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Zoning Out: Vostok On Survarium Alpha Progress

"good-old post apocalypse areas"

Of all the spin off studios that materialised after the disintegration of STALKER 2, it was Vostok who remained most faithful to the vision. This time, though, they're taking quite a different angle. Survarium will be a journey into a zone of alienation with other people along for the ride. It will be co-operative and competitive and very bleak indeed. I spoke to Oleg Yavorsky about how the current closed alpha test was going and he told me "Ultimately, I think fighting real players is way more interesting than combating against programmed bots, don’t you agree?"

I had to agree.

RPS: For those who missed our previous looks at the game, can you explain what Survarium is?

Yavorsky: Sure. Survarium is a free2play MMOFPS game set in a post-apocalyptic world of the near future. It’s a story filled with grim fiction about mankind fighting for survival after a major calamity on Earth. Our planet fights back after centuries of mankind exploiting its resources, poisoning and ruining the environment. The modified forest, hazardous spores, mutating animals and birds all attack humans to eradicate us for good. The survivors are few and far between, governments, borders and countries disappear – anarchy rules the world, while nature continues its advance.
The player is going to be one of the survivors trying to find his way in the new world of the game.

RPS: Can you talk us through the different game modes you have planned? What will players get up to in them?

Yavorsky: We are planning three game modes for Survarium, including PvP, Freeplay (PvE) and Co-op. We intend on delivering high quality in as shortest time possible. We decided to implement the modes one at a time, so the players could delve in the game while we are working on the remaining game modes and further updates. Therefore, currently we have the team-based PvP mode in production. It’s going to be the first play mode introduced and good basis to test the overall game mechanics and features to be introduced later on. So, PvP provides for session-based play experience where two teams fight with each other on dedicated maps. The goal of the players is not only to frag each other, but also to locate valuable game objects (highlighted) and deliver those to their base, all to help their team survive the “Storm” – an inevitable deadly blast of energy covering the location by the end of the session.

This said, players are also given story-based tasks they need to accomplish in PvP in order to gain reputation with certain game factions offering them unique weapons and equipment in exchange. Anomalies and artifacts will also have their place in Survarium’s PvP mode. So stand by for a unique hybrid of “stalkerish” experience in intense story-driven multiplayer combats. As for the other two modes on our list, the Co-op will provide for story-based missions and challenges for a group of up to five players. The Freeplay mode will have the players disembark on a mission on a huge PvE location where they play on their own possessing limited resources and have only one life; the players can make alliances, be helpful to each other or be sly and cunning – it’s all about freedom of choice. Both Freeplay and Co-op modes are a matter of future development, so we’ll talk about those in detail later.

Clicky for full size.

RPS: What do you say to the single-player sceptics who loved games like Stalker, but are wary of a multiplayer game like Survarium?

Yavorsky: Although a spiritual successor, Survarium won’t offer the same experience as S.T.A.L.K.E.R., that’s obvious. Nevertheless, we are doing our best to innovate and introduce a strong story component even in the context of an online game. Our S.T.A.L.K.E.R. background is still strong, so to certain extent, Survarium will pose the implementation of ideas we didn’t have a chance to realize in S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2. That spreads onto the atmosphere, game story, anomalies, factions and more. Ultimately, I think fighting real players is way more interesting than combating against programmed bots, don’t you agree?

RPS: Do you think the issues surrounding free-to-play games present you with any particular challenges?

Yavorsky: Free2play is full of stereotypes, and there are a lot of bad examples, I know. Too many games, and, unfortunately, too many of them are of poor quality.

Our thinking about free2play is that it’s not only a more modern way of monetization, but also a more fair approach between both players and developers. The players can download the game and start playing absolutely free; then if they like the game and have fun with it, they may decide to use in-game paid options to make their game more comfortable; or they may opt not to pay and continue playing for free. As for the developers, these days free2play gets them motivated to deliver the best possible experience – they need to create a game which will be top quality, fun-to-play and exciting enough to make players interested paying. This makes it a truly fair deal between the devs and the gamers, having said that, we are not advocates of paid options which affect the balance of the game (pay-to-win), for example, overly powerful armour or guns. The paid services we are after will be focused on delivering extra comfort of play without disrupting the game balance. For example, a premium account may help you gain experience and in-game cash in less time, access to more advanced statistics, visually unique items etc.

RPS: Can you tell us a bit about what's been going on in the closed alpha? Has it gone as expected?

Yavorsky: We started the closed alpha-testing in the Russian-speaking territories in mid-May. During the last couple of months we received plenty of players’ feedback and even more crash reports, so fixes are being implemented all the time and we are happy with how the game has progressed so far. Those interested in tracking the testing process in detail are welcome to do so, on our forum.

What I’d like to say, we received A LOT of alpha testing applications (to our great surprise), but so far only a small number of players have been admitted to the game. We are sorting out the current technical issues and optimizing to be able to admit more and more players.

RPS: What challenges as developing a multiplayer game present the team with? What has making a multiplayer game meant in terms of setting up a new studio?

Yavorsky: Developing Survarium is basically a challenge for us in general (and this makes it even more exciting), since our background is traditional retail PC games. The potentially the biggest bottlenecks for any development team considering an online MMO (especially if they want to use an in-house technology) would be to deliver a really stable server part, solid anti-cheating mechanisms and a strong story element. Monetizing free2play games can be rocket science too.

Regarding the second question, whichever game you are trying to make, you need to understand what you want to achieve really well, both in terms of technology and game vision: this helps save time and costs. So do your best to learn and plan before you start developing. Obviously, you also need a team of developers, the more experienced they are, the better.

RPS: Have you guys gone back to the Chernobyl zone at all for research?

Yavorsky: Well, twice in the last 9 months. It seems we can’t live without it any more. I find the Chernobyl zone a perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of the city life. Part of the locations in Survarium will be based around the Chernobyl premises. However, this time we are stretching the game zone way beyond the notorious 30 square kilometers of barb-wired cordon. The apocalypse in Survarium is a global effect, so potentially we could make any place on Earth a scene in the game. Our current focus though is on the good-old post apocalypse areas around Ukraine and Russia.

RPS: What's the roadmap for the game? When can Westerners get our hands on it?

Yavorsky: We are targeting to launch the game‘s open beta in Russian-speaking territories by the end of this year (with PvP mode only). From next year on, we’ll continue developing the other game modes and planned features, as well as look to release the game beyond the ex-USSR territories – Europe, North America or Asia, whichever ones work out first for us (it’s a matter of negotiations right now). We also have a detailed development timeline for this year presented on Survarium website on our website.

In the context of the ongoing Alpha test, we plan on launching the international (English-speaking) version for testing very soon, so stay tuned!

RPS: Thanks for your time.

Survarium is in closed alpha.

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Jim Rossignol