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Rules For Survival Games: Do & Don't #9

Just do as you're told

For four years now, I have been fixing all of gaming with mandatory decrees for the future state of development. There used to be some who would disagree with elements. Used to be. Now the series continues, with a selection of Dos and Don'ts for those developing survival games.

DO give some thought to how humans work, if yours is a game about humans. Humans, contrary to the apparent understanding of all survival game developers, don’t require an infinite amount of food to be continually poured down their throats all day and night to avoid instantly starving to death. Eating an entire deer is not only a gargantuan achievement for a person, but I suspect would generally suffice for a day. It too is the case that humans can sprint for more than five seconds at a time, especially if they’re being chased by a wolf. They also don’t tend to significantly reduce the durability of a shirt by wearing it for three days, unless they’re Bear Grylls crawling through a meat grinder. For a reference guide, you are a human.

DON'T include day/night cycles if your night time isn’t as equally fun to play, and lovely to look at, as your day time. Moonlit hours can introduce all sorts of fun new elements into a gaming world, and the shifting times can offer lots of variation for the player. But if your night means it’s like the day, but dark, you’ve successfully made half your game a lot less fun. Squinting and not really being sure where you’re going turn out not to be ideal gaming conditions.

DO give some thought to the balance between in-game time, and how long it takes to do things. I know Do/Don’t has been over this before, but it bears repeating: if your game races through time at ten times the speed of reality, then wouldn’t it also make sense for the player to be able to move ten times faster? Or, at the very least, not somehow go even slower, taking two hours to make a sandwich or whatever ridiculous system you’ve developed? I know it sounds crazy, but why not just have time go at the speed of... time?

DON'T put zombies in your survival game. This is not a criticism of any current survival games that feature zombies. But now we’re full. No more spaces in the zombie survival car park. All sold out. And no, having what is ostensibly a zombie by a different name – maybe “bomzie” – doesn’t count. Think. A tip: there are very few survival games featuring dragons.

DO give me time to explore. It’s vital that I feel a sense of threat, of imminent danger, absolutely. But if you’ve created this world, or indeed if this world is creating itself, then allow a little sliver of realism in and let me pootle about it. As mentioned above, a hearty meal is enough for a good afternoon’s poking around, with some wood collection along the way – give us some time as a reward for not having died yet.

DON'T require initial drudge work. Obviously a large part of surviving is hard work, and that’s not what I’m talking about here. I mean the obligatory tasks that must be completed each time you start a new game. That’s not fun. That’s repetitive, and painstaking, before you can get back to having fun/being desperately terrified. If you’re doing that thing during development where your debug mode lets you skip ahead to the good bits, then you’re probably making this mistake. Make a game that you want to play from the start every time.

You can read more Survival Week articles over here.

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John Walker avatar

John Walker


Once one of the original co-founders of Rock Paper Shotgun, we killed John out of jealousy. He now runs buried-treasure.org