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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.