and never really set down to building a house and such because I’ve done that 40 times in Minecraft already.

    The article makes it seem like some Herculean task. Are you sure you made tools and didn’t just use the solitary rocks? The rocks degrade rather rapidly but when put together with a stick and vine, last rather decently, considering this is Stone Age tech (they’re moving on to Copper). I was able to get enough wood planks/stacked wood to make something akin to a My-First-Minecraft-Hut before it broke. (and you can transmute those seemingly useless Chopped Woods)

    And it didn’t take 11 pumpkins to fill my Energy. Maybe a piece of cactus, two gourds and a pumpkin.

    • Chris Livingston says:

      Not really saying it was herculean, just that it was generally irritating and not much fun. Yes, I made tools, and they still burn out quickly, especially while mining. And 11 pumpkins was an exaggeration, but having to eat even a couple things in a row seemed needlessly annoying due to the shuffling of seeds into the inventory. I just think the entire interface is rotten and cumbersome, and I was hoping after all this time (I looked at this game quite a while ago) it might have seen some improvements. I haven’t seen any.

  3. ribby says:

    So when this game fails what will the Yogscast do? find some other game for everyone who backed their kickstarter to play?

    • kwyjibo says:

      Just buy everyone Hotline Miami 2, the kids will love that. It’s got a Minecraft like level editor.

    • Artist says:

      When TUG fails you will be issued a free version of X Rebirth…

      TUG already didnt progress very far and now they are pretty much out of money. So guess what comes next…

      • Baines says:

        I’d like to see the Yogcast guys pick Interstellar Marines next…

        …and then see the Interstellar Marines guys say “No, we don’t need the bad press of being associated with you.”

  4. The King K says:

    Well, Blue Rain is certainly a depressing movie with some impressive violence thrown in. Dead guy in the bar..shudder.

  5. InfamousPotato says:

    I know I say this almost every week, but thank you Mr. Livingston. Your words are quite enjoyable to read, even when the games aren’t.

  6. eggy toast says:

    Holy cow their About Us page lists 26 (if I’m counting correctly?) people on the team for this game. No wonder they burned through their funding already.

    • Wret says:

      Did you see the article where they laid off half their team after an investor refused to give a round of funding without being handed ownership of the property?

      • Ahtaps says:

        The question is though, did they need the investor *because* they had 26 people on the staff instead of starting out small and then ramping up when the investor deal succeeded?

    • Artist says:

      Wow, that number of team members and their progress still sucked balls. Thats what I call an inefficient company. No wonder they drown.

  7. Viroso says:

    Why does every survival game have to be like this. Wood, rocks, mining, fire, axe, sword, pickaxe, food.

    The cool things about survival games: dying, uncertainty about the future, being crafty, exploring, setting your pace, learning, overcoming. Not wood, rocks, axes and pickaxes.

    Survival games that move away from this get my attention. I guess even a skin change would do. There’s so much digging and tree chopping that’s been done. I dunno, make me a robot. I need to fuel, cooling, repairs. I’m in a junkyard not a friggin forest. I build new robots instead of a house. Make me a meme, I need to I dunno, be viral.

    Just don’t make your game like dozens of other games out there. It’s like military shooters.

    • gorice says:

      That robot idea is really, really cool. I might just steal it…

      Actually, have you be following the progress of Starbound? There are trees to chop, but there’s also plutonium and spaceships and meteor strikes and hailstones the size of your head. Also, they’re replacing the axes and stuff with an upgradeable ‘matter manipulator’, according the the dev blog. Might not be survival-y enought for you, though.

      • Noxman says:

        Kind of, at the moment the matter manipulator is like a longer range but very slow axe/pickaxe, it’s what you use before you get pickaxes and whatnot which are then way better. They are making it upgradeable in the future as it didn’t make sense to have a copper pickaxe be way better than your space-age laser matter destructionator thing.

        I would highly recommend waiting until the game has more features, it’s a bit bogged down at the moment with the last major update being from several months ago. They are currently doing ‘nightly builds’ which are very unstable, this isn’t that much of a problem but it means if you want any content from sooner than around april then you have to have these nightly builds installing. Most of the content is new hats though.

      • Viroso says:

        Let me develop it further.

        You start as a basic crappy robot, you then scavenge the junkyard for parts, materials. In usual fashion, some materials and parts can only be used once you have better materials. So you find a new arm, new wheels, a new CPU and you change your own body and now you can finally integrate yourself with another new, more complex part.

        You can upgrade your own body or build new ones. You build little robots to do build or scavenge for you but you can take over them if you want to. So you don’t have just one body, you have all your little robots. You’re a robot so you don’t need a house, but you can build recycling plants, assembly lines, turrets, and also take manual control over them, become a building.

        Since grinding is also a pain in the ass in so many survival games, you won’t spend time hitting piles of junk as you do hitting rocks to dig deeper. Instead you’ll scavenge, traveling the environment to find new parts. Travelling back and forth would not be an issue as you would be able to have multiple bodies, it’d work like teleportation in a way.

        So you don’t just dig for 1 hour until you have 100 gold to create a new gold pickaxe and destroy tougher minerals. You’ll enter a dungeon-like area where at the end you’ll find the item you need to advance to the next sort of upgrading.

