When GSC collapsed and seemed to take STALKER 2 with it, there was immediately a ray of light: Vostok, a team consisting of a large section of the original Stalker development team, now making their own game, Survarium. While the art style and atmosphere look astonishingly similar to that classic open-world shooter, what we're looking at here is a free-to-play MMOFPS. Quite a different proposition indeed, despite powerful influences from the Roadside Picnic/Zone mythology which underwrote the original GSC games.
With Vostok's recently-announced development timeline showing a Survarium beta happening in 2013, I thought it might be a good idea to catch up Oleg Yavorsky, the company's spokesman, and a fellow I had previously conducted numerous STALKER interviews with over the years. Read on below to see how we got on.
RPS: Can you summarise the concept behind Survarium for our readers? I know some folk are expecting a game like STALKER, but it's really not like that, is it?
Yavorsky: Although designed with our S.T.A.L.K.E.R. background and experience in mind, Survarium is going to be totally different game. The game is in another genre, it introduces a new story, different gameplay, but we are doing our best to deliver the same kind of quality as with our previous games. At least in the sense of atmosphere, the feeling of suspense and looming danger the game should deliver a similar experience as S.T.A.L.K.E.R.
For those who are not familiar with the project, Survarium is a free2play MMOFPS set in the near future. The game focuses on the aftermath of a massive ecological catastrophe on Earth, the reasons behind which are only vaguely known. Survarium is designed as a session-based shooter. There are three game modes on our plan list: the team-based PvP, PvE with co-op missions and the Free play mode, each offering its own challenges and playthrough mechanics to the player. You can find out more about the game concept and story from our website.
RPS: Can you explain a bit more detail about the world? What's the story? And what sort of factions can players play with? Can we set up our own gangs or clans?
Yavorsky: Imagine global environmental disasters, NPP explosions, chemical plant catastrophes and extensive contamination over large areas – all leading to the downfall of human civilization and the world order. After years of ruthless exploitation, nature strikes back to wipe the human population off the earth. Anarchy flares up in the remains of cities and towns as the mutating greenery and animals advance. That’s just the tip the iceberg though… The player’s task, as one of the survivors, is to find out what in fact has occurred, the reasons behind it, to help them adapt and survive in the new world.
As for the in-game factions, those will provide the player with their unique equipment and missions.
We have already introduced two which will be available from the start – Scavengers and Black Market. The equipment of Scavengers is focused on survival, research of anomalies and artifact seeking. Their weaponry is primarily designed for ranged combat and self-defense. Black Market, on the other hand, is close combat-oriented and their equipment provides higher protection against firearms damage. The unique items possessed by the factions will be artifact devices for Scavengers, while traps and snares will be offered by the Black Market.
A few other game factions are going to be introduced later on. Effectively, the player won’t be able to join a faction, only cooperate with them. The players can establish their own clans though. The game will provide the possibilities for clans to wage territory wars with each other, receive bonuses and upgrades, influence the game story development and more.
RPS: So is there a single-player campaign? How is the PvE aspect of the game going to work?
Yavorsky: We do not provide a traditional single-player campaign in Survarium. Yet, in the Free play mode what we have planned is expected to give the players that ‘lone wolf’ kind of feel, where he is going to load off on a big map with a task to reach a certain checkpoint and the need to survive against the anomalies, mutants and other players on the way.
Even though Survarium is designed as purely an online game, we do plan to introduce the strong story component and have ideas of how it could be integrated into the gameplay. The co-op mission-oriented PvE mode planned will have the highest slant towards the story.
Another idea we have is to get the community involved to influence further story development. For example, if there is a story-related object on the map which the player can either destroy or save at his own discretion, we will collect the general statistic of what the choices were made by the majority of players. If the majority opted to destroy it, the story will evolve in the direction where that particular object is no more.
RPS: And how does that relate to the co-op aspect of the game? Is that equivalent to the "campaign" we might expect from a normal FPS?
Yavorsky: Yes, in a way. The co-op mission idea derives from the old S.T.A.L.K.E.R. times. So many people wanted to play the missions in a squad together with their friends. We are happy it will finally be possible to implement it in Survarium.
The co-op mode is currently in a very early stage of development, but here’s an idea of a possible mission. The players are to hold out against waves of mutants on a derelict military base. In parallel to that, they can carry out the base exploration to get a better understanding of the story behind that base. Provided the team is efficient, they are able to partially restore the base electronics and obtain some secret information to grant them access to the next co-op mission.
RPS: So how many players can we expect to see on a map?
Yavorsky: It depends on the mode of play and further testing, but we estimate up to thirty players on the map per game session. The solo-play will be enabled in the Freeplay mode only; the other two are designed as team-based experience.
RPS: Will we have the same sort of NPCs and missions? Or is that side of things handled in another way?
Yavorsky: We do not plan NPCs in the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. sense of it. Our belief is that the real human opponents are much more fun to play against compared to the artificially programmed ones.
RPS: Can you go into a bit of detail about how the PvP works? Is it an open-world thing, or more session-based?
Yavorsky: The PvP mode offers a teamplay experience with two opposing forces fighting on a dedicated map for a limited time. It’s going to be a session-based experience therefore, with the two teams trying to defend their territory and capture valuable resources. On the individual level, the player’s tasks in PvP will be action-focused. For example, special ways to kill the enemy (headshot etc), special type of victory (all the key items collected) or special actions (like survive the entire battle etc).
RPS: You've explained that the game is going to be free-to-play, but can you go into any more detail about how players will be able to spend money in the game?
Yavorsky: The monetization system is still being developed, obviously, so I can’t go into too much detail at this point. The general idea is to provide the players with options to make their game experience more comfortable. This relates to things like faster character leveling-up, more advanced player stats availability, some unique items etc. Just to be clear, we are not supporters of the monetization model which leads to pay2win tactics. So the paid bonuses will mainly save the player’s time on routine actions, allowing him to get more fun from the game.
RPS: Thanks for your time.
Perhaps my returning to STALKER repeatedly is unfair. Vostok are not making a STALKER style game, and it is certainly no sequel. As a free MMOFPS it no doubt will appeal to an entirely different audience - and you won't be able to play it offline. That said, it does seem to sing much of the same song. The ideas and references are so similar, and the atmosphere and environment is clearly one that is being resampled by the same art team. Comparisons are going to be impossible to avoid, even though the projects will likely end up being chalk and cheese in terms of overall structure and mechanics. No single player FPS ever really feels or operates like a multiplayer one.
Nonetheless I'm enormously (perhaps even unrealistically) optimistic about Survarium, not least because multiplayer games have always been my thing, and I delight in seeing anyone tackle ideas more interesting than deathmatch, no matter how that is is diversified and complicated. Survarium's notions of territory control, co-operation and competition in this kind of environment, and with these kinds of exploration and survival goals, well, that's even closer to the Roadside Picnic zone idea that the original game. For the Stalker faithful, though, multiplayer was never really something that mattered. Stalker games were more about getting away from that thing as a loner in the wilderness, and despite the co-op and Free play, I don't really see that being the case here. Mods too, seem unlikely to work in the same way, if at all. There are going to be some disappointed voices, no doubt.
But we shouldn't discount the direction that Vostok are moving in. They're making a provocative and unusual game within a landscape that is dominated by a lack of imagination, and I sense this will be a fascinating alternative to the big budget free MMOFPS such as Firefall, which will no doubt become a focus of attention in 2013. There's no reason to imagine this won't be one of the most interesting games of 2013. I can't wait to get my hands on it.