To My Dying Day: Five NEO Scavenger Stories

All I want to do in life is play NEO Scavenger. In those moments when I’m unable to play, all I want to do is tell other people about NEO Scavenger. It’s an RPG in which you flit from scrabbling around abandoned mobile homes in search of the barest necessities of life, to uncovering a complex, well-written, Fallout-style world. As you start it over and over again, choosing new skills and finding new paths with each new beginning, you’ll discover that there’s no need to ever repeat yourself and that the one constant is the inevitability of your own crummy demise. I’ve written about its swell depiction of failure before, but this week I started a new project.

I’ve been playing one session of NEO Scavenger per day: one life, one death. Here are the week’s endings.

November 17th, Hypothermia

I woke, beat up the dogman and sped east. I didn’t hide my tracks. I found the sleeping bag and visited a small town. I entered a collapsed building and used my strength to scavenge it for supplies. I found a plastic bag, a shiv and some medication. I entered a second collapsed building and found a heavy wrench I had no way of carrying, plus a tshirt and olive-coloured hoodie. I put them on over my hospital gown. I entered a third collapsed building and my brutish search caused part of the building to collapse. The dust irritated my throat and nose, while rubble scratched my right leg and battered my stomach. I was bleeding. I continued east to another small town. It started to rain. I froze to death.

Survival time (in-game): 12 hours.

November 18th, Acute Bleeding In The Lungs

I woke, beat up the dogman, skinned his corpse and dressed myself in the fur pelt. I sped east and found shoes, jeans, a tshirt, two backpacks, medication and a tree branch. I saw a Bad Mutha with a sharpened spear and I beat him to death with the tree branch. I encountered a stranger and readied for a fight, but she offered to talk. I had never successfully spoken to someone before. She mocked me for being “fresh from the farm” and left. I found a better backpack and encountered another stranger, who I stabbed to death with my spear. I took their jeans. Another stranger approached and I hid and watched as the new stranger took the remaining items from the corpse, including two left shoes. I traded some bullets for a cellphone from another looter. I reached the Glow and saw inside for the first time. I was starving and got into a fight with a guard. My wooden spear couldn’t pierce their armour. My lower chest was shredded by an attack. I bled into my lungs and died.

Survival time: 7 days, 8.65 hours.

November 19th, Heart Stopped

I woke up, killed the dog man and moved north. I found a satchel and a wooden branch. I discovered Zom-Zom’s, a warehouse I’d never seen before. I made a deal with a mechanic and, after some bartering, took a quest to retrieve some objects for him. Almost immediately after leaving the warehouse I was attacked by an already bleeding man carrying a spear. We fought, we injured each other, I passed out. “Player’s heart has stopped, and will likely die soon.”

Survival time: 9.06 hours.

November 20th, Unbearable Pain

I choose Electrician, Mechanic, Botany, Lockpicking, Hiding and Hacking. I wake up and use the electrical skills to lock the Dogman outside the door. I encounter a Bad Mutha two hexes away from the starting area who spots me and attacks. They have a rifle and I only have fists. The fight lasts an age as we punch, kick and scrabble at one another. I win. The rifle is obviously empty but I take it anyway along with a plastic bag and a left shoe. I am exhausted and covered in bruises. I rest in a burnt shell of a building and catch moderate hypothermia. A melonhead confronts me. I’ve never met one before, but they are frail, naked and alien-looking. We fight. I hit him with the rifle butt. He punches me in the chest and fractures my ribs. I fall unconscious “from unbearable pain.” The melonhead punches me to death whilst I sleep.

Survival time: 6.47 hours.

November 21st, Infection

Back to Botany, Melee, Strong, Tracking. I kill the Dogman with such an awesome display of fighting prowess that I retrieve the security footage and carry the tape around with me for days. I move towards the Glow and scavenge shoes, jeans, backpacks, a lighter, an optical tracking device and more along the way. Eventually I drop the tape to save space. I arrive at the Glow and accept a quest to visit the Hidden Lake in the northwest. I travel for days more, avoiding tracks and hiding from combat. I eventually encounter and fight a member of the Blue Frog cult. I win. I take his gun and wear his gas mask and blue sash. I watch two strangers fight one another from afar and decide not to get involved. I go to sleep and die of an infection I didn’t realise I had and don’t know how I received.

Survival time: 9 days, 12.11 hours.

Post-Mortem

I like rationing games for myself like this. If I’m enjoying something, I’m inclined to keep doing it until I get sick of it. That can be fine, but by breaking game experiences into digestible chunks, each experience becomes more valuable. I appreciate it more; I remember it better; I savour it. Playing Dishonored this way, for example – beginning and ending each day’s work at your headquarters/pub – made that game far more enjoyable than if I had sprint through it over a couple of days.

Since NEO Scavenger has permadeath, there’s also some unavoidable repetition to it. Not as much as you might think – the choice of positive and negative traits at the start of the game, and the freedom to explore in any direction, make each experience feel different. But the structure of its early stages and the flavour of its world is the same even if you’re biting at it in different places. Limiting myself to one life per day reduces any weariness I might eventually begin to feel.

Lastly, it makes everything so much more tense. I was previously frivolous with my life when in the early stages of a game. Why do those first few minutes matter when I can just as easily start over, and next time I might even be more lucky with the random items I find? They don’t, but now that each life is the only opportunity I’ll have to play that day, I’m as desperate to survive as I would be if my pockets and feet were well equipped.

Eg, fuck that melonhead.

I might play this way forever. I might also continue to write about this game forever.

This post was funded by the RPS Supporters.

19 Comments

  1. Jim Rossignol says:

    Ok, fine, I am giving it a play. It’s fun!