        However, there’d still be some light grinding in the scavenging to find more basic parts, and with time, the dungeons that were once dangerous are now trivial and you they just become regular foraging ground. It’s important that just the progression to new components isn’t based on grinding. You could even have your robots doing the scavenging for you.

        Your basic needs will be energy, cooling and repair of individual parts. Damage your tank thread and your movement is hindered, you move forwards but you get slightly pulled to the left, until you find a new thread in the junk piles. Do too much effort in a short period of time and you’ll overheat. Different cooling methods would have their advantages and weaknesses. Fan cooling in a naturally hot area wouldn’t be very effective, a radiator would need a change in cooling fluid. Overheat and take damage on your other systems.

        The environment isn’t very hostile, except inside dungeon-like areas where you’d find new parts to progress. But there are other robots just like you and they’re also scavenging, potentially getting parts you’d want to have. So it is basically a battle for resources between you and other robots, though nobody’s naturally hostile.

        As you advance, you convert the piles of junk into an industrial landscape, paving roads, laying down tracks, interconnecting your buildings. Almost like an RTS but played over a long period of time, with no defined goal and closer to the ground, as in you don’t ever control multiple units, but just one robot unit at a time. The emphasis is on adventuring with a side element of managing and strategy. Managing your robot civilization would not be the focus.

        But with time scavenging and expanding becomes more expensive, every other robot is draining the junkyard for resources just like you, it all becomes scarcer, so inevitably the other robots will start fighting for territory and parts.

        The end game leads to an all out war between all of the other robots and as they destroy each other, their modern city-like complexes get converted to junk once again and the cycle starts over.

        Go ahead and steal it, you or anyone else reading. Right now I don’t have the time, resources or skills to do this game but I’d still like to play it.

        • gorice says:

          That’s rather nice. I was only joking about stealing it, I’m afraid. Though the world does need more games about being a robot.

          BTW, have you played Robocraft? Won’t scratch the suvival itch, but it’s ok for what it is (albiet f2p and therefore grindy).

    • Samwise Gamgee says:

      Because Minecraft. Because they want a piece of that pie.

      P.S couldn’t agree more with your sentiments and I love the robot survival idea too, I would definitely play that game.

      • Artist says:

        Yep. Exactly the same reason why every MMO tries to be the WoW-killer and next big thing. And they fail big times because they dont innovate and even fail to copy WoW.

    • whorhay says:

      It’s called Don’t Starve.

      • gwathdring says:

        Don’t Starve, while I enjoy it in a similar way I enjoy Minecraft in that I think it does the formula very well, is very much part of the standard formula to me. I don’t think changing WHAT you craft makes a lick of difference. I’m more interested in whether, why and how you craft. I think all this crafting crafting crafting is the least interesting way to do a survival game and yet it is certainly the most common way to do it.

        Don’t Starve doesn’t change the math there for me.

    • JB says:

      “The cool things about survival games: dying, uncertainty about the future, being crafty, exploring, setting your pace, learning, overcoming.”

      UnReal World.

    • GameCat says:

      I would love to see survival game with actual hunting. Not Minecraft “punch this harmless chicken 5 times to obtain meat” hunting but something like slowly sneaking behind some deer to shoot it with bow and arrows or luring it into trap and then choose if fighting a tiger who got your meat first is worth the risk.

      Hostile animals that aren’t attacking you just on sight but they rather circle you around and behave like, you know, animals. Even wolf can be scared. You could also make them run away by shouting, throwing rocks and/or using fire or kill them for fur etc.

      Of course I’m not talking about something very realistic, just basic impressions of hunting.

    • DeadlyAccurate says:

      Both Starmade and Space Engineers are survival sandbox games set in outer space.

  8. SuddenSight says:

    Why has no one mentioned the eyes? WHY HAS NO ONE MENTIONED THE EYES?

    …am I crazy?

  9. Chubzdoomer says:

    Looks like yet another ugly, cheaply made, forgettable, and most likely god awful Early Access survival game.

    • Noxman says:

      I wanted to disagree, really I did. But it’s just the truth, the game looks trashy. Do people really think it’s going to change *that* much from now until release? As in basically be an entirely different game? It’s clear from the models that they aren’t really placeholders, many will claim “alpha, beta, gamma, early access, development, they listen to us” but it’s not really going to be like that is it.

  10. solidsquid says:

    The environments kind of remind me of the old fantasy kids movies from the 80s, stuff like The Neverending Story. They always had some kind of evil swamp they had to travel through. Thing is, that was always contrasted with drastically different locations, like open plains and broad deserts, just having the swamp seems kinda dull

  11. Bart Stewart says:

    I was an early backer of TUG because I was interested in the gamer research.

    Here, read this interview of Nerd Kingdom’s Peter Salinas by RPS’s own Jim Rossignol, and then tell me with 20/20 hindsight that there was nothing about which to get cautiously enthusiastic.

    What happened to all that lovely science? (Likely answer: making games is hard; making games with characters in them is super-freaky hard.) I’m still hopeful they’ll work their way back.