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    Qazinsky says:

    And I’ll continue to read about you playing it forever! It makes quite an interesting read, all the weird items and deaths that happens. I got one question though and it might have already been answered by your random items mention in the article, but anyway:
    I understand that the world is static so to speak, not procedurally generated, but what about lootable items, for example, if you find a box containing a (left) shoe two steps to the east, will that box always be there and contain a shoe every playthrough?

    • Premium User Badge

      Graham Smith says:

      Nope, loot is different every time. As are enemy movements. There might also be differences as far as individual town/building placements go, with only the scripted parts of the map set in stone.

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        Qazinsky says:

        Oh, ok, thank you for clarifying, should make subsequent playthroughs much more interesting than going “Alright, first I go get the lighter that’s always in house #02, then the rifle in the garbage can…”.

        • Redem says:

          There are only a small number of things which are the same every time, including the placement of a small number of landmarks and the outcomes of a few major plot events.

          Everything else, you will have to wing it as you go through the game.

  3. Vesuvius says:

    I got this from a bundle a while ago and now I’m super eager to get home and try it for the first time. Thanks for the ridiculous (and entertaining) article.

  4. tumbleworld says:

    I’ve had a go of the demo, but it’s just too impenetrable. I play Dwarf Fortress, for God’s sake. This shouldn’t be so hard to settle into. It keeps spitting me out, though. Clearly, Capt’n Duck needs to do a tutorial Let’s Play of it.

    • Ditocoaf says:

      Yeah, the interface is bad in a different way than Dwarf Fortress’s. Neo Scavenger’s interface is pretty unintuitive, and previous game experience doesn’t help you as much as you’d expect. But once you get over that “how does this interface work” wall, it’s actually easy to use! DF’s interface, on the other hand, makes sense at its core, but it’s overly clunky and difficult to wrangle as efficiently as you’d like.

    • Redem says:

      Not entirely certain this is still the case, but the demo used to be an extremely old version of the game, much older than the current build. Things have improved since then.

      Having said that, the interface is not one of the major changes. Personally, I found it far less of a chore to learn than DF would be without any guidance. There are some LPs on youtube, which is a fine place to start if you need to get the general gist of things.

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    Lexx87 says:

    I’m pretty sure you can use the dogman tape to bypass the quest to the Hidden Lake. The tape impresses enough that you’re just given what you want!

  6. Scelous says:

    I bought NEO Scavenger and really, really wanted to like it. I tried it out and proceeded to get murdered by other people in every. single. game. And it was always within the first 15 minutes. And it didn’t matter who they were — they could be blind and lame, and they would still destroy me.

    I ended up picking the perks that made my character a strong fighter, and I was still absolutely butchered by unarmed people. It just made the game feel stupid and pointless, so I quit. It felt like a waste of time.

  7. ironman Tetsuo says:

    This is how I play Spelunky!

    I’ve had my eye on Neo Scavenger for a while now and I think you’re the one to finally convince me to try it…

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    heretic says:

    When i first started the demo I got murdered by two bad muthas in the first ten minutes.

    Also I haven’t figured out how to change the cursor type so I can’t seem to consume items.

    Legging it towards the glow on another play through and I reached it! But the scavenge button wasn’t working so I stayed in the hospital gown the whole way…

    Hiding is a good skill especially when you want to sleep to rest and heal.

    I hope the encounter interface improves a bit though, you can’t seem to scroll up through the events and sometimes there are more than visible in one turn? Not clear when you get hit sometimes either.

    Still excited to see a final release though!

    • Jim_Lahey says:

      Right click on items then ‘use’ or ‘consume’ to eat them :) You can only scavenge on tiles with a magnifying glass icon – and the demo is a very old version of the game. If you can get past the clunky UI and steep learning curve this game is excellent. I’d recommend using the wiki – link to neoscavenger.wikia.com which has a lot of very useful information

  9. Lionmaruu says:

    this game is awesome! I got it last year and still install it from time to time to play again for a few weeks, great improvements since 3 or 4 months ago, so if you tried an old build you may want to get it again, its way better now than before!

  10. Rise / Run says:

    I got this last week and have played about 50 or so utterly engrossing hours of it (countless deaths). My wife refers to it as ‘hobo simulator’. Something to do with the cast-off clothes, the shopping cart filled with water bottles I was pushing at the time and the fact that I didn’t bother tanning the dogman hide before wearing it.

    I found the interface clunky at first (e.g. it took me awhile to realize where the hot spot was for wearing things, didn’t realize I could change the cursor type with the number keys, etc.), but as mentioned above, it’s pretty easy to use once you get the hang of it.

    Hint for combat: don’t ever fight more than one attacker, don’t attack (i.e. swing) unless your competitor is stunned or fallen or out of reach (spear has a range of 3, punch has a range of 0/1). Just dodge, parry, and wait for them to mess up. Or get lucky and use a sometimes stun skill like obstacle or lure or trip. But if you go aggressive, you will die. Or you will get cut up, and then you will go septic, and then you will die.

    • BlackAlpha says:

      You don’t have to die when you get wounded. Clean your wounds with alcohol or, if you don’t have that, sterilized (boiled) water. Then apply clean (boiled) rags. At the very least apply clean rags. Don’t use dirty ones or your wound will get infected and then you will need anti-biotics.

      Pro-tip: Start with any combat skill, then craft a broad spear ASAP, it will make combat much easier. You can get free/infinite wood of any kind in any forested area (use the crafting menu).

  11. Shiloh says:

    I played this quite a lot earlier in the year but haven’t done so recently – it’s just depressing as hell most of the time.

    For what it’s worth, I’m still playing Unreal World – I never get tired of that game.

  12. frightlever says:

    Dog man or groundhog man